Rolling Stone Readers Pick the Top 10 R&B/Soul Singers of All Time – Rolling Stone
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Rolling Stone Readers Pick the Top 10 R&B/Soul Singers of All Time

Watch clips by artists who made the list, including Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, Marvin Gaye and Aretha Franklin

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Last weekend we asked our readers to vote for their favorite R&B/soul singer of all time. Looking through the results it's striking just how many soul greats died tragically young under horrible circumstances. Marvin Gaye was shot to death by his own father, while Otis Redding died in a plane crash and Sam Cooke was shot by a hotel manager. Only four people on our list are still alive, while many others have been dead for decades.

Here are the results.

By Andy Greene

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10. Luther Vandross

Luther Vandross got his big break in 1974 when David Bowie recruited him to sing back-up vocals on Young Americans. His solo career didn't take off until the early Eighties when he scored big hits with "Never Too Much," "Since I Lost My Baby" and "Give Me The Reason." His career hit a new peak in 1989 with the Billboard Top 10 hit "Here And Now," and until his death in 2005 he toured and recorded as a beloved elder statesman of soul.

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9. Smokey Robinson

In the late Fifties, Smokey Robinson helped Berry Gordy lay the groundwork for Motown Records, and over the next few decades he wrote and recorded many of the label's most memorable hits. Along with his backing group the Miracles, Robinson sang "Shop Around," "Tracks Of My Tears," "Going To A Go-Go," "I Sccond That Emotion" and "The Tears Of A Clown." In the Eighties he came back with the huge hit singles "Being With You" and "Just To See You." He continues to be a huge draw on the road.

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8. James Brown

The world had never seen anything quite like James Brown when he burst onto the scene in 1956 with his classic "Please, Please, Please." From that point he earned his nickname "the hardest-working man in show business" by touring and recording at a frenzied pace that only let up when he died in late 2006. He sang too many brilliant songs to even list, but here are just a few: "I Feel Good," "Papa's Got A Brand New Bag," "It's A Man's Man's Man's World" and "Get Up Offa That Thing." "For me, James Brown was never just the voice," Iggy Pop told Rolling Stone in 2008. "It was the whole package. But the impact of that voice gave me hope, because it was a simple presentation and didn't trade on range. And there was that scream. It was like an inner voice. It sounded like an assertion of rights of primitive man."

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7. Stevie Wonder

In 1963, when he was just 13 years old, Stevie Wonder scored his first hit record with "Fingertips (Part 2)." It was the beginning of one of the most brilliant musical careers of the 20th century. Throughout the rest of the Sixties, Little Stevie Wonder was one of Motown's most reliable hit makers, scoring smashes with "Uptight (Everything's Alright)," "My Cherie Amour" and many others. When he turned 21 he gained creative control of his career, and began one landmark LP after the next. He slowed down by the mid-Eighties, but he has remained an incredibly popular live act and in 2005 he released Time To Love – his first LP of new material in a decade.

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6. Al Green

Al Green was raised on the music of Sam Cooke, Otis Redding and Jackie Wilson. In the early Seventies he joined their ranks when a released a stunning series of soul singles, including "Let's Stay Together," "Take Me To The River" and "Tired Of Being Alone." In the Eighties Green began devoting his life to god, and he exclusively recorded gospel music until the mid-Nineties. "Al Green has helped overpopulate the world," Justin Timberlake told Rolling Stone in 2004. "He's got some serious babymaking music. But what makes him such an inspiration is the raw passion, the sincerity and the joy he brings to his music. People are born to do certain things, and Al was born to make us smile."

