200 Best Singers of All Time – Rolling Stone

From Sinatra to SZA, from R&B to salsa to alt-rock

Aretha Franklin described her mission as a singer this way: “Me with my hand outstretched, hoping someone will take it.” That deep, empathetic connection between artist and listener is the most elemental connection in music. And you can think of our list of the 200 greatest singers of all time as a celebration of that connection. These are the speakers who shaped history and defined our lives – from smooth operators to raw vocals, from gospel to punk, from Sinatra to Selena to SZA.

When Rolling Stone we first published the list of the 100 Greatest Singers in 2008, we used an elaborate voting process that included input from famous musicians. The results were moving towards classic rock and singers from the sixties and seventies. This new list was compiled by our staff and key contributors, and includes 100 years of pop music as an ongoing global conversation, where legendary Indian singer Lata Mangeshkar lands between Amy Winehouse and Johnny Cash, and salsa queen Celia Cruz up there in the ranking with Prince and Marvin Gaye. You may notice, say, that there are no operas on our list – that’s because we’re looking at big pop music, meaning that almost every artist had important roles on this list as crossover stars making popular music for the masses.

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Before you start scrolling (and commenting), keep in mind that this is the list of the greatest singers, not the Greatest Voices List. Talent is amazing; genius is transcendent. Yes, many of the people here were born with great pipes, perfect pitch, and endless pitch. Others have rougher, stranger, or finer instruments. As our write-up for the man who finished at No. 112 says, “Ozzy Osbourne doesn’t have what most people would call a great voice, but boy does he have a great voice. That might apply to more than a few people here.

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In all cases, originality, impact, depth of an artist’s catalog, and breadth of musical legacy were most important to us. A voice can be proud like Mariah Carey’s, rough like Toots Hibbert’s, understated like Willie Nelson’s, smooth and interesting like D’Angelo’s, or bracing like Bob Dylan’s. But in the end, the singers behind it are here for one reason: they can remake the world just by opening their mouths.

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