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The Most Famous Blues Singers

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of incredible Blues singers. So, selecting a short list of the most famous Blues singers was no easy task. I’ve done my best, but I’m sure they’ll still be a few glaring omissions and one or two contentious inclusions.

The Most Famous Blues Singers

I hope I’ve at least managed to include a few of your favorites. So, let’s get started and take a look at the first of the greatest Blues singers.

The 11 Most Famous Blues Singers

Robert Johnson 

Robert Johnson 

Robert Johnson was one of the founders of Blues music. His contrition to music and the Blues is huge. This is a man who helped to define its very shape.

Despite these impressive credentials, it is surprising that there are very few recordings of his voice. This was because his recording career was incredibly short and spanned just seven months between 1936 to 1937.

During this time, one of his most famous recording sessions was at the Gunter Hotel in Room 414 in San Antonio. He recorded a total of sixteen songs, the first of which was “Terraplane Blues.” It sold an estimated 10,000 copies.

Thanks to modern technology, we still have access to these old recordings… 

Other songs from Room 414 that are still available include “Sweet Home Chicago” as well as “Crossroad Blues.” Both of these, plus many of the other recordings, became Blues standards. They’ve been sung and covered by numerous artists, including Eric Clapton, whom I’ll get to later.

What’s also amazing is the quality of his voice…

He sounds superb, which given the basic equipment, speed, and circumstances surrounding some of the recordings, is extraordinary. Despite his death, at just 27 years old, he left a legacy to last for eternity. 

He was a true master of the Delta Blues, which has been recognized posthumously through a host of awards from within the music community. His music and his legend still burn bright after all these years.

Muddy Waters

Muddy Waters

Muddy Waters was born in 1913, just a couple of years after Robert Johnson. Thankfully, he had a much fuller life and lived to see out his 70th birthday. This was more than enough time to leave his mark and happily give us a lot of recorded music and live performances.

Muddy Waters also grew up in Mississippi and around the Blues. His upbringing and immersion in music were instrumental in helping him to develop his style of the Delta Blues as a teenager. 

It was a great training ground. And he had the privilege of being in the same company as Blues giants such as Robert Johnson.

Muddy was a relative latecomer… 

He didn’t start recording until 1941. It wasn’t until he was 30 years old that he finally became a professional musician. Which, not by coincidence, was at the same time he relocated to Chicago. Three years after this, he made his first commercial recordings with Columbia. 

During his time in Chicago, he founded and developed a more urban style of the Blues that became known as the Chicago Blues. But this wasn’t the end of his influence. In the late 50s, he also visited the UK and was pivotal in igniting renewed interest in the Blues for musicians to come. 

One of my favorite Muddy Waters songs is “Louisiana Blues.” It’s one of many, as he was a prolific songwriter and performer. To get a better idea of the style and beauty of his rich, powerful voice, listen to Muddy Waters: All Night Long Muddy Waters Live!

B.B. King

B.B. King

There’s no doubt that B.B. King is one of the most famous Blues singers and guitarists of all time. Even people who don’t pay much attention to this genre are still likely to have heard of him.

He was born in 1925 and is known not only for his amazing Blues singing voice but for his guitar skills too. It’s not unusual to see him highly placed on any list containing the best 100 guitarists of all time. What’s more, he usually ranks pretty highly as well.

This is another Blues singer who grew up and was raised in Mississippi. However, like Muddy Waters, he also found his way to Chicago after taking a brief detour for a few years in Memphis.

As his career developed…

 B.B. King brought a new sound to the Blues. He became famed for introducing staccato picking and beautiful string bending. However, most of us will remember him for his unique vibrato skills.

This was most evident in his trademark song, “The Thrill is Gone.” It’s a song he released in 1969 from the album, Completely Well. Contrary to what many believe and despite B.B. King’s talent as a songwriter, “The Thrill is Gone” was written by Rick Darnell and Roy Hawkins.

A superb performer… 

Like many of the most well known Blues singers, he served a hard apprenticeship in the clubs and bars. This no doubt helped to sharpen his performing talents and made him an incredible live act.

