Top 10 Blues Singers You Need to Know

Blues music is an emotive genre known for its melancholic sounds and themes, which has produced many world-renowned artists since it originated from the Deep South following the Civil War in America in 1865.

In order to understand what blues is about, it is best to listen to some of the top Blues Singers. Below are 10 such musicians you should check out.

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1. Bessie Smith

Bessie Smith personified blues music like no one else could. Though her life was marked by hardship and tragedy – her father died young, mother and one brother also passed away, leaving her living in poverty most of her life – she excelled as an artist nonetheless.

She sang and toured as part of traveling troupes to earn money, and formed her own act at Atlanta’s 81 Theater around 1913. Smith’s recording career took off following Mamie Smith’s 1920 Okeh record Crazy Blues which caused the music industry to search for female blues singers; initially labeled too rough by critics, Smith’s vocal phrasing, embellishments, and breaths provided an emotional intensity which set her apart from competitors.

Bessie Smith’s songs drew on traditional blues themes of poverty and oppression, love and betrayal and accepting defeat at the hands of an unfair world. Bessie was an influential and powerful woman both on stage and off. She became known as The Empress of Blues.

2. B.B. King

King is widely recognized for being the pioneer of blues musicians who experimented with making money through extensive touring. His tours took him all around the globe and included playing venues like Bill Graham’s Fillmore East and Montreal Jazz Festival.

Born Riley B. King on September 16th 1925 in Itta Bena Mississippi and growing up on a cotton plantation with sharecropper parents who lost his mother at 10 years old, music became his emancipator; playing dimes in rural towns for extra income as a form of income generation and to demonstrate his talent was instrumental to him becoming financially independent and developing as an artist.

Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy and T-Bone Walker all learned much from his influence; furthermore he pioneered blues’ relationship to rock n roll music.

3. Etta James

Many have considered Etta James, known as the “Empress of the Blues,” the greatest female blues singer ever. Her unique whiskey-soaked voice distinguished her in an industry where male singers predominated.

Jamesetta Hawkins began singing as a church choir singer as a child, quickly transitioning into professional singing as she joined Johnny Otis’ band in San Francisco and recorded the raunchy Roll With Me Henry with Johnny Otis’ record company.

After her initial success, she signed with Chess Records and released several albums, scoring hits in both black entertainment markets and white music scenes. However, it never managed to break through completely into white music scene.

She combined jazz, R&B, and soul elements into her music throughout her career; her vocal style has even been imitated by such artists as Diana Ross and Janis Joplin. Additionally, her 1978 album Deep in the Night demonstrated she wasn’t afraid to experiment with different genres.

4. Buddy Guy

Buddy Guy is widely considered one of the greatest blues guitarists ever. His influence can be found amongst guitarists as diverse as Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix; his signature style stands out instantly.

He is also renowned for his mastery of slide guitar, having released multiple critically-acclaimed albums during his career. Most recently he collaborated with Music Maker Relief Foundation – an organization that provides assistance to older musicians throughout the American South – on their latest project of providing assistance for older musicians in need.

Howlin’ Wolf was one of the most menacing voices in Chicago blues, serving as an immense influence upon Muddy Waters and still popular today. His sound blended raw Delta shouting with early urban small-combo Chicago blues.

5. Sister Rosetta Tharpe

Born Rosetta Nubin in Arkansas, Tharpe grew up singing and playing guitar. Encouraged by her mother, by six she was performing regularly with their traveling evangelical troupe across the United States – singing and playing guitar before audiences across the nation. Soon thereafter she broke musical conventions by touring as a black woman performing alongside white men’s Gospel quartets.

Though Tharpe was unorthodox during her lifetime, her unconventional lifestyle led her to fame in the music industry. By her death she had survived multiple marriages as well as various relationships between both men and women.

Continue touring throughout Europe until she suffered a stroke, necessitating one of her legs to be amputated due to complications associated with diabetes. Sadly, she died shortly thereafter in 1973.

6. Janis Joplin

Janis Joplin epitomized rebellion during her time, becoming one of rock music’s first female rock stars at a time when rock was an all-male affair. With uncompromising rawness to her music and forceful, guttural vocals that set her apart from peers.

She viewed herself as an outcast who craved acceptance while rebelling against religious, sexual and racial conservatism in her hometown. Contrasting with her public persona was her quiet bookish personality which often got neglected.

Ray Charles was an innovative artist who adeptly combined country, jazz, gospel and blues on piano and saxophone. Known for his emotive vocal delivery and legendary status as one of the greatest blues singers ever, his influence can be felt even today; including Elvis Presley and The Rolling Stones who both acknowledged him as being influential to their respective blues musical careers. Furthermore, Charles established The Blues Foundation which promotes and preserves traditional blues – so often being called The Father of Blues himself!

7. Ray Charles

Ray Charles was an unparalleled talent who could transition seamlessly between jazz, blues, gospel and country genres. A brilliant pianist and saxophonist from Albany Georgia, Charles first started performing professionally on Florida Chitlin’ circuit before touring extensively throughout his life. Born blind at age 7, Charles blinded himself by age 7.

He is revered for his extraordinary voice. Capable of conveying both deep southern blues angst, yet smoothing his vocal delivery for more pop sounds like Georgia On My Mind (one of his signature songs), he stands out as an artist able to transcend blues with ease.

These ten blues singers stand out among a long list of incredible blues singers. Their ability to switch styles allowed them to produce timeless recordings that became classics; their music remains a reminder of the power and beauty of blues music today – still an influence for musicians of today as blues has expanded and transformed itself into new forms.

8. Robert Finley

He has often been compared to BB King and Albert King for his powerful vocal and guitar performances, and his music spans genres as diverse as blues, rock ‘n roll, R&B gospel jazz and country – with an unmistakably blues sound that crosses genre boundaries and boasts one of the greatest vocal delivery capabilities ever heard in blues music history.

Son House was an influential preacher and folk singer who rose above hostility toward “devil’s music” to make waves with his powerful blues recordings and performances. Few artists could match his intensity on stage!

Handy is widely credited as being one of the first musicians to publish songs labeled as blues music with flattened blue notes and the 12-bar blues progression. His song, “Memphis Blues,” served as an early blueprint for blues musicians; during his long and successful career which spanned over several decades and ultimately culminated in 2016 when his comeback album Age Don’t Mean a Thing was released to rave reviews from critics and listeners alike.

9. Willie Farmer

Ray Charles was one of the most iconic blues musicians ever. From his genre-hopping piano playing and amazing saxophone playing on hit songs like Hard Times, to helping bridge vaudeville with more authentic southern blues expression and adding gospel influences in songs like Hard Times, Ray was one of his kind.

Gertrude “Ma” Rainey was revered as a pioneer for female blues performers and was often called the Mother of the Blues for her signature vocal style, which combined senseless screaming with clever musical phrasing.

Though Little Willie Farmer didn’t sing much when he was growing up, his guitar playing talent caught the attention of Wolf Records’ Hannes Folterbauer in 2017. As a true musician – drawing on all sorts of emotions when performing and often being compared to Robert Johnson in terms of influence on younger rockers – Little Willie’s talent caught Hannes Folterbauer’s attention and allowed him to gain traction within the blues scene. Wolf Records recorded him and helped propel him towards success on stage and blues scene success.

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