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Is She or Isn't She One of the Greats 2000 - 2022

A Study to Determine the Greatest Female Vocalists of 2000 - 2022

By Rick Henry ChristopherPublished about a year ago 12 min read

With this study we will be taking a look at seven female vocalists that have made their mark as a solo artist in the past 22 years. Criteria for this study is that their debut album or single (whichever was first) came no earlier than the year 2000. Sorry Christina Aguilera your debut was 1999.

In this study we will put aside all the gimmicks such as fashion, clever music videos, the music itself, attractiveness and so forth. We will look only at the vocal abilities of these seven recent female vocalists, ultimately determining whether or not any of them belong to the exclusive league of all-time greatest female vocalists. Do they deserve a chair next to the likes of Aretha Franklin, Ella Fitzgerald, Barbra Streisand, Karen Carpenter, Annie Lennox, Donna Summer, and other technically great female vocalists?

The seven recent female vocalists we will be studying are: Adele, Beyonce, India.Arie, Norah Jones, Lady Gaga, Jill Scott, and Amy Winehouse.

I took the time to listen to each singer. I listened to their albums and select singles as well as live performances.

I graded each singer in the following nine categories. Five is the highest score in each category with maximum being a total of 45 points. Only one singer in this study received 45 points.

Vocal Strength / Recognizability / Ease of phrasing / Smooth transition of notes / Range / Richness of tone, timbre / Pitch / Musicality and Melody / Soulfulness / Total


Vocal Strength: 5 / Recognizability: 5 / Ease of phrasing: 4.5 / Smooth transition of notes: 3.5 / Range: 3 / Richness of tone, timbre: 4 / Pitch: 4.5 / Musicality and Melody: 3.5 / Soulfulness: 4.5 / Total: 37.5

On some of the songs from her latest album 30, Adele attempts to display a sweeter melodic voice. This is evident on the songs "Strangers By Nature" and "To Be Loved." Though her vocal Strength and pitch are fine she falls slightly short in a smooth and harmony filled delivery. While Karen Carpenter was masterful at smoothly gliding from one note to the next Adele's transitions are not quite as smooth.

Adele's powerhouse is in her vocal Strength. She can hit those notes and pack a lot of power behind them. Such as in the song "Hello" she belts out the chorus without overdoing it. Celine Dion tends to overdo it but Aretha Franklin puts every bit of her soul and passion into belting out her songs. Adele belts her songs with grace and soul.

Adele's pay dirt is in songs such as "Chasing Pavements" and "Rolling in the Deep." Every good quality in her voice is displayed within those songs: strength, recognizability, soulfulness, pitch and ease of phrasing.

So does Adele belong in that elite group of all-time great female singers? I say the answer is in her live performances. She is pitch perfect.

I'm going to say YES Adele is an all-time great singer mostly for her unique one of a kind voice and her powerful and soulful style.

Adele's Fans Speak:

  • Powerful voice, good harmony, recognizable technique - Pedro Rocha
  • Her voice has such a rawness and so much emotion to it. - Elizabeth Knife Smith


Vocal Strength: 4 / Recognizability: 3.5 / Ease of phrasing 4 / Smooth transition of notes: 4 / Range 4 / Richness of tone, timbre: 2 / Pitch 5 / Musicality and Melody 3 / Soulfulness 4.5 / Total: 34

With a 3 ½ octave vocal range Beyonce has the capability to be one of the best of the best. Certainly, she has power backing up her voice and with the right song she can bring on an impressive set of vocal acrobatics.

But here's the issue with Beyonce, while she does have a soulful timber to her voice, you put her in a room with full-voiced gospel singers like Mahalia Jackson, then Beyonce is the thin voice in the crowd.

Let's take a look at Donna Summer's voice. Donna sang in rich colorful tones. Her voice was slightly lower giving her the ability to create full-bodied tones that have a creamy sort of enthusiasm. While Beyonce's voice is soulful she lacks that extra degree of expressive passion that Donna could put into a song. Instead of being harmonic and mellifluous Beyonce's performances are mechanical and in live performances she's flanked by a multitude of backing singers and harmony vocalists - maybe to assist in creating a sound of melody and harmony into the words she's singing.

