The 60s were truly a spectacular time for music across all genres, from rock and roll to soulful folk tunes and punchy pop hits. Artists were experimenting and creating all sorts of new sounds that would become certified classics in the future. But it was a time dominated by singers and bands who were mostly male and white. Rock & Roll in particular was associated with this image of male white singers.
Yet there were a lot of free-spirited, determined and talented female musicians who created music equally iconic and carved the way for future generations by giving them role models. In this post, we look at some of the popular female singers in the 60s. Do note that the following list is in no particular order. Let’s get started!
Iconic female singers in the 60s
1. Aretha Franklin
Kicking off our list of the most popular female singers in the 60s is Aretha Franklin (25 March 1942 – 16 August 2018). Known as the ‘Queen of Soul’, she was the first woman to ever be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. This American pianist and singer started off as a gospel singer and rose to become one of the biggest stars in the USA along with a black empowerment icon.
Famous songs: ‘Respect’, ‘Rock Steady’, ‘Chain of Fools’
2. Janis Joplin
Janis Joplin (19 January 1943 – 4 October 1970) who began singing blues and rock tunes in coffee shops and bars quickly became one of the most successful and well-known rock stars of her time. Along with her mesmerising, husky voice, she was known for her raw, powerful vocals and energetic stage presence.
Famous songs: ‘Piece of My Heart’, ‘Me and Bobby McGee’, ‘Mercedes Benz’
3. Nina Simone
Eunice Kathleen Waymon (21 February 1933 – 21 April 2003) known to the masses as Nina Simmone and The High Priestess of Soul created music consisting of jazz, folk and blues. An activist and one of the most popular black female singers in the 60s, she combined hard-hitting lyrics with a piano to convey the plight of inequality.
Famous songs: ‘Feeling Good’, ‘Baltimore’, ‘Here Comes the Sun’
4. Shirley Bassey
Dame Shirley Veronica Bassey (8 January 1937-) hails from Wales and is an award-winning vocalist and the voice behind the theme songs for the James Bond films. A black female singer in the 60s, she is regarded as one of the most popular voices in Britain over the last 7 decades.
Famous songs: ‘Diamonds Are Forever’, ‘History Repeating’, ‘Big Spender’
5. Etta James
Next up on our list of popular female singers in the 60s is Etta James (25 January 1938 – 20 January 2012). As a girl of five, she was known around her Los Angeles community as the gospel prodigy. Her powerful voice makes her one of the greatest blues singers of the modern era.
Famous Songs: ‘At Last’, ‘A Sunday Kind of Love’, ‘Something’s Got A Hold On Me’
6. Dusty Springfield
A Greatest of All Time Singer from Britain, Mary Isobel Catherine Bernadette O’Brien OBE (16 April 1939 – 2 March 1999), known to the masses as Dusty Springfield had a distinctive husky, erotic sort of voice that was equally at home singing ballads, blues or pop. In fact, Elton John once said, “I think she was the greatest white singer there has ever been.”
Famous Songs: ‘Son of a Preacher Man’, ‘What Have I Done To Deserve This?’ (with Pet Shop Boys), ‘Goin’ Back’
7. Dionne Warwick
Dionne Warwick (12 December 1940-) is an iconic black female singer in the 60s who won six Grammys and charted over 75 hit songs. Her records have sold close to a 100 million records worldwide. Warwick crossed cultural, racial, and national boundaries with her soulful blend of genres such as R&B, pop and gospel. Furthermore, the singer is also a TV host, actress and a former Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization.
Famous Songs: ‘Walk on By’, ‘Do You Know the Way to San Jose?’, ‘I’ll Never Fall in Love Again’
8. Diana Ross
Diane Ernestine Earle Ross (26 March 1944-), known popularly as Diana Ross is the next artist on our list of iconic female singers in the 60s. Ross sang primarily in the Pop, R&B and Soul genres. One of the major reasons for The Supreme’s rise in popularity is the vocals provided by Diana Ross which made them a contender to The Beatles. Due to her solo work as well as her time as lead singer of The Supremes in the 1960s, Ross is one of the most successful artists of her generation.
Famous Songs: ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’, ‘I Will Survive’, ‘You Can’t Hurry Love’ (The Supremes)
9. Ronnie Spector
The OG “Bad Girl of Rock & Roll”, Veronica Yvette Greenfield (10 August 1943 – 12 January 2022) known to the masses as Ronnie Spector was the stylish lead singer of The Ronettes. Ronnie Spector created a rough-around-the-edges sound with the combination of erotic yet innocent style and her accent that made her stand out against the popular female singers in the 60s.
Famous Songs: ‘Here Today’, ‘Gone Tomorrow She Talks To Rainbows’, ‘Walking In The Rain (The Ronettes)’
10. Tina Turner
With a golden career that spanned more than 5 decades, Tina Turner (26 November 1939-) is an American-Swiss singer often called the “Queen of Rock & Roll”. She is known for her powerful voice and dazzling energy on stage which has led to her longevity in the music business as a black female singer in the 60s along with some acting credits too. Rolling Stone praised Turner as “one of the greatest singers of all time” and said she was the most successful female rock artist. She has sold around 180 million records worldwide through both albums and singles.
Famous Songs: ‘What’s Love Got to Do with It’, ‘Proud Mary’, ‘We Don’t Need Another Hero’
With that, we end our list of popular female singers in the 60s. We hope you enjoyed reading it. Do share in the comments who your favourite singer from this era is!