Music

The Greatest R&B Artists and Bands of All Time 

Ranker Music
Originally by
Updated March 18, 2020 26.9k votes 2.4k voters 34.7k views 277 items

List Rules Only R&B artists. No hip hop, urban contemporary, or soul singers should be on here.

A list of the best R&B artists. Though the definition of the genre has skewed over the years, at the heart of R&B music is rhythm and blues. And the artists who encompass this list are the best the genre has to offer. There are legends, both living and deceased who are on this list. There a good number of rock and roll hall of famers on this list, whose legacy lives on at the Cleveland museum. The beginning of what became to be known as R&B started with the Motown sound of the late 1960s. Under the stewardship of Berry Gordy, many of the most famous artists and singers in music history established themselves during this time. The Jackson 5, Stevie Wonder and Diana Ross were all a part of the Motown fabric that in time became THE place to be for up-and-coming R&B artists. Many of the greatest R&B groups are from this early, formative period. Sly & the Family Stone, Tina Turner, Aretha Franklin and Marvin Gaye among a group of amazing singers, whose careers started during this time.

That is not to say there aren't other great R&B artists from other eras. Prince, Alicia Keys and D'Angelo would be considered some of the best R&B singers whenever they burst onto the scene. The familiar R&B artists on this list should come as a surprise to no one. The odds are you've heard of nearly everyone on here. If not, then you should give them a listen because there's a reason why they're considered the greatest R&B singers of all time. Why would people label them as the top R&B artists? Give them a listen and you'll hear yourself.

This is the list of the best R&B artists. If you notice someone is missing, feel free to add him, her or them to this list. Vote or re-rank this list according to who you think is the greatest R&B artist of all time.

list ordered by
1
Michael Jackson is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list The Greatest R&B Artists and Bands of All Time
Genre: Motown Sound, Rock music & Electronic music; Nationality: United States of America

Albums: Thriller, Bad, Off the Wall, Dangerous, Michael, + more

Labels: Sony Records, Sony BMG Music Entertainment, Motown Records, MJJ Music, Sony Music Entertainment, + more

More Michael Jackson 

#2 of 1,042 The Best Singers of All Time #58 of 2,211 The Best Rock Bands of All Time The Best Michael Jackson Songs of All Time

2
Marvin Gaye is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list The Greatest R&B Artists and Bands of All Time
Genre: Doo-wop, Motown Sound & Rock music; Nationality: United States of America

Albums: What's Going On, Here, My Dear, Let's Get It On, I Want You, + more

Labels: Motown Records, Tamla Records, Columbia

More Marvin Gaye 

#87 of 204 The Druggiest Rock Stars of All Time #53 of 359 The Greatest Entertainers of All Time The Best Marvin Gaye Albums of All Time

3
Stevie Wonder is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list The Greatest R&B Artists and Bands of All Time
Genre: Motown Sound, Psychedelic soul & Pop music; Nationality: United States of America

Albums: Songs in the Key of Life, Innervisions, Talking Book, Stevie Wonder's Original Musiquarium I, Music of My Mind, + more

Labels: Motown Records, Tamla Records

More Stevie Wonder 

#116 of 274 The Most Trustworthy Celebrities in the World #8 of 1,042 The Best Singers of All Time The Best Stevie Wonder Songs of All Time

4
Prince is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list The Greatest R&B Artists and Bands of All Time
Genre: Hip hop music, Synthpop & New Wave; Nationality: United States of America

Albums: Purple Rain, Sign 'O' the Times, 1999, Love Symbol Album, Around the World in a Day, + more

Labels: Universal Records, Paisley Park Records, Arista Records, Warner Bros. Records, NPG Records, + more

More Prince 

#129 of 185 The All-Time Best Rock Bassists #21 of 639 The Greatest Guitarists Of All Time The Best Prince Songs of All Time

5
Aretha Franklin is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list The Greatest R&B Artists and Bands of All Time
Genre: Pop music, Rock music & Rhythm and blues; Nationality: United States of America

