Female Vocalists of the Decades

This page is intended for study, a quick look at the last century of prominent female vocalists and the decade that they came on the national scene. The artists I have selected are not the only vocalists from thoses eras, but are of the most common household names who influenced other artists into the following generations catching up to our modern day female rock vocalists.

This is currently a new idea and work in progress, feel free to check back as I continue to pad it out weekly.


Marion Harris | Alberta Hunter

Marion Harris (1896-1944)

website | wiki

Marion Harris was an American popular singer around 1920. She was the first widely known white singer to sing jazz and blues songs.


I Ain't Got Nobody

Alberta Hunter


1910s 1930s

Born in Memphis, she left home while still in her early teens and settled in Chicago, Illinois. There, she peeled potatoes by day and hounded club owners by night, determined to land a singing job. Her persistence paid off, and Hunter began a climb through some of the city's lowest dives to a headlining job at its most prestigious venue for black entertainers, the Dreamland ballroom. She had a five-year association with the Dreamland, beginning in 1917, and her salary rose to $35 a week.

She first toured Europe in 1917, performing in Paris and London. The Europeans treated her as an artist, showing her respect and even reverence, which made a great impression on her.

Her career as singer and songwriter flourished in the 1920s and 1930s, and she appeared in clubs and on stage in musicals in both New York and London. The songs she wrote include the critically acclaimed "Downhearted Blues" (1922) which became a big hit for Columbia, with Bessie Smith as the vocalist..

1910s | 1920s | 1930s | 1940s | 1950s | 1960s | 1970s | 1980s | 1990s | 2000s
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Bessie Smith | Lee Morse | Vaughn De Leath | Kate Smith

Bessie Smith

website | wiki

Gulf Coast Blues


St. Louis Blues

Lee Morse

website | wiki


"Yes, Sir! That's My Baby!"

Vaughn De Leath


She was a famous female radio jazz singer who gained popularity in the 1920s and became known as "The Original Radio Girl" and "First Lady of Radio."


Are You Lonesome Tonight

Kate Smith


This was the decade that really made American female singers household names. The stylings were mostly jazz, blues, and gospel based.

The Boswell Sisters | Billie Holliday | The Andrews Sisters | Ella Fitzgerald | Helen Forrest

Boswell Sisters


When I Take My Sugar to Tea


Heebie Jeebies


Rock and Roll


Billie Holiday (1915-1959)

wiki | website




There are 3 phases in Billie Holiday's career...

The first one starts in 1933 and lasts until 1939, when she recorded Strange Fruit on the Commodore label of Milt Gabler (uncle of Billy Christal the actor). This is a transition period in jazz music. Billie Holiday's first recordings of 1933 and 1935 are very close to the hot music of the 1920s. It's the beginning of the Swing era. Until 1939 Billie Holiday will reach the peak of this era. She will be accompanied by some of the finest jazz musicians of the period. This era is particularly interesting because, Billie Holiday changes the "value" of the singer in a jazz band. Until that moment, a singer was just a "necessary evil" for the refrain. With a refrain, the title of the song could be kept in the minds of the audience. Billie Holiday's performances are so strong that she becomes an equal to the fine jazz musicians in those small combos... Basically, it's the Brunswick and Vocalion label phase of Billie Holiday.

The second phase is the one after the recording of Strange Fruit. Billie Holiday becomes a torch singer and performs dramatic songs with bigger bands. In the Decca years (1940s) she even uses strings. The musicians are not that significant from a jazz point of view. In fact, I wouldn't even say that it's jazz what Lady Day sang in those days.

The third phase is the one with (basically) Verve records. Billie Holiday performs with small jazz combos again with great musicians. Her voice has changed because of heroin and alcohol abuse. Great music indeed.

Most people who just know Billie Holiday and some of her songs know the second period better. Her songs of this period are more popular but not as jazz relevant as the other 2 periods.

Andrews Sisters

website | wiki



It's A Pity To Say Goodnight / Les Paul Trio with The Andrews Sisters

Signature song "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy"

The Andrews Sisters were the most successful female vocal group of the first half of the 20th century in the U.S. One source lists 113 singles chart entries by the trio between 1938-1951, an average of more than eight per year. They boasted an exuberant, close-harmony style well-suited to cheery novelty songs, and their intricate vocal arrangements and rhythmic ability mirrored the sound of the swing bands that constituted their chief competition in their heyday. But, in a sense, they had no competition. No other female vocal group, and very few male ones, came close to their success from the late '30s to the early '50s, an era when first big bands and then solo singers dominated popular music. Their reign is all the more remarkable given that they swam against the current of contemporary music trends while making it seem effortless. For the most part, the Andrews Sisters did not focus on romantic material, but rather sang upbeat songs, often borrowed from other cultures. Although they were well-established by the time the U.S. entered World War II, their optimistic tenor made them perfect boosters of the war effort, and in later years they remained closely identified with the war years, remembered as wearing military uniforms and singing their signature song, "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy."source

Ella Fitzgerald (1917-1996)

Ella's Biography | wiki


"A Tisket a Tasket"- her first big public song

A Fine Romance



Helen Forrest


"All the Things You Are" w/ Artie Shaw

1910s | 1920s | 1930s | 1940s | 1950s | 1960s | 1970s | 1980s | 1990s | 2000s
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Dinah Shore | Kay Starr | Ginny Simms | Doris Day

Dinah Shore

Kay Starr

1910s | 1920s | 1930s | 1940s | 1950s | 1960s | 1970s | 1980s | 1990s | 2000s
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Etta James

Going to be considering: LaVern Baker - The Bobbttes - Ruth Brown -Wanda Jackson - Etta James - Esther Phillips (Little Esther) for starters. Also hugely important were "girl groups" including: The Chantels, The Shirelles, the Paris Sisters ("I Love How You Love Me"; 1956), the Teen Queens ("Eddie My Love"; 1955), and the Poni-Tails ("Born Too Late"; 1957). source

The foundations of rock music are in rock and roll, which originated in the United States during the late 1940s and early 1950s, and quickly spread to much of the rest of the world. Its immediate origins lay in a mixing together of various popular musical genres of the time, including rhythm and blues, gospel music, and country and western.[3] In 1951, Cleveland, Ohio disc jockey Alan Freed began playing rhythm and blues music for a multi-racial audience, and is credited with first using the phrase "rock and roll" to describe the music.

There is much debate as to what should be considered the first rock and roll record. One leading contender is "Rocket 88" by Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats (in fact, Ike Turner and his band The Kings of Rhythm), recorded by Sam Phillips for Sun Records in 1951.[4] Four years later, Bill Haley's "Rock Around the Clock" (1955) became the first rock and roll song to top Billboard magazine's main sales and airplay charts, and opened the door worldwide for this new wave of popular culture.

Rolling Stone magazine argued in 2004 that "That's All Right (Mama)" (1954), Elvis Presley's first single for Sun Records in Memphis, was the first rock and roll record.[6], but, at the same time, Big Joe Turner's "Shake, Rattle & Roll", later covered by Haley, was already at the top of the Billboard R&B charts. Other artists with early rock and roll hits included Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Fats Domino, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Gene Vincent.[4] Soon rock and roll was the major force in American record sales and crooners, such as Eddie Fisher, Perry Como, and Patti Page, who had dominated the previous decade of popular music, found their access to the pop charts significantly curtailed.source

Etta James

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