The Best of Female Jazz Musicians

This article is a collaborative effort, crafted and edited by a team of dedicated professionals.

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


Looking for some amazing female jazz musicians to check out? Look no further! We’ve compiled a list of the best of the best, so you can enjoy some truly incredible music.

Billie Holiday

One of the most influential jazz singers of all time, Billie Holiday had a career that spanned over two decades. Born Eleanora Fagan in Philadelphia in 1915, Holiday began singing in the early 1930s in New York City nightclubs. She rose to prominence in the mid-1930s with her recording of “Strange Fruit,” a song about the lynching of African Americans, which became a hit. Throughout her career, Holiday worked with some of the biggest names in jazz, including Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman, and Duke Ellington. She recorded over 100 songs during her career and died tragically at the age of 44.

Ella Fitzgerald

Ella Fitzgerald is often considered to be one of the best female jazz musicians of all time. She was born in Virginia in 1917 and moved to Yonkers, New York when she was just a child. Her mother died when she was 15, and she was sent to a reform school. It was there that she first began singing and discovered her love for jazz.

Fitzgerald went on to have a hugely successful career, winning 13 Grammy Awards and selling over 40 million records. She is best known for her interpretations of the Great American Songbook as well as for her scat singing. Fitzgerald died in 1996, but her legacy continues to live on through her music.

Sarah Vaughan

Sarah Vaughan was a jazz singer who became one of the most influential vocalists of the 20th century. She was born in Newark, New Jersey, on March 27, 1924. Vaughan began singing in local clubs at the age of 12 and made her professional debut two years later. In 1942 she won a nationwide Amateur Hour talent contest and embarked on a career as a big-band vocalist. After touring with a number of different bands, Vaughan joined the band of trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie in 1945.

With Gillespie, Vaughan matured from a big-band singer into a jazz artist of the highest order. In 1947 she began recording under her own name for the Continental label, and two years later she signed with Mercury Records. Vaughan’s recordings for both companies—particularly those from 1949 to 1951—are regarded as some of the finest examples of her art. Among her better-known recordings from this period are “Lullaby of Birdland” (1952), “Shulie A Bop” (1952), and “Misty” (1959).

Nina Simone

Nina Simone was an American singer, songwriter, and pianist who performed a wide range of classical and jazz tracks. Simone signed a record deal with Bethlehem Records in 1957 and released her debut album ‘Little Girl Blue’ the following year. She gained mainstream attention with her track ‘I Loves You, Porgy’, which was included on the soundtrack for the 1958 film ‘Porgy and Bess’. Simone continued to produce – and experiment with – a variety of musical styles throughout her career, including pop, blues, folk, gospel, R&B, and jazz. She passed away in 2003 at the age of 70.

Diana Krall

Diana Krall is a Canadian jazz pianist and singer, known for her contralto vocals. She has sold more than 15 million albums in the US and over 20 million worldwide.

Krall’s musical style encompasses a variety of genres including jazz, blues, and pop. Her covers of Cole Porter’s “Love for Sale” and Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You” both received critical acclaim. Krall has won five Grammy Awards and eight Juno Awards. Krall is the only jazz singer to have had eight albums debut at the top of the Billboard Jazz Albums charts.

Krall was born on November 16, 1964, in Nanaimo, British Columbia, Canada, to an English mother and a Dutch-Canadian father. She began studying piano at the age of four and later took up trumpet and drums. When she was nine years old, Krall’s family moved to Vancouver, where she continued her piano studies with James McKittrick . In high school she played in a band called the Jazz Katz.

After graduation from Collingwood Senior Secondary School in 1982, Krall enrolled at Berklee College of Music in Boston on a scholarship. In her first term she failed an assignment and was told that if it happened again she would be asked to leave school. As part of her punishment Krall spent 18 hours a day practicing piano Beatles songs until she passed the class.

Krall left Berklee after one year but returned two years later on another scholarship as part of Ray Charles’ band for three months during his world tour in 1984/1985 . Upon returning to Canada from that tour she played bass in local clubs until moving to Los Angeles in 1986 .

Cassandra Wilson

One of the most acclaimed and successful jazz musicians of her generation, Cassandra Wilson has won multiple Grammy Awards and established herself as a major force in contemporary music. A versatile vocalist and songwriter, Wilson effortlessly blends jazz, blues, pop, soul, and world music influences to create her own unique sound.

Born in Jackson, Mississippi in 1955, Cassandra Wilson began singing in church choirs as a child. She started playing guitar at the age of 12 and soon began performing with local blues and rock bands. In the early 1970s, she moved to New York City to study acting at the famed Juilliard School. While at Juilliard, Wilson began exploring her interest in jazz and soon became a regular fixture on the city’s vibrant jazz scene.

