Black Music Month

Aretha Franklin and Mary J. Blige performing on the 'VH1 Divas Live: The One and Only Aretha Franklin' at Radio City Music Hall in New York City, 4/9/01. The show airs live on VH1 on Tuesday, April 11, 2001 at 9:00PM EST. Photo by Scott Gries/ImageDirect.

R&B has been directly impacted by some powerful female performers. From the pioneers to the modern performers taking the genre forward, here are some of R&B’s most women:

Aretha Franklin

The Queen of Soul has been a musical icon for decades. She’s known for powerful songs like “Respect” and “Chain of Fools” as well as the classic “(You Make Me Feel Like a) Natural Woman.” Franklin is an Eighteen-time Grammy award winner, as well as the recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, which is the country’s highest honor.

American soul singer Aretha Franklin, a star on the Atlantic record label. Photo by Express Newspapers/Getty Images

Diana Ross

Diana Ross became famous as the lead singer of The Supremes, which is one of the United States’s best-selling groups of all time. She then went on to have a highly successful solo career. Beyond music, Ross is also an actress.

Singer Diana Ross sitting in front of a bank of press photographers at a press conference to promote her film ‘Lady Sings the Blues’, at the Inn on the Park in London, September 14th 1973. Photo by Monti Spry/Central Press/Getty Images


Mary J. Blige

Nominated for 32 Grammy awards, a 2012 Golden Globe, and five American Music Awards, Mary J. Blige has an unbeatable kind of longevity. She’s a singer, songwriter, actress, and philanthropist who’s responsible for eight multi-platinum albums.

Mary J. Blige gestures as she rehearses for the 2003 “NFL Kickoff Live from the National Mall” with the U.S. Capitol in the background September 3, 2003 in Washington, DC. Photo by Frank Micelotta/Getty Images


Mariah Carey

This larger-than-life diva is constantly making headlines, but above all else, she’s sold more than 200 million records. She boasts a five-octave vocal range and has inspired a generation of performers. Mimi is currently doing a residency at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas.

Mariah Carey performs on stage during the 30th Annual American Music Awards (AMA) at the Shrine Auditorium on January 13, 2003. (Photo by Vince Bucci/Getty Images)


Alicia Keys

Singer-songwriter Alicia Keys is a 15-time Grammy winner, as well as a New York Times-bestselling author and a highly active philanthropist who uses her public profile to raise awareness about the fight against HIV and AIDS. She was also a coach for seasons 11 and 12 of The Voice. 

Musician, Alicia Keys performing on stage at the 2001 VH1 Vogue Fashion Awards at Hammerstein Ballroom in New York City, 10/19/01 (photo by Scott Gries/ImageDirect)


Gladys Knight

Gladys Knight, dubbed The Empress of Soul, is a musical legend known for her work as both a solo artist and with Gladys Knight and the Pips. Her music dominated throughout the 1960s and ’70s and snagged her seven Grammy awards. Together, she and the Pips earned a spot in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996. Knight herself earned a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Gladys Knight, “The Queen of Hearts” performs at the Universal Amphitheater February 14, 2003 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)


Lauryn Hill

Lauryn Hill was a member of the Fugees and was launched to superstardom with her album The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. Though this was her only solo studio album, it broke numerous sales records and earned her five Grammy awards, including Album of the Year and Best New Artist.

Lauryn Hill performs at L.A. Rising at the L.A. Memorial Coliseum on July 30, 2011 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)



While there are many influential women in R&B, these legendary figures have permanently transformed the genre into what it is today.


Lauren Levine is a freelance writer who has contributed to publications and websites including The Charlotte Observer, U.S. News & World Report, American Way magazine, The Huffington Post, Hello Giggles, Bustle, Thrillist, Thought Catalog, The Charlotte Observer, U.S. News & World Report, and others.