Published on August 18th 2010 by Leon Shepherd

This list features my top ten favorite female lead singers of all time. The list is not based on who may be the best vocalist, or who had the most hits, the list is based solely on my personal favorites.  Also keep in mind that the list is based upon the singer’s career within the group, not as a solo artist. So, without further ado, let the top 10 debate begin.


10. Joanne “JoJo” McDuffie – The Mary Jane Girls


Joanne “JoJo” McDuffie was a former background singer for Rick James when James decided to form a group centered around McDuffie. Though they only recorded two albums, the Mary Jane Girls, featuring McDuffie on lead vocals, made memorable music in their 80’s heyday. Their chart-topping hits included, “All Night Long”, “Candy Man”, and “In My House.”


9. Kathy Sledge – Sister Sledge


Kathy Sledge (born 6 January 1959) is a singer who is best known as the lead singer for the group “Sister Sledge.” Kathy has enjoyed many pop, R&B and disco hits with her sisters Debra, Joni and Kim, and sang lead on the group’s biggest hit, “We Are Family.”


8. Marilyn McCoo – The 5th Dimension


Marilyn McCoo (born September 30, 1943) is a singer, actress, and television presenter, who is best known for being the lead female vocalist in the group The 5th Dimension, as well as hosting the 1980s music countdown series Solid Gold. She is the wife of singer Billy Davis, Jr., the founder and co-member of The 5th Dimension, whom she married in 1969.


7. Patti Labelle – Labelle


Labelle is an all female singing group who were a popular vocal group of the 1960s and 1970s. The group was formed in 1960 by lead singer Patti LaBelle. The group included members Sarah Dash and Nona Hendryx. The group is most notable for the proto-disco funk classic “Lady Marmalade” and their outlandish space-age costumes and brash incorporation of rock & roll.


6. Gwen Dickey – Rose Royce


Rose Royce is a soul and R&B band. The group featured Gwen Dickey as the lead vocalist, and is best known for several hit singles including “Car Wash,”, ” “I’m Going Down”, “Wishing On A Star”, and “Love Don’t Live Here Anymore”.


5. Mavis Staples – The Staple Singers


Mavis Staples (born July 10, 1939) is a rhythm and blues and gospel singer and who was the lead singer with her family’s group, The Staple Singers. The group is best known for their 1970s hits “I’ll Take You There”, “Respect Yourself”, “Let’s Do It Again”, and “If You’re Ready (Come Go With Me)”.


4. Martha Reeves – Martha Reeves & the Vandellas


Martha Rose Reeves (born July 18, 1941) was the lead singer of the Motown girl group Martha Reeves and the Vandellas. During her tenure with The Vandellas, they scored over a dozen hit singles, including “Jimmy Mack”, “(Love Is Like a) Heat Wave”, “Nowhere to Run”, and their signature song, “Dancing in the Street”.


3. Gladys Knight & the Pips


Gladys Maria Knight (born May 28, 1944), known as the “Empress of Soul”, is an R&B/soul singer-songwriter. She is best known for the hits she recorded during the 1960s and 1970s, for both the Motown and Buddah Records labels with her group Gladys Knight & the Pips. The group included her brother Merald “Bubba” Knight and her cousins Edward Patten and William Guest.


2. Diana Ross & the Supremes


Diana Ernestine Earle Ross (born March 26, 1944) is a singer and actress. During the 1960s, she helped shape the Motown sound as lead singer of The Supremes. The Supremes  were the most commercially successful of Motown’s acts and are, to date, America’s most successful vocal group with 12 number one singles on the Billboard Hot 100. At their peak in the mid-1960s, The Supremes rivaled The Beatles in worldwide popularity, and their success made it possible for future African-American R&B and soul musicians to find mainstream success


1. Chaka Khan – Rufus featuring Chaka Kahn 


Chaka Khan (born Yvette Marie Stevens, March 23, 1953) is a singer-songwriter. Khan was the featured vocalist in the funk band Rufus with hit songs, “Tell Me Something Good”, “You Got the Love”, “Once You Get Started”, ‘Sweet Thing”, “Everlasting Love” and “Stay”, before launching a solo career.

Music | Comments (33)

33 Responses to “Top 10 Favorite Female Lead Singers”

  1. moonbeam Says:

    i also suggest Rochelle Fleming-First Choice
    Edna Wright-Honeycone
    Sheila Hutchinson/Wanda Hutchinson?Emotions
    Wanda Rogers-Marvelettes
    Arlene Smith-Chantels

  2. Lenora Dorsey Says:

    Leon this is a very interesting list. I will have to give this one some thought…

  3. Shack Says:

    Nice list and my comments…I would switch numbers one and two. Rationale=like the Temptations, Diana Ross and the Supremes were the foundation of the Motown peak throughout the 1960s and their greatness cannot be nor will ever be equaled!

