The 70s were an incredible time for music. If I had to pick any decade for being the greatest for musical diversity and quality, this would be it. The 70s had everything, Disco, Punk, Rock, Country, Soul, Punk, and plenty more besides.
For these reasons, the most famous female singers of the 1970s are a very mixed bunch. The fact is that no musical genre appeared to dominate another. There was an amazingly eclectic mix of songs and performers, and I feel lucky to have been growing up and listening to music when it all happened.
The 70s saw a ton of female artists performing and making music at the very peak of their careers. It is hard to select just a few, but I’ve done my best to choose the most memorable and influential artists. So, let’s get to it and take a look at the first famous 1970s female singer.
Top 7 Most Famous Female Singers Of The 1970s
Aretha Franklin was a musical giant and one of the greatest female singers of all time. She was born in 1942 in Memphis, Tennessee. From an early age, she sang Gospel, and despite being renowned as the queen of Soul, it was Gospel that she would frequently turn to.
She was also a highly talented songwriter and musician. Aretha possessed high levels of versatility and could easily sing Blues, Jazz, R&B, or Pop when required. She began her career in 1954 and continued singing right up until she died in 2017.
During this long and illustrious period…
It’s fair to say that her most successful decade fell between the late 60s and early 70s. The biggest hits of the 60s included “(You Make Me Feel) Like a Natural Woman” and “Respect.” In the 70s, she had success with “Rock Steady” and “Day Dreaming.”
She continued to have hits in the 80s and began to collaborate with an increasingly wider group of artists like George Benson and George Michael. She also tried her hand at acting for the first in the classic “The Blues Brothers” movie playing Mrs. Murphy.
However, by the end of the 80s, she fell out of fashion. And although she continued to be active and in demand as a performing artist, the hits dried up.
Her list of singles, albums, awards, and accolades is extensive…
But the number of live performances is staggering. This is hardly surprising, given the thirst to hear her incredible voice in person.
Despite all her many live appearances, she will probably be most remembered for the breathtaking interpretation of “My Country, Tis of Thee” at President Barrack Obama’s inauguration.
As a prolific rights activist and card-holding Democrat, it’s no doubt something she was rightly proud of.
Etta James was born in 1938, and like Aretha Franklin, she was a legendary female Soul singer in the 70s. She was born into poverty, and her early life was both chaotic and difficult.
However, she was able to rise out of financial hardship, and by the time she was thirty, she’d well and truly hit her stride as a performer.
She released “Tell Mamma” and then “I’d Rather Go Blind” in 1968. Both singles featured on the 1968 album, Tell Mamma, and both became two of her most memorable hits.
Furthermore, “I’d Rather Go Blind” became one of her signature songs, along with “At Last,” which was released seven years earlier in 1961.
Sadly, at this point in her career…
The issues of her childhood continued to haunt her and were ever-present in her life. She became dependent on heroin which, not surprisingly, only exasperated her already fragile condition. Incarceration followed, as did a series of failed and abusive relationships, adding fuel to the fire.
Incredibly, she eventually managed to get her life back on track and launched a comeback in the 80s. The release of her 1988 album, The Seven Year Itch, well and truly marked her return to the limelight.
Despite her struggling mental health in the 70s…
She still regularly performed and produced some of her most memorable performances. Drawing from her difficult past, Etta’s raw emotions were there for all to see in a series of spell-binding live concerts.
I believe her very best performance of a live song was at the Montreux Festival in 1975. Shen sang “I’d Rather Go Blind” and demonstrated why she was rated so highly and why she had won six Grammys.
I’ve personally never seen anything better in terms of vocal and stage performance. A complete masterclass.
Etta could sing Gospel, Jazz, R&B Blues, and even Rock…
…however, Soul always remained her strength. So, she would be frequently compared to Aretha Franklin, who was singing and performing in the same era.
So, who had the better voice?
Aretha Franklin had, by a landslide, the more successful career. She sold 75 million albums compared to just two million for Etta James. However, I still believe that Etta James had a better voice, though I fully admit I’m very much in the minority here.
