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The music industry has been male-dominated since the beginning. Even when it comes to the African-American culture of music, the industry was still male-centered. From categories such as Jazz, Blues, R&B and Hip-hop, women have been showing up and showing out. This article will be focusing on powerful women in R&B from the 60s to now. Let’s jump into some of the most influential women in R&B.


The Era of 60s Music

  1. Aretha Franklin, a Memphis, Tennessee, native who signed with Columbia Records in New York City. She shocked the world with some of her hit songs like “Respect”, “A Natural Woman” and “Spanish Harlem”. She even became the first female artist inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1987. Earning 18 Grammy Awards, with a total of around 26 nominations Aretha Franklin is considered to be one of the greatest R&B singers of her time and is still legendary. 


  1.  Tina Turner, a powerful woman who dealt with public hardships in her personal life was another legend of the 60s. Her spotlight began to shine as she performed with her then husband’s group and became the main attraction at their shows. With hit songs like “A Fool In Love” at the beginning of her career and “What’s Love Got To Do With It” later on, Turner racked up a total of 12 Grammy Awards. One Grammy Award being the Life Time Achievement Award. 


Powerful Women In the 70s

  1. Diana Ross, originally a member of the Supremes trio, is from Detroit, Michigan. She branched off into a solo career and even began acting. With songs like “ Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and “Love Hangover”, Ross won many awards. Just to name a few, she has won a number of music awards, Grammy Awards and a Golden  Globe Award. Ross’ legacy will live on through her children who have followed her path into the media industry. 


  1. Gladys Knight began her career singing with her siblings in a group called ‘The Pits” and opening up for big R&B artists. In the mid-70s the group was more centered around  Gladys Knight, as the group soon became known as “Gladys Knight And The Pips”. Along with them hosting their own TV show, appearing in a film and recording a soundtrack for that film, Gladys Knight And The Pips were on top of the Billboards. Some of their hit songs in the 70s include, “I’ve Got To Use My Imagination” and “Midnight Train To Geargia” won Grammy Awards.


R&B In The 80s

  1. Anita Baker, inspired by Jazz, Gospel and Traditional Pop, became a staple R&B artist for the 80s.  Baker, like many others, started her professional career in a music group. Starting her solo career round 1983, she released popular songs like “Ain’t Got No Need To Worry” and “Giving You The Best I Got” won Baker some Grammy Awards. Once the 90s rolled around she took a break from her career after having a child.   


  1. Chaka Khan, known as the Queen of Funk-Soul, is another Grammy Award winner. She started off in a music group named Rufus and eventually ventured off into a solo career. With popular hit songs like “Tell Me Something Good”, “I’m Every Woman” and “This Is My Night”, Chaka Khan’s solo career was at an all-time during the 80s. Even though her popularity declined once the trend of music changed, she accomplished other things. Khan went into acting and even began the “Chaka Khan Foundation”. Her foundation helped at-risk children and autistic children from low-income households.


Taking Over The 90s

  1. Whitney Houston is a New Jersey Native and legend. She made her debut in the 80s but she definitely took over the 90s. Her hit songs “I Will Always Love You” and “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” was on the top of the charts.


  1. Mary J. Blige is known as the “Queen of Hip Hop Soul”. She has not been crowned with a “legendary” title yet, but she has won a number of music awards and influenced the culture of music. She went from growing up in a small town in New York to a music sensation. Some of her biggest songs are “Family Affair”, “Real Love” and “Be Without You”. 


The Early 2000s

  1. Beyonce Knowles began her music career in a female group with three other members. Knowles released her first solo album was in 2003. “Irreplaceable”, “If I Were A Boy” and “Deja Vu” gained her some of her biggest fans. She also entered the world of acting around this time. She currently has one of the biggest fan bases today.

  2. Alicia Keys debuted her second album in 2003. She also won several Grammy Awards at this time for songs like “My Boo” and “Doesn’t Mean Nothing”. What made Keys stand out is the fact that she was also a pianist. She was a hit in the early 2000s but still makes music today. 


Current R&B Spotlight

  1. Lizzo is a multi-faceted artist who gained most of her popularity off of her hit song “Truth Hurts”. She combined the Houston rap, gospel and classical flute to make her original sound. She addresses issues in her music that relate to her. She hasn’t won any major music awards yet, but her song has been on the Billboard Hot 100.


  1. Jhené Aiko stepped on the R&B scene in the early 2000s but just like any other artist you have to build your reputation. She is now better known for some projects she worked on with rappers Drake and Big Sean. One of her first albums “Souled Out” appeared on Billboard 200. She still gives her fans that soothing R&B sound with her more recent songs like “Triggered”


During all of these eras, there were also other strong and talented women who took the R&B category by storm, this article is only naming a few. If you haven’t listened to any of these artists … what are you doing? Share some of these artists with your friends. Try to listen to them on a chill Friday night and see what you think!

Kiana Goshorn

Hampton U '21

Kiana Goshorn is a junior strategic communication major from New York. Her interest includes marketing and event planning.
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