Patti LaBelle

Paying R-E-S-P-E-C-T: The countdown of my favorite female vocalists

In the wake of Aretha Franklin’s death, columnist Thomas Sellers Jr. is reminiscing about her and other talented female vocalists who set musical standards. Here, his Number One pick, Patti LaBelle, belts out one of her classic songs at a 2012 event. Photo by Sanda Alphonse via

Soul music was on the brink of a revolution when a little girl was born on March 25, 1942, in Memphis, Tenn.

Aretha Louise Franklin grew up to be a fixture of Detroit, an iconic voice and the Queen of Soul. An amazing talent that has made headlines for several decades popped back up in the news this month because of her declining health and eventual passing.

Quickly several historic figures rushed to her side to see her and get in touch with her soul. Franklin has earned that admiration and R-E-S-P-E-C-T because she has penetrated our souls since the 1950s with her vibrant notes.

She set the standard for R&B and Soul music. She could took your hit song and make it a classic. Franklin was able to deliver a heartbreaking song with a voice of empowerment.

She mastered a method of singing I call “Talkin’ A Song.” Your ears would hear the artists talking but they are really belting out the words with a new style.

Thinking about Franklin’s impact on society and how important soul music has been in my life inspired me to rank my top 10 best female singers of all time. Before I break down my favorites, here are a few honorable mentions: Mariah Carey, Faith Evans, Ella Fitzgerald, Tina Turner, Karen Carpenter, Billie Holiday, Stevie Nicks, Toni Braxton, Etta James, Minnie Riperton, Angela Bofill, Natalie Cole, Janet Jackson, Selena, LeAnn Rimes and Anita Baker.

10. Madonna
Favorite Song: “Borderline”

Madonna in concert. Photo by Gustavo Fernando Durán Madonna Corset via photopin (license)

In the 1980s, she was a sweet voice dressed in punk-rock gear. Madonna has a style of her own. But never afraid of change, she has diversified herself through the ’90s, 2000s and today.

Madonna has made headlines over the years for many crazy reasons

But you can’t deny her vocal talent. She’s a seven-time Grammy winner for a reason. And yes, I have “Vogue.” But to enjoy her voice listen to “This Used To Be My Playground” and “Take A Bow.”

9. Chaka Khan
Favorite Song: “Angel”

Born Yvette Marie Stevens, she was known as Rufus in the 1970s. Well, she was the voice of the group for about five years. Then Chaka Khan branched off into a fabulous solo career. Simply a powerful voice with rough edges. Chaka Khan is definitely an original and can make any song her own like Prince’s “I Feel for You.” She will take you “Through the Fire.” “Ain’t Nobody” equal to the soulful breakdown of Khan. Her 10 Grammys and more than 70 million albums sold keep us coming back.

8. Whitney Houston
Favorite Song: “Why Does It Hurt So Bad”

Her voice was how every voice should sing. I realized that on a January night in 1991. Still to this day the very best national anthem. Whitney Houston’s voice was powerful while remaining sweet and inviting the entire time.

Her cover of Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You” took a song meant to be for the brokenhearted and made it a ballad for empowerment. Whitney borrowed Chaka’s “I’m Every Woman” to continue her streak of self-power. Sadly, demons took her voice before she passed away in February 2012.

I just thank God she left us with so many sweet voice gems.

7. Gladys Knight
Favorite Song: “Neither One of Us”

The Empress of Soul was brought to the masses surrounded by Pips. Then Gladys Knight continued to entertain us across the world with a voice that could headline Apollo or help a lonely man get through the night at his local bar.

Gladys could take you to church or to the hole in the wall. Either place you felt your soul being moved to the emotion she wanted you to feel. Only four Grammys are on her résumé but we all know she should be one of the most decorated R&B voices of all time.

6. Aretha Franklin
Favorite Song: “I Say a Little Prayer”

Photo of Aretha Franklin art by Matt Brown, via, some rights reserved.

She is often imitated and is given the most credit by the other singers on this list. I dare you to listen to “Say a Little Pray” and now feel joy, sadness, strength and vulnerability.

I’m young enough to see the Queen as a grandmother figure. She was the sage matriarchal influence I needed in my 20s and early 30s.

