Over the past 40 years, there have been several female R&B singers that topped the charts with some of their biggest hits and albums. They have dominated our attention, whether it’s the lyrics in their songs, live performances, or their activities outside of singing.
Our list is comprised of powerhouse female entertainers, who conveyed so much emotion, passion, and uniqueness in their body of work. These women are still leading by example today for other artists because their music has inspired younger female singers to leave their mark in R&B music. Even if the R&B veterans decide to retire from the stage, their music reminds us why they have been enduring artists to everyone over many generations to come.
For Women’s History Month, Singersroom decided to write a piece that honors the fore-mothers of R&B. We selected a signature song from each of our fore-mothers and we narrowed it down to the Top 15.
Check out our exclusive list by hitting next.
Donna Summer – Love to Love You Baby
The Queen of Disco released the sensual and sultry single, "Love to Love You Baby," in 1975 and it became her breakthrough hit. Even though the lyrics in the song were somewhat explicit, women can get in touch with their femininity and erotic side. And what other female artist can have 23 orgasms in one song? That is a lot of moaning, but it is the ideal record when you want to have a private session with your mate. Over the years, artists such as Beyoncé, No Doubt, and TLC sampled Donna's "Love to Love You Baby."
Tina Turner – What's Love Got to Do With It
"What's Love Got to Do With It" became Tina Turner's first and only number one single back in 1984, and it's on Rolling Stone's list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. The 11x Grammy award winner recorded a number one single without her ex-husband, Ike Turner, which exemplifies her growth and maturity as an artist. Critics realized she didn't need Ike to make her name for herself as a solo artist. In 1993, the song title was used for the autobiographical film starring Angela Bassett and Lawrence Fishbourne.
Regina Belle – Baby Come to Me
"Baby Come to Me" is one of R&B's best quiet storm records, because Regina Belle's voice makes the song so alluring. She is telling her mate what she wants from him and yearns for his love. When you hear Regina's "Baby Come to Me," it will make you perform a sexy dance for your lover. The woman will come out with lingerie and high heels and start dancing right away. Regina Belle, one of the greatest female vocalists of all time, recorded a song that will make people want to love their mate in a special way.
Stephanie Mills – Something in the Way You Make Me Feel
"Something in the Way You Make Me Feel" was Stephanie Mills' fourth number one single, but what's special about this song is that she puts her heart and soul into it. Music lovers can sense when an artist is on point with their vocals. Back in the late 70s and 80s, Stephanie Mills was the "golden girl" in R&B. This is a song you play for your lover when you're trying to express how you feel about them. Singer-songwriter Angela Winbush knew what she was doing when she wrote and produced this song for Mills.
Phyllis Hyman – You Know How to Love Me
Phyllis Hyman’s "You Know How to Love Me" is an easy-listen record that became a smash in the clubs. Even though it was not a number one hit, it is a classic in R&B music. Hyman's voice is the epitome of real talent; she was a true gem. "You Know How to Love Me" can make anyone feel closer to their loved one; everyone wants a glimpse of real love.
Anita Baker – Sweet Love
''Sweet Love" is from Anita Baker's second studio album, Rapture, and it was classified as contemporary rhythm and blues. The Grammy award winning single has a smooth jazz musical composition and the lyrics makes the song more compelling. In the song, Anita believes in love and the impact behind the four letter word. You can dedicate this song to the hopeless romantics!
Natalie Cole – This Will Be (An Everlasting Love)
The upbeat "This Will Be (An Everlasting Love)," by Natalie Cole, was her debut single in 1975, and won a Grammy for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance. This song will always be a timeless. Many movies, including The Parent Trap and Must Love Dogs, used the song in their films. Natalie has many merits to her name because she is a brilliant singer. Her voice can light up any room. "This Will Be (An Everlasting Love)" is further confirmation for everyone that love can last forever, but it's up to you to put your best foot forward.
Gladys Knight & The Pips – Midnight Train to Georgia
"Midnight Train to Georgia," a number one single from Gladys Knight & The Pips, became Gladys Knight's biggest song to date. It received a Grammy for Best R&B Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group. The song talks about how love conquers all, especially when a man pursues his dream as a musician after moving to Los Angeles. However, it doesn't work out so he decides to return to Georgia as his woman stands by his side. If that's not loyal, then I don't know what is after listening to this song.
Teena Marie – Square Biz
When you hear the phrase, "Everybody Get Up," the DJ is getting ready to play the Ivory Queen of Soul or Lady T's “Square Biz.” Over the years, musicians and other media outlets have sampled Teena's party anthem. "Square Biz" is one of Teena's greatest hits because the song makes you feel alive. This is a timeless record and it can be played at parties, BBQs, or high school reunions.
Diana Ross – I'm Coming Out
When you hear Diana Ross' "I'm Coming Out," you feel fantastic and liberated because you're ready to reveal yourself to the world. Chic's founders Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards wrote a song that also allowed the LGBT community to not be afraid of their sexual orientation. Diana Ross' "I'm Coming Out," was a special gift to the gay community because she was and still supports gay rights.
Dionne Warwick and Friends – That's What Friends Are For
The Grammy-award winning record, "That's What Friends Are For," ft. Gladys Knight, Elton John, and Stevie Wonder, will remind everyone the true meaning of friendship and being there for each other through thick and thin. In the song, the all-star group says, “Keep smiling, keep shining/ Knowing you can always count on me, for sure/That's what friends are for.” Dionne, Stevie, Gladys, and Elton recorded the song to raise awareness around the HIV/AIDS virus. The song is still an excellent addition to R&B and pop/music.
Etta James – At Last
When Etta James recorded the song, "At Last," in 1960, music critics were very receptive with the diverse record, which is a mixture of many musical elements including, R&B, blues, and jazz. James' voice on the song is so soulful and it will give you chills up and down your spine. It is classified as one of R&B's biggest love songs. "At Last" is one of the songs that allowed black musicians to cross over to mainstream music.
Patti Labelle – If Only You Knew
"If Only You Knew" became Patti Labelle's crossover hit in 1983. The song, which talks about a woman seeking her love interest, became Patti's first number one single as a solo artist, and many artists re-recorded the smooth an classic single including SWV, Tamia, Brian McKnight, Peabo Bryson, Ledisi, and Keke Wyatt.
Chaka Khan – I'm Every Woman
"I'm Every Woman" was the first single Chaka Khan recorded without her group, Rufus, and it became a huge hit. The song proved to everyone that Chaka can have a successful solo career once Rufus disbanded. The songwriters behind the disco/funk record was legendary R&B duo, Ashford & Simpson. In 1993, Whitney Houston recorded her version of the song for the movie, The Bodyguard, and it went straight to number one on the Billboard Hot 100, logging 8 weeks. Houston also pays tribute to Khan when she says "Chaka Khan" towards the end of the song.
Aretha Franklin – Respect
Back in 1967, the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin recorded the song, "Respect," which urges people to respect each other. She also recorded the Grammy award winning record for women that are demanding respect from their significant other. More than likely, everyone's favorite part in the song is when Aretha spells out the word R.E.S.P.E.C.T in the chorus while the background singers coo "Sock it to me, sock it to me, sock it to me." The single "Respect" is still considered to be a platform for women empowerment and standing up for what you believe is right and true.