So does Beyonce belong in that league of all-time great female singers. Beyonce definitely has a huge fan base and she does have a powerful voice. But lacking in the sense of intimacy and tenderness both qualities in executing a song with an effective amount of harmony, rich timbre and personality. With Beyonce, I will have to pass. Like Madonna, Beyonce has the audience but not the complete technical ability to sit in the same room with the likes of Aretha Franklin.


Vocal Strength: 5 / Recognizability: 4.5 / Ease of phrasing: 5 / Smooth transition of notes: 5 / Range: 4.5 / Richness of tone,timbre: 5 / Pitch: 5 / Musicality and Melody: 5 / Soulfulness: 5 / Total: 44

India.Arie may not be as popular as one such Beyonce. But when it comes to vocal ability Arie is far ahead.

The first thing that I noticed about India.Arie's voice was her smooth transition between notes. She moves from note to note with conversational ease which creates a sort of warmth and comfort as she sings.

Her overall delivery is super smooth. She is the female Nat King Cole of this generation. Along with her very smooth delivery Arie has an inbred strength behind her voice. She doesn't push or force her voice, it's all done with an incredible control of breath. With each breath she takes she glides smoothly from note to note with more than enough breath to sing her notes to completion.

Arie has a natural born musicality to her voice. She sings and out comes a succession of beautiful pitch perfect musical tones. India.Arie is definitely a singer's singer.

I'm not even going to ask the question here. I will just make the proclamation: Yes! India.Arie is one of the greatest female vocalists of all-time.

Norah Jones

Vocal Strength: 4 / Recognizability: 4.5 / Ease of phrasing: 5 / Smooth transition of notes: 5 / Range: 4 / Richness of tone, timbre: 5 / Pitch: 5 / Musicality and Melody: 5 / Soulfulness: 4 / Total: 41.5

Unassuming Norah Jones has a lot going for her. Although she has sold millions of albums around the world, a nine time Grammy award winner, and three of her album have reached #1 in the US with a total of six US Top 3 albums, yet still she remains very underrated.

So, why is Norah Jones so underrated? I would say the biggest reason is because she holds he self with dignity. She's not on stage wearing skin tight dresses with cleavage down to her belly. Her lived performances are understated - there are no fireworks or light shows.

Norah is the girl next door and her shows are intimate, oftentimes just Norah and her piano or guitar.

Now, let's talk about her voice. Similar to Karen Carpenter, Norah sings with a soft voice. She never belts or shouts her lyrics instead her style is intimate and breathy. Some people equate a breathy voice with being weak. In Norah's case her voice is not weak primarily due to her skillful breath control. She is able to hold on to a note and sing it to the end without wavering or straining. With this ability she is able to create a tonal quality that is crisp, clean, beautiful and emphasizes her perfect pitch.

Norah has a few sides to her voice. When she sings in her lower voice she has the slightest hint of rasp which adds character to her voice.

Now what really makes Norah's voice special is her sense of dynamics. She expertly uses variation in vocal volume to create an array of emotions and vocal color through stunning crescendos and decrescendos.

Norah Jones may not be a powerhouse belter like Barbra Streisand or Aretha Franklin; she is more of a controlled belter, belting within her softer tones. Most importantly Norah always maintains a vocal quality that aids her in creating a sound that is appealing and recognizable.

Does Norah belong within the league of all-time great female vocalists? YES! Her vocal quality alone earns her a place within the company of greats.

Fan's Speak:

  • Norah has talent while so many others are a product - Norah is the real deal. - an anonymous fan
  • Lady Gaga

    Vocal Strength: 4.5 / Recognizability: 3.5 / Ease of phrasing: 5 / Smooth transition of notes: 5 / Range: 4 / Richness of tone, timbre: 5 / Pitch: 5 / Musicality and Melody: 5 / Soulfulness: 4.5 / Total: 41.5

    Lady Gaga surprisingly has a lot going for herself when it comes to vocal chops. She is by all means one of the very best female singers of the past twenty years.

    There are two minor drawbacks. First her main dance-pop offerings are flocked with a multitude of backing vocals and Lady Gaga's own voice overdubbed for more backing vocals. On top of that Gaga's vocals are laden with effects that it's hard to recognize her striking vocal ability. Fortunately there are the Tony Bennett albums and A Star Is Born which without a doubt let us know that Lady Gaga is one of the very best. Second, Gaga's voice is not so recognizable, unless you are a diehard fan and know every aspect of her voice. To the casual listener her voice may not be so distinctive. That aside there is no denying her remarkable vocal abilities.

