Female Jazz Singers through the Ages

There have been several influential female jazz singers through the ages that have significantly impacted the music industry and the genre overall. 

But who are these female jazz musicians worthy of being remembered for their soulful crooning, beautiful voices, immense talent, and genre-defying music? In this blog, we’ll take you through the ages and discuss a few of the best female jazz singers from the 1950s to now. Let’s dive in. 

Who Was the First Female Jazz Singer? 

Mamie Smith is often credited as being the first female jazz singer. She recorded and released “Crazy Blues” in 1920, and it became a huge success. This marked the first record of a black female artist to be recorded singing the blues (or jazz as we know it today).

While she may not technically have been recognized as a jazz singer, her influence on jazz and its evolution cannot be denied. In her success as an artist, other female jazz and blues artists rose up and gained recognition.

Related article: modern jazz artists 2023

Women Jazz Singers: The Most Famed of the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s


In the 1950s, Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan were the most famous female jazz singers of their time. Ella Fitzgerald was known for her unforgettable vocal technique and ability to master scat singing; thus, she was aptly named “First Lady of Song.” 

Sara Vaughan also impressed many with her vocal range and rich voice. Her hit songs “Lullaby of Birdland” and “Misty” were widely popular, and she was an influential figure in the jazz industry.


Nina Simone and Dinah Washington were both famous in the 1960s and had a profound impact on jazz. Nina Simone was renowned for being a versatile artist with a powerful voice. Her emotive performances expanded jazz, blues, and soul. The most memorable examples of her abilities are seen in songs like “My Baby Just Cares for Me” and “Feeling Good.” 

Dinah Washington also had an unforgettable voice and delivered each song passionately. One song she sang that impacted jazz during this time was “What a Difference a Day Makes.” This song in particular made her a jazz icon.


In the 1970s, Billie Holiday and Carmen McRae were two of the biggest and most popular women jazz singers. McRae was considered a respected jazz artist with expressive phrasing and unique vocals. Holiday impacted jazz in the early 1970s, with huge songs like “God Bless the Child” and “Strange Fruit.” 


Anita Baker and Dianne Reeves were the queens of jazz in the 1980s. Anita made it big and became an influencer after she blended jazz with other genres, such as soul and R&B. Her song “Sweet Love” made her a top artist, and her romantic ballads and smooth vocals were easily recognizable. As for Diane Reeves, she won a Grammy for being a versatile vocalist, proving her mastery over contemporary jazz.

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Heading into the 1990s, Diana Krall and Norah Jones were the decade’s most famous female jazz singers. Krall brought a fresh perspective to jazz, original compositions, and new standards with her piano proficiency and unique, sultry voice. Jones became widely popular with her debut album “Come Away with Me,” which mixed folk, pop, and jazz. This album collected multiple Grammy Awards and critical acclaim.

Who Is the Most Famous Female Jazz Artist Alive Today? 

Diana Krall is one of the most recognizable and famous female jazz artists alive today. Her skill on the piano and unique sultry voice is unmatched. As her career has spanned decades, she continues to make a huge impact by releasing new music and continuing her influence in the jazz world.

However, jazz is huge and diverse, so some honorable famous mentions include Hiromi Uehara, Cécile McLorin Salvant, Esperanza Spalding, and Sharon Marie Cline.

Related article: How Improvisation Influences Jazz Composition and Performance

Wrap-Up on Female Jazz Singers through the Ages

Many female jazz singers aided in the evolution of jazz into what it is today. None, however, would have been able to do so without the foundation set by the women mentioned in this blog. Today, female jazz singers like Sharon Marie Cline are an inspiration. Their determination and creativity have brought jazz to a wider audience where the genre can continue to be appreciated. 

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