Published on August 19th 2013 by Leon Shepherd

There are a number of qualifiers for this list. First, all listed must have had a significant career over the years. In my opinion, singers like Howard Hewitt, Maxwell, Tyrese and Usher, although extremely talented, don’t currently have the body of work to qualify for the list such as those listed.  

Secondly, if a singer is known more for being a lead for a group such as David Ruffin, Levi Stubbs or Maurice White, they don’t qualify. They must be bonafide Solo Artists…

Lets see who agrees/disagrees with Shack’s Top Ten for this category, let the debate begin and enjoy.    

                                                     intro & list written by Shack



#10-Johnny Mathis


You could probably replace this guy with any of the honorable mentions (especially, Smokey, James B., Stevie) but his vocals and style are too impressive and somewhat similar to No 1. <see below!






Just as in No. 8, Prince’s greatness and contribution cannot be denied.



#8-Michael Jackson


Some  say he doesn’t belong in this group. I say different!


#7-Ray Charles


-Greatest soul and blues singer of the 50’s and early 60’s. Very under rated. Only one of this group to have a movie made about his life/music.



#6-Sam Cooke


Many may not remember his greatness but he probably would have been No. 1 or 2 had he not been killed – over a woman I believe!


#5-Teddy Pendergrass



 Same as No.4 except his was Philadelphia soul.


#4 –Al Green


Consistent and great Memphis Soul/R&B and gospel singer.


#3-Luther Vandross


Most melodious of all singers listed. In my opinion, his greatness was circumvented by health problems.


#2-Marvin Gaye


Greatest Soul singer ever. Dominated 60’s, 70’s and early 80’s until his demise from drug use.


#1-Nat King Cole


Simply the smoothest singer of any race in history. Don’t think his greatness can be disputed. Had to endure racism on his show when he did a duet with a White woman and sponsors pulled the plug. Had he lived longer (died at 45) who knows what greatness he would have achieved.


Hon. Mention – Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder, Peabo Bryson, Freddie Jackson, Jeffrey Osborne, James Brown, Otis Redding, Barry White, Lou Rawls,  Issac Hayes, Curtis Mayfield, B.B. King

Entertainment, Music | Comments (38)

38 Responses to “Top Ten Black Male Solo Singers/Artists”

  1. Leon Says:

    Great list Shack!
    I applaud you for your tremendous effort, especially because there are so many great male vocalists, past & present.

    For the most part, I agree with the list.
    My only slight disagreement is the placement of Prince. I think he should be ranked a little higher.

    Case in point: I went online & discovered that Prince’s vocal range expands four octaves.
    Purple Rain – Tenor
    Erotic City – Baritone
    I Wanna Be Your Lover – Falsetto
    Those are just a few examples of his range.

    But as I stated earlier, great list!

  2. Terrance Says:

    is Johnny mathis black?…lbvvs

  3. vnVicki Says:

    I would have placed Michael Jackson higher for his unlimited contribution to the music business

  4. Shack Says:

    Thx. to all for your responses. Couple of points
    -Don’t know if Terrance is serious but yes Johnny Mathis is Black.
    -Think we all agree that a case can be made for both Michael J. and Prince to be listed higher!
    -There are several who really deserved to be listed (particularly Stevie W. and/or Jackie Wilson) but another artist would have to be removed. Thats why I “cheated” with an Honorable Mentions Category which is a NO-NO for Top Ten Lists!

  5. Rod Moore Says:

    As Cleatus Klump said in the nutty profesor im confused. You said solo only not a lead singer of a group but mike and teddy were the lead singers of their groups which obviously dont need to be mentioned. Please clarify. Not saying the dont deserve to be on the list but they were lead singers of groups first. Also Prince deserves to be higher.

  6. Shack Says:

    Rod – Good points but I guess an additional criteria would be that the artist had more success than they did as a member/leader of the group. For example, Smokey’s solo career wasn’t as successful as when he was with the Miracles which is why he didn’t crack the top ten in my opinion. Lastly and as you know, many on the list were members of a group before they went solo.

  7. moonbeam Says:

    tyrone davis,brooke benton, david ruffin levi stubbs

  8. Leon Says:

    Shack, the following is a comment from one of my facebook readers regarding your top ten. She mentions something that I forgot to mention regarding the demise of Mr.Gaye.

