The 1960s was a time of significant social and political cage-rattling. Much of that rattling came from the words propelled by the vibrating vocal cords of the women during that turbulent decade.
Whether they were Black or White, young or old, the 1960s had no shortage of phenomenally talented artists. The 1960s saw a new wave of talent in ways that the decade was almost not even ready for. Let’s look at 25 of the greatest 1960s female singers, and dig into what made their careers so special.
British Female Singers of the 60s
Let’s first begin this list with some amazingly talented British female singers, such as the great Dusty Springfield.
- 1939-1999 (life)
- 1958-1995 (career)
Widely considered to be the most beloved, if not most famous British female singer during the 1960s, and perhaps one of the most famous of any singer from that decade is, Mary Isobel Catherine Bernadette O’Brien.
Her friends called her “Dusty.” Dusty Springfield spear-headed female Blue-Eyed Soul (white performers singing R&B) and she quickly became an icon in the UK youth-led “Swinging Sixties” counterculture.
She was an iconic mezzo-soprano with a gentle yet soulful singing voice that can be heard on classics like “I Only Want To Be With You,” “I’ll Try Anything,” and the timeless “Son of A Preacher Man.”
- 1945-present (life)
- 1960s (career)
You’ll find that several singers on this list had profoundly lasting effects on music and culture despite their success fizzing out past the 1960s. Carol Hedges, or rather her stage name Billie Davis, was one of these British ladies.
Billie was only in her late teens when she recorded her cover of “Tell Him,” which is considered to be her crowning achievement. Though a bad car accident and physical recovery set her career back some steps, she is still considered to have been a large influence on women’s 1960s fashion. Bobbed hair, long boots, leather miniskirts – Billie was one of the first to make it all col.
- 1944-present (life)
- 1960s-1970s (career)
Her brief career was set back by not one but two horrid car crashes, but Carol Deene’s bubbly Pop music presence still thrives in delightful recordings like “I Want To Stay Here,” “Norman,” and “Johnny Get Angry.”
She never saw the same kind of success after her car crashes, but since she has walked the path of a radio station manager and has been running her own local radio station with her husband.
- 1947-present (life)
- 1964-2013 (career)
Sandie Shaw is among the most famous of the 1960s British female pop singers. The British in the early 1960s were pretty black and white – if you were a musical artist back then in Britain, chances are you were either one of the dozen people who were into Rock & Roll or you were really into the Pop music of the time.
Sandie’s music may have been “just Pop,” but her delightful energy can be found in tracks like “There’s Always Something There to Remind Me,” “Long Live Love,” and “Puppet on a String.” Sadie is also a successful businesswoman, launching her own fashion brand in 1968. She received an MBE title in 2018 and holds it proudly.
- 1932-1966 (life)
- 1952-1966 (career)
Nicknamed “the girl with a giggle in her voice,” Alma Cogan was the highest paid female singer in Britain during the 1960s Pop scene. Her nickname was first given when she broke out into giggles during a recording of “If I Had a Golden Umbrella” and the giggle stuck. However, a rapidly changing world would soon dampen her success.
With the rise of The Beatles and other Rock bands, the brief yet potent London Pop scene began to get replaced with Blues-based electric guitars and long-haired gangly teenage boys. Though her image went from hip to square overnight, she remained a prominent and respected figure in the music business until her untimely death at the age of 34.
- 1943-2015 (life)
- 1963-2015 (career)
Priscilla Maria Veronica White (or rather Cilla Black) was the best-selling British female Pop singer of the 1960s. Cilla also ventured into becoming a successful television show personality, hosting classic gameshows such as The Moment of Truth, Surprise Surprise, and Blind Date.
Her powerful yet vulnerable singing style is the crème de la cop of 1960s female singers from Britain.
Black Female Singers of the 60s
Let’s now dive into some of the excellent black female singers that made the 1960s so amazing.
- 1942-2018 (life)
- 1954-2018 (career)
Probably the most well-known of the Black female artists on this list, Aretha Franklin, also known as thee “Queen of Soul,” dominated the charts with an over six decade-long career, including the height of her popularity in the 1960s.
One of the most respected (no pun intended) female singers of the 20th century, the timeless flow and heavenly power of her voice can be heard in her hits like “Respect,” “Chain of Fools,” and “You Make Me Feel (Like a Natural Woman).”
- 1938-2012 (life)
- 1954-2012 (career)
First getting her start at Chicago’s Chess Records, Etta James lent her distinctive and powerful voice to a number of different genres throughout her career, from Blues to Funk to Jazz.
However, she’s probably most remembered for her 1961 love ballad “At Last!”, which remains a hugely popular wedding song. Other hit songs of hers include “I’d Rather Go Blind,” “I Never Meant To Love Him,” and the ballad of unrequited love, “All I Could Do Was Cry.” Etta’s deep, rich, earthy voice was one of the strongest bridges between R&B and Rock & Roll at the time.
- 1933-2003 (life)
- 1954-2002 (career)
Nicknamed the “High Priestess of Soul,” Nina Simone was just as much of a musical composer as she was a singer. With her hauntingly alto vocal range and her mad piano skills, Nina explored musical genres from Blues, R&B, Classical, and traditional African roots rhythm.
