Controversy Abound: Top Vocalists - KBEC 1390
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Controversy Abound: Top Vocalists

We need your help. The Programming department at KBEC opened up a huge debate when we started talking about the top 10 male and female vocalists of all time. We argued genre (Is rock harder to sing than country? Does pop have any relevance without catchy lyrics? Who even knows what they are singing when it comes to opera and Latin?)  So we laid down the gauntlet among us and said “Come up with your list and defend your picks”.

Understand some of us had a criteria of trying to pull from all different musical genre. Others simply picked the artist they thought had the widest vocal range. Still others said, “Hey this is the 10 that touch me the most when I hear them belt out a song”.

This is where you come in. We need you to vote for 10 males and 10 females from our lists. If we left somebody off you can write them in. Be prepared though to justify your pick.

At the end, much like an election, most votes win. Let the debates begin! Below you will find our composite list.


Barry Wolverton’s Choices


  • Elvis Presley – He appealed to so many. In addition to all his accomplishments. So many Elvis impersonators out there selling out shows. Who else could pull this off.
  • Johnny Cash – Generations can relate to his music to this day. It never gets too old to listen to
  • George Strait – 60 number 1 hits alone tells the story.
  • Elton John – Billboards Artist Of The Decade in the 1970s 57 hits. I could listen all day long.
  • George Jones – Love his music. Going back to the 50s can’t believe he only had 10 number 1 hits. George is just country music to me.
  • Merle Haggard – Maybe because I grew up on Merle’s music. That voice caught my ears at an early age.
  • Stevie Wonder – Handicapped, but yet so talented. Started singing as a child. Still enjoys singing & I love hearing his voice to this day.
  • Garth Brooks – His concerts still rock. He still sounds as good as the day he released his hits. That’s enough for me.
  • James Ingram – His range is incredible whether it’s a solo song or duet.
  • Rod Stewart – At age 76 I love all his classics. His distinctive raspy voice. Still touring. He’s a must see. So glad I had that chance.


  • Dolly Parton – I like her for 2 reasons. Her song writing ability & 110 charted singles over 40 years, 25 going to number 1.
  • Patsy Cline – I love cross over hits. She was one of Country’s first Female artists to cross over into the pop charts.
  • Aretha Franklin – She just belts it out. Plus, she’s the queen of soul. I truly RESPECT that in her.
  • Reba McEntire – 24 number 1’s All those years on TV with her Reba Show. She’s traditional Country.
  • Linda Ronstadt – Her career has earned her 10 Grammys. She’s hit the Pop, Country, Light Opera, & Latin charts. Her version of When Will I Be Loved is outstanding.
  • Toni Braxton – Love her R & B sound. Incredible voice. She’s sold over 41 million albums.  Proud to say I own one.
  • Tanya Tucker – Her version of Delta Dawn I still remember back to childhood. I’ve just loved her entire career. Plus, she’s a Texas girl.
  • Carly Simon – She only had 13 top 40 hits, but I could listen her sing the months of the year for days.
  • Loretta Lynn – She’s pure country! What you see is what you get with Loretta. Love Is The Foundation would be my Favorite.
  • Pink – Strong Presence! You can tell it in every song she sings. Just give her a try. I think you’ll agree.

Dave Van Zandt’s Choices


  • Frank Sinatra – If I want to relax and enjoy an hour or two of music, I choose the “Chairman of the Board”
  • Dean Martin – After Frank, Dean-o is the crooner’s crooner. I liked him in Rio Bravo singing with Ricky Nelson and an assist with Walter Brennan.
  • Tommy Duncan – He’s the singer for Bob Wills and the Playboys. Bob Wills is still the King and Tommy Duncan is, too.
  • George Jones – No one can bring out the emotion of a song like the ‘Ol Possum. “He Stopped Loving Her Today” is still the greatest country song and no one can sing it like George.
  • Neil Diamond – His catalog of music is so extensive. He crosses genres and styles with ease and does all of them with outstanding feeling. “Brother Love” “Cracklin’ Rose” and so many others.
  • Merle Haggard – the “Okie from Muskogee” himself Everything from “The Fightin’ Side of Me” to “Motorcycle Cowboy” and “CC Water Back” Mighty Merle sings everything as no others. “The Way I Am” is my theme song.
  • Elton John – Elton’s “Yellow Brick Road” and “Madman Across the Water” were my go-to albums back in the day! I still know all the words to most of those songs.
  • Donald Fagan – For songwriting and vocalization of Steely Dan’s music. “Deacon Blues” is the song that got me in the most trouble with the lovely Mrs. Van Zandt. She still calls it the “Suicide song”.
  • Ronnie Van Zant – Ok, so he spells his name different from mine, I still love the guys singing on Lynyrd Skynyrd songs. “Simple Man” is another of my theme songs. “Freebird” was the class song of my graduating class.
  • Brian Burns – This is one of those local boys done good. His album “Songs of the Texans” has his versions of “Evangelina” and “Third Coast” along with some originals, including “Man Walks Among Us” as a history of Texas. I just think he deserves a place on this list because, again, if I have an hour and just want to listen to Texas Music, Brian is always a good choice.

