50 Most Influential RnB Stars

50 Most Influential RnB Stars
ESSENCE.COM Jun, 20, 2011

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They don’t call her the “Queen of Soul” for nothing. Even after all these years her sound still rules. Mariah Carey, Toni Braxton, and Mary J. Blige all studied at the school of Aretha. Her music defines female empowerment and has taught women how to unleash their inner divas.

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Michael Jackson could very well be the greatest entertainer of all time. He has influenced so many talents of this generation, including Usher and Chris Brown. As one of the first Black musicians to gain crossover appeal, he paved the way for future artists and created a lasting legacy.

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Now talk about legendary status. Who else do you know who’s put out nearly 40 albums and almost 100 singles? And let’s get real; Mr. Wonder has been signed to Motown since he was 11!

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Marvin Gaye

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This funky genius played 11 instruments at 18, invented the “Minneapolis” sound (the pop/funk/soul/rock hybrid that owned ’80s radio), made 10 platinum albums and is still inciting purple riots with his “Welcome 2 America” tour. We want his extra time and his kiss.

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Personal issues be damned, Ms. Houston was the diva to end all divas. All one needs to do is catch her singing “I Will Always Love You,” “You Give Good Love” or “The Greatest Love of All” to remember that she might just have been the best voice of our time.

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The late great Luther Vandross is one of the most well known crooners of the past two decades; with a collection of classics so vast it’d be hard to ever pick one favorite. Never needing anything more than just his voice to wow a crowd, Luther paved the way for romantic crooners like Anthony Hamilton, Jaheim, and Musiq Soulchild.

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Curtis Mayfield was a profound composer, songwriter, and singer who’s legacy still lives on today. A two-time Grammy Hall of Fame inductee, he created the soundtrack for “Super Fly,” which we think is, well, super fly.

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The smooth, sultry sounds of this band of pretty boys echoes to this day. Crooners like The Dream have tried to emulate the silky sound, but with less success. With hits like “Shout” and “Contagious,” the Isley Brothers were at the forefront of creating the sound we call modern R&B.

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The Queen of Hip Hop-Soul debuted in 1992 and ever since she’s been the one women depend on to sing their lives with the song. Mary’s work has always moved us. From her musical lessons on self-love to her out-of-this world delivery of her heartfelt heartbreak, women all over will forever be singing Mary’s praises.

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Her storied transition from lead in the Supremes to a dazzling solo career has become a blue print for aspiring R&B stars. Not to mention her glam hair, wardrobe and make up, which continues to resonate to this generation of divas.

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A chart topper since her debut in 1990, Mariah Carey has continually broken records, including scoring the most number ones on the Billboard Hot 100 chart for a female artist. To date, she’s sold over 200 million albums.

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Beyoncé is in a league of her own when it comes to setting trends in music. Reggae, hip-hop, soul, techno – you name it, she’s done it. We also have to give Bey props for starting some of the hottest dance trends of the decade. Admit it – you’ve done the moves to “Crazy in Love,” and “Single Ladies” on the dance floor at least once or twice.

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The late music legend would have turned 84 on May 3. 

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Years after Sam Cooke his most famous song to date, “A Change is Gonna Come” in 1964, the song has become a standard for all R&B singers. A gospel, soul and pop singer, Cooke laid the foundation for many generations to come.

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Though he could never only be classified in the R&B category, as a producer, Quincy Jones has helped create some of the most original music in the genre, including his work with Michael Jackson, Ray Charles and Tamia.

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Gladys Knight has a voice that transcends time. “The Empress of Soul” has earned numerous accolades over the years for her soul-stirring music, making her a major influence in the world of R&B and soul music.

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Her brazen sexuality and powerhouse cords made Chaka Khan one of the most exciting vocalists of our time. Years later, classics like “I’m Every Woman” still get a party going.

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Nobody has pipes like Patti! Whether she was voulez vous-ing it up as LaBelle’s lead singer or belting out solo hits like “On My Own” and “New Attitude,” this feisty singer/songwriter/actress has always kept us entertained.

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All the male R&B artists atop the charts today owe big thanks to R. Kelly, the self proclaimed “pied piper of R&B”. Kelly’s gospel influenced sound paired with his sultry lyrics made for two decades worth of unstoppable jams we’ll love always.

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Since he burst on the scene with the Commodores, it’s been Lionel we’re looking for. The amazing singer/songwriter has built an enduring career that’s seen him play to sold out audiences to this day.

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What’s not to love about Maxwell? From his sexy vocals to his charming good looks — R&B wouldn’t be the same without this stud muffin. Perhaps he’s solely responsible for making many us fall in love with soul music all over again.