    Here’s her comment:
    “Did the author do research on accuracy? Marvin Gaye got shot by his father.”

  9. Lenora Dorsey Says:

    Okay great list but what about Smokey Robinson?

  10. Karen Says:

    What about Barry White??
    Did you forget him?
    He has to beat out Sam Cooke

  11. Shack II Says:

    This is generating great debate/discussion…
    To #8 – My recollection is that Marvin was quite depressed as well as being alcohol/drug induced when he accosted his father in the Sr. Gaye household in 1984. Some say he (Marvin) knew full well what his father would do when threatened. (Just an aside but its rumored that the (M.Gaye) character and incident was depicted somewhat by Gator (S. Jackson)in the movie Jungle Fever).

    To #s 9 and 10 – I can respect/identify with sentiments for both Smokey (LD-See My comment #6.)
    and Barry W.(See Hon.Mentions)
    I admit my bias for Sam Cooke is heavily influenced by his song “A Change Is Gonna Come” which is symbolic of the civil rights era (that he was heavily involved in) and coincided with his tragic death at age 32!

  12. Leon Says:

    Shack, I share the same sentiments with Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come.”
    The song is a classic & you can’t help but to admire the words & vocals, especially when it is played in the movie, “Malcolm X”.
    So I think Mr. Cooke’s place in the top 10 is well deserved.

  13. rod moore Says:

    Sam cooke should be on this list without question. Not only was he a great singer but paved the way by being one of the first African American performers at top clubs around the country. Not only that he was a savvy buisnessman. Everything by sam was owned by sam when so many artists were being ripped off. As for a change is gonna come-simply one of the most moving & inspiring songs ever written- period.

  14. Shack Says:

    Thank you gentlemen-we all agree that S. Cooke is a keeper!

  15. grapevine Says:

    Shack, great list, however, there a couple of things I disagree with. Michael Jackson and Prince are more entertainers than vocalists (there is a difference). They would belong on a list to include James Brown, Little Richard, Usher, etc. Secondly, Nat King Cole and Johnny Mathis was long before me, so I don’t know their body of work. Here is my list:
    1. Marvin Gaye
    2. Luther Vandross
    3. Al Green
    4. Teddy Pendagrass
    5. Sam Cooke
    6. Ray Charles
    7. Peabo Bryson
    8. Freddie Jackson
    9. Stevie Wonder
    10. Barry White

  16. Shack Says:

    GG-Good points and respect your opinion but both MJ and Prince can “carry a note” so to me they are bonafide solo vocalists/artists.

  17. Shack II Says:

    Nat Cole and Johnny Mathis have the most elegant and exquisite vocal and singing voices I’ve EVER heard!

  18. Leon Says:

    Same here, Shack!

  19. rod moore Says:

    In response to GGs comments-first of all all of them are entertainers. performers such as prince & mike have the ability to move in ways unimaginable but it does not take away from their vocal gifts. Second this before my time thing-Duke Ellington sarah vaugh & many musical giants were before our time but it doesnt diminish their greatness one bit. Remember EW&F the commodores & many of the acts of our time were before these kids time. Does that take away from their greatness?

  20. Leon Says:

    Very insighful comments, Rod!
    And I agree!

  21. Shack Says:

    Could kick myself for forgetting about these two!
    One someone told me about and the other I thought of. Both at least belong in Hon. Mentions and possibly placement in the top ten.

    1-Donny Hathaway-Excellent body of work plus great duets when teamed with the fabulous Roberta Flack. The “Someday We’ll All Be Free” at the end of the movie “Malcolm X” should be noted here.

    2-The great Rick James-rivaled Prince when both came on the scene in late 70s and who can forget the duet with T. Marie “Fire & Desire” an all time great!

    Any thoughts Black Top Tenners?

  22. Leon Says:

    Shack, Donny H., who was a great singer, might crack the top ten.
    Rick James, who was an underrated singer, would be in my honorable mention list.
    Rick may have rivaled Prince as far as hits in the late 70′s, but he did not rival him as a singer.

  23. Shack II Says:

    Leon-agree wholeheartedly. Didn’t mean to infer ANYTHING other than they started out at about the same time!

  24. khadijah mae Says:

    Dear Shack, Where is Mr. Wilson Pickett on yo list? I’m so upset with you that I’m going to White Rock Lake, put my feet up on the dash of my car and eat a whole cheese cake.