She teamed up with Mary J. Blige and brothers K-ci and Jojo on a pair of songs that gave young lovers advice. Her voice echoed through my soul to be careful and pick a woman because of her values, not her shape.

Like I said, the Queen could talk a song.

5. Gloria Estefan
Favorite Song: “Here We Are”

Back in the late 1990s, Jennifer Lopez became a weak imitation of my favorite Latina songstress. Gloria Estefan almost had a rival in Selena. But she was only able to give us on English album. We were blessed to have several elegant ballads from Gloria.

She could get the party jumping with the Miami Sound Machine with hits like “Conga” and “The Rhythm is Gonna Get You.”

But she ranks high on this list because of love songs like “You’ll Be Mine,” “Can’t Stay Away From You,” and “Words Get in the Way.” And when I need inspiration, I have to play “Coming Out of the Dark.” Muy bien for the four-time Grammy winner.

4. Celine Dion
Favorite Song: “Because You Loved Me”

OK, she is a little dramatic on stage with her movements and hand gestures. But the voice makes the lasting impact. Celine Dion can be the soundtrack to your summer romance or the song you walk down the aisle.

She is the female Kenny Loggins. Celine was the perfect person to call on for your movie’s featured song. Loggins ruled the 80s and Dion belted out a few cinema classics in the ’90s. “My Heart Will Go On” is essential listening. Then hear her range with songs like “I’m Alive,” “Beauty & The Beast” and her duet with R. Kelly, “I’m Your Angel.”

Because of her natural talent and picking the perfect projects, Celine will be timeless.

3. Mary J. Blige
Favorite Song: “Everything”

She ranks high because she shows respect to those who preceded her. She has a duet with the Queen of Soul. She has covered legendary songstresses like Natalie Cole and Chaka Khan. Mary J. Blige is the Queen of Hip Hop Soul. For almost 30 years, Blige has used her pain and personal life to let us know we’re not alone in the battle called life. I hope her music has been therapy for her as well. “Missing You,” “No More Drama,” and “Not Gon’ Cry” are so many people’s personal anthem.

What makes this nine-time Grammy winner so great is she is willing to share her emotions, knowing somebody out there will relate. Mary’s best album was “Mary.” Go listen to a woman who reached a point of peace in her life.

2. Chanté Moore
Favorite Song: “Love’s Still Alright”

Some say she’s a blend of Diana Ross and Minnie Riperton. Chanté Moore has been described as a combination of sweet and sexy. Her library of music validates all the comparisons and descriptions. From her debut album in 1992, “Precious,” to more mature content from “Exposed” and “Love the Woman,” Moore has kept her distinct vocal range and delivery. She can hit the highest of notes and belt out a power ballad.

The apex of her talent came off the album “This Moment is Mine.” She had a couple of dance tunes, a few love songs, a little Gospel and then she closed it out with the title track. “This Moment is Mine” got me through tough times of self-doubt and trying to find my way in life.

Whenever I had a broken heart, I turned to Ms. Moore (“Love’s Still Alright”). If I dealt with death, it was time to play Chanté (“I Cry to Myself”). Or if I needed a smile, I had countless selections from the gifted Moore.

1. Patti LaBelle
Favorite Song: “If You Asked Me To”

In the halls of the FedEx Forum I stood next to the iconic Patti LaBelle warming up for her halftime performance of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. game. When she reached a stopping point, she turned and looked right at me. “How do I sound, baby?”

Once I got over the shock of The Patti LaBelle talking to me, I said, “It was the most wonderful sound I ever heard in person.” I got a hug from the legend.

Spirit and soul are her combination on stage. Pizazz and energy are her delivery style. From her revolutionary hairstyle in the ’80s to her time with the LaBelles, Patti knows how to make a lasting impression. She can even do it from the kitchen with her pies.

But she earned No. 1 on my list because of her range, multiple styles, crossover ability and decades of excellence. She only has a pair of Grammys but she also has countless hearts she has touched like a certain Queen of Soul.

THOMAS SELLERS JR. is the editor of The Millington Star and both the sports editor and a weekly personal columnist for Journal West 10 Media LLC. Contact him by phone at (901) 433-9138, by fax to (901) 529-7687 and by email to