Honorable Mentions: James Taylor, George Michael, Tommy Tutone, and Hank Williams (Jr. or Sr.)


  • Allison Krause – Allison is one of those artists that I’d listen to read the phone book (Look it up children) “Catfish John” “When You Say Nothing at All” *melt*
  • Stevie Nicks – Solo or with Fleetwood Mac, Stevie’s unique voice sets the music and lyrics apart and brings the feeling to the songs. Plus, her appearance on “American Horror Story – Witches” cemented her persona. Love Stevie.
  • Aretha Franklin – The Queen of Soul was one of the R&B singers I knew and listened to back in the day. I’ve often told my boys that if I was single and having to date again, I couldn’t date anyone so young that I’d have to explain ‘Retha to.
  • Karen Carpenter – Piano, Drums and vocals. Her voice is so sweet and pure, it is like pure honey. Another one who could sing the phone book and it would break in to the top ten on the charts.
  • Etta James – Blues singer from long ago, but still relevant in today’s music. ‘Nuff said.
  • Janis Joplin – The scratchy voiced singer from the Panhandle. Her performance at Woodstock is still talked about by us older folks. “Me and Bobby McGee”, “Mercedez Benz” are all-time classics.
  • Patsy Cline – “Crazy” and “Walking After Midnight” are just two of the great songs by Patsy.
  • Carole King – Her Tapestry album had so many great songs that cracked the charts, it is too many to list.
  • Carly Simon – “You’re So Vain” I always heard was about Mick Jagger, although she says it isn’t. David Bowie, David Cassidy and Cat Stevens have also been mentioned. Simon, for her part, says it is just about men in general. Her voice and emotion in this song and others of hers, though, got her on my list.
  • Julie Andrews – Whether singing on an mountain top or descending from the London sky via umbrella, Andrews’ voice was pure, clear silk. Probably dates me, but whatever. I love her singing.

Honorable Mentions: Bonnie Tyler, Olivia Newton-John, Annie Lennox

Jim Phillips’ Choices


A Little insight to my list:

Yes, as the owner of a radio station I listen to a lot of music. Yes, it is varied and isn’t always country. When we decided to take on the task of top 10 female and male vocalists, I do what I often preach, I developed a process and procedure for making my selections. I did add one person who is 100% my favorite and I will admit that prejudice. But for the rest I made them battle it out. I started with 68 males and 43 females in categories such as Pop, Soul, Country, Rock, Classical, and R&B.

After narrowing down the list I went to YOUTUBE and compared live performances. I then asked myself one simple question: Did that performance blow me away?  I went for range, vocal delivery and the ability to make me “hang” on every word. That’s the reason for the diversity, that’s the reason for the list and that’s why I encourage you to watch all the selected performances. Good luck in your voting and thanks for making KBEC a part of your life!


  • Art Garfunkel – Soulful range that harmonized so very well “Bridge over Troubled water” Listen closely.  (Video)
  • Michael Buble – Jazzy, raspy and just a do it all crooner.  147 million views on YouTube and the range is evident on this video
  • Luther Vandross – Just as smooth as silk
  • Johnny Cash – Gritty, honky tonk and very distinctive
  • Marvin Gaye – The soulful definition
  • George Jones – “Whisky solid” balladeer (Video)
  • Frank Sinatra – The definition of “Cool”. Took every word and made them come alive as they danced into your ears. (Video)
  • Luciano Pavarotti – Just listen and shut up for 5 minutes (Video), now tell me he isn’t the greatest opera singer.
  • Nat King Cole – The words float out of his mouth and fill the room with electricity (Video)
  • Freddy Mercury – His vocal range filled the stadiums, the clubs and every size venue in between. It doesn’t matter if you hate his lifestyle, you’ll love his music and never forget his talent.  (Video)

Honorable Mentions: Paul McCartney, Elton JohnAndy WilliamsElvis Presley, Michael Jackson