    While undoubtedly other bloggers will name additional artists, I think Beyonce and Destiny’s Child might warrant listing under this category. She/they would certainly out rank No. 10. What about EnVogue?

    Rod, GG, Roy – Please comment…

  4. Shack Says:

    Should have stated Cindy Herron (a former Miss Black California by the way) as the lead singer for EnVogue in the previous comment. She/they would knock No. ten and possibly No. 6 out of this top ten.

  5. Lenora Dorsey Says:

    Leon What about The Emotions?

  6. Leon Says:

    Moonbeam, you appear to know your female lead singers. You mentioned some names that I was not familiar with, nor even thought about considering. I agree that Shelia Hutchinson is worthy of top ten status.

  7. Leon Shepherd Says:

    Shack, I originally had Cindy Herron of En Vogue in the top ten. but after doing some research, I discovered that Cindy H. was not the lead singer, everyone in the group sang lead. On just about everyone of their hits, their is a different lead singer.
    And to qualify to make the list, the singer had to be “The Lead Singer,” or sing lead on at least the majority of the groups songs.

  8. Shack Says:

    Okay, I can accept that about EnVogue although Cindy ceretainly stood out a bit more than the others.

    No comment on Destiny’s Child and thanks to Moonbeam for remembering those groups although the names he lists including Wanda H. are not as well-known/prevalent as Beyonce!

  9. Shack Says:

    Oops another mistake – I wrote Wanda H. but meant Sheila. But wasn’t Wanda a member of the group and they are sisters??

  10. Leon Shepherd Says:

    Shack, without question “Destiny’s Child” is one of the most successful female groups in history. But Beyonce is not one of my favorite female lead singers. Her voice is not as strong nor as soulful as the others in the top ten.
    And yes Wanda & Shelia of “The Emotions” are sisters.

  11. Shack Says:

    Okay, you choose McDuffie over Knowles. Everyone’s entitled but she (McDuffie)Must Fall primarily because no one knows who she is!

    When you listed Rose Royce, you made me think of the SOS Band who had a nice run of hits. Who was their lead (female)singer who was similar in some respects to G. Dickey?

    What about Jody Whatley…does she do anything for you?

  12. Leon Says:

    I’m a big fan of Jody Whatley, but Howard Hewitt was the lead singer of Shalamar.
    And Mary Davis, the lead singer of the SOS Band might deserve some consideration. I will have to revisit the groups hits to determine if she is a top-tenner.

  13. Lenora Dorsey Says:

    Leon – You basically stayed in the 60 -70′s… Why is that? Just curious. What about Tina Turner???

  14. Leon Says:

    Lenora the era/ period of time was not a factor. I just listed the top ten who came to mind.
    And Tina Turner was the lead singer of Ike & Tina Turner, which was a duet, not a group.

  15. Lenora Dorsey Says:

    Leon… I like all that you listed except #10 Is that Vanity? I’m not of the order but this era, eventhough it was not a factor did produce a lot of the best singers of our time thus far. Thanks. Great job!

  16. grapevine Says:

    Leon, your list is very confusing, the Supremes set the standard for female groups, yet you have them second. Gladys Knight and the Pips career spanned three-decades (60′s , 70′s, 80′s) yet you have them below Rufus. Marylin McCoo, what a joke, she only lead one-song (Wedding Bell Blues). Emotions, Destiny’s Child, and even the Honey Comb, deserve more consideration than The Fifth Dimension.

  17. Leon Says:

    Grapevine…the Fifth Demsion had 18 top ten hits and won 5 Grammy Awards. Some of the songs that Marylin McCoo led include the hits “Up, Up and Away”, “Wedding Bell Blues”, “Stoned Soul Picnic”, “One Less Bell to Answer”, and “(Last Night) I Didn’t Get to Sleep at All”.

    And the Supremes did set the standard for female groups, but it doesn’t mean that their lead singer was the best.

  18. Shack II Says:

    GG-Agree with Leon on this one (McCoo’s/F.Dimensions N0. of hits) and don’t forget about the “Age of Acquarius”

    I also agree somewhat with LD on Tina Turner(although not one of my favorite singers)but am confused as to whether or not they were a group as opposed to a duet since they had a band and back-up singers. Perhaps the Great Rod can chime in on this issue!

    My problem is the #10 female lead singer JoJo McDuffie-Who DAT Is?-LOL

  19. Leon Says:

    To Lenora & Shack: stayed tuned for more info on your question…”Who is JoJo McDuffie of The Mary Jane Girls?”.

  20. Shack Says:

    In the meantime I have a question for you (Leon)…If Marlilyn McCoo can be the lead female singer for the Fifth Dimension (sharing the with male lead Billy Davis) why is Jody Whatley’s situation (with Howard Hewitt) different?

