If it wasn’t for the female singers of the ’60s and their conviction in a male-dominated industry, who knows where music would be today.
In recognition of this golden decade for female singers, Rocks Off is having a look at some of the greatest females singers of the ’60s and of all time.
20 Best Female Singers of the ’60s
20. Barbara Lynn
Barbara Lynn is a Texas-born rhythm and blues guitarist and singer/songwriter. At a young age, she learned to play the piano but it was the guitar that really struck a chord with her. By the time she was a teenager, she was doing the rounds in the local club scene where she was discovered and signed by Jamie Records.
Her 1962 debut single, “You’ll Lose A Good Thing,” went to No. 1 spot in the R&B charts and became a Billboard top 10 hit. To be a female singing your own soul and blues songs in Texas during the 1960s was uncommon, but to do so whilst rocking a left-handed Telecaster is even more extraordinary.
The success of her debut single led to opportunities touring with the likes of Chuck Berry, Stevie Wonder, BB King, Gladys Knight, Dionne Warwick, and more.
Cher is one of the most successful female singers of the ’60s, with her partnership with Sonny Bono selling over 40 million records worldwide by the end of 1967. At the age of 16, she left home and moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in the music industry.
By the time she was 19, the young Cher had recorded “I Got You Babe” with her folk-rock partner, Sonny Bono, becoming one of the highest-selling and most-loved hits of the mid-1960s, even knocking the Beatles off the top of their own charts back home.
18. Laura Nyro
Not only was Laura Nyro classed as one of the great female singers of the ’60s with her soulful soprano, but her songwriting capabilities that drew from R&B, gospel, soul, and jazz were uncommon in a period overcrowded by folk singer-songwriters.
Regardless of her avoidance from the limelight and often mainstream, she still managed to exert a large influence on revolutionary artists such as Elton John, Joni Mitchell, Tori Amos, and Kate Bush, just to name a few.
17. Karen Dalton
Karen Dalton is possibly one of the best female singers of the ’60s you’ve probably never heard of. She became a staple figure of the Greenwich Village folk scene and played alongside some big names such as Bob Dylan, Fred Neil, and Tim Hardin.
In his 2004 autobiography Chronicles, Dylan recollects her haunting voice, “My favorite singer in the place was Karen Dalton. Karen had a voice like Billie Holiday and played guitar like Jimmy Reed… I sang with her a couple of times.”
16. Barbra Streisand
Unlike most of the other female singers of the ’60s on this list, Barbra Streisand mainly sang classical renditions of theatre and cabaret-style during the 1960s. Signed to Columbia Records, her 1963 debut album, The Barbra Streisand Album, became a top 10 gold-selling record. Later on, with her career spanning six decades, she has become the best-selling female artist of all time having a No. 1 album in each decade.
15. Emmylou Harris
Although she made her musical debut at the later end of the decade, Emmylou Harris definitely deserves a place as one of the greatest female singers of the ’60s. Her debut album, Gilding Bird, was released in late 1969 but made little impact. Despite this, her voice was still as pure and sweet as we knew it to be throughout the rest of her long-lasting career.
14. Brenda Holloway
Often considered the best of the female singers of the ’60s at Motown, Brenda Holloway had the voice and the beauty. By the time she was 17-years-old, Brenda had been signed by and become the female face of Motown.
Her first recording at Motown, “Every Little Bit Hurts,” reached the No. 13 spot on the Billboard Hot 100. Despite the swiftness of her career, leaving Motown after four years, she’s had a long-lasting legacy and even became a cult figure during the UK’s northern soul movement.
13. Lesley Gore
One of the youngest female singers of the ’60s on our list, Lesley Gore was only 16-years-old when she was discovered by Quincy Jones and signed to Mercury Records. Only a month after turning 17, her song “It’s My Party” topped the Billboard Hot 100 chart and sold over a million copies, becoming gold certified.
Being so young, she became the voice of teenage girls frustrated by temperamental boyfriends, inspiring the transformation from blubbery self-pity to fierce self-assertion and confidence.
12. Joni Mitchell
Probably one of the most prolific female singers of the ’60s, Joni Mitchell has been one of the greatest singer-songwriters of the past half-century. Her first album in 1968, Joni Mitchell, produced by David Crosby, set her on a path to becoming the leading folk performer of the 1960s and 1970s.
11. Tina Turner
Tina Turner began the 1960s with a bang, recording the song “A Fool in Love” which became an instant hit in the R&B world. Off the back of this, the creation of the Ike & Tina Turner Revue became a huge success. Before long, they were touring with the Rolling Stones and recording with famed record producer Phil Spector.
10. Brenda Lee
Definitely the shortest of the female singers of the ’60s. What she lacked in height did certainly not affect her powerful voice and versatility over the years, earning the nickname “Little Miss Dynamite.” Signed by Decca Records, the single “Sweet Nothin’s” from her second studio album became her first major hit of many during the 1960s.
9. Cass Elliot
An integral figure in the 1960s California rock scene, Cass Elliot had one of the most distinctive voices of her time. Despite most of her success with the group the Mamas and Papas, no matter which group she was a part of, her distinct voice always managed to shine through.
8. Joan Baez
Probably one of the most accomplished interpretive female singers of the ’60s, Joan Baez became the beloved face of folk music during the 1960s. Her incredible soprano was not only used to entertain at festivals across the United States, but many Joan Baez songs became the anthems of various political causes over the years.
7. Dionne Warwick
One of the most sophisticated female singers of the ’60s, Dionne Warwick had a plethora of hits throughout the decade that resonated with people of all demographics. She became one of the most charted female vocalists of all time.
6. Janis Joplin
Janis Joplin had a voice unlike all other female singers of the ’60s. Her husky and explosive voice mesmerized audiences across the world. Not only this, but she also put her heart and soul into each performance, leaving audiences often shocked and left without words.
5. Dusty Springfield
Often described as “The Queen of Blue-Eyed Soul,” Dusty Springfield is Britain’s greatest female singer of the ’60s or possibly of all time. Her versatility ranged from blues to pop, and even show tunes. Elton John has even gone as far as to say that, “I just think she was the greatest white singer there ever has been.”
4. Shirley Bassey
The only of the female singers of the ’60s on our list to come from the small country of Wales, Shirley Bassey was one of the first black British entertainers to achieve national and global fame. Despite numerous hits in the United Kingdom, the “Goldfinger” theme song which she so famously sang had an enormous influence on her career and led to widespread acclaim in the United States.
3. Etta James
By the young age of five, Etta James was known as the gospel prodigy in her Los Angeles community. Blessed with one of the most powerful voices in music, it’s not hard to agree with acclaimed producer Jerry Wexler that she is “the greatest of all modern blues singers.”
2. Nina Simone
Although the nickname “The High Priestess of Soul,” Nina Simone wasn’t tied down by any musical genres. Instead, she sang everything with conviction and used her musical platform to speak out and take a stand.
I think Bob Dylan sums her up perfectly. “She was an overwhelming artist, piano player, and singer. Very outspoken and dynamite to see perform… the kind of artist that I loved and admired.”
1. Aretha Franklin
Sitting at the top of our list of the greatest female singers of the ’60s, Aretha Franklin was the real “Queen of Soul.” By the late 1960s, Franklin became an unstoppable force in the charts as well as a figure of black empowerment throughout the Civil Rights Movement. In 1987, she became the first-ever female artist to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
We hope you’ve enjoyed our list of the top 20 female singers of the ’60s.