Amy Winehouse – Slow, bluesy and just so full bodied vocals.  Sassy defined (Video)

Tammy Wynette – If you have George Jones on the male list you have to have Tammy on the female, duets aside her range is unmistakable.  (Video)

Maria Callas – Her voice can bring you to tears of sadness, joy and delight all in the realm of one brief stanza. The Operatic queen. (Video)

Stevie Nicks – In full fairness, the first list had Loretta Lynn here but I couldn’t be honest with myself if I didn’t include the one woman’s voice that every time brings me to the speakers. Stevie’s voice is just my personal magic. (Video)

Patsy Cline – Defines ‘raspy’, defines “cry in your beer’, defines ’emotionally filled’ (Video)

Linda Ronstadt – Bringing it with force, style and just down right talent. I’ll argue she does a better version of Tumbling Dice than Jagger (Video)

Whitney Houston – The queen of pop and dominated the vocal range.

Aretha Franklin – From gospel to soul to R&B and Rock, she did it all.

Oleta Adams – (Video) That song shows the total range!

Barbara Streisand – She won a Grammy, a Emmy, Oscar and Tony, enough said…. (Video)


Honorable Mentions:  Celine Dion, Karen Carpenter, Etta James, Mariah Carey, Roberta Flack

DJ Alexx’s Choices


  • Michael Jackson
  • Luther Vandross
  • El DeBarge
  • George Michael
  • Adam Lambert
  • Chris Cornell (Soundgarden)
  • Layne Staley (Alice in Chains)
  • Anthony Green (Circa Survive)
  • Claudio Sanchez (Coheed and Cambria)
  • Eddie Vedder (Pearl Jam)


  • Whitney Houston
  • Aretha Franklin
  • Adele
  • Christina Aguilera
  • Crystal Louis
  • Katy Perry
  • Beyoncé
  • Sarah McLachlan
  • Carrie Underwood
  • Kelly Clarkson

Ken Roberts’ Choices


  • Elvis Presley – Arguably, the greatest entertainment icon of all time. When you help form a musical genre, you’ve got more than just hip-shakin’ going on. Unmistakable voice.
  • George Strait – His first hit came out right after I started in radio, and he’s been my country music standard barer ever since. And, he’s kept it traditional!
  • James Taylor – Sweet baby James. Such a unique voice and a gifted songwriter. He is one of the few artists I would gladly listen to an acoustic set. His music is so pure….
  • Daryl Hall – One half of the most prolific musical duet acts (Hall & Oates) of all time. Such a soulful voice and incredible range…back in the day, anyway.
  • Michael McDonald – A true original. His voice and style not only transformed the Doobie Brothers sound, but became one of the most imitated of the 80’s and 90’s. “What a Fool Believes” is still one of my all-time favorite tunes.
  • Frank Sinatra – Such incredible style and resonance in his voice. Ol’ Blue Eyes could make the ladies swoon when he crooned! One of my favorite sing-along artist.
  • Andrea Bocelli – One of the great tenor voices of all time who has the type of sincerity in his delivery, that it evokes great emotion from those who listen.
  • Don Henley – As Glenn Frye once said, “as the Eagles grew in popularity, I was singing lead less and less. And for good reason. We had Don Henley.” Not only a great solo career, but Don was also one of the most sought- after duet partners, as well.
  • Michael Jackson – The King of Pop. Another instantly identifiable voice with his incredible range. My favorite MJ album is “Off the Wall’.
  • Clint Black – Thought he sounded like Merle Haggard the first time I heard “Better Man”. But soon I realized Clint had a sound all his own. His early album produced 5 top 5 singles ( four #1’s and a #3). One of the few artists that I love his slow tunes as well as his upbeat swing tunes.


  • Karen Carpenter – That low resonant voice…still gives me goose bumps! One of the smoothest voices of all time, male or female.
  • Anita Baker – I heard her voice referred to once as “a big cat purring”. Saw her in concert once and she was amazing. When I hear “Sweet Love,” I still get a little flushed!
  • Patty Loveless – My favorite female country artist. She has a little Appalachian in her voice and I love it. Plus, she winked at me at a concert one time.
  • Enya – This little Irish crooner has such a haunting sound to her voice. Great sleeping music!
  • Patsy Cline – Bill Mack said she sang with a tear-drop in her voice. Bob Wills said her rendition of “Faded Love” made him cry. Enough said.
  • Carole King – Nothing fancy, just pure, honest and straight forward. And what a songwriter, to boot!
  • Whitney Houston – Maybe the most amazing range ever. And she always made it look sooo easy. Her rendition of the national anthem before Super Bowl XXV is the stuff legends are made of.
  • Wynonna Judd – Singing soft or strong, Wynonna was blessed with a powerful voice. And I love that she always sang with a little edge.
  • Olivia Newton John – This four- time Grammy award winner always sounds innocent, even when she sings “Let’s get Physical”! it takes real talent to pull that off. Another one of those rare voices that sounds great singing a ballad or a toe tapper.
  • Linda Ronstadt – Boy, could she belt out a tune. She could cover those old songs from the Everly Brothers, Buddy Holly and the Eagles and manage to make them her very own. Don Henley has said” nobody sang “Desperado” like Linda. Hers is the standard.”