He has collaborated with hundreds, if not thousands, of other musicians over the years. To get a good feel of this outstanding ability, any of his live albums are worth listening to. 

He was also a regular visitor and performer in prisons. He even credited his best live performance as being at Sin Sing Prison in 1972. Sadly, he passed in 2015 at the age of 89.

Ray Charles 

Ray Charles 

Ray Charles was one of the most successful Blues singers and musicians. He had a tough upbringing in the deep south. He came from a poor background, and things became even tougher as he began to lose his sight at the age of four. By the time he was seven, he was completely blind. 

At this point, he had already been informally taught that piano since the age of three. His mother managed to secure him a place at a deaf and blind school in Florida, where his musical talents were encouraged and developed. 

It was here he became an accomplished pianist, only after learning the arduous process of reading music in braille with one hand and playing with the other.

After leaving school… 

He embarked on the tough and well-trodden path of playing in clubs for several different bands. This continued for many years, enduring poverty in the process before he eventually made it and got signed.

Ray Charles was an exceptional pianist and also had a wonderful voice. He was classically trained, but his Bluesy sound, mixed with Gospel and Jazz, sounded anything but. He undoubtedly had a potent mix of talent and performing ability that gave him his richly deserved success.

His biggest hit was “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” which was released in 1962 and hit #1 in the US, where it stayed for an impressive five weeks. It was featured in the album Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music. He passed in 2004 at the age of 73.

Freddie King

Freddie King

Freddie is often referred to as one of the three Kings. The other two are B.B. King and Albert King. Like the other Kings, he was a wonderful Blues singer and guitarist. Additionally, like B.B. King, he also spent time in Chicago and developed his Blues style there.

It’s fair to say Freddie King was one of the most powerful Blues singers. He was a big guy and used that to his advantage when he needed to deliver intense vocal lines.

Freddie was born in Texas and moved to Chicago at a relatively early age to pursue a musical career. He formed his first band, Every Hour Blues Boys, and eventually got signed by Federal Records. His breakthrough came in 1961 with the single “Hideaway,” which reached #5 on the Blues chart.

Despite his early relocation to Chicago…

He continued to play in a partly open-string Texas Blues style. He eventually fused the two sounds to create a unique sound that felt like a modern version of the Chicago Blues. It was something that was ultimately copied by many and can be heard in contemporary Blues players today.

One of the best albums to truly appreciate Freddie King’s talents is Freddie King Sings. It was released in 1961 and contains some of his greatest songs, including “Have You Ever Loved a Woman” and “You’ve Got to Love Her With a Feeling.”

Buddy Guy

Buddy Guy

Buddy was born in 1936, in Louisiana, to a poor family of cotton pickers. Like so many Bluesmen before him, he ultimately made his way to Chicago to develop his career and unquestionable talent.

Buddy increasingly experimented with different ways of playing and began to deviate from traditional Delta and Chicago Blues. He fused the Blues with elements of Rock, Soul, and even Jazz. As his playing developed, it became more recognizable in what we hear today. 

His singing is interesting… 

He’s got the power but frequently chooses to use it in a slightly more refined way. It feels throttled back, but when connected with his playing, it sounds all the better for it. 

Buddy Guy has released a large body of work, so it’s incredibly hard to pick just a couple of recordings as standouts. However, I think “Living Proof,” a single released in 2010, and the album, Damn Right, I’ve Got The Blues released in 1991, are as good as it gets.

And, man, is it good stuff…

Buddy has rightly received a host of awards for his performances, recordings, and contributions to music. Most worthy of note are his eight Grammys and a Lifetime Achievement Award.

Happily, Buddy is still with us and still releasing records and touring. Not only is he touring, but he’s also touring internationally. As if this wasn’t enough, he also owns and runs the largest Blues club in Chicago. The man is truly a living legend. 

Etta James

Etta James

I honestly think that Etta James was one of the greatest female singers of all time. She had an incredibly powerful and expressive voice that was and remains almost unparalleled. In the genres of Blues and Soul, there were very few who could match her. 

