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The Best Singers of All Time
The Best Vocalists of All Time

compiled by Michael R. Burch

Who were the greatest singers of all time? While I have paid homage to the best of the grit-voiced growlers and howlers, I have given higher marks to the nightingales. How anyone can compare Bob Dylan to the great vocalists is beyond me. Yes, Dylan is great, but he is great despite his voice, not because of it. Some people may not care for Celine Dion's genre or style, but the power and clarity of her voice is undeniable: when she sings a song like "Alone," people in the audience weep. I think tears are better judges than prejudices.


Before I commence my countdown to the best singer of all time, I must ask: WTF is up with the Rolling Stone and its list of The 200 Greatest Singers of All Time? WTF is up with Celine Dion, Amy Lee and Ann Wilson not being included? These are some of the more ludicrous rankings of singers who were included: Kelly Clarkson [#194], Brandy [#193], Alicia Keys [#185], Jazmine Sullivan [#182], Ronnie James Dio [#165], Barbara Streisand [#147], Donny Hathaway [#126], Karen Carpenter [#123], Jackie Wilson [#121], Michael Jackson [#86], Steve Perry [#82], Janis Joplin [#78], Roy Orbison [#71], Robert Plant [#63] ...

Kurt Cobain is a greater singer than Michael Jackson and Steve Perry? WTF? And almost as great as Janis Joplin?

Neil Young is a greater singer than Barbara Streisand and Ronnie James Dio? On what planet?

Bob Dylan is a greater singer than Elvis, Prince and any of the Beatles? That must have come as a surprise to Mr. Monotone!

Celia Cruz is a greater singer than Frank Sinatra and a helluva lot greater singer than Etta James, Ella Fitzgerald, Mavis Staples and all the singers previously mentioned?

Did the judges lack ears? While I'm not a fan, per se, of Kelly Clarkson, Brandy, Barbara Streisand, Karen Carpenter or Celine Dion, I do have ears and they tell me these women are immensely talented singers. And how can anyone rank Michael Jackson, Steve Perry, Janis Joplin and Roy Orbison so low?


If the theory is that having hit songs and influence trumps singing, how the hell is Celia Cruz greater than all the Beatles? If great singing makes singers great, how the hell is Bob Dylan immensely greater than Barbara Streisand and Kelly Clarkson?

A rolling stone apparently hit the Rolling Stone voters in the head and it must have been a gigantic coma-inducing boulder!

Now, without further ado, here is my personal ranking of the best singers of all time, allowing for grit and gravel, but giving the nightingales their just due. Where I know the Rolling Stone ranking, I have included it in brackets.

(100) Kurt Cobain [RS#36, but Kelly Clarkson is #194???]

(99) Neil Young is a bit whiny/nasally, but it's hard to argue with great songs like Old Man, Heart of Gold, After the Gold Rush

(98) Willie Nelson [RS#54]

(97) Phil Collins

(96) Rod Stewart [RS#49]

(95) Merle Haggard [RS#138, WTF?]

(94) Michael Stipe of REM [RS#152, WTF?]

(93) Kate Bush [RS#60]

(93) Joni Mitchell [RS#50]

(92) Ariana Grande [RS#43]

(91) Darlene Love [RS#144, WTF?]

(90) Toni Braxton: esp. for Un-Break My Heart [RS#48]

(89) Martha Reeves of Martha and the Vandellas [RS#151, WTF?]

(88) Lauryn Hill [RS#136, WTF?]

(87) Mavis Staples and the Staple Singers [RS#46]

(86) Teddy Pendergrass [RS#42]

(85) Bobby "Blue" Bland [RS#163, WTF?]

(86) Dion [RS#154, WTF?]

(85) Chris Stapleton [RS#170, WTF?]

(84) George Strait [RS#156, WTF?]

(83) Buddy Holly [RS#174, WTF?]

(82) Lionel Ritchie

(81) Madonna: for This Used to be My Playground, Vogue, Like A Virgin, Ray of Light

(80) Bob Seger [RS#181, WTF?]

(79) Bonnie Raitt: grit and gravitas on Have a Heart, Nick of Time, I Can't Make You Love Me, Something to Talk About [RS#187, WTF?]

(78) Joan Baez [RS#189, WTF?]

(77) Jazmine Sullivan [RS#182, WTF?]

(76) Cher

(75) Paul Simon

(74) Neil Diamond

(73) Olivia Newton-John

(72) Donny Hathaway [RS# 126, WTF?]

(71) Curtis Mayfield [RS#38]

(70) Rihanna [RS#68]

(69) Stevie Nicks [RS#93]

(68) Brandy [RS#193, WTF?]