I honestly think that her expression was unparalleled. What a talent. And easily one of the most famous female singers of the 1970s.
Barbara Streisand was born in 1942 and has been a prolific force in music from the time she turned professional in 1960 right up to the present day.
It’s hard to pick her best years. However, I’d say, with a few rocky patches in between, the mid-60s to the mid-80s saw the greatest output, as well as most of her best-known work.
She released her first album, The Barbara Streisand Album, in 1963, and it’s fair to say that she immediately hit the ground running. The album made it to #8 on the Billboard 200 and sold over a million copies. Undoubtedly a dream start to her glittering career.
By the time she reached the 70s…
She already had eleven albums to her name, but there was more and better to come. In 1974, she released “The Way We Were.” It was used as the soundtrack of the movie of the same name in which Barbara Streisand appeared alongside Robert Redford as the main character. A lead single with the same title was also released, which became her most successful song of all time.
The result was a #1, all-around high sales volumes, and a couple of Academy Awards. Gold stars and sashes all around. Plus, a great boost for Barbara Streisand’s career, which at the time was beginning to wane somewhat.
The seventies finished off well…
And culminated at the turn of the decade with the spectacular album, Guilty, which was written for her by The Bee Gees and released in 1980.
The single “Woman in Love” was also taken off the album and duly went to #1 pretty much everywhere. Along with “The Way We Were,” it became one of her most recognizable and most loved songs.
None of the fame and success came by accident. Barbara Streisand endlessly worked for her place as a global superstar. However, being blessed with a voice that has a high range and a full tone certainly helped. It’s no wonder that she’s sold over 90 million albums worldwide.
Debbie Harry is the frontwoman and lead singer of the band Blondie, which was formed in 1974. Their musical style is New Wave bordering on Pop. It’s a sound that appealed and continues to appeal to large swathes of fans around the world.
The 70s were the time for Debbie Harry and Blondie, even though they are still performing and recording. However, the fact is that much of their music since 1980 hasn’t been especially great, notwithstanding a 15-year hiatus between 1982 to 1997.
I say all of this with no axe to grind…
I was a big Blondie fan back in the day. So much so that I put my hand in m pocket to buy a copy of Parallel Lines back in 1976. And what an album that was!
It was packed with hits like “Heart of Glass,” “Sunday Girl,” “One Way or Another,” “Picture This,” and my personal favorite, “Hanging On The Telephone.”
Oh, could things get better than all of this?
Sadly, the answer is that they couldn’t. Blondie still released a few good singles in 1980, which included “Atomic,” “The Tide is High,” and “Call Me.” But then the magic was pretty much gone, and that was that.
Debbie Harry split from the band to pursue a solo career in 1982, but that was far from successful. She returned to the band in 1997, but again, large-scale success has eluded them. Hardly surprising since the content of their last five albums includes little for an audience to get excited about it.
In her day…
Specifically, in the 70s, Debbie Harry had a pretty good voice with a decent range and plenty of power. But she’s no Aretha Franklin and sadly hasn’t maintained her voice in the same way as some of the female greats.
Additionally, a woman in her 70s still singing Punk/Pop songs from the 70s just seems wrong somehow.
Doll Parton was born in 1946 in Tennessee with Country flowing through her veins. She began performing at just ten years old, and she shows no signs of stopping any time soon.
It’s fair to say…
She’s not only one of the most famous female singers of the 1970s but also of any decade from the 1960s onwards.
As well as an amazing 1970s female vocalist and performer, she’s also an incredible songwriter. Some of her greatest songs were written in the 70s. These included “I Will Always Love You,” “Jolene,” and “Here You Come Again.”
“I Will Always Love You” was released in 1974 and sold a million copies. It was taken from the album Jolene. This also produced the single of the same name that became her best-selling. A pretty good result for her thirteenth studio album.
