What do you picture when you think of black male singers of the 70s?
For me it’s a soul singer like Marvin Gaye.
And most people I’ve asked have said the same.
But that’s far from the only genre in which black singers excelled.
They dominated a number of huge genres in the 1970s. And this list reflects that.
Keep reading for my list of the best African-American male singers of the 70s. And if you’re wondering where the women are, I also made a list of the best black female singers from the 1970s.
Black Male Singers Of The 70s
As mentioned, I tried to include as many different genres as possible in this list of my favorite black male singers of the 1970s, so that there is sure to be a singer you enjoy represented. However, some genres simply did not have many, if any, black singers back in those days.
We start our list with the King of Pop. Michael Jackson remains one of the most influential and iconic black singers of all time. He was famous for his exceptional talent, unique voice, innovative approach to music, and superior dancing skills.
In the 1970s, MJ was a part of the Jackson 5, a band consisting of the Jackson siblings. They gave us many hits between 1969 and 1975, including The Love You Save, Looking Through The Windows, and Dancing Machine.
Michael started his solo career soon after, with hits like Thriller, Beat It, and Bad. The album Thriller has sold more than 65 million copies worldwide and remains one of the best-selling albums of all time. The super-talented singer also won more than 10 Grammy Awards, 5 Billboard Music Awards, and over 20 American Music Awards.
Stevie Wonder was born Stevland Hardaway Morris. Blind since birth, Stevie exhibited exceptional musical abilities and talent from a young age. The prodigy went on to sign with Motown Records when he was just 11 years old.
Stevie Wonder is known for his unique ability to blend different genres like funk, R&B, and soul. This resulted in many hits, including Isn’t She Lovely, As, and Superstition. Stevie won more than 20 Grammy Awards over the years and he also received the Lifetime Achievement Award in 1996.
Ray Charles is a legendary African-American singer, songwriter, and pianist whose contribution to the music industry is immeasurable.
Like Stevie Wonder, Charles was born blind due to childhood glaucoma. Despite this disability, Charles went on to master the piano and developed the unique ability to blend gospel, blues, and jazz.
Charles’ greatest hit, Georgia on My Mind won him a Grammy Award and numerous other accolades. The singer is also a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
In 2004, actor and singer Jamie Foxx played Ray Charles in the biography of Charles’ life, titled Ray. The role earned Foxx the Best Actor Award and emphasized Charles’ contribution to the music industry.
Marvin Gaye is a popular R&B and soul singer known for his politically charged songs. The three-time Grammy Award winner once played the drums for Stevie Wonder, before launching his successful solo career.
His first solo success was Stubborn Kind of Fellow, which went on to chart on the Billboard Hot 100. Gaye’s 1971 album What’s Going On is his most famous. It takes the point of view of a vietnam vet returning home and questions the social consciousness of the era.
James Brown has many nicknames in the music industry, the most prominent one being “The Godfather of Soul.” He first started singing in gospel quartets and was inspired by the preachers to start his own band, The Famous Flames.
By 1970, Brown had formed another band called The J.B.’s. His biggest hit is I Got You (I Feel Good), which he first performed in the late 1960s. He also won the Grammy Award for Best Male R&B Vocal for Living in America in 1988.
Lionel Richie is a legendary African-American actor and singer whose career spans decades. He is well-known for different genres, including R&B, soul, and pop, and also plays the saxophone.
Riche started his singing career in the 1970s with a Motown group called the Commodores before releasing his solo album in 1982. His soulful rendition of Hello, makes it one of his most popular songs to date.
The talented musician has won four Grammy Awards and one Oscar Award. His albums have sold millions of copies worldwide and his net worth is estimated to be $200 million!
Louis Armstrong is a legendary African-American artist and leading trumpeter. He is accredited with developing American jazz into fine art. Armstrong is often considered a hero because of his musical skills and positivity which helped him overcome extreme poverty and racism.
The legend’s musical career spans nearly five decades, beginning in the 1920s and ending in 1971. During this period, he gave us several hits, like What a Wonderful World, La Vie en Rose, Summertime, and Go Down Moses. Armstrong won the Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award in 1972.
George Clinton has contributed significantly to the African-American music industry and is known for his innovative approach to funk and psychedelic music. He is even considered one of the pioneers of funk, alongside the likes of James Brown.
