A good ballad can hit home like almost no other song type. Over the last hundred years of music, there have been some truly great female ballad singers, from the jazz age to current pop singers. Here’s a look at a few of the greatest female ballad singers of all time.
Christina Aguilera – Say what you will about Christina, she’s got an amazing voice. Unlike singers like Mariah Carey, she stays in a lower register. True, she occasionally over-sings, but on ballads like “Beautiful”, her sense of timing and melody are clear. Christina’s output is far from consistent, but she can belt out a ballad with the best of them. Listen to her studio music, as her live performances tend to be more forgettable.
Billie Holiday – For jazz ballads, two names come to mind: Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald. While Ella’s voice is certainly nothing to scoff at, there’s a tremendous urgency to Holiday’s music. Her slower ballads feel incredibly soulful and deep, even when the recording quality is low. It’s a shame that Holiday couldn’t live longer to deliver more tremendous music. Check out her version of “My Man.”
Aretha Franklin – While Aretha is more famously known as a soul singer with hits like “Respect,” she could slow it down, too. With a ballad backing, Aretha’s voice really fills out a song. Her 80’s output is a great place to look for fantastic ballads. Aretha’s cover of “Bridge Over Troubled Water” is one of the best of all time. Songs like “I Want To Make It Up To You” from the ballad album, “Jump To It” cement Franklin’s place as one of the greatest female ballad singers of all time.
Macy Gray – If you’re avoiding Macy Gray because of her scratchy voice, you’re missing out. She’s put out some of the greatest ballads in modern times. Hits like “I Try” and “She Don’t Love You Like I Do” follow classic soul ballad form. Gray is undeniably sincere in every word she sings – sometimes painfully so. For those that appreciate her voice, she’s a fantastic and consistent artist, and one of the best ballad singers today. Gray’s third album, “The Trouble With Being Myself,” should be a touching point for any serious female soul singer.
Whitney Houston – Whitney gets on this list for her tremendous ’80s output. She basically redefined the female ballad. Her theme from the movie “Bodyguard” has become a love song staple, and for a while she seemed unstoppable. Nobody has the tremendous control of tremolo of Whitney, and she avoids over-singing quite nicely. Unfortunately, her newer songs haven’t been as strong as much of her older stuff. Still, Houston is an incredibly important force in the world of female ballad singers, and it’s hard to imagine the genre without her.
Of course, music is very subjective. This list is by no means complete. Female soul singers have been around for a century now, and there are hundreds of singers with tremendous qualities. Feel free to share your own opinion in our comments section.