(67) Barry White [RS#56]

(66) Billy Joel

(65) Van Morrison [RS#37]

(64) Pink

(63) Thom Yorke [RS#34]

(62) Mick Jagger: for Angie, Miss You, Paint it Black, Satisfaction ... and that's just for starters [RS#52]

(61) Jeff Buckley [RS#131, WTF?]

(60) Brian Wilson: the Beach Boys: helped set the standard for artistry and vocal perfection in early rock 'n roll [RS#57]

(59) Sade: exquisite on Smooth Operator, No Ordinary Love, The Sweetest Taboo, Your Love is King [RS#51]

(58) Aaron Neville: exquisitely delicate quavering on I Don't Know Much, Ave Maria, Tell It Like It Is, Everybody Plays the Fool [RS#104, WTF?]

(57) Sting [Ranker#45]

(56) Jon Bon Jovi: for fan-pleasers like Livin' on a Prayer, Runaway, Wanted Dead or Alive, Always, I'll Be There for You [Ranker#46]

(55) Linda Ronstadt [RS#47]

(54) Harry Nilsson is here for his breathtaking cover of Without You

(53) Philip Bailey of Earth Wind & Fire possessed a beautiful falsetto

(52) Jackie Wilson [RS#121, WTF?]

(51) Karen Carpenter [RS#123, WTF?]

(50) Russell Thompkins Jr. of the Stylistics: You Are Everything, You Make Me Feel Brand New, Betcha By Golly, Wow [RS#142, WTF?]

(50) Alicia Keys [RS#185, WTF?, Ranker#26]

(49) Ronnie James Dio: Holy Diver, Rainbow in the Dark, The Last in Line [RS#165, WTF?]

(48) Bruno Mars

(47) Christina Aguilera: unbelievable talent on Hurt, Oh Mother, At Last, It's a Man's World, Genie in a Bottle, Beautiful, What a Girl Wants [RS#141, WTF?, Ranker#28]

(46) Ann Wilson of Heart: for Alone, Dog and Butterfly, many other classics [RS-unrated, WTF?, Ranker#47]

(45) Johnny Cash: that great baritone on I Walk the Line, Ring of Fire, Hurt and other classics [RS#85, WTF?]

(44) Lady Gaga [RS#58]

(43) Dolly Parton: for songs like Jolene and I Will Always Love You [RS#27]

(42) Sir Elton John [RS#100, WTF?]

(41) Kelly Clarkson [RS#194, WTF?]

(40) Roger Daltrey of the Who: he was especially otherworldly on the ultimate rock anthem Love Reign O'er Me [RS#109, WTF?]

(39) Otis Redding [RS#9]

(38) Mick Hucknall of Simply Red: simply captivating on Holding Back the Years, If You Don't Know Me By Now, You Make Me Feel Brand New

(37) Howlin' Wolf: the best of the legendary bluesmen, in my opinion, for Smokestack Lightning, Spoonful, and other great vocals

(37) Chaka Khan [RS#29]

(36) Tony Williams of the Platters: impeccable on Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, The Great Pretender, Only You, My Prayer, Twilight Time

(35) Annie Lennox: truly great on Why, Walking on Broken Glass, Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)

(35) Joss Stone: gorgeous and glorious on I Put a Spell on You, People Get Ready, Son of a Preacher Man, You Had Me

(34) Bono: for passionate, sometimes searing, vocals on One, With or Without You, Sunday Bloody Sunday, Where the Streets Have No Name, Lemon [RS#140, WTF?]

(33) Sir Paul McCartney: for Let It Be, Yesterday and so many classic Beatles, Wings and solo songs [RS#26]

(33) John Lennon: for Imagine, Give Peace a Chance and so many classic Beatles and solo songs [RS#12, Ranker#23]

(32) James Brown: notable for his showmanship and fusion of jazz, blues, gospel and funk [RS#44]

(32) Patti LaBelle: rare power and panache on Lady Marmalade, On My Own [RS#74, WTF?]

(31) Adele: notable for soulful, heartfelt songs like Rolling in the Deep, Rumor Has It and Hello [RS#22]

(30) David Bowie: Fame, Space Oddity, China Girl, Young Americans, All the Young Dudes, Modern Love, Let's Dance [RS#32]

(29) Mary J. Blige [RS#25]

(29) Enya: if you haven't heard Enya sing O Come, O Come Emmanuel, you haven't really lived, and she is utterly stellar on Orinco Flow (Sail Away), and other gems

(28) Sir Tom Jones

(28) Amy Winehouse [RS#83, WTF?]