    Her vocals on the soundtrack for A Star Is Born are pitch perfect. She sings with rich full-bodied tones. Gaga makes good use of her three octave range and sports a nice deep toned voice. Not as deep as Karen Carpenter or Annie Lennox but maybe on par with Donna Summer's lower ranges.

    The question: Does Lady Gaga deserve to be called one of the greatest female singers of all-time? YES! Despite all the visual gimmickry and racy costumes, which with her vocal ability she absolutely does not need. Gaga can get by on her voice alone and she would still be a huge star.

    Jill Scott

    Vocal Strength: 5 / Recognizability: 4.5 / Ease of phrasing: 5 / Smooth transition of notes: 5 / Range: 5 / Richness of tone, timbre: 5 / Pitch: 5 / Musicality and Melody: 5 / Soulfulness: 5 / Total: 44.5

    There are many pluses in Jill's voice. The one feature that puts her above the rest is her creative vocal technique. She takes her time in enunciating each word. As she takes her time with her words Jill is injecting a good amount of passion and soul into her delivery. What really makes her voice special is her jazz phrasing. In some songs you can tell that Billie Holiday is one of her influences.

    Her voice is powerful without ever overdoing it. She leaves the vocal acrobatics at the door and instead sings in clear, rich and deep textured tones.

    In my extraneous opinion Jill Scott is already an essential singer and yes she does by all means belong in the league of all-time great female singers.

    Amy Winehouse

    Vocal Strength: 5 / Recognizability: 5 / Ease of phrasing: 5 / Smooth transition of notes: 5 / Range: 5 / Richness of tone, timbre: 5 / Pitch: 5/ Musicality and Melody: 5 / Soulfulness: 5 / Total: 45

    I am going to cut to the chase and start right up front. Yes, Amy Winehouse is already one of the all-time greatest female singers and deservedly so. She is the only one in this study to which I awarded a perfect score - 45 points out of 45.

    Amy Winehouse was a true original. No two ways about it she is one of a kind. When one of her songs comes you know immediately, that is Amy Winehouse.

    Amy's proficient phrasing puts her in a class all of her own. Her vocal style imparts an expert jazz timing and phrasing which is filled with an emotive soulful character. She has the ability to make every word and note a personal experience.

    Her expressive contralto voice creates deep, dark, rich tones that marry both an edgy feel and melodic tunefulness that brings life to a variety of genres most specifically R&B, jazz, 60s girl group pop, blue-eyed-soul, and neo soul.

    Though her lower register is her trademark her voice transitions well through the registers.

    After releasing only two studio albums Amy passed away at the young age of 27 on July 23, 2011. Upon her passing it has become evident that her fan base is highly loyal and that Amy's legacy will be one that remains extremely strong through the generations

    Amy's Fans Speak:

  • "She had such a unique vocal style and phrasing that brings emotion out of a song and appeals to my ear and reminds me of the old jazz-blues and 60s pop vocalists. She had a tone all of her own." - Nancy Jo
  • "Amy sang her songs with so much feeling you could almost feel it yourself." - Mark Marlow

    In ending this story I want to mention three other recent female vocalists that deserve recognition and in my opinion belong in the league of the all-time greatest Corinne Bailey Rae, Kandace Springs, and especially Esperanza Spalding. Each of these women will appear in my next edition of "Is She or Isn't She One of the Greats."

    Because Esperanza Spalding is my current day favorite female musician I wish to share the following video with you.

    Thank you for visiting... Please heart this article and if you are so compelled please leave a tip. I could really use the financial assistance in being my 85 year old mom's caregiver. I gave up my job a year ago in order to care for her. She is in advanced stages dementia and has a lot of mental confusion and fears. I am facing a very challenging period in my life and writing these stories and article for Vocal Media helps me to cope. Thank you!!! :)


    About the Creator

    Rick Henry Christopher

    Writing is a distraction for me. It takes me to places unknown that fulfill my need for intellectual stimulus, emotional release, and a soothing of the breaks and bruises of the day.

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