Albums: Lady Soul, I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You, Young, Gifted and Black, Respect, + more

Labels: Atlantic Records, Arista Records, Columbia, RCA Records

More Aretha Franklin 

#12 of 453 The Greatest Singers of the Past 30 Years #74 of 925 People We Wish Were Still Alive You Will R.E.S.P.E.C.T. Aretha Franklin Even More When You Hear About Her Remarkable Life

6
James Brown is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list The Greatest R&B Artists and Bands of All Time
Genre: Hip hop music, Doo-wop & Pop music; Nationality: United States of America

Albums: Live at the Apollo, Star Time, Funky Christmas, Santa's Got a Brand New Bag, I Got You, + more

Labels: King Records, Federal Records, Smash Records, Polydor Records, Scotti Brothers Records

More James Brown 

#119 of 453 The Greatest Singers of the Past 30 Years #330 of 1,042 The Best Singers of All Time The Best James Brown Albums of All Time

7
Whitney Houston is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list The Greatest R&B Artists and Bands of All Time
Genre: Pop music, Dance-pop & Contemporary R&B; Nationality: United States of America

Albums: The Bodyguard: Original Soundtrack Album, Whitney Houston, My Love Is Your Love, I'm Your Baby Tonight, The Preacher's Wife: Original Soundtrack Album, + more

Labels: Sony Music Entertainment, Arista Records, RCA Records

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#4 of 1,042 The Best Singers of All Time #1 of 935 The Best Female Vocalists Ever The Best Whitney Houston Albums of All Time

8
Ray Charles is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list The Greatest R&B Artists and Bands of All Time
Genre: Soul blues, Pop music & Rock music; Nationality: United States of America

Albums: The Birth of Soul, Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music, The Spirit of Christmas, Ray Charles at Newport, Genius Loves Company, + more

Labels: ABC Records, Atlantic Records, Swing Time Records, Rhino Entertainment, Concord Records, + more

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#96 of 453 The Greatest Singers of the Past 30 Years #23 of 1,042 The Best Singers of All Time The Best Ray Charles Albums of All Time

9
The Temptations is listed (or ranked) 9 on the list The Greatest R&B Artists and Bands of All Time

Albums: The Temptations Christmas Card, The Very Best of Christmas, The Temptations Sing Smokey, Diana Ross & The Supremes Join The Temptations, Meet The Temptations, + more

Labels: Atlantic Records, Motown Records, Universal Music Group, Gordy Records

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#19 of 279 The Top Pop Artists of the 1960s #80 of 277 Rank the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame Inductees The Best Temptations Albums of All Time

10
The Jackson 5 is listed (or ranked) 10 on the list The Greatest R&B Artists and Bands of All Time

Albums: Christmas Album, 20th Century Masters: The Christmas Collection: The Best of Jackson 5, Diana Ross Presents the Jackson 5, ABC, The Jacksons, + more

Labels: Steeltown Records, Motown Records, Epic Records, Philadelphia International Records

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#130 of 2,175 The Greatest Musical Artists of All Time #155 of 277 Rank the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame Inductees The Best Jackson 5 Albums of All Time

11
Sam Cooke is listed (or ranked) 11 on the list The Greatest R&B Artists and Bands of All Time
Genre: Pop music, Rhythm and blues & Jazz; Nationality: United States of America

Albums: Night Beat, Shake, Touch the Hem of His Garment: 23 Gospel Gems, Live at the Harlem Square Club, 1963, + more

Labels: Keen Records, Specialty Records, RCA Records

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#54 of 1,042 The Best Singers of All Time #62 of 695 The Best Rock Vocalists Rising Soul Singer Sam Cooke Perished Under Mysterious Circumstances In 1964 And The Case Is Still Unsolved

12
Otis Redding is listed (or ranked) 12 on the list The Greatest R&B Artists and Bands of All Time
Genre: Southern soul, Soul blues & Rock music; Nationality: United States of America

