Whether it’s a soaring soprano or distinctive baritone, a great voice is the cornerstone of great music. When paired with stunning compositions and expert instrumentation, an iconic voice helps create iconic songs. Flip through the slideshow below for a look at some of the all-time great voices in music, ranging from R&B icons to opera stars, pop chanteuses and everyone in between.
Best known for her iconic love song “At Last,” Etta James’ powerful voice was soaked in her own real-life pain. After originally finding success in the early 1960s with songs like “All I Could Do Is Cry” and “I’d Rather Go Blind,” James staged a musical comeback in the late 1980s, releasing multiple albums and finding a new audience for her most memorable songs.
Rightfully bestowed with the title of Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin’s inimitable voice propelled songs like “Respect” and “I Say A Little Prayer For You” into worldwide hits. She also stars in the most memorable scene from the 1980 film “The Blues Brothers,” with a truly iconic performance of her song “Think.”
Arguably the best-known singer of her generation, there will never be another voice like Whitney Houston’s. From stunning ballads like her cover of Dolly Parton’s “ I Will Always Love You” and “I Have Nothing” to infectious pop hits like “I Wanna Dance With Somebody,” Houston’s influence on R&B was both singular and lasting.
With a vocal range that spans five full octaves, Mariah Carey’s whistle notes are her signature, but that’s not all that Carey brings to the table. Both an accomplished songwriter and enduring vocalist, Carey has charted 18 No. 1 hits, sold more than 200 albums and continues to release albums, including 2018’s “Caution.”
Equally famed for his piano playing and singing, Elton John has had remarkable influence over pop music since he burst onto the scene in 1973 with “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.” Throughout the decades, John has continued to blaze his own trail, also writing and recording songs for Disney’s “The Lion King” and Broadway musical “Aida.” In 2019, John became the subject of his own biopic, “Rocketman.”
There is perhaps no voice more singular than the soaring baritone of Queen frontman Freddie Mercury. In addition to iconic hits with Queen like “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “Don’t Stop Me Now,” Mercury also recorded a 1987 album alongside opera legend Montserrat Caballe, a record that shows the stunning diversity of Mercury’s vocal ability.
From the first notes of her 2008 debut album, “19,” it was clear that British singer Adele was born to be a star. With a powerful, soulful timbre and uncanny ability to infuse emotion into the songs that she’s written for herself, Adele has become modern music’s finest purveyor of breakup tunes like “Someone Like You” and “Rumor Has It.”
Born Prince Rogers Nelson in 1958, no artist has had quite the influence on music that Prince has. Both a striking vocalist and legendary guitarist, songs like “Purple Rain” and “Nothing Compares 2U,” Prince brought an incredible artistry to his singing that’s impossible to replicate.
An actor, singer and godfather of blue-eyed soul, Sinatra’s distinctive crooning turned songs like “Fly Me To The Moon” and “My Way” into hallmarks of American music. Despite a tumultuous life and inspiring plenty of controversy, Sinatra’s influence can still be seen today in artists like Michael Buble.
Although her life was tragically cut short at the age of 27 after a heroin overdose, Janis Joplin’s raw and emotive vocals are a hallmark of ‘70s rock. And for those lucky enough to have seen her perform, Joplin’s voice on songs like “Piece of My Heart” and “Me and Bobby McGee” was reportedly much more powerful and electric in person.
Known by her contemporaries as the legendary Lady Day, Billie Holiday’s voice is arguably the most recognizable — and influential — in jazz music. She is perhaps best remembered by her iconic song “Lady Sings The Blues,” a devastatingly sad track that exemplifies her vocal intensity.