Rolling Stone expanded the 2023 version of the Greatest Singers of All Time to 200 from the original 100 count, and for the first time, eight Africans, including Miriam Makeba, Fela Kuti, Tabu Ley and Burna Boy, have made the list.
by Bird Story Agency
Rolling Stone, one of the world’s leading music publications, kicked off the new year with an update to its “200 Greatest Singers of All Time” list, which they first released in 2008, honouring the best vocalists in pop music.
“These are the vocalists that have shaped history and defined our lives – from smooth operators to raw shouters, from gospel to punk, from Sinatra to Selena to SZA,” Rolling Stone editors wrote. The publication released the list on January 1st, 2023, featuring eight African singers in the compilation.
They looked for “originality, influence, depth of an artist’s catalog and breadth of their musical legacy” when compiling the list.
Sade Adu is the highest-ranked African singer at position 51. Rolling Stone said the Nigerian-British singer has “proved herself the ultimate smooth operator,” adding that “her languid cool has a way of making everyone else sound histrionic.”
Following closely was South African vocal powerhouse, Miriam Makeba, ranked 53rd and described as “a fountain of vocal personality.”
“Indeed, to listen to her now, years after her death is to experience an artist who brilliantly communicates the joy of being alive,” the publication wrote about Makeba.
Egyptian Umm Kulthum was the third highest African on the list at position 61, with Rolling Stone saying she “has no real equivalent among singers in the West.”
“Her potent contralto, which could blur gender in its lower register, conveyed breathtaking emotional range in complex songs that, across theme and wildly-ornamented variations, could easily last an hour, as she worked crowds like a fiery preacher,” they added.
Other African singers who made the list include Senegalese tenor, Youssou N’Dour (69), South Africa’s Simon “Mahlathini” Nkabinde (153), who the publication described as “a peerless figure in the history of South African music, gifted with a cloud-rattling basso profundo groan, and a knowing, playful, at times diabolically incisive sense of what to do with it.”
Africa’s leading rumba singer-songwriter, Tabu Ley Rochereau of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, came in at 178th. “His voice was almost startlingly sweet, but he sang with so much pure transport, he never cloyed,” Rolling Stone wrote.
Nigerian superstars, Fela Kuti and Burna Boy, rounded up the African featured artists at positions 188 and 197, respectively. The publication said Burna’s voice is “sweet like caramel, but it can also soar on slickly produced tracks like his recent megahit, Last Last, or the 2019 gem, Anybody, excited by deep bass accents and insanely sophisticated polyrhythms.”
According to Rolling Stone, the top five greatest singers of all time are Mariah Carey, Billie Holiday, Sam Cooke, Whitney Houston and, at No. 1, African-American soul and Motown superstar, Aretha Franklin.