(28) Luther Vandross [RS#31]

(27) Ray Charles: he sang with "infectious joy" and changed the course of modern music with songs like Georgia and What'd I Say [RS#6]

(26) Al Green: beyond soulful and utterly stellar on Let's Stay Together, Tired of Being Alone, Love and Happiness, I'm Still in Love with You [RS#10]

(25) Mariah Carey: crazy range and near-supersonic melisma on Vision of Love, I Don't Wanna Cry, Someday, One Sweet Day [RS#5, Ranker#22]

(25) Diana Ross [RS#87, WTF?]

(25) Amy Lee of Evanescence

(25) Martina McBride

(24) K. D. Lang: her versions of Crying and Hallelujah have to be heard to be believed, then still defy belief

(23) Patsy Cline [RS#14]

(22) Smokey Robinson: devastation delivered softly and sweetly on Tears of a Clown, Tracks of My Tears, I Second that Emotion, Ooh Baby Baby [RS#23]

(21) Michael Jackson: he displayed "insane range" on Beat It, Man in the Mirror, Smooth Criminal, Ben, Got to Be There, You Are Not Alone [RS#86 WTF?]

(20) Prince: regal on Little Red Corvette, When Doves Cry, Kiss, Raspberry Beret, The Beautiful Ones, Purple Rain, 1999 [RS#16]

(19) Marvin Gaye: especially for What's Going On and Mercy, Mercy Me [RS#20]

(19) George Michael [RS#62 WTF?]

(18) Roy Orbison: for hitting those impossibly high notes with such power on Leah, Crying, In Dreams [RS#71, WTF?]

(17) Tina Turner: so incredibly good on Proud Mary, River Deep—Mountain High, What's Love Got to Do With It, Private Dancer [RS#55, WTF?]

"I'll never forget the first time I saw [Tina] perform," said Beyoncé. "I never in my life saw a woman so powerful, so fearless." Turner started touring with the Ike and Tina Turner Revue almost half a century ago; her breakthrough was their blazing 1971 cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Proud Mary," which included the declaration that she never does anything "nice and easy." "She was so direct, so raw," says John Fogerty, who wrote the song. Age has only deepened the ache and grit in her powerhouse cries and moans during her long career as a solo artist. Melissa Etheridge said that Turner's voice defies classification. "You can't say soul, R&B, rock & roll," Etheridge said. "She's all of it! She can squeeze passion from any line."

(16) Sam Cooke: wonderfully soulful on his anthem A Change is Gonna Come; wonderfully sweet on Cupid; wonderfully sad on Chain Gang

(15) The Bee Gees: for impeccable harmonies on Words, Run To Me, How Can You Mend a Broken Heart, and many other soul-searers

(14) Beyonce [RS#8]

(13) Frankie Valli: for his remarkable four-octave range and powerful, laser-like falsetto on Rag Doll, Sherry, Dawn, Stay, Walk Like a Man, Big Girls Don't Cry

In 1962, a song called "Sherry" blasted from AM radios with a facile falsetto vocal so impossibly precise, many thought it had "one-hit wonder" written all over it. Forty-eight Hot 100 singles later, Frankie Valli (born Francis Castelluccio) is still a giant of the male vocal pop of his era. He's a complete singer, with a multi-octave range and the ability to handle a variety of styles: "Big Girls Don't Cry," "Walk Like a Man" and "Rag Doll" showed off his doo-wop dexterity, with support from the Four Seasons. Valli's solo hits, like "Can't Take My Eyes Off You," revealed his taste for more mainstream material, with a rich R&B influence. "Frankie Valli has become one of the hallmark voices of our generation," said the Bee Gees' Barry Gibb. "He created a style that we all still strive to emulate."

(12) Vince Gill: unbelievably pure and sweet on Go Rest High on that Mountain, When I Call Your Name, I Still Believe in You

(11) Art Garfunkel: for singing like an angel on Bridge Over Troubled Water, All I Know, Scarborough Fair/Canticle, Kathy's Song, Cecilia 

"He is a pure and beautiful tenor voice, and there really is no one like him," says James Taylor about Art Garfunkel, whose singing blends lyricism with a remarkable ease of delivery. He brought sweetness and wonder to his classic harmonies with Paul Simon, a delicacy that defined those songs, and some of the hopes of the late Sixties. "I'm looking for controlled beauty," he says, a standard he learned as a child from the likes of Italian opera star Enrico Caruso. "Those arias — I love a song with a high, pole-vault peak." That describes solo hits such as 1973's "All I Know" and 1975's "I Only Have Eyes for You." "I like to sing heartfelt, where you address the mike with your honesty," says Garfunkel. "You try to be authentic as a person, with all the doubt, wonder and mystery of being alive."