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5. Ray Charles

He was known simply as the Genius. During his six-decade career, Ray Charles played nearly every kind of music imaginable – from soul to rock to country to jazz. He kicked off an incredible series of hits with "Mess Around" in 1953. Over the next 20 years he was constantly on the charts, scoring with "I Got A Woman," "Night Time Is The Right Time," "Georgia On My Mind" and "Hit The Road Jack." His final album, 2004's Genius Loves Company, won a Grammy for Album Of The Year. "Ray Charles is proof that the best music crosses all boundaries, reaches all denominations," Van Morrison told Rolling Stone. "He could do any type of music, and he always stayed true to himself. It's all about his soul. There's a reason they called Ray Charles 'the Genius.' Think of how he reinvented country music in a way that worked for him. He showed there are no limitations, not for someone as good as he is. Whatever Ray Charles did, whatever he touched, he made it his own. He's his own genre. It's all Ray Charles music now."

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4. Aretha Franklin

Aretha Franklin started singing in her father's church at a very young age.  Her debut album, 1956's Songs of Faith, came out when she was just 14. It wasn't until the mid-Sixties, however, that the rest of the world learned of Aretha's brilliance after she signed to Atlantic and began an incredible run of hits that included "I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You)," "Respect," "(You Make Me Feel) Like A Natural Woman," "Think" and many, many others. In 2008 Rolling Stone named her the greatest singer of all time. "Aretha is a gift from God," Mary J. Blige said in that issue. "When it comes to expressing yourself through song, there is no one who can touch her. She is the reason why women want to sing."

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3. Sam Cooke

Sam Cooke was just 33 when he was shot to death in 1964 in the lobby of a seedy Los Angeles motel. By that point he was easily one of the greatest soul singers the world had ever seen. Like many great singers of his era, Cooke began his career singing gospel music. He switched to secular music in 1956 with the release of his first solo single "Lovable." Over the next few years he released "You Send Me," "Chain Gang," "Cupid," "Twistin' The Night Away," "Another Saturday Night," "A Change Is Gonna Come" and many more. "Sam Cooke was grounded in a very straightforward singing style: It was pure, beautiful and open-throated, extraordinarily direct and unapologetic," Art Garfunkel told Rolling Stone in 2004. "He had fabulous chops, but at the same time fabulous taste. I never felt that he was overdoing it, as I often feel with singers today. He stayed rhythmic and fluty and floaty; he always showed brilliant vocal control."

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2. Marvin Gaye

Marvin Gaye's musical accomplishments – from his late Fifties run in the Moonglows through his Eighties comeback with "Sexual Healing" – are simply staggering. During the Sixties he was one of Motown's most reliable hitmakers, scoring with "How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You," "Ain't That Peculiar," "I Heard It Through The Grapevine" and "Thinking About My Baby." He also cut a series of classic dues with Tammi Terrell ("Ain't No Mountain High Enough," "Ain't Nothing Like The Real Thing") and even played drums on "Please Mr. Postman" for the Marvelettes. After Terrell's death in 1970, he switched gears and began recording the politically charged LP What's Going On – which is widely regarded as one of the greatest albums of all time. Gaye was in the midst of a career renaissance when he was shot to death by his father in April of 1984 after they got into a vicious argument.

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1. Otis Redding

Like way too many of the soul legends on this list, Otis Redding died tragically young. He was just 26 when his plane crashed into a Wisconsin field following a Cleveland concert. Months earlier he was introduced to a wider audience when he played a now-legendary set at the Monterey Pop Festival, and days earlier he had finished work on "(Sittin' On The) Dock Of The Bay" – which went on to become the most famous song of his career. The Georgia native cut most of his most famous songs – including "I Can't Turn You Loose," "That's How Strong My Love Is" and "Try A Little Tenderness" – with the Stax house band Booker T. & the MGs.

"Otis had the softness of Sam Cooke and the harshness of Little Richard, and he was his own man," Booker T. & the MGs guitarist Steve Cropper told Rolling Stone in 2004.  "He was also fabulous to be around, always 100 percent full of energy. So many singers in those days, with all due respect, had just been in the business too long. They were bitter from the way they were treated. But Otis didn't have that. He was probably the most nonprejudiced human being I ever met. He seemed to be big in every way: physically, in his talent, in his wisdom about other people. After he died, I was surprised to find out I was the same age as he was, because I looked up to him as an older brother."

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