The 50 Greatest R&B Artists

  1. James Brown
  2. Michael Jackson
  3. Stevie Wonder
  4. Ray Charles
  5. Aretha Franklin
  6. Louis Jordan
  7. Marvin Gaye
  8. Sam Cooke
  9. Little Richard
  10. Fats Domino
  11. The Temptations
  12. Smokey Robinson & The Miracles
  13. Otis Redding
  14. Prince
  15. Diana Ross & The Supremes
  16. Jackie Wilson
  17. Sly & The Family Stone
  18. The Drifters
  19. Big Joe Turner
  20. Donna Summer
  21. Al Green
  22. Ike & Tina Turner / Tina Turner
  23. The Four Tops
  24. Chuck Berry
  25. The Impressions
  26. Janet Jackson
  27. The Isley Brothers
  28. Etta James
  29. The Platters
  30. Wynonie Harris
  31. Parliament / Funkadelic / George Clinton
  32. Solomon Burke
  33. Billy Ward and his Dominoes
  34. Isaac Hayes
  35. Whitney Houston
  36. Barry White
  37. The Orioles
  38. Gladys Knight & The Pips
  39. Earth, Wind & Fire
  40. The Jackson 5 / The Jacksons
  41. Curtis Mayfield
  42. The Ravens
  43. Lionel Richie / The Commodores
  44. Mariah Carey
  45. The Flamingos
  46. Wilson Pickett
  47. The Coasters
  48. Bo Diddley
  49. The Marvelettes
  50. War
Author Comments: 

This list covers all branches of the R&B music kingdom: jump blues, doo-wop, rhythm & blues, soul, funk, disco/boogie, contemporary R&B, and all of their respective offshoots. Artist rankings are based on influence, impact, and popularity. Note that this is a new revision in the works. Expect 50 more entries to round out the Top 100 soon.

Good list! Those top ten look almost unassailable.

Thanks :)

Yeah, I think the top ten are pretty solid candidates. The rest could possibly use some work as far as rearranging, but overall I think I got the most important artists all here.

Very good list. I pretty much agree with the top 10, and everything else seems fairly accurate but could probably use a little bit of rearranging like you said. Overall, you did an excellent job naming the best artists from both older and newer generations of R&B (very pleased to see D'Angelo and R. Kelly on here).

Thanks. Eventually I'll revise the list and try to make it a bit more accurate.

What makes Michael Jackson greater than Prince in your opinion?

Let's break it down per criteria:

In terms of influence, I would give Prince a slight advantage. While both artists were important players in the shaping of contemporary R&B, Prince was also particularly significant in helping popularize the synth funk (and Minneapolis sound) that came into vogue in the '80s. Additionally, Prince is one of the key figures in introducing explicit sexuality to popular music.

In terms of impact, I would give MJ the upper-hand. MJ is a cultural icon on par with Elvis Presely and The Beatles after all. Most music circles would consider him the preeminent entertainer, and he is among the most (if not the most) awarded recording artists of all time. Consider Thriller, the Moonwalk, his immense impact on the music video medium... his contributions to music and culture go on and on, really. As for Prince, he's also heavily lauded for his many talents (multi-instrumentalist, exceptional vocalist, innovative producer) as well as being a culturally significant persona and respected trendsetter, so he undoubtedly scores very well in impact, too -- and he actually slightly surpasses MJ in critical acclaim, believe it or not. His accomplishments, while impressive, just aren't quite enough to eclipse MJ in this criterion overall.

Now in terms of popularity, MJ basically crushes Prince. We're talking approximately 400 million records sold to 100 million records sold (and honestly, no other artist on this list comes close to MJ's sales). Even on the Internet, MJ has trended far more than Prince -- especially after his death in 2009.

Tally it all up and Michael Jackson is the more significant artist fairly comfortably.

Thanks for breaking it down. It was interesting to read and it makes sense. I usually don't put too much weight into impact and popularity because these things change over time and we all actively contribute to their change. Case in point: The Monkees were much more popular and had more impact than The Velvet Underground during the 60's.

Which one do you personally prefer? For me it's definitely Prince. Not just because he's a multi-instrumentalist and exceptional vocalist and made something as intricate and monumental as Sign o' the Times all by himself, but also because unlike MJ I can connect to Prince music as an adult and have a great time.