But that was not the end of it…
In 1992, the song was picked up by Whitney Houston and used as the theme song for the blockbuster movie “The Bodyguard.” Whitney Houston’s cover of “I Will Always Love You” from the movie’s original soundtrack went on to sell a staggering 20 million copies. This made it the best-selling single ever for a female artist and perfectly illustrates Dolly Parton’s prowess as an exceptional songwriter.
The 70s was a great time for Dolly Parton, and 1977 saw the release of another of her most popular songs, “Here You Come Again.” This topped the Country charts for five weeks and won her a Grammy a year later.
Over her long career…
She has released 243 singles and 52 albums. She’s also won 189 awards and been nominated for a further 382. Dolly has sold over 100 million albums, and it’s hard to think of many other legendary female singers in the 70s with such a large and impressive catalog of music and awards.
I hope she continues to make and perform music for a long time to come.
Here is a famous female singer synonymous with the 70s. This is in no small part due to her appearance in the 1978 blockbuster movie, “Grease.” She played the role of Sandy opposite John Travolta who played Danny.
It was a classic tale of the good girl falling for the bad boy from the wrong side of the tracks. They, of course, ended up together. This was a romantic comedy, after all. Plus, there was plenty of singing and dancing in the process.
The movie ended up grossing over $132 million, which made it the most successful movie of the year. The Grease original soundtrack was also a phenomenal success. It sold over 30 million copies, making it one of the best-selling albums in history.
Olivia Newton John’s contribution to the album was significant…
She featured on five of the 24 tracks. Two of them as a solo performer, with one of the two, “Hopelessly Devoted to You,” winning a nomination for an Academy award.
By the time “Grease” was released, Olivia Newton-John, an Australian native, had already made numerous appearances as an actress on Australian TV. She also appeared in three movies and released ten albums. However, it was “Grease” that would truly catapult her career to global status.
In the 80s…
She continued to act and sing. Her biggest success from this point was the release of her 1981 album, Physical, and her appearance in the futuristic movie, “Xanadu.”
The movie soundtrack featured music from the insanely talented E.L.O. Olivia Newton-John sang on all of the tracks on side one. And on the main theme song, “Xanadu,” which was the final track of the album.
Olivia Newton-John had a sweet and gentle voice that had a distinct purity to its tone…
She also had a close-to-perfect pitch which made for a superb combination. Her fans, including myself, loved her and loved her voice. Enough to buy over 100 million of her albums, making her one of the most successful female artists in history. Sadly, she died in 2023 of breast cancer.
In the 1970s, Donna Summer was the undisputed Queen of Disco. Along with bands like Abba and The Bee Gees, she would come to define its very sound. It was an awesome time for music, and it’s kind of sad that Disco has now all but died.
During the 70s, I can’t think of another more prominent Disco artist. She was a songwriter as well as a vocalist and wrote some incredible Disco hits of her own. These included “I Feel Love,” “Love to Love You Baby,” and the 1979 hit “On The Radio.”
In truth, these are just scraping the surface…
“Bad Girls,” “Hot Stuff,” and “Lucky” are yet more examples of her output. In all, she released over 30 singles during the 70s, and most of them were pure Disco.
Her best-selling singles were “Hot Stuff” and “Bad Girls,” which were both released off the 1979 album, Bad Girls. The singles and the album went to #1, with the album selling over four million copies.
Donna Summer continued to perform right up until her death in 2012 at the age of 63. Despite her age, she never lost any of the power or range of her powerful three-octave mezzo-soprano voice. She was a delight to watch and listen to right up until her last performance.
Want to Find More Amazing Female Singers?
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Most Famous Female Singers Of The 1970s – Final Thoughts
So, there you have it. I hope you’ve enjoyed this little trip down memory lane half as much as I have. The 70s were a truly special time and one I’ll always remember fondly. It’s also been great to remind myself of some of the most famous female singers of the 70s.
Looking through the list makes me realize the wealth of talent that was present at the time. It’s great that some of these legends are still with us and performing today. Also, it’s sad that we’ve lost a few along the way, and I can attest to the fact that they’ll never be forgotten.
It’s now time to wind this up and time to dig out those old flares from the attic.
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