Hello, lovely readers! Welcome to another article in the “Influential Women'' series. This time we will be covering influential women from the genre rhythm and blues, better known by the abbreviation R&B. While I am not someone who listens to R&B often, I do enjoy a considerable amount of songs from the genre, especially ones by female artists.
While conducting research for this topic, I found it difficult to narrow down the list to five women. A lot of women have contributed a lot to R&B, but unfortunately, I do not have the time to cover all of them. As a result, I will more than likely do a part two of this topic next week. Anyway, without further ado, let’s move onto the women of today’s article.
- Aretha Franklin
First on our list is none other than Aretha Franklin. Dubbed as the “Queen of Soul,” Franklin has been described as a renowned musician for her “vocal flexibility, interpretive intelligence, skillful piano-playing, her ear, her experience” (according to Matt Dobkin, author of “I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You: Aretha Franklin, Respect, and the Making of a Soul Music Masterpiece.” As a young child, Franklin sang gospel at New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit, Michigan. It wasn’t until the age of eighteen when she pursued a career of her own. She did not achieve prominence, however, until signing with Atlantic Records in 1966. With the release of hits such as “I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You),” “Respect,” and “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” all eyes were on Aretha Franklin.
Over the span of her long career, Franklin recorded 112 charted singles on Billboard, including seventy-seven Hot 100 entries. She has won eighteen Grammy Awards (even winning eight consecutive awards for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance) and sold over seventy-five million records worldwide. Amongst a multitude of other awards, Franklin was the first woman inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987. She is recognized as one of the greatest artists of all-time and has influenced a variety of performers all around the world, especially those in the African-American community.
- Chaka Khan
Influenced by the late Aretha Franklin, Chaka Khan is known as the “Queen of Funk.” She began her career in 1973 as lead singer of the funk band Rufus, who she continued to perform with until their break-up in 1983. Rufus’ breakout began in 1974 with “Tell Me Something Good,” which artist Stevie Wonder had originally penned for Khan. The song peaked at number three on the Billboard Hot 100 and earned the band their first Grammy Award in the Best R&B Vocal Performance by a Duo, Group, or Chorus category.
According to Khan’s official website, she officially debuted as a solo artist with the release of “I’m Every Woman,” written by Ashford and Simpson for her debut album “Chaka” (1978). Thanks to the song’s success, the album went platinum and sold over a million copies. It wasn’t until 1984, however, that Khan became a household name. With the release of her sixth studio album “I Feel For You” (1984), featuring the title track of the same name written by Prince, Khan’s career was relaunched. “I Feel For You” won Khan a Grammy in 1985 for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance and was also the first R&B song to feature a rap (performed by Grandmaster Melle Mel). As of 2019 Khan has released a total of twelve studio albums as a soloist.
- Mary J. Blige
Dubbed as the “Queen of Hip-Hop Soul,” Mary J. Blige is credited with intertwining hip-hop and R&B. According to Ethan Brown of The New Yorker, Blige’s two albums “What’s the 411?” and “My Life” invented “the sample-heavy sound that reinvigorated urban radio and became a blueprint for nineties hip-hop and R&B.” Tom Horan of The Daily Telegraph also states that Blige is responsible for inventing “what is now called R&B by successfully combining female vocals with muscular hip hop rhythm tracks. All over the world, that recipe dominates today's charts."
As of 2020, Blige has released thirteen studio albums, sold over fifty million albums in the United States and eighty million records worldwide, and won nine Grammy Awards. According to Billboard, Blige has also earned ten number one albums on the R&B/Hip Hop Albums chart. Besides music, Blige has also branched into acting. Her most prominent film role, however, is Florence Jackson from the 2017 historical-drama Mudbound. For her role, Blige was nominated for Best Supporting Actress at the Academy Awards and was also nominated for Best Original Song (“Mighty River”); she also received nominations from Screen Actors Guild and the Golden Globes.
- Mariah Carey
Referred to as the Songbird Supreme due to her five-octave vocal range and signature whistle notes, Mariah Carey is often recognized as one of the greatest and most influential artists of all time. According to musical critic G. Brown of The Denver Post, her octave range has influenced a generation of pop singers. A multitude of media outlets have also made note of “melisma-mad Mariah wannabes” (says Jody Rosen of Slater) on programs such as American Idol and the X-Factor. Carey has also influenced a number of R&B artists today such as Brandy Norwood, Mary J. Blige, and Beyonce.
During the span of her career, Carey has sold over two-hundred million records worldwide. Nineteen songs of hers have topped the Billboard Hot 100; thus, according to Billboard, she holds the record for most number one singles by a solo artist, a female songwriter, and a female producer. She is the second-highest certified female artist in the United States with over 66.5 million certified album units, according to the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). Carey is also an inductee of the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
Last but not least, we cannot forget the Princess of R&B. With only three studio albums released during her twelve year career, Aaliyah made a lasting impact on the music industry which can still be felt today. She is described as one of R&B’s most important artists in the 1990s – according to Steve Huey of AllMusic, Aaliyah is responsible for “popularizing the stuttering, futuristic production style that consumed hip-hop and urban soul in the late 1990s.” Erika Ramirez of Billboard also notes that during the span of Aaliyah’s career, “there weren't many artists using the kind of soft vocals the way she was using it, and now you see a lot of artists doing that and finding success.”
As of December 2008, Aaliyah has sold over 8.1 million albums in the United States and an estimated total of twenty-four to thirty-two million albums worldwide. She has won three American Music Awards, two MTV Video Music Awards, and has also been nominated for five Grammy Awards. Her impact has influenced fellow R&B artists such as Beyonce, Monica, Ciara and more.