In the 1980s, Cassandra Wilson began working with some of the most respected names in jazz, including Steve Coleman, Wynton Marsalis, and Keith Jarrett. Her debut album, Point of View (1986), garnered critical acclaim for her innovative approach to jazz vocalizing. Over the next few years, she continued to experiment with different musical styles on albums like Blue Light ‘Til Dawn (1993) and New Moon Daughter (1995), which won a Grammy Award for Best Jazz Vocal Album.

In recent years, Cassandra Wilson has broadened her musical horizons even further by incorporating elements of R&B, funk, gospel, and even hip hop into her work. She has also become an outspoken advocate for social justice issues like racial equality and gender equity. A true icon of contemporary music, Cassandra Wilson continues to push boundaries and redefine what it means to be a Jazz musician.

Norah Jones

Norah Jones (born Geethali Norah Jones Shankar; March 30, 1979) is an American singer, songwriter, and pianist. She has won multiple awards and has sold more than 50 million records worldwide. Billboard named her the top jazz artist of the 2000–2009 decade. She has won nine Grammy Awards and was ranked 60th on Billboard magazine’s artists of the 2000–10 decade chart.

Born in Brooklyn, New York, to Indian American sitarist Ravi Shankar and Sue Jones, a Caucasian Midwesterner, Norah developed a love for country music and pop from an early age. She began piano lessons at the age of four and learned how to play guitar from her father when she was nine. Her father would often take her to his studio to listen to records by various artists such as Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, and Hank Williams Jr., as well as Indian classical musicians such as Ravi Shankar and Ali Akbar Khan. At the age of sixteen, with her parents’ blessing, she dropped out of high school and left Grapevine, Texas, to pursue a musical career in Manhattan.

Jones launched her solo career with the release of the commercially successful and acclaimed album Come Away with Me (2002), which garnered five Grammy Awards. It was certified Diamond (over 10 million copies sold). Its first single “Don’t Know Why” became a top thirty hit in several countries worldwide. Its follow-up album Feels Like Home (2004) also topped international charts; within two years of its release it had been certified triple platinum outside North America by the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI).

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light jazz with Wax Poetic, Jones ventured into the neo-soul genre on her third studio album Not Too Late (2007), for which she received Album of the Year at the 2008 Grammy Awards; it was also nominated for Best Pop Vocal Album. In February 2012 she released a fourth studio album,… Featuring Norah Jones which charted in its first week at number one on Billboard’s Top Jazz Albums chart,… as well as reaching number three on The Billboard 200 chart,… making it her fourth consecutive studio album to debut atop both charts,.

Amy Winehouse

Amy Winehouse was an English singer and songwriter known for her deep, soulful voice and her eclectic mix of styles. Winehouse’s disability stemming from bulimia nervosa and chronic use of drugs and alcohol cut her career tragically short, but in the brief time she was active, she left a lasting mark on the world of music. Winehouse is often cited as one of the best female jazz musicians of her generation, and her 2006 album Back to Black is considered a modern classic.

Tierney Sutton

Tierney Sutton is a critically acclaimed jazz singer and songwriter who has been compared to some of the greats, including Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald. Born in Omaha, Nebraska, Sutton began taking piano lessons at age six and later switched to cello. After graduating from high school, she attended the Berklee College of Music in Boston on a scholarship.

Sutton’s musical style has been described as “cool school jazz” and she is known for her interpretation of classic songs as well as her original compositions. She has released eleven albums, including something like this (1997), Unsung Heroes (2002), Dancing in the Dark (2007), American Road (2010), and After Blue (2013). In 2012, she was awarded the prestigious NEA Jazz Masters award.

Melody Gardot

Melody Gardot is an American jazz singer who has captured audiences with her seductive voice and arresting stage presence. She has been hailed as one of the best young talents in the genre, and her 2010 album My One and Only Thrill won critical acclaim.

Gardot was born in New Jersey in 1985 and began playing guitar at the age of thirteen. After a car accident left her with serious injuries, she turned to music as a form of therapy. She began performing in local clubs while still in her teens, and within a few years she had attracted the attention of record labels. Her debut album, Worrisome Heart, was released in 2008 on Verve Records.

Gardot’s music draws from a range of influences, including blues, country, and pop. She has been compared to such iconic singers as Billie Holiday and Nina Simone, and her warm, sensual voice has earned her a devoted following among fans of jazz and other genres.

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