Albums: Otis Blue: Otis Redding Sings Soul, The Dock of the Bay, The Immortal Otis Redding, Love Man, The Great Otis Redding Sings Soul Ballads, + more

Labels: Atlantic Records, ATCO Records, Sundazed Records, Rhino Entertainment, Stax Records

More Otis Redding 

#114 of 2,211 The Best Rock Bands of All Time #232 of 398 The Best Frontmen in Rock The Best Otis Redding Albums of All Time

13
Al Green is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list The Greatest R&B Artists and Bands of All Time
Artie_Moon added Genre: Smooth soul, Rhythm and blues & Soul music; Nationality: United States of America

Albums: Call Me, The Christmas Album, White Christmas, Greatest Hits, I'm Still in Love With You, + more

Labels: Motown Records, Myrrh Records, The Right Stuff Records, Hi Records

More Al Green 

#24 of 303 The Greatest Living Rock Songwriters #192 of 1,042 The Best Singers of All Time The Best Al Green Albums of All Time

14
Luther Vandross is listed (or ranked) 14 on the list The Greatest R&B Artists and Bands of All Time
Genre: Hip hop music, Adult contemporary music & Contemporary R&B; Nationality: United States of America

Albums: This Is Christmas, Every Year, Every Christmas, Home for Christmas, Dance With My Father, + more

Labels: Cotillion Records, Epic Records, J Records, Legacy Recordings, Virgin Records

More Luther Vandross 

#68 of 453 The Greatest Singers of the Past 30 Years #396 of 925 People We Wish Were Still Alive The Best Luther Vandross Albums of All Time

15
Mary J. Blige is listed (or ranked) 15 on the list The Greatest R&B Artists and Bands of All Time
Genre: Hip hop music, Contemporary R&B & Rhythm and blues; Nationality: United States of America

Albums: Mary, My Life, What's the 411?, The Breakthrough, No More Drama, + more

Labels: MCA Records, Geffen Records, Matriarch Records, Uptown Records

More Mary J. Blige 

#50 of 119 Current Singers You Most Wish You Could Sound Like #203 of 1,042 The Best Singers of All Time The Best Mary J. Blige Albums of All Time

16
Frank Ocean is listed (or ranked) 16 on the list The Greatest R&B Artists and Bands of All Time
Genre: Alternative hip hop, Contemporary R&B & Pop; Nationality: United States of America

Albums: Channel Orange, nostalgia, ULTRA., unreleased, MISC., + more

Labels: Def Jam Recordings, Odd Future Records, The Island Def Jam Music Group

More Frank Ocean 

#90 of 119 Current Singers You Most Wish You Could Sound Like #560 of 1,042 The Best Singers of All Time The Best Songs Ft. Frank Ocean

17
Aaliyah is listed (or ranked) 17 on the list The Greatest R&B Artists and Bands of All Time
Genre: Hip hop music, Pop music & Neo soul; Nationality: United States of America

Albums: Aaliyah, One in a Million, I Care 4 U, Age Ain't Nothing but a Number, Back & Forth, + more

Labels: Atlantic Records, Blackground Records, Universal Records, Jive Records, Virgin Records

More Aaliyah 

#269 of 453 The Greatest Singers of the Past 30 Years #359 of 1,042 The Best Singers of All Time The Best Songs Feat. Aaliyah

18
Earth, Wind & Fire ... is listed (or ranked) 18 on the list The Greatest R&B Artists and Bands of All Time

Albums: That's the Way of the World, Spirit, All 'n All, Gratitude, Open Our Eyes, + more

Labels: Warner Bros. Entertainment, Sanctuary Records Group, Warner Bros. Records, Columbia

More Earth, Wind & Fire 

#78 of 2,175 The Greatest Musical Artists of All Time #114 of 277 Rank the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame Inductees