Aretha Franklin comes to mind though her strength was more in Soul, Gospel, and R&B than Blues. In contrast, Etta could do the lot and then some. She could even sing Rock with ease and aplomb.

Etta James was born in 1938 in Los Angeles and into a difficult and chaotic life. Despite these problems, she still had a successful career and, at a very young age, had a series of hits which included “Tell Mamma” and “I’d Rather Go Blind.” The latter, I’ll go into more detail later on.

A hard road to success…

Sadly, her childhood problems followed her into adulthood, and as a consequence, she resorted to heroin use. Her situation deteriorated further following incarceration and systematic abuse as the result of poor relationship choices.

Eventually, she overcame her demons, and in the 80s, she engineered a musical comeback. The catalyst for this was the release of The Seven Year Itch in 1988. It received much critical acclaim and catapulted her back into the limelight where her talent and powerful, earthy voice truly belonged.

Legend and legacy…

She received many musical accolades, including six Grammys. But I think her legacy and spirit are best showcased in “I’d Rather Go Blind.” She co-wrote the song with Bill Foster, which also demonstrates her songwriting power.

Recorded in 1967, it’s a deeply emotional and moving song that Etta James captures perfectly. However, Etta’s 1975 live performance at the Montreux Festival is a masterclass of singing and performance. It has to rate as one of the greatest Blues vocal performances of all time.

Yes, it was that good. 

Eric Clapton

Eric Clapton

Eric Clapton appears as the first white face on the list and, in some ways, marks the transition of the Blues into Blues and Rock. Regardless, Eric Clapton is one of the most well-known Blues singers and guitarists still performing and recording.

Eric Clapton is most famed for his guitar playing… 

I’m not going to say his voice is anywhere near the best, but it is very decent. He has a high baritone, and though his range and power are a little limited, he’s still able to articulate his feelings exceptionally well.

His voice will never feature in a Top 100 of the Best Blues singers. However, his guitar playing and songwriting are so strong that his voice has become instantly recognizable to a huge audience.

A Bluesman through and through…

Some of Clapton’s best songs are those where he doesn’t push his voice. The best examples of these are songs like “I Shot the Sheriff,” “Cocaine,” and “Wonderful Tonight.” Although his singing won’t leave a huge legacy, his guitar playing is another matter. 

I believe he’s one of the greatest guitarists of all time. His playing is so clean and accurate but simultaneously carries with it tons of emotion. I’ve seen him in concert twice and can attest to the fact that he’s an amazing guitarist.

Stevie Ray Vaughan

Stevie Ray Vaughan

Let’s talk about his guitar playing first. SRV is the greatest Blues and Rock guitarist of all time. There are plenty who may disagree, but no one is likely to put him out of the Top 3. SRV was a maestro, and if Rick Beato says so, then it has to be true.

The single “Texas Flood,” or his version of the Jimi Hendrix song “Little Wing,” clearly shows just how good he is. He can do things with the guitar and play like no one else. Above all, he had complete mastery of the Texas Blues.

Now let’s talk about his voice…

What’s often overlooked is just how good he was as a vocalist. Because he was such a legendary guitarist, people understandably focused on this rather than his voice. However, vocally he was easily strong enough to be in any Blues band without ever having to touch a guitar.

His voice was powerful, but he could also sing with great expression, even at quieter moments. The best example of this can be heard in “Life with Out You.” It was released in 1985 on the album, Soul to Soul as a touching tribute to his friend. 

Born in Dallas, Stevie Ray Vaughan lived and breathed the Blues. We were lucky to have him amongst us all, be it for a small amount of time. He brought the Blues to a whole new audience and, with artists like Eric Clapton, helped to secure its future popularity. 

Joe Bonamassa 

Joe Bonamassa 

We’re now coming to the current crop of the most famous blues singers and guitarists. These are the guys that are keeping the Blues alive and spreading this wonderful music all over the world. Starting with Joe Bonamassa, you can count on the fact that the Blues are in very safe hands.

Joe Bonamassa was born in Los Angeles in 1977. His father owned a small retail music store, so he was lucky enough to be brought up around music, and specifically guitars, from an early age.

