If you’re an alto singing in a choir, you may feel that you’re stuck with the short end of the stick, always singing the harmony and never the melody. But dozens of famous altos have seized the opportunity given to them by their incredibly low voices and gifted the world some beautiful songs.
Here’s a list of twelve famous alto singers with incredible voices. These singers can hit all the lowest notes in the female vocal range with a deeply rich intonation. Altos may often get stuck with harmony, but they are powerfully memorable when they take the lead.
The Greatest Alto Singers of All Time
This list of alto singers is proof that even women with low voices can rule the pop charts. You’ll also get some key tracks from each singer to rehearse with, so you can style your vocals just like the greats.
That’s right, the woman known as the “Goddess of Pop” has one of the lowest, most gorgeous voices in the genre. She rose to fame as one half of the duo Sonny & Cher with her husband, Sonny Bono. Cher quickly eclipsed Sonny with her solo career, breaking Autotune barriers with her hit “Believe.”
Cher’s stardom has lasted even after the singer reached her seventies. She’s been in dozens of films, musicals, and non-musicals, and has taken her vocal talents from folk to dance-pop. If you’re looking for an alto who made a career off of versatility, look no further.
- “If I Could Turn Back Time”
- “I Got You Babe,” as a duet with Sonny & Cher
Nigerian-born English singer Helen Folasade Adu has a voice like velvet. Her 1984 debut Diamond Life with her band has gone certified multi-platinum in multiple countries, including her hit “Smooth Operator.” Soul singers often have alto voices, but they rarely go as deep as Sade goes.
Sade doesn’t release music frequently, but when she does, it makes an impression. Their 2010 release Soldier of Love debuted at number one and spent three weeks there. Whenever she decides to release music again, there’s no doubt it will be received just as well.
- “Smooth Operator”
- “No Ordinary Love”
Talk about great alto pop singers, and Tina Turner will be one of the first names that come up. Known as the “Queen of Rock and Roll,” Turner has made her mark on not just rock and pop music, but soul, jazz, and rap as well, getting shout-outs in dozens of songs.
She has dozens of accolades, including being the first black artist and first female artist on the cover of Rolling Stone. In 1988, she set a record for the largest paying audience to see a single performer. Tina Turner is living proof that altos can conquer the world.
- “What’s Love Got To Do With It”
- “Proud Mary”
- “Better Be Good To Me”
With her dark horse hit “Fast Car,” Tracy Chapman’s voice is so low, many people thought they were hearing a male singer with a particularly gorgeous voice. Chapman’s voice is low and dark, but it still rings with femininity. She’s also known for her political activism and has been profiled as a feminist several times.
Chapman hasn’t released new music since 2008, but her influence has persisted. If your voice is low, even for an alto, listen to Chapman for inspiration.
- “Fast Car”
- “Talkin’ Bout A Revolution”
- “Give Me One Reason”
You may know Annie Lennox from her 1980s era New Wave band Eurythmics with Dave Stewart, whose 1983 hit “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” made them a household sound.
Lennox’s voice is low, mysterious, and powerful; her vocalizations over their synthesizer made all their hits sound otherworldly. She also has written several successful hits for movie soundtracks, including Fifty Shades of Grey and The Lord of the Rings.
- “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This),” with Eurythmics
- “Here Comes The Rain Again,” with Eurythmics
- “Into The West,” for the film soundtrack The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
Amy Winehouse was a vocal powerhouse, scoring hit after hit despite having only two studio albums to her name before her death in 2011. Her raspy voice, big beehive hairdo, and swing-style music gave her the feel of someone from an earlier era.
Winehouse sadly passed away at 27 and suffered from several mental illnesses, but her legacy is so much more than her pain, thanks to her gorgeous alto voice.
- “Love Is a Losing Game”
- “Valerie,” with Mark Ronson
Fleetwood Mac had a few talented singers onboard, but none of them quite captured their fans’ imagination like Stevie Nicks. Her low voice is full of passion and vibrato, matching the dreamy songs she wrote for the Mac.
Nicks actually started her career as a low mezzo-soprano. But, like many 70s rock musicians, she lost some high notes after a period of heavy drug use. With practice and diligence, Nicks strengthened her lower register and went on to a prolific solo career.
- “Rhiannon,” with Fleetwood Mac
- “Dreams,” with Fleetwood Mac
- “Edge of Seventeen”
Patsy Cline was a country-pop artist and reached the height of her fame in the mid-1950s. Cline’s vocals were grand yet precise, and though her career only lasted eight years, her legacy has lasted and lasted.
Cline was a contralto whose strength in the lower range rivaled many male countertenors. This gave her tales of triumph and tragedy a weight that made them unforgettable. Cline has been the subject of several different biopics, including the 1985 movie Sweet Dreams, where she was portrayed by Jessica Lange.
- “I Fall to Pieces”
- “Walkin’ After Midnight”
Looking for romantic alto songs to sing along to? Billie Holiday is your girl. She was known for her jazzy voice and her unique handling of tempo, which is extremely progressive even today. She was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2000, over forty years after her death.
- “I’ll Be Seeing You”
- “Billie’s Blues”
- “What a Little Moonlight Can Do”
Etta James’ powerful voice had a huge range that often shocked people who knew her speaking voice, which was quite low and husky. She tackled a wide variety of genres, including soul, pop, and rock and roll. Her hit rendition of “At Last” has been covered by various pop divas, ranging from Celine Dion to Beyonce.
- “At Last”
- “I’d Rather Go Blind”
- “The Wallflower”
Jones’ hit “Don’t Know Why” was all over the radio after its release in 2002, and for good reason. Her rough and ready vocals contrast with the delicate piano that often accompanies her music. Jones learned how to sing by studying vocal heroes like Billie Holiday, and you can hear Billie’s influence in her voice.
- “Don’t Know Why”
- “Come Away With Me”
You know Judy Garland from her starring role in The Wizard of Oz, but she had one of the most distinctive alto voices out there. Garland’s range of slightly over 2 octaves was not particularly impressive, but her voice’s rich, velvety quality and her personal charisma made her a star.
Check out Garland’s other famous musical roles, including those in the films Meet Me In St. Louis and The Harvey Girls. Her daughter, Liza Minnelli, is another powerful alto.
- “Somewhere Over The Rainbow”
- “The Trolley Song”
- “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”