This list will introduce you to some of the most iconic female gospels singers who spread the genre around the world.
Derived from aspects of Christian music, with roots firmly based in African American culture, the genre of gospel music is often characterised by powerful vocals and soulful harmonies, with lyrics focused on hope, faith and redemption.
Gospel music’s rich history dates back to the late nineteenth century, influenced by a range of musical stylings such as jazz, blues, and even rock and roll. Gospel has had a truly monumental impact on the global music industry and in particular the United States.
The genre has gone on to shape many other musical styles including R&B, soul, and hip-hop. It has adoring fans amongst people of all demographics, both inside and outside of the Christian faith.
Female Gospel artists have always been at the centre of this music’s success with numerous women staking their claim amongst gospel music’s greatest stars.
Here are some of the most famous female gospel singers of all time.
20. Tramaine Hawkins
California gospel singer Tramaine Hawkins’ career spans over more than five decades. It began in the late 1960s, with Tramaine being a member of the legendary gospel group The Edwin Hawkins Singers. The group was founded by her brother Edwin.
Tramaine is renowned for her strong vocal stylings, with much of her work fusing traditional gospel with both contemporary and modern styles.
It was with the release of her 1975 first solo album Tramaine, which featured the hit single ‘Changed,’ that Hawkins gained notoriety. She produced more successful albums over the next two decades including Determined and I Never Lost My Praise. Hawkins has claimed multiple Grammy Awards, two Doves, nineteen Stellar Awards and has been inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame.
19. Sister Rosetta Tharpe
Sister Rosetta Tharpe was both a gospel singer and accomplished guitarist. She gained popularity throughout the 1930s and 40s with gospel songs that displayed a unique blend of spiritual tones and electric guitar prowess.
She is credited with pioneering the development of a gospel, blues, and rock and roll musical fusion. One of Tharpe’s most successful songs was ‘Strange Things Happening Every Day’ which reached number two on the US Billboard R&B chart in 1945.
Often referred to as “the Godmother of rock and roll,” she is said to have influenced early rock-and-roll musicians including Little Richard, Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis. Tharpe was inducted into both the Blues and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame before being honoured with a posthumous Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
18. Twinkie Clark
Twinkie Clark is both a widely regarded gospel musician in her own right, and also a composer known for her immense contributions to the gospel music industry. She is one of the most famous female gospel singers of all time.
Twinkie was a key member of The Clark Sisters who became one of the most successful gospel groups of all time. Her influence was pivotal, as the lead composer to their huge selection of hit songs.
Clark went on to establish herself as a successful solo artist and released numerous well-received albums. In 2007, she found a place in the Gospel Music Hall of Fame and cemented her legacy as the “Mother of Contemporary Gospel Music.”
South African born Hlengiwe Ntombela, better known as HLE, was formerly a member of the gospel choir Joyous Celebration and is now performing as a solo artist.
HLE has become famous for her distinctive sound that blends traditional gospel music with modern and contemporary styles. In 2019, she recorded her debut gospel based album called Your Kingdom on Earth and the following year released her first solo single, ‘Dwala’ which climbed to number one on the iTunes charts.
The track has been streamed millions of times on various music platforms. HLE also launched The HOW Project which centres around teaching her devoted followers about worship.
16. LeAndria Johnson
Back in 2010 Le’Andria Johnson found fame as the winner of the third season of BET’s gospel singing competition series Sunday Best.
The following year she released her debut album, The Awakening of Le’Andria Johnson, which debuted at number one on the Billboard Gospel charts and was praised by critics for showcasing Johnson’s lyrics and spectacular vocal performance.
One of her most famous Sunday Best inspired songs, ‘I Shall Leap into My Destiny’ which was actually co-written by Johnson, peaked at number 1 on the Billboard Gospel charts. She has also appeared in television series and taken on roles in films such as The Clark Sisters: First Ladies of Gospel.
15. Tasha Cobbs Leonard
Born Natasha Tameika Cobbs Leonard, this gospel songwriter began her solo music career back in 2010. She independently self-released her album Smile which quickly caught the attention of record label EMI Gospel (now Motown Gospel) who helped Cobb’s Leonard produce her EP entitled “Grace” in 2013.
It peaked at number sixty-one on the Billboard 200 list and would eventually reach number one on the Top Gospel Albums chart. She soon produced hit single ‘Break Every Chain’ which also took the number one spot on the Hot Gospel Songs charts.
In 2014, at the 56th Annual Grammy Awards, Cobbs Leonard took home the Grammy prize for Best Gospel/Contemporary Christian Music Performance, having also claimed fifteen Stellar Awards, three Billboard Music Awards and nine Dove Awards.
