In today’s world where most of the modern singers use either autotune or enhance their voice post-production, it is becoming harder and harder to find real singers which do have the talent and skill to sing alto. True contralto singers are rare especially in women, usually due to their lower vocal range which is much harder to achieve than any other vocal range. Usually, female singers who sing alto have a much deeper voice, and in some cases, if you do not know the artist you might confuse her with a man singing.
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The contralto range is between the E3 and F5 vocal range and is mostly sung from the chest. Singing contralto used to be very popular for classical music a while ago, although their presence has slowly faded away from classical music. If you are a fan of contralto singing your best chance of listening to some of the best alto singers is by listening to R&B music, if you want a more live performance other than concerts you can visit your local church for some soul music sung in alto. If you want to know what singers sound like Adele then check out my recent article Singers that sound like Adele ( Top 15 ).
Famous alto singers
1. Anita Baker ( Contralto 3 Octaves C#3-C#6 )
Born in 1958 Anita Baker is one of the most famous alto singers in the world. She became famous with her hit album Rapture, more specifically with her song titled “Sweet love”. If you are a fan of R&B you are probably already familiar with Anita Baker. She has a very well defined vocal range of 3 octaves, which she sings almost effortlessly. Anita Baker has won 1 BET Award, 8 Grammy Award, 4 American Music Awards, and in 2013 she has been included in the Michigan Rock and Roll Legends Hall of Fame. If you are an alto singer and you want to know what are the most common singing mistakes then check out my recent article Common singing mistakes ( Top 20 ).
2. Cher ( Contralto 3 octaves C#3-C#6 )
Borin in 1949 in America and her actual name is Cherilyn Sarkisian if you were born in the late ’80s or the early 90’s you probably heard a lot of not only songs bet also move voices performed by this alto singer. She became famous by singing with her husband folk-rock in 1965, the duo was named Sonny and Cher, soon after she started her solo singing career. In addition to being a successful singer, she also became a very successful actor during the 1970s.
Her vocal range is 3 octaves 2 notes, she has an excellent singing technique and can hold notes for extended periods of time. A lot of famous singers have started singing fairly late and they still became successful, for more information check out my recent article Singers who started late ( Top 23 ).
3. Oleta Adams ( Contralto F3 – A#4 )
Born in 1953 into a religious family, her father was also a preacher and she has grown up surrounded by gospel music. Generally, gospel music is alto and Oleta Adams quickly adopted the style from an early age. She has been nominated for the Grammy Awards, and twice for the Soul Train Music Awards.
4. Annie Lennox ( Contralto 3 Octaves G2-C6 )
Born in 1954 Annie Lennox is a Scottish born singer and songwriter, she became famous by singing with the popular band The Tourists back in the 1970s. Her vocal type is contralto and she has a vocal range of 3 octaves and 3 notes ranging from G2 to C6. Annie Lennox is a very talented singer especially due to her impeccable vocal technique with which she can not only sing melisma but she can also keep the high notes for long periods of time.
Annie Lennox mainly uses her head voice for singing, and she can use her head voice to produce either an operatic or a contemporary voice. Although she can sing melisma she does have difficulty singing more complex forms of melisma. If you also want to become a famous alto singer then check out my recent article How to sing better ( Top 47 Tips and Industry Secrets ).
5. Sade ( Contralto 3 Octaves G2-C6 )
Sade was born in 1959, her real name is Helen Folasade Adu but she often uses the name Sade or Sade Adu as a singer. Born in Nigeria and brought up in England as her parents emigrated from Nigeria to the UK sometime during her childhood. She became famous during the 1980s when she made her album Diamond Life which was one of the best-selling albums of that year. Sade managed to pull this off with her new band simply called Sade, which wasn’t even a year old before she becomes a household name during the ’80s.
In 1985 she got in the Billboard 200 in the UK with her album called Promise. Sade continued to sing from the mid-’80s till the early 2000’s when she took a well-deserved break for a couple of years, after which she came back to singing sometime during 2010.