Sarah Rhodes’ Choices


  • Freddie Mercury (Queen) – Had a four octave vocal range and raised the bar on what it means to front a rock band.
  • Bruce Dickinson (Iron Maiden) – His powerful operatic singing style helped earn the nickname “Air Raid Siren” and it’s the perfect compliment to Maiden’s sound. His scream on “Rime Of The Ancient Mariner” still elicits chills.
  • Geddy Lee (Rush) – Among the most distinctive vocals in the business. Hear his unbelievably high-pitched wail and you immediately know you’re listening to a Rush tune.
  • Roy Orbison – Haunting voice that brought out the raw emotion in his songs.
  • Waylon Jennings – I’m partial due to his radio background. Doesn’t hurt that he was a masterclass performer.  Don’t believe me?  Listen to “Waylon Live”.
  • Vince Gill – An Okie! I fell in love with his voice the first time I heard “Never Knew Lonely”.
  • Elton John – What can I say? He’s an immensely talented piano player and singer.
  • George Strait – He’s called the “King of Country Music” for good reason.
  • Mick Jagger (Rolling Stones) – Not only a fantastic rock frontman, he can also hold his own with the twangy fare, such as “Far Away Eyes”.
  • John Prine – Appreciate his “matter of fact” delivery style.


  • Reba McEntire – Between her sweet voice and the fact she’s from Oklahoma, yes I’m partial.
  • Loretta Lynn – There’s no denying her talent. I also admire her fearlessness when it came to pushing boundaries in country music and getting banned from radio airplay.  They say country music is three chords and the truth.  It’s a shame some couldn’t handle hers.
  • Aretha Franklin – Rightfully called the “Queen of Soul” and it doesn’t hurt she was in one of my favorite movies- The Blues Brothers.
  • Stevie Nicks (Fleetwood Mac) – Female vocalist with haunting vocals. The best example of her work is “Dreams” from 1977.
  • Tanya Tucker – Am still blown away by the fact she was only 13 when “Delta Dawn” (her first hit) was released!
  • Dolly Parton – A philanthropist with classic cuts that sound just as fresh now as they did on release date.
  • Wynonna Judd – When “No One Else On Earth” was released in ’92, I thought it was the greatest thing ever.
  • Ann Wilson (Heart) – Have yet to hear a Heart song I don’t enjoy. When it comes to rock vocals, she can “Kick It Out”.  See what I did there?
  • Grace Slick (Jefferson Airplane/Jefferson Starship/Starship) – Consistently great through all eras of the band.
  • Lita Ford – Talented singer and guitar player, From her work with The Runaways to her solo career.

Friends of the Station’s Choices


  1. Frank Sinatra – a class by himself
  2. Sam Cooke – soul, style swing
  3. Paul McCartney – Amazing voice even now; couple with his songwriting
  4. Otis Redding – Incredible passion, emotion in his singing
  5. Tony Bennett – Great voice and – in his late years- incredible joy in performance
  6. Dean Martin
  7. Mel Torme – The “Velvet Fog”.
  8. Bob Dylan – not McCartney in voice but songs far exceed Paul
  9. Bruce Springsteen – ditto, plus amazing energy in live shows
  10. Bobby Darin – great singer but Mack the Knife would put him in if it was all he ever sang.


  • Ella Fitzgerald
  • Billie Holiday
  • Janis Joplin – crazy, raw emotion
  • Aretha Franklin – great voice, great songs
  • Patsy Cline – incredible, but kind of depressing, but nowhere close to #7 in depressing
  • Whitney Houston – I like her voice better than Aretha’s but I prefer Aretha’s songs
  • Edith Piaf – too depressing to be higher
  • Ethel Merman – No one can belt out a song like she
  • Barbara Streisand – not sure she isn’t more of an actor than a singer, but a bunch of really good songs
  • Joss Stone – for being queen of covers, too bad she hasn’t had much original material

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