Clinton’s use of distinct vocals and sounds is believed to have revolutionized the funk, rock, and soul genres. In addition to his innovative approach to music, Clinton was also known for his eccentric costumes and elaborate stage shows.
Atomic Dog remains George Clinton’s greatest hit to date. He has received one Grammy, one Dove (gospel), and an MTV Music Video Award. The NAACP Image Awards and Motown Alumni Association have also honored him with Lifetime Achievement Awards for his significant contribution to music.
Lou Rawls is a legendary singer known for his baritone and four-octave vocal range. His smooth, velvety singing was even praised by Frank Sinatra, who described Rawls as the “classiest singer with the silkiest chops in the singing game.”
Lou Rawls was first discovered by producer Nick Venet in the late 1950s. By 1962, Rawls had produced his debut jazz album, I’d Rather Drink Muddy Water. But he did not score a hit until 1966, with the rhythm and blues song Love Is a Hurtin’ Thing from his album Soulin.
Over his amazing career, Rawls has produced more than 75 albums and won three Grammy Awards. He passed away from lung cancer and brain cancer in 2006 at the age of 72.
American singer-songwriter Barry White gave us several hits in the 1970s. He was known for his funk, soul, and disco styles. The Texas native was loved for his velvety, soulful voice, which earned him the title of “The Maestro of Love.”
White’s chart-topping single of the 1970s was Can’t Get Enough of Your Love, Babe. Over his career, he released more than 25 studio albums. The prolific singer also sold millions of albums worldwide and has been nominated for 11 Grammy Awards, of which he won two.
Bill Withers stands out on this list of the top black male singers of the 1970s, since he did not begin as a singer. Instead, he served in the Navy for nine years and was working in an aircraft parts factory when he made his debut album.
Withers continued working in the factory despite gaining fame since he wasn’t sure how long his music career would last. He inspired the music world with his meaningful songs and soulful singing. Over his career, which spanned almost 18 years, Bill gave us several hits, including Lean on Me, Lovely Day, and Use Me.
Al Green was a singer, songwriter, and pastor who delivered hits like Take Me to The River and Tired of Being Alone. His intense vocals and extraordinary voice earned him 21 Grammy nominations. He also won more than 10 different awards in the R&B, soul gospel, and pop categories. Green was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1995 and his net worth is more than $20 million as of 2022.
Al Jarreau is known as the “Acrobat of Scat.” The African-American jazz singer sang with Michael Jackson and other music greats in the famous song We Are The World.
Al is a seven-time Grammy Award winner. The versatile and talented artist also happens to be one of the only two artists to have won the Grammy in three separate categories – Jazz, pop, and R&B.
Jarreau’s 1981 album Breakin’ Away was a super hit and he is best remembered for tracks like We’re in This Love Together and Mornin’.
Curtis Mayfield attributes his love for singing and music to his mother and grandmother. The former taught him to play the piano, while the latter instilled a love for gospel singing in him.
The result: Curtis began singing at a tender young age in his aunt’s church, something he continued for almost seven years before starting his band called the Alphatones. Later, Mayfield joined Jerry Butler’s group, The Roosters.
In 1958, at the age of 16, Curtis set out to form his Chicago Soul/R & B group, The Impressions. By 1970, he had gone solo to give us great hits like (Don’t Worry) If There’s a Hell Below We Are All Going To Go and Beautiful Brother of Mine.
The talented singer won the Grammy Legends Award in 1994 and has also been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice.
Billy Preston is often called the fifth Beatle since George Harrison invited him to their recording sessions in 1969, when the band was undergoing some internal issues. However, there is some controversy regarding this.
Nevertheless, Preston performed hits like Don’t Let Me Down and Get Back with the Beatles. He also performed Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker) with the Rolling Stones.
Preston’s solo hits include That’s the Way God Planned It. The talented American keyboardist and songwriter won the 1973 Grammy Award for Best Pop Instrumental Performance for Outa-Space.
Black Male Solo Singers Of The 70s: Final Thoughts
The black male singers of the 70s listed above mader music in many different genres, but I know I had to leave out a lot of great ones. IF you know of any other singers that should be on this list, please let me know.
I especially appreciate any suggestions in genres that are missing or underrepresented. Similarly, if you feel that one of the singers I listed above does not belong on the list, let me know as well, along with the reason you feel that way.