  25. Shack II Says:

    Ms. Mae-Thanks for mentioning the great W. Pickett who, in my opinion, falls just outside the top ten but should have been listed in the Honorable Mentions category. Remember>”If You Don’t Like It, Don’t Knock It!!
    P.S. Spice cake would have fewer calories!

  26. Straaw Says:

    All of u all make excellent points. Wow! and Leon Let everyone else give their opinion and did not dispute,justify, or explain why he chose who he chose, or why he put them in what order. Interesting. This topic is very very subjective, so it’s tough to argue. As long as a male is a good solo artist or lead vocalist in a group or band i don’t get into who can sing better. Or what males voice sounds better to me. Now females-that’s a different story! I do compare who cativates my heart with their sultry voices. Males? hmmm! long as they decent and entertainin’ i’m good. Larry Blackmon, to Maurice White, to Bernard Wright,to Lenny Williams! hold a note and have a catchy beat, u got me! lol.

  27. Leon Says:

    Straaw, the top ten black male singers, was not written by me.
    Please read intro.

  28. Southern Girl Says:

    Shack, I find your list quite interesting.Prince should be higher on the list. However, I’m not quite sure about Johnny Mathis being in the Top Ten. That has to just be a personal favorite of yours,right??? So,you just put him on the list!LOL

  29. Shack Says:

    So. Girl/(Mrs. Shack) No, he is not a personal favorite of mine! Please refer to Comment #17.

  30. Bean Pie Says:

    Shack, LONG LIVE YELLIN GUTS Wilson Pickett. Oh, Mr. Shack you should try Bean Pie and let that ole southern dryed out Spice Cake alone.Lets try the best album covers or the best afro. I’m waiting. East Coast Woman.

  31. Shack Says:

    Bean Pie – Yes I must try one someday. Sounds SCRUMPTIOUS, particularly if they make one with a lighter colored bean! On the serious side, you do realize (you said “long live”)that Mr. Pickett is no longer with us correct?

  32. Bean Pie Says:

    Mr.Shack, You’ve been in some back water southern city far to long. Yes, I said ” Long live” which would refer to his style of singing. Where did you get the name Shack? Does that reference the the straw hut you live in? Oh, how did you know I’m bright skinned, ha ha.
    Bean Pie

  33. KJ Says:

    Sam Cooke’s success and body of work dwarfs many in the top ten. Michael Jackson should clearly be number one, even if you included other races! Stevie Wonder’s absence is hard to understand.

  34. Shack Says:

    Thx. for your well-founded comments. First off this list was somewhat difficult to compile and I have already admitted to my own personal biases and views based on my frame of reference (See comment #11). Knew going in that there would be some strong objections and diferences of opinion which is good. Perhaps in my criteria I should have listed the “ability to sing !” Believe it or not, some people don’t consider MJ (or Prince for that matter)a good singer. They deem them to be more performers or entertainers. This is because of the perception (right ot wrong) that they don’t exhibit a “vocal range” or can “carry a note” like a Marvin, Luther or a Sam could. (Prince certainly has more of a range than MJ but many forget that!) Those primary considerations are why they were numbered 8 & 9. Many stated that is too low and I can identify with that. Lastly, I am one of Stevies biggest fans but the same holds true with him. His range may be somewhat limited but his music vesatility would blow others away. However, music was not a major factor for this list.

  35. Frank Says:

    I’m surprised nobody mentioned Jerry Butler. Certainly could have been included in the honorable mention category.

  36. Kess Says:

    Marvin’s awesome, probably number 2, unfortunately they completely blew the list and forgot to put the best 2 singers in RB/Motown history on the list:

    David Ruffin and Eddie Kendrick.

  37. Singer1004 Says:

    10- Jerry Butler
    09- Peobo Bryson
    08- Phillip bailey
    07- Al Green
    06- Michael Jackson
    05-Ray Charles
    04-Stevie Wonder
    03- Nat King Cole
    02- Marvin Gaye
    01- Luther Vandross

  38. Shack Says:

    Please read the intro portion. Part of the criteria for the list is that the singer had to have more success as a solo artist than he did as part of a group or band. Unfortunately, NONE of the Temptations can ever make that claim!

    Singer 1004
    Dont think Phillip B was ever a solo artist although I believe he (like Maurice W.) did release ONE album. One album is not be enough to qualify for this list!