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Many have tried and even more have failed to emulate the genius that is Ms. Lauryn Hill. The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill will forever go down as one of the most legendary and influential albums of all time!

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Although these two Philadelphia musicians never gained notoriety behind the mic, we’re pretty sure you’ve heard at least one of their hits. They have written and produced over 170 platinum and gold records for successful artists such as The O’Jays, Teddy Pendergrass, and Patti LaBelle. Iconic indeed.

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This iconic singer/songwriter/pianist managed to score hits in every genre under the sun, from jazz and blues to country and rock n’ roll — and along the way, he influence practically ever artist who ever picked up a mic.

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When Michael Jackson stepped off the scene the world needed an entertainer who could sing and dance their way into right our hearts. In stepped the ever-so-talented Usher Raymond. With great moves and looks, over 30 million albums sold, and millions of young men trying to copy his style and swagger, it’s safe to say Usher’s left his mark.

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Ladies, we all know D’Angelo has what it takes. But his “How Does It Feel” video put this R&B crooner on the map. He was without a doubt a force in the neo-soul movement.

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Ladies, we all know D’Angelo has what it takes. But his “How Does It Feel” video put this R&B crooner on the map. He was without a doubt a force in the neo-soul movement.

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We can’t get enough of Jilly from Philly. The songstress has made us swoon, dance and live life like it’s golden over the years. Her music is sultry, classic and divine and hearing her voice always speaks to our spirit.

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Once considered the princess of R&B, Aaliyah’s sweet vocals will always evoke great memories. We’ll always love how the songstress managed to keep the gritty hip-hop beats with the luscious Minnie Ripperton-esque vocals.

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This Virginia native has produced some of the most memorable artists of our generations – from Aaliyah to Ginuwine and Missy Elliot. And it wasn’t just Black music he influenced – his work with Justin Timberlake and Nelly Furtado made him an international force.

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This husband and wife duo have a place in musical history that is as “solid” as their hits. They made history when they reached number #1 on the dance charts and were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

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They don’t make ‘em like Janet Jackson anymore! This fierce Triple Threat has kept us entertained with her iconic videos, seriously danceable mega-hits, and engaging film roles (hello, Poetic Justice)for years — and we can’t wait to see what she does next.

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Her sultry voice and super-sexy melodies have captivated us for twenty-five years. Simply put, no one makes mood music better than this mesmerizing British-Nigerian stunner.

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Frankie Beverly and Maze is one of our favorite groups of all time. The soulful band has hits that never go out of style. Don’t believe us? Play “Before I Let Go,” “Happy Feelings,” or “Joy and Pain” at your next party and see how quickly the dance floor fills up!

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When “Fallin” hit the charts in 2001 it was instant success for Ms. Keys. Sixteen Grammy awards, five tours and over 30 million albums later, she remembered her debut in 2001 with the 10th anniversary edition of Songs in A Minor.

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This blue-eyed soul singer took the R&B world by surprise when she hit the scene in the late 1970’s. Her voice was rich and her musical style was fresh, making her a household name at the peak of her career.

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Donny Hathaway’s “Where is the Love,” and “The Closer I Get to You” will go down in history as two of the best love songs of all time. The soul singer was truly a talented musician who was gone too soon.

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Since 1978, this boy-band has been a hit-making machine! For over 25 years these men have made millions of ladies swoon to their knees. Not to forget, all of the original members will be on a stage near you this summer!

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Just the mention of her name makes the tune of “At Last” play in our heads. In the ’50s and ’60s Etta was not only known for her smooth-as-silk vocals and hit blues and soul songs, but she was an iconic beauty, too.

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We’ve been caught up in her “Rapture” for 24 years, and this multi-platinum selling, soul-singing goddess has still has us in her thrall. Her sultry voice has influenced a generation of artists, from Mary J. Blige to Jill Scott.

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By fusing R&B, hip hop, and jazz elements to make one infectious sound, Erykah Badu quickly became iconic fixture on the music scene and one of the founding leaders of the new-soul movement of the late ’90s.

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That deep tenor was once the loudest voice on the R&B charts. Teddy Pendergrass was an icon whose style influenced male artists for generations to come.

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With their “crazy, sexy, cool” swag, TLC was all about women’s empowerment, mixed in with pop music. This awesome trio would become one of the best-selling female groups of all time.

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Barbados born beauty Rihanna has a habit of starting fashion frenzies and surpassing sales records. It takes an unbelievable amount of talent and star power to sell more than 20 million albums and 60 million singles before the age of 23. We can credit her hits for bringing reggae infused hip-hop into the mainstream pop scene.

