70s R&B Artists: Icons and Influences of a Soulful Era

The 1970s was a golden era for R&B music, with numerous artists emerging and shaping the genre into what it has become today. Pioneers of ’70s R&B captivated audiences through their smooth vocals and soulful melodies while incorporating elements of funk, jazz, and disco. Not only did they create timeless hits, but they also inspired generations of musicians that followed in their footsteps.

In this decade, influential solo artists, female artists, and groups each made their mark on the R&B landscape. Classic tunes from artists like Donny Hathaway, Curtis Mayfield, and Betty Wright still resonate with listeners today, showcasing their massive impact on the genre. These artists set the stage for the modern R&B sound while leaving a lasting legacy.

Key Takeaways

  • The 1970s saw numerous groundbreaking R&B musicians shape the genre
  • A diverse range of solo artists, female artists, and groups contributed to the evolution of R&B
  • The iconic sounds and influence of ’70s R&B artists can still be recognized in today’s music

Pioneers of 70s R&B Artists

Motown Artists

In the 1970s, I witnessed the emergence of several Motown artists who left a significant impact on the R&B scene. Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye are two of my favorite artists from this time. Both of them had successful solo careers and explored unique sounds that combined soul, pop, and funk elements. Stevie Wonder’s album “Innervisions” is a great example of his innovative and versatile approach to music.

Marvin Gaye’s album “What’s Going On” is another standout in this era of R&B. The album, which tackled pressing social and political issues, made me realize the power of R&B music as a platform for spreading awareness and promoting change.

Soul and Funk Bands

During the 70s, it was not just solo artists who made waves in the R&B genre – there were also many talented black bands of the 60s and 70s that contributed to the rise of soul and funk music. One of the groups that made a significant impact on me was Earth, Wind & Fire. Their eclectic blend of soul, funk, and jazz music with impressive horn sections and catchy melodies made them stand out. Songs like “September” and “Boogie Wonderland” never fail to get me on my feet.

Another essential group in the development of R&B in the 70s was Sly & The Family Stone. Their pioneering mix of soul, funk, rock, and psychedelia resulted in a unique and influential sound that shaped the R&B and funk scenes for years to come. Their groundbreaking album “Stand!” is a testament to their musical prowess and impact on the genre.

Throughout the 1970s, R&B music evolved and expanded to include a diverse range of artists and bands, who would go on to inspire and shape future generations of musicians. The work of these Motown artists, soul, and funk bands helped to lay the foundation for what we know today as modern R&B music.

Influential Solo Artists


Some of the most outstanding singers in the R&B genre emerged in the 70s. Among the most influential singers of that era are icons such as Stevie Wonder, Chaka Khan, and Marvin Gaye. Stevie Wonder’s music covered various genres and his powerful voice inspired generations of artists. Chaka Khan’s work with Rufus led to hits such as “Tell Me Something Good” and “Sweet Thing” and established her as a force in R&B throughout her solo career in the 70s and beyond.

Marvin Gaye, another phenomenal R&B singer, and songwriter, redefined the genre in the 70s with his socially-conscious music and expressive voice. His album “What’s Going On” tackled pressing social issues and became a landmark recording in the history of R&B.


In terms of songwriting, the 70s R&B landscape showcased a combination of pure talent, creativity, and heartfelt expression. Stevie Wonder was not only an amazing singer; his songwriting skills were exceptional too. He played a significant role in defining the sound of R&B in the 70s with his diverse range of songs, including both upbeat dance tunes and poignant ballads.

Joni Mitchell, a nonconformist singer-songwriter, also contributed to the era’s R&B music with her introspective lyrics and unique harmonies. Though Mitchell is predominantly known for her folk influence, her contributions to the narrative-driven aspect of 70s R&B music were noteworthy.

As mentioned earlier, Marvin Gaye pushed the boundaries of R&B music both as a singer and songwriter during the 70s. His skill in crafting meaningful and thought-provoking songs matched with his emotive delivery amplified the impact of his work in 70s R&B and beyond.

Female Artists and Groups

Gospel Influences

In the 70s, the gospel influence was strong in R&B music, especially among female artists and groups. One of the most notable gospel-inspired R&B singers of the time was Patti LaBelle. She started her career as part of the girl group Labelle, best known for their hit song “Lady Marmalade”. I had the pleasure of listening to Patti’s incredible vocals, which were not only powerful but also unique in terms of her range and control.