He’s considered to be one of the best Rock/Blues guitarists of the present generation. His playing is sublime, and very few can match his abilities.

When it comes to singing… 

Like Eric Clapton, it doesn’t match up to his guitar prowess, but it’s still up to a high standard. One of the things I admire about Joe Bonamassa is that he’s worked hard on improving his voice throughout his career.

His voice was weaker when he first started recording, but there’s been a definite change. I’m unsure if he had formal vocal coaching or if he just worked on it himself. However, the improvement is undoubtedly there.

You can hear it for yourself…

Take a listen to his first live recording, “A New Day Yesterday (Live),” which came out in 2002. Now compare it to “British Blues Explosion Live,” which was recorded almost 15 years later.

For a studio recording and single, I believe “Driving Towards the Daylight” was an indication of the improvements in his voice. The song has some difficult high notes that he’d adapted his singing to hit. Ten years previously, I doubt he could have pulled off such a brilliant recording. I rest my case.

Finally, as someone still in his 40s, there’s plenty more to come from this guy.

Gary Clark, Jr.

Gary Clark, Jr.

Born in 1984, this young man is the future of Blues music, and how blessed we are to have him. He was born in Austin, Texas, and appears to have Blues music running through his veins. 

He plays a fusion of Blues, Rock, Soul, and R&B. It’s an amazing blend and a style he is adapting as he’s progressed in his career. He’s still so young, but it’s not a stretch to imagine future artists copying him.

This is a Blues player with the full package. He writes brilliant songs, plays the guitar with equal mastery, and his voice is incredible. I love him as a guitar player. I love his feel and emotive playing. And I even love his liberal use of the Wah pedal. 

However, his singing is on another level…

I would classify his voice as being the best of any current Bluesmen. It’s reminiscent of some of the all-time greats, but at the same time, it sounds highly versatile. He has a rich, effortless sounding voice. 

When he sings and slides into the notes, it’s like they’re from his very soul. His vibrato is also wonderful, and it never feels forced or overdone.

Some of his best recordings include “Bright Lights,” “The Healing,” “When My Train Pulls In,” and “This Land.” However, to best appreciate his vocal mastery, I’d recommend you take a listen to his last live album released in 2017, Live North America in 2016. The future looks very bright indeed.

Looking For More Great Music?

Well, take a look at our detailed articles on the Top Songs With Blue in the Title, the Best 2000s R&B Songs, the Best Nitty Gritty Dirt Band Songs of All Time, the Best Fleetwood Mac Songs, the Best Classic Rock Songs, and the Best Grateful Dead Songs of All Time for more great song selections.

Of course, you will need to hear those songs. So, check out our in-depth reviews of the Best Headphones for Music, the Best Headphones For Rock & Metal Music, the Most Comfortable Headphones, and the Best Headphones Under $200 you can buy in 2023.

And, for you aspiring Blues musicians, don’t miss our comprehensive reviews of the Best Guitar Pedals For Blues, the Best Blues Guitars, the Best Hollow And Semi-Hollow Guitars, and the Best Blues Harmonicas currently on the market.

The Most Famous Blues Singers – Final Thoughts

So, there you have it. I’m sure you’ll agree that my list of the world’s most famous Blues singers contains some absolute legends. I tried to strike a balance between some of the older Blues singers and some of the up-and-coming singers. In doing so, I know I omitted many that are more than worthy of being included. Apologies for that.

I hope you enjoyed some of my choices. I’m sure you’ll agree that the Blues is now in safe hands with some of these newer singers. It’s such an important genre from which so many musical styles have evolved. It’s, therefore, essential to keep the passion for this living art alive and well.

Until next time, happy listening. 

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About Corey Hoffman

Corey is a multi-instrumentalist who has played in numerous bands over the years, some good, some not so good. He has also written countless songs and recorded five albums in professional studios across America. Today he is a hobby musician but still loves the guitar after over 15 years of playing.

He considers his writing as a way to share what he has learned over the decades with younger generations ad always can't wait to get his hands on the latest gear.

He lives just outside New York with his wife Barbara and their two German Shepherds, Ziggy and Iggy.

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