Her hit Jazz song “I Love You, Porgy” has become a standard in its own right. If you want to hear Nina at her best, which is saying something, listen to her down-and-dirty yet classy proclamation song “Feeling Good.”
- 1944-present (life)
- 1960-present (career)
We’ve discussed both the Queen and the High Priestess of Soul, but now it’s time to bring up the Godmother of Soul: Patti Labelle. She began her unparalleled 7-decades long career as the lead singer of Patti LaBelle and The Bluebelles, earning her worldwide success.
A dramatic soprano of a singer, some of her biggest hits include “If You Only Knew,” “Somebody Love You Baby,” and “You Are My Friend.” Still going strong to this day, Patti remains a force to be reckoned with in popular music and remains one of the greatest 1960s female singers of any color.
- 1944-present (life)
- 1956-present (career)
Dianna Ross is one of those artists where you repeatedly say to yourself “wait, that was her?” when you explore her career. Ever heard of The Supremes? If you haven’t heard the name, then you’ve heard of songs like “Baby Love” and “Where Did Our Love Go.”
The Supremes remains the single most commercially successful all-girl music group of all time, that didn’t stop Dianna from thriving on her own solo career. Shew has released such classics as “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” She continues to be a prominent figure in popular music today.
- 1927-2008 (life)
- 1942-2008 (career)
Not many can say they’ve not only led a successful singing career, but have also played Cat Woman, become a sex symbol, and find a career in character acting later in life. Eartha Kitt certainly did all the above and then some. Though her career began in the early 1940s, Eartha’s influence remained strong throughout the 1960s.
Famously called by Orson Welles “The most exciting woman in the world,” Eartha Kitt’s ruthless confidence and playful sexuality can be heard in her hits from the 1940s like “Santa Baby” as well as her 1960s hits. Even though anti-Vietnam War statement she made at a White House dinner in 1968 nearly ruined her career, Eartha continued to perform until her death.
- 1944-present (life)
- 1956-present (career)
Like the other ladies on this list, Barbara Lynn is a singer. Unlike many ladies on this list, Barbara Lynn is a top-notch Rhythm & Blues guitarist. She’s likely best known for her 1962 hit “You’ll Loose a Good Thing.” Though the vibe of her songs was more R&B ballad and less Blues, she lent her footprint in the process of R&B becoming more widely accepted.
It was unusual for the time to not only have a Black female singer sing and write her own songs, but to also play the lead instrument, and not just any instrument! Guitar had much more of a masculine association in the early 60s, so Barbara was just the challenge to the standards that was needed then.
- 1940-present (life)
- 1955-present (career)
She may be just known as “Whitney Huston’s cousin” to some people, but Dionne Warwick is and always has been much more than that. While most Black female singers during the 1960s thrived in the musical genres of Blues and Jazz, Dionne Warwick was about the only Black female singer to look at Pop music similar to that of someone more like Billie Davis and take her own crack at it.
Dionne ranks among the 40 biggest US hit makers between 1955 and 1999. Her velvety smooth vocal approach can be heard on her classic songs like “Walk On By,” “Heartbreaker,” and “I Say A Little Prayer.”
- 1937-present (life)
- 1953-present (career)
It wasn’t common in 1960s Britain for someone to be both Black and Welsh, but Shirley Bassey was, and it gave the world the shake it needed. Shirley’s first and likely greatest claim to fame was when she lent her expressive powerhouse of a voice to not one, not two, but three different James Bond film opening songs: “Goldfinger,” “Diamonds Are Forever, and “Moonraker.”
Her release of her most recent album, 2020’s “I Owe It All To You” (She was over 80 years old upon its release) confirmed that Shirley Bassey became the first female artist to chart an album in the top 40 of the UK Albums Chart in seven consecutive decades.
How does that even happen?
- 1946-present (life)
- 1962-1966, 1990s – present (career)
Few of these female singers kicked the door down, slayed with what they did, and then just for personal reasons decided to retire young after just four years of tearing up the Motown scene. Say hello to Brenda Holloway!
She was merely 22 when she all but retired from the music industry, but she has stuck around. She jumped back into performing in the 1990s and has been back in full swing since. Her musical style had a profound effect on Northern Soul, a 1960s Blues and R&B musical movement in Northern England.
Brenda Holloway just might be one of my favorite old school R&B artists that, sadly, far too many music fans have never heard of.
Famous Female Singers of the 60s
Let’s now talk a bit about female singers that were famous in the 1960s, not just for their amazing music, but for what they did and were known for outside of the music studio.
- 1932 – Present (life)
- 1962-1970 (career)
Here she is: The Queen of Rock & Roll. Janis Joplin changed the world in a mere eight-year career that was infamously cut short. Janis was heavily influenced by raw side of Blues and R&B as well as by the 1960s Hippie counterculture movement, of which she was an icon.