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This band may have single-handedly changed the face of black music in the ’70s. They fused together a unique blend of funk, pop, soul, and jazz music into their greatest hits, making them truly influential as musical artists.

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Toni Braxton

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With 60 million albums and four Grammy awards in their pocket, Boyz II Men is one of the most popular boy-bands of the ’90s. And it keeps getting better for these men.

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With his distinctive bass and dynamic orchestration, singer, producer, and songwriter, Barry White ruled the airwaves for over two decades. And it wasn’t just R&B he touched. White once dominated the disco and funk genre.

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When it comes to music, there’s little Babyface hasn’t done. As a producer, songwriter and guitarist, he penned some of the most memorable songs of our time for the likes of Whitney Houston, TLC and Toni Braxton.

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When Sean Combs burst on the scene as Puff Daddy, P. Diddy and finally just as Diddy, he always turned heads and set trends in the world of music. His influence on hip-hop today is unmatched and his pockets can attest to that- he’s been ranked by Forbes as the wealthiest figure in hip-hop with a net worth of $475 million.

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What’s not to love about Maxwell? From his sexy vocals to his charming good looks — R&B wouldn’t be the same without this stud muffin. Perhaps he’s solely responsible for making many us fall in love with soul music all over again.

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Her powerhouse voice. Two decades of breathtakingly beautiful ballads. Her class. Her hair. Her style. The hit reality show. We could go on and on, but we shouldn’t have to. Ms. Braxton’s influence speaks for itself.

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Her brazen sexuality and powerhouse chords made ESSENCE Music Festival headliner, Chaka Khan, one of the most exciting vocalists of our time. Years later, classics like “I’m Every Woman” still get a party going.

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Barbados born beauty Rihanna has a habit of starting fashion frenzies and surpassing sales records. It takes an unbelievable amount of talent and star power to sell more than 20 million albums and 60 million singles before the age of 23. We can credit her hits for bringing reggae infused hip-hop into the mainstream pop scene.

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The mega-talented Will Smith made great strides in the world of music before launching his career as an actor. He started off as an MC in the group DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince and made history when they won the first Grammy awarded to a rap artist. We still blast “Summertime” on a hot June afternoon!

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When Michael Jackson stepped off the scene the world needed an entertainer who could sing and dance their way into right our hearts. In steps the ever-so-talented Usher Raymond. With great moves and looks, over 30 million albums sold, and millions of young men trying to copy his style and swagger, it’s safe to say Usher’s left his mark.

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Beyonce is in a league of her own when it comes to setting trends in music. Reggae, hip-hop, soul, techno – you name it, she’s done it. We also have to give Bey props for starting some of the hottest dance trends of the decade. Admit it- you’ve done the moves to “Crazy in Love,” and “Single Ladies” on the dance floor at least once or twice.

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When “Fallin’” hit the charts in 2001 it was instant success for Ms. Keys. Sixteen Grammy awards, five tours and over 30 million albums later, she’s remembering her debut this year with the 10th anniversary edition of “Songs in A Minor.”

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Forty years after the release of ’What’s Going On,’ Marvin Gaye’s iconic album still stirs up the soul and warms the heart. He’s been named as one of the Greatest Singers of All Time and one of the Greatest Artists of All Time by “Rolling Stone.” You can’t get any more influential than that.

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When Michael Jackson stepped off the scene the world needed an entertainer who could sing and dance their way into right our hearts. In steps the ever-so-talented Usher Raymond. With great moves and looks, over 30 million albums sold, and millions of young men trying to copy his style and swagger, it’s safe to say Usher’s left his mark.

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Many have tried and even more have failed to emulate the genius that is Ms. Lauryn Hill. “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” will forever go down as one of the most legendary and influential albums of all time!

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The Queen of Hip Hop-Soul debuted in 1992 and ever since she’s been the one women depend on to sing their lives with the song. Mary’s work has always moved us. From her musical lessons on self-love to her out-of-this world delivery of her heartfelt heartbreak, women all over will forever be singing Mary’s praises.

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Personal issues be damned, Ms. Houston is the diva to end all divas. All one needs to do is catch her singing “I Will Always Love You,” “You Give Good Love” or “The Greatest Love of All” to remember that she might just have the best voice of our time.

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By fusing R&B, hip hop, and jazz elements to make one infectious sound, Erykah Badu quickly became iconic fixture on the music scene and one of the founding leaders of the new-soul movement of the late 90s.

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Ladies, we all know D’Angelo has what it takes. But his emphasis “How Does It Feel” video put this R&B crooner on the map. He was without a doubt a force in the neo-soul movement.

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