14. Vanessa Bell Armstrong
Born and raised in Detroit, Vanessa Bell Armstrong is not only an American gospel singer and songwriter but also an actress. She is instantly recognisable for her stunningly powerful yet delicately soulful voice.
She released her debut album Peace Be Still to great critical and commercial success. The LP included the hit single ‘You Bring Out the Best in Me,’ which evolved into a gospel classic and would affirm Bell Armstrong’s reputation as one of the outstanding vocalists in her field, and one of the greatest female gospel singers of her generation.
Armstrong has won a host of awards and accolades for her involvement in gospel music. In 1988, she won a Stellar Award for Best Female Solo Performance and five years later was finally inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame. She is also an accomplished actress, featuring in several shows and films including The Jacksons: An American Dream and TV series Moesha.
13. Kierra Sheard
American gospel singer, actress and fashion designer, Kierra Sheard is the daughter of gospel singer Karen Clark Sheard. She has built a stunning reputation based around her beautiful yet powerful voice which seamlessly blends contemporary soul, R&B and hip-hop with classic gospel stylings.
Sheard’s music career began at just ten years old with her vocals featuring on her mother’s album The Heavens Are Telling. By age seventeen, she would release her first solo album called I Owe You which included the hit single ‘Let Go.’
She has collaborated with several famous artists including Missy Elliott, Chance the Rapper and Tasha Cobbs Leonard. Sheard is a successful actress too, appearing in The Clark Sisters: First Ladies of Gospel where she played her mother. She has even ventured into the world of fashion design and launched her own clothing line called Eleven60 in 2015.
Lexi Allen, better known by her stage name Lexi, is an American gospel singer, actress and television host. She first broke onto the scene in 2004 with her debut solo album Call Me Lexi, which featured the hit track ‘He’s a Mighty God.’
The album was a critical success and won the Stellar Award for New Artist of the Year back in 2005. Lexi is renowned for her powerhouse vocal style that mixes contemporary R&B and hip-hop with traditional gospel.
In 2014, her album Phenomenal debuted at number thirteen on the Top Gospel Albums chart and featured the single ‘Abide’ which also charted on the Billboard Gospel Airplay chart.
11. Kim Burrell
With a background as a pastor, Kim Burrell began her music career back in the late 1980s, providing backing vocals for numerous gospel artists including The Trinity Temple Full Gospel Mass Choir. Burrell has a fairly unique sound which combines gospel with jazz, R&B and even funk.
In 1995 her debut solo album entitled Try Me Again was released and featured the single ‘I’ll Keep Holding On.’ Burrell recorded a number of successful albums such as Everlasting Life and The Love Album. The latter LP debuted at number twenty three on the Top Gospel Albums chart.
10. Tamela Mann
Also an actress and television personality, Tamela Mann’s music career began in the 1990’s as a member of the Gospel group Kirk Franklin and the Family. Finally pursuing her solo career she released a debut album named Gotta Keep Movin’ in 2005.
Mann has won a range of awards throughout her career including several Stellar Awards, Dove Awards and BET Awards. Her impact on the Gospel music scene has been notable for inspiring audiences with messages of faith and hope. Additionally, Mann has made a name for herself on the medium of television including in the series Meet the Browns.
9. Anna Golden
Anna Golden rose to popularity in the Christian music scene where she crafted an impressive reputation as a gifted songwriter. In 2019, her debut LP Peace was widely praised for its heartfelt tones and incredible vocal delivery.
The album features a mix of upbeat praise songs and wonderful ballads, all of which showcase Anna’s impressive vocal talent and unique styles. It debuted at number five on the Top Christian Albums chart with its lead single ‘Doubt’ peaking at number seven on the Billboard Hot Christian Songs chart.
‘Doubt’ reflects upon the struggles of uncertainty and hints at the importance of trusting in God through difficult times. The track’s catchy melody and relatable message have made it a favourite among Christian music fans.
8. Dorina Clark Cole
Dorina Clark Cole grew up singing in her family’s gospel group The Clark Sisters alongside her other sisters. They helped in part to revolutionise gospel music throughout the 1970s and 80s, blending traditional gospel sounds with contemporary R&B and some pop influences.
During the 1990s Clark Cole’s solo career blossomed with the release of her debut album I’m Still Here. The LP was a critical and commercial success, establishing her as one of the foremost female gospel singers in the world.
The record peaked at number six on the Billboard Gospel Albums chart and stayed there for an impressive thirty-one weeks. The album’s lead single ‘So Many Times’ also performed well on the Billboard Hot Gospel Songs chart by reaching number seventeen.
7. Karen Clark Sheard
Highly acclaimed gospel singer Karen Clark Sheard is credited as having a truly engaging stage presence. She is a beloved figure in the gospel music world with her impact on the genre as a whole being felt for generations to come.