Another remarkable gospel-influenced R&B artist from this time was Aretha Franklin. Dubbed the “Queen of Soul,” Aretha’s gospel roots were evident in her voice and music. I can still feel the raw emotion of her songs, such as “Respect” and “Chain of Fools”, which earned her global success and recognition.

Disco Divas

The disco movement in the 70s also spawned several iconic female R&B singers. Donna Summer, for example, was known as the “Queen of Disco.” Her hits “I Feel Love” and “Last Dance” displayed a blend of R&B and disco that made people dance the night away. I can’t help but groove to her music every time I hear it.

Another standout disco diva was Gloria Gaynor, who rose to fame with her anthemic song “I Will Survive”. This empowering song resonated with me and many others, as it was a statement of strength and resilience in challenging times.

In the 70s, black bands also made a significant impact on the R&B scene. For example, the band Earth, Wind & Fire captured my heart and many others with their unique combination of soul and funk, and they still remain one of the most influential black bands of the 60s and 70s.

Related reading: 2000s R&B Artists: A Nostalgic Trip Down Memory Lane

Legacy and Impact

Generation of R&B Artists

The R&B music scene in the 70s had a profound impact on the artists and the sound of the genre, and I can’t help but admire the talent that emerged during that time. The Powerful Impact of R&B Musicians in the 70s truly shaped the genre as we know it today. Some iconic 70s R&B artists include Jackson 5, Smokey Robinson & The Miracles, and many others who topped the R&B charts with hits like “The Love You Save” and “The Tears Of A Clown” source. These artists set the stage for a new generation of R&B artists, inspiring their music styles, lyrics, and performance techniques.

Their music was infused with raw emotion, tackling important social and political issues, as seen in Tell It Like It Is: A History of Rhythm and Blues. The Great Migration contributed to the development of R&B and played a major role in establishing some of the most influential artists in cities like Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Memphis, and Detroit.

Modern Day R&B

As I reflect on the evolution of R&B, I find it essential to acknowledge the enduring legacy and impact of the 70s R&B artists on modern-day R&B. Their artistry has transcended time and inspired countless contemporary musicians. Many of these modern artists are influenced by the soulful vocals, instrumental arrangements, and powerful lyricism of their 70s predecessors.

Some of today’s most successful R&B artists, such as John Legend, Alicia Keys, and Janelle Monáe, pay homage to the 70s R&B sound while incorporating their unique twist, creating a beautiful fusion of old and new. This continues to keep the genre fresh and relevant.

Ultimately, the 70s marked a pivotal moment in R&B’s history. The blending of classic soul with contemporary influences paved the way for subsequent generations of musicians. My admiration for the 70s R&B artists and their immense contributions to the genre is immense, and their music will forever have a lasting impact on both artists and fans alike.

Frequently Asked Questions

Top R&B groups in the 70s?

In my opinion, some of the top R&B groups in the 70s include Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross, the Jackson 5, The O-Jays, The Four Tops, Barry White, Earth, Wind & Fire, and The Spinners. These groups ruled the charts during that era and continue to influence artists today.

Most popular 70s soul singers?

Some of the most popular 70s soul singers that come to my mind are Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye, Al Green, Curtis Mayfield, and Bill Withers. Their powerful voices and timeless songs still resonate with audiences today.

Iconic 70s R&B songs?

There were numerous iconic 70s R&B songs, but a few that stand out to me are "Superstition" by Stevie Wonder, "Lovely Day" by Bill Withers, "Let's Stay Together" by Al Green, and "What's Going On" by Marvin Gaye. These songs remain popular for their catchy tunes, meaningful lyrics, and emotive performances.

Influential black bands in the 70s?

Influential black bands in the 70s were Earth, Wind & Fire, Kool & The Gang, and The Commodores. These bands not only achieved commercial success but also left a lasting impact on the music industry, shaping the sound of R&B, funk, and disco.

Major R&B/soul hits from the 70s?

Some major R&B/soul hits from the 70s that I can think of are "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" by Diana Ross, "Brick House" by The Commodores, "I Want You Back" by the Jackson 5, and "Love Train" by The O-Jays. These songs climbed the charts in the 70s and remain memorable classics today.

Famous black male singers in the 70s?

Famous black male singers in the 70s that come to my mind are Marvin Gaye, Al Green, Lionel Richie, Teddy Pendergrass, and Barry White. Their smooth vocals and heartfelt performances captivated audiences during that era and continue to inspire modern artists.
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