(10) Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin: powerful keening on Immigrant Song, Black Dog, Stairway to Heaven, Whole Lotta Love [RS#15]

In 2006, Heavy Metal magazine Hit Parader named Plant the "Greatest Metal Vocalist of All Time". In 2009, Plant was voted "the greatest voice in rock" in a poll conducted by Planet Rock. In 2008, Rolling Stone editors ranked him number 15 on their list of the 100 best singers of all time. In 2011, Rolling Stone readers ranked Plant the greatest of all lead singers.

(9) Axl Rose of Guns 'n Roses: otherworldly six-octave range on Sweet Child O' Mine, Patience, Knockin' on Heaven's Door, November Rain, Welcome to the Jungle [RS#134 WTF?]

"Axl sings the most beautiful melodies with the most aggressive tones and the most outrageous, freakish range," says Sebastian Bach. "There's maybe five people in the world that can sing in his range." Slash once described the sound of Rose's voice in slightly different terms: It's like "the sound that a tape player makes when the cassette finally dies and the tape gets ripped out," he said, "but in tune." It's immediately identifiable, with a combination of brute force and subtlety that is easy to overlook amid the sonic assault of Guns n' Roses. Ballads like "Patience" and "November Rain" reveal a startling intimacy, even vulnerability, but it's his fearsome screech on full-throttle metal like "Welcome to the Jungle" that can still peel paint off the walls, more than 20 years later.

(8) Stevie Wonder has lived up to his last name [RS#7]

(7) John Farnham: my "dark horse" top ten vocalist for his incredible range and versatility, from opera to soulful blues to hard rock, on songs like You're the Voice, Granada, Summertime and You'll Never Walk Alone

(6) Celine Dion: celestially stellar on Alone, All By Myself, It's All Coming Back to Me Now, My Heart Will Go On [RS-unrated, WTF?, Ranker#21]

(6) Barbara Streisand [RS#147, WTF?]

(5) Freddie Mercury: the ultimate showman/singer with four-octave range on Bohemian Rhapsody, Who Wants to Live Forever, Somebody to Love, Killer Queen, Crazy Little Thing Called Love [RS#14]

(5) Adam Lambert: his cover of "Mad World" was crazy good, and Brian May of Queen said Lambert is the only male singer who can match Freddy Mercury's high notes

(4) Little Richard: the Architect taught the world (and the Beatles, MJ and Prince) how to really rock-n-roll with songs like Tutti-Frutti, Good Golly Miss Molly, Long Tall Sally [RS#11]

"When I heard ['Long Tall Sally'], it was so great I couldn't speak," said John Lennon. "I didn't want to leave Elvis, but this was so much better." Little Richard taught the Beatles the secrets of his falsetto and primal screams when they toured together. His influence can clearly be heard in songs like "Twist and Shout."

(3) Steve Perry of Journey: impossibly high and sweet on Foolish Heart, Send Her My Love, Good Morning Girl, Open Arms, Oh Sherrie (solo) [RS#82 WTF?]

"Other than Robert Plant, there's no singer in rock that even came close to Steve Perry," says American Idol judge Randy Jackson, who played bass with Perry in Journey. "The power, the range, the tone—he created his own style. He mixed a little Motown, a little Everly Brothers, a little Zeppelin." When he was 10 years old, Perry heard Sam Cooke's "Cupid" on his mom's car radio, and decided he had to be a singer. After singing in a college choir, he joined Journey at the age of 28, quickly revealing a penchant for quavering, reverb-soaked melodrama that appealed to millions of fans—but few rock critics. Yet his technical skills (those high notes!), pure tone and passionate sincerity now seem undeniable. "He lives for it and loves it," says Jackson. "I just saw him not long ago, and he still has the golden voice."

(2) Whitney Houston: impressive range, power and control on everything she sang in her prime: Run to You, I Have Nothing [RS#2, Ranker#2]

My co-winners, male and female, in a four-way tie, are:

(1) Aretha Franklin: so glorious on Spanish Harlem, Chain of Fools, Respect and other classics [RS#1, Ranker#3]

Aretha Franklin has been called the Queen of Soul but in reality she was the queen of whatever she sang, from "Nessun Dorma" to the bluesy "Summertime" to gospel to harder fare. — Michael R. Burch

(1) Janis Joplin: for her unmatched passionate anguish and grit on Piece of My Heart, Heartbreaker, Cry Baby, Mercedes Benz, Try [RS#78 WTF?]

(1) Dimash Kudaibergen: for his unmatched range (six octaves, C2 to D8), laser-like accuracy and charisma on songs like SOS, Late Autumn and Sinful Passion

The natural response to Dimash singing "SOS" is to become a puddle of tears, shot through with lightning bolts of awe. — Michael R. Burch

(1) Elvis Presley: especially the early recordings such as Fever, Blue Moon and That's Alright ... but also the thundering apocalyptic high notes in How Great Thou Art and Battle Hymn of the