6. Toni Braxton ( Contralto 3 Octaves Bb2- Bb5 )
If you are an 80’s or 90’s child you probably still remember Toni Braxton’s classic hit Unbreak my heart. Toni Braxton was born in 1970, she became famous during the early ’90s with her hit singles which topped the Billboard 200, with Another sad love song and Breathe again. Her vocal type is contralto and her vocal range is 3 octaves, from Bp2 to Bp5, although she usually is either on the lower or the higher point of her vocal range while singing ballads especially.
7. Gladys Knight ( Contralto 3 Octaves G#3 – F6 )
Gladys Knight was born in 1944 in America, in addition to being a famous alto singer, she is also a businesswoman, actress, and published author. She became famous during the middle of the 1960s with her band Gladys Knight & the Pips, from then on the band would dominate the Billboard 100 two times in the first position. Her most successful songs are Midnight train to Georgia and That’s what friends are for.
If you are a fan of R&B you will love her singing voice, she made several number one singles and albums during the ’80s and ’90s.
8. Tina Turner ( Contralto – Mezzo Soprano 3 octaves F2-C#6 )
Tina Turner’s real name is Anna Mae Bullock, she was born in 1939 in the USA. Tina Turner is known as the Queen of Rock’n’Roll, she became famous after meeting and singing with Ike Turner. After her debut songs with Ike Turner she quickly began her solo singing career with several smashing hits, in total she sold over 200 million records in the world. Tina Turner’s is mostly known due to her contralto vocal type, her vocal range is 3 octaves and 4 notes.
9. Brandy ( Contralto – Mezzo Soprano 3 Octaves G2- E6 )
Brandy Norwood was born in 1979 in a family where there were several singers, which influenced her trough her childhood to becoming a famous and very successful singer. She became famous in 1994 with her hit album named Brandy which sold over 6 million copies. Although some would argue if Brandy is a true alto singer as some consider her voice to be Mezzo-Soprano, her vocal range is around the region of an alto singer which is 3 octaves and 5 semitones, somewhere between G2-E6.
10. Chaka Khan ( Contralto – Mezzo-Soprano 3 Octaves B2-E6 )
Born in 1953 in the US, Chaka Khan’s real name is Yvette Marie Stevens. She became famous during the late 1970s with her band Rufus, and she was nicknamed the Queen of Funk due to her success and amazing singing talent. During her career, she has sold over 70 million records and has even won 10 Grammys. Chaka Khan’s voice is an alto with a flair of Mezzo-Soprano, she has a vocal range of 3 octaves. What sets apart Chaka Khan from other singers is the sheer power of her singing voice as she mainly uses her powerful head voice.
11. Patsy Cline ( Contralto 3 octaves D3-B5 )
Patsy Cline was born in 1932 in the USA, her real name was Virginia Patterson Hensley. She became famous during the early 1960s singing country music at different festivals. Most people consider Patsy Cline to be one of the most iconic contralto singers in the world. During her singing career, she has managed to combine country music with pop music, her vocal range was around 3 octaves. Patsy Cline has died tragically in an airplane crash in 1963, while her career was fairly short she has influenced a lot of young contralto singers.
12. Tracy Chapman ( Contralto 3 Octaves E3 – A5 )
Born in the USA, in 194 Tracy Chapman is a well-known alto singer and composer. Her voice is truly unique as it is even deeper than the voice of most alto singers. Some people could get confused by her gender due to her deep voice, after hearing her sing often people would think it is a man singing. Tracy Chapman during her career managed to get 6 Grammy nominations, including one for the Album of the year.
When it comes to famous alto singers you will notice that most of them are fairly old, this is mostly due to the fact as the young generation of singers finds it fairly difficult to sing. The lack of real talent in addition to the industry supporting artists with almost 0 talent will make alto singing almost extinct. Luckily we have a lot of good albums featuring true alto singers, which we should cherish forever.