In 1997, Clark Sheard unleashed her LP Finally Karen on the world, featuring at number two on the Billboard Gospel Albums chart and remaining there for thirty-five weeks.
The album’s lead single ‘Balm in Gilead’ also performed incredibly well and peaked at number ten on the Hot Gospel Songs chart. Her 2002 LP 2nd Chance was a real chart success, also entering at number two on the Gospel Albums chart and holding firm for a further fifty-nine weeks.
6. Tori Kelly
Victoria Loren Kelly, better known as Tori Kelly, first gained recognition after posting videos on YouTube as a teenage sensation. She also had a notable performance during the ninth season of American Idol back in 2010.
Kelly went on to independently release a self-produced debut EP in 2012 entitled Handmade Songs. Three years later, Kelly’s debut album Unbreakable Smile featured at number two on the Billboard 200 chart and remained there for forty-eight weeks.
Her work earned huge critical acclaim for its mix of pop, soul and R&B influences – confirming her as a true rising star in the gospel music landscape. She has won a Billboard music award, Billboard women in music honours and YouTube Music awards too.
5. Shirley Caesar
With a career spanning seven decades, Shirley Ann Caesar’s music career began in 1951 when she signed to Federal Records aged just twelve.
She released over forty albums, featured on over sixteen compilations and in three gospel musicals. Caesar has claimed eleven Grammy Awards, fifteen Dove Awards and fourteen Stellar accolades. Additionally, she was honoured with a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award from The Recording Academy as well as induction into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame.
Caesar achieved success on the Billboard charts with numerous album and single entries. Her 1975 album No Charge was a particular breakthrough success, reaching number twelve on the Top Soul Albums charts. She also found success as a member of The Caravans and The Caesar Singers.
She has often been referred to as both the “First Lady of Gospel Music” and “The Queen of Gospel Music.” Undoubtedly, Caesar stands amongst the most talented and most famous female gospel singers of all time.
4. Aretha Franklin
Referred to as the “Queen of Soul,” Aretha Louise Franklin has twice placed ninth on Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Artists of All Time. As well as her reputation as soul singer, Aretha Franklin has released several popular gospel records, bringing the genre to a wider audience.
With worldwide physical sales of over seventy-five million records, Franklin is amongst the top-selling female artists of all time. She won eighteen Grammy Awards including all of the first eight honours ever given for the category of Best Female R&B Vocal Performance from 1968 to 1975. She even received Grammy Awards for Living Legend and Lifetime Achievement Award.
In 1987, Franklin became the very first female gospel singer to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In 2005, she was welcomed into the UK Music Hall of Fame and the Gospel Music Hall of Fame seven years later. Her legacy was cemented with Rolling Stone ranking Franklin number one on its list of the 100 Greatest Singers of All Time.
3. Mahalia Jackson
Mahalia Jackson is widely considered to be one of the most influential gospel vocalists of the 20th century. With a career spanning forty years, she has been integral in the development and exposure of gospel blues in black church settings throughout the U.S.
Jackson has sold an estimated twenty two million records. In 1947 she released ‘Move On Up a Little Higher’ which hit the number two spot on the Billboard charts – at the time this was a first for gospel music. Her success is credited with increasing international interest in gospel music and even sparking the “Golden Age of Gospel.”
2. Yolanda Adams
Yolanda Yvette Adams is one of the most famous female gospel singers of all time, as well as one of the best-selling gospel artists, having sold over ten million albums worldwide. Her work has gone multi-platinum and she has won numerous honours including four Grammy Awards.
Adams was also the first Gospel artist to be awarded an American Music Award. She has scored five number one albums on Billboard’s Top Gospel Album with them listing her as one of the Top Gospel Artists of the 2010s.
Adams was awarded a place on the Black Music & Entertainment Walk of Fame in 2022. She has become known as the “Queen of Contemporary Gospel Music” and the “First Lady of Modern Gospel” while Variety dubbed her the “Reigning Queen of Urban Gospel.”
1. CeCe Winans
Priscilla Marie Winans Love, more commonly known by her stage name CeCe Winans, became famous as a member of the duo BeBe & CeCe Winans before eventually embarking on a highly acclaimed solo career.
Winans is considered to be one of the greatest, best-selling gospel artists of all time and the most-awarded gospel artist ever. She has been awarded fifteen Grammy Awards, the most for a female gospel singer, thirty-one GMA Dove Awards, sixteen Stellar Awards and seven NAACP Image Awards.
She has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and has recorded over seventeen million record sales certified by RIAA. Her stellar career and these stunning achievements are what arguably earn her the title as the most famous female gospel singer in the world today.
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