  21. Leon Says:

    Shack, I researched your question. And every article I found provided the same information.
    Marlilyn McCoo sang lead on the majority of the groups hits.
    Howard Hewitt sang lead on the majority of Shalamar’s hits.
    Also, on the TV Show Unsung, it clearly stated that Howard H. was the lead singer of the group.

  22. grapevine Says:

    Ok, who had greatest career as an individual Chaka Kahn or Diana Ross? No brainer, Diana Ross. Also, what was your reasons for Rufus being placed above Gladys Knight and the Pips? One group’s career spanned three-decades, the other group maybe six or seven years. One more thing , Sister Sledge ahead of Destiny’s Child, give me a break.

  23. Shack Says:

    Agree particularly about Hewitt but while appearances are deceiving, B. Davis appeared to be the lead singer for the FD

  24. Leon Says:

    Shack…you might have a valid point regarding M. McCoo & B. Davis trading off on lead vocals. Because when I was growing up, I use to watch them on different tv shows and I remember them both sharing the lead.
    When I have time, I will have to watch the group on youtube and see who sings lead the most.
    If M. McCoo is not clearly the lead vocalist of the group, then she is disqualified from being in the top ten.

  25. Leon Says:

    Grapevine…this top ten is not based on an individuals solo success, nor how successful their group had been. It’s based completely on who was the better lead vocalist while they were members of a group.

    Also, just about any article you read, or if you ask someone who knows about singing, they will tell you that Beyonce has tremendous talent, but she is limited as a singer.

  26. Shonee Says:

    Hey Leon..Patti/Gladys/Chaka = YES!

    I have to agree with Shack and/or Shack II on The Emotions..those sisters can sang!

    I know the voice to the lead singer of Mary Jane Girls but never her name…beautiful voice!

    No comment on the others right now…

  27. Leon Says:

    Welcome back, Shonee!
    We miss your comments.
    Thanks for sharing!

    How nice to know that you remember the voice of the lead singer (JoJo McDuffie) of the Mary Jane Girls.

  28. rod moore Says:

    The Rodman is here to right a major wrong. This woman has been left off 2 lists. Her group has sold 40 million recods in the US alone & has given us timeless classics like sweetest tabboo, smooth operator,is it a crime & countless others. Yes Sade is the name of the group & she should definitely be on any list. Her latest release debuted # 1 early this year. Can anybody name an act that debuted in 1984 thats still going strong today? Let that jepordy music play while you ponder that thought. Sade not being on this list is ridiculous & should be corrected. Dull marilyn McCoo JoJo mcduffie? I wouldnt know JoJo mcduffie if she walked up & slapped the taste out of my mouth right now.

  29. Leon Says:

    Rod, we are all are of the success of Sade.
    The fact is whenever we pick up a magazine or read something about Sade, it’s always about her (Sade), not the group, which leads one to believe she is a solo artist.

    However, after researching the issue, I have discovered that Sade is indeed the name of the group, which would easliy place her (Sade) in the top 10.

  30. Shack Says:

    Rodman – Thank you sir. I knew you would shed some well needed light. But I’m kinda like Leon, I considered her a solo act but she’s definitley a TT (top tenner) in ANY Category!

    Please read my Comment #18 and reply if you have time!

  31. rod moore Says:

    You must remember I am a DIEHARD SADE FAN & all of her true fans know this fact but she has become a symbol of style class & grace that she has become the true face & personality of the group. Like I asked earlier who from 1984 is still a top act world wide today? One other thing you can say is she never had to stage a comeback cause she never has left. Ike & Tina were a duet with a backing house band which was typical of the time

  32. Shack II Says:

    Gentlemen (Leon/Rod)- with reference to the Tina Turner Duet issue (although a minor point of contention) I’ve done some common sense research. Tammi and Marvin were a duet. So were Ashford & Simpson, Yarborough & Peoples, Peaches & Herb. I can only truly recall ONE SONG performed in what is considered “duet style” by Ike & Tina and that was “Proud Mary” That being said, I recall that the group/band/duet was actually called the Ike & Tina Turner Review!! Sorry boys, they just weren’t a duet since there was a touring band, back-up singers = a staged musical production where Ike stood there high as you know what and contributed nothing vocally! You know me I’m stubborn…tell me I’m wrong!

  33. rod moore Says:

    Shack you are right in a way but remember bands did not appear until the late 60s. All performers had backing bands & back up singers. The term review was common among black acts of the 50s & early 60s. If you remember some of the promotional posters of the day for shows the word review was always used as in the motown review featuring whomever. White acts used the term rock & roll show. The word concert wasnt used until if I remember the beatles concert at shea stadium. After that the word concert was used from then on.