After performing at the historic Woodstock concert, she tragically died from a drug overdose at the age of 27, inducting her into the infamous 27 Club. She had a voice as raspy as sandpaper, yet brave, vulnerable, and authentic. People had never heard anything like her immortal Rock ballads like “Me & Bobby McGee,” “Cry Baby,” and “(Take Another) Piece of My Heart.”
- 1939 – Present (life)
- 1964 – 1990 (career)
You may not know her name, but you know the band she was famous for singing in. Although she sang in a few bands through her career, Grace Slick was most famous for being one of the main singers in the San Francisco Hippie’s paradise band, Jefferson Airplane. She was also nicknamed the “Acid Queen.”
You do the math there.
Her haunting voice soars like a psychedelic eagle with generation-defining songs like “White Rabbit” and “(Don’t You Want) Somebody To Love.” Most people picture the animated blonde Disney version when they think of Alice making her way through Wonderland. I picture Grace Slick.
- 1943 – Present (life)
- 1964-2002; 2006 – 2007 (career)
Is there any entry on this list more lovely, likable, and uniquely talented? Joni Mitchell in many ways one of the original “Folk singing girls,” playing her open-tuned acoustic guitar along with her Walk Whitman-caliber spoken poetry lyrics.
She also has one of the airiest, on-cloud-nine singing voices out there. Rolling Stone Magazine puts her at 9th place in their Top 100 Greatest Songwriters list. You can hear both her lyrics and her voice in classics like “Both Sides Now,” “Big Yellow Taxi,” and “Woodstock.”
- 1941-present (life)
- 1958-present (career)
Joan Baez was Bob Dylan before Bob Dylan. What I mean by that is that Joan was arguably the kick-starter of the New York Folk revival scene in the early to mid 1960s. She was one of the very first artists to go to a local café and sing a solo Folk song with an acoustic guitar and obscure, anti-establishment lyrics.
Joan generally covered other artist’s work, including Bob Dylan’s songs when he was just starting out on the same scene. Joan was already an internationally recognized star by the time Bob showed up with his ideas, so her covering of his material helped launch his initial publicity. Some of her most famous recordings are “Diamonds and Rust,” “We Shall Overcome,” and “Forever Young.”
- 1950-1983 (life)
- 1968-1983 (career)
The brother/sister duo group of The Carpenters is something special. At least half of that special vibe came from Karen Carpenter. Along with her older brother Richard, the two of them formed the Folk-Pop group The Carpenters in the late 1960s, achieving critical and commercial success.
Karen started as the drummer of the duo but eventually moved to be the front woman. She tragically died from complications due to anorexia at the age of 32. Her death brought more awareness to the dangers of eating disorders that were previously largely unknown. Some of her best vocal work is on tracks like “Close To You,” “Top of The World,” and “We’ve Only Just Begun.”
- 1942-present (life)
- 1960-present (career)
Though this woman’s career has spanned over six decades and is still counting, one of those decades was the 1960s. Barbara Streisand is easily one of the most famous and beloved best 1960s female singers, or of any decade. On top of being a massively successful singer, Barbara is also a prolific actor, both on stage and in film.
Despite her first several albums being considered renditions of classic standards, they still helped the world get a taste of Streisand. She remains one of the most monolithic figures in entertainment. Hear one of the last great belters do her things in songs like “People,” Somewhere,” and “Evergreen.”
- 1946-present (life)
- 1963-present (career)
This lady has been around for a hot minute so much so that one can forget she is there: she’s always been omnipotent. Widely regarded as the “Goddess of Pop,” Cherilyn Sarkisian started her unprecedented career in the early 1960s. She has covered genres everywhere from Folk and Rock to Pop, Dance, and Disco, and she has gone through countless looks for performance and artistry’s sake.
She is the only musical artist thus far to have a number-one single on the charts for six consecutive decades. Her accolades include a Grammy, an Emmy, three Golden Globes, and even an Academy Award for best lead actress in 1987’s Moonstruck. Some of her biggest albums include “The Sonny Side of Chér,” “Chér,” and “With Love, Chér.”
- 1944-present (life)
- 1951-present (career)
Though she be but little, she is fierce. I think Shakespeare said that. All 4’9” of Brenda Lee, nicknamed “Little Miss Dynamite,” ranted 4the place for number of US chart hits, only behind the likes of Elvis Presley, The Beatles, and Ray Charles. Her preferred music genres to sing were Pop, Rockabilly, and Country.
Before new names started showing up in the 60s, Brenda was one of the very first American musical artists to have a major international following in the way we understand it today. Some of her most popular hits include “I’m Sorry” and the Christmas standard, “Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree.”
- 1946-2015 (life)
- 1963-2014 (career)
When the legendary Quincy Jones discovered future teen girl icon Leslie Gore, she was a junior in high school. At only 16 years old, she recorded “It’s My Party” in 1963, which rose to first place on the US charts. Some of her defiant tracks include “Judy’s Turn To Cry,” and “You Don’t Own Me.”
As opposed to the relatively clean-cut and presentable song topics of many other of her contemporaries, Leslie took the opportunity to let loose the confusion, frustration, and overall angst that young women in 1960s America had every reason to feel.
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