19
Curtis Mayfield is listed (or ranked) 19 on the list The Greatest R&B Artists and Bands of All Time
Artie_Moon added Genre: Psychedelic soul, Chicago soul & Rhythm and blues; Nationality: United States of America

Albums: Superfly, Curtis, The Anthology: 1961-1977, Curtis/Live!, Roots, + more

Labels: Rhino Entertainment, Curtom Records, Warner Bros. Records

More Curtis Mayfield 

#325 of 1,042 The Best Singers of All Time #437 of 453 The Greatest Singers of the Past 30 Years The Best Curtis Mayfield Albums of All Time

20
The Isley Brothers is listed (or ranked) 20 on the list The Greatest R&B Artists and Bands of All Time

Albums: 3 + 3 / Go for Your Guns, Body Kiss, I'll Be Home for Christmas, Soul on the Rocks, Baby Makin' Music, + more

Labels: Buddah Records, T-Neck Records, Atlantic Records, Def Jam Recordings, Tamla Records, + more

More The Isley Brothers 

#86 of 279 The Top Pop Artists of the 1960s #135 of 277 Rank the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame Inductees The Best Isley Brothers Albums of All Time

21
Alicia Keys is listed (or ranked) 21 on the list The Greatest R&B Artists and Bands of All Time
Genre: Hip hop music, Pop music & Neo soul; Nationality: United States of America

Albums: Remixed & Unplugged in A minor, As I Am, Unplugged, Girl On Fire, The Diary of Alicia Keys, + more

Labels: Star Mark Compilations, Sony BMG Music Entertainment, LaFace Records, Sony Music Entertainment, BMG JAPAN, + more

More Alicia Keys 

#5 of 218 The Greatest New Female Vocalists of the Past 10 Years #31 of 453 The Greatest Singers of the Past 30 Years The Best Songs Feat. Alicia Keys

22
Smokey Robinson is listed (or ranked) 22 on the list The Greatest R&B Artists and Bands of All Time
Genre: Adult contemporary music, Pop music & Rhythm and blues; Nationality: United States of America

Albums: Warm Thoughts, Where There's Smoke, Anthology (disc 3), The Solo Anthology, One Heartbeat, + more

Labels: Universal Records, SBK Records, Motown Records, Tamla Records

More Smokey Robinson 

#89 of 453 The Greatest Singers of the Past 30 Years #39 of 303 The Greatest Living Rock Songwriters The Best Smokey Robinson Albums of All Time

23
Lauryn Hill is listed (or ranked) 23 on the list The Greatest R&B Artists and Bands of All Time
Genre: Hip hop music, Alternative hip hop & Neo soul; Nationality: United States of America

Albums: The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, MTV Unplugged 2.0, Ms. Hill, Greatest Singles Collection, MTV Unplugged, + more

Labels: Ruffhouse Records, Columbia

More Lauryn Hill 

#217 of 1,042 The Best Singers of All Time #68 of 935 The Best Female Vocalists Ever The Best Lauryn Hill Songs

24
Usher is listed (or ranked) 24 on the list The Greatest R&B Artists and Bands of All Time
Genre: Contemporary R&B, Hip hop & Pop; Nationality: United States of America

Albums: Confessions, Rhythm City, Volume 1: Caught Up (bonus disc), My Way, Usher, + more

Labels: LaFace Records, Jive Records, Arista Records, RCA Records

More Usher 

#101 of 453 The Greatest Singers of the Past 30 Years #179 of 1,038 The Worst Bands & Musicians of All Time The Best Songs Ft. Usher

25
Boyz II Men is listed (or ranked) 25 on the list The Greatest R&B Artists and Bands of All Time

Albums: Christmas Interpretations, II, Evolution, The Remix Collection, Full Circle, + more

Labels: Decca Records, Maverick Records, Universal Records, Motown Records, Universal Music Group, + more

More Boyz II Men 

#37 of 100 The Greatest Motown Artists Of All-Time #23 of 28 The Best All-Time Super Bowl Halftime Performers The Best Boyz II Men Songs