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Powerhouse voices, big hair, smooth dance moves, glamorous dresses, beautiful songwriting, torch songs, female empowerment, fierceness, diva attitude and breaking down barriers in the music industry are what black women in the music industry represent.

Now many black female legends have touched the hearts of others and moved generations with their music and artistry — from the gospel of Mahalia Jackson; the lady blues of Billie Holiday; the soulful sounds that get you caught up in a rapture with Anita Baker; the bridging the gap of R&B, and Rock and Roll of Etta James; the soulful leadership of Gladys Knight; the powerful vocals of Patti Labelle; and the eclectic, political sounds of Nina Simone.

Many of today’s black female artists owe a debt of gratitude to their foremothers. Some of those foremothers made it on this lists and some of today’s artists made it on this list because of how these black women managed to overcome so many obstacles and reach the top.

In celebration of Black Music Month, MadameNoire compiled a list of 15 black women in music who managed to become some of the most popular solo acts in music ever! This list is based on record sells (albums and singles), longevity, legacy and overall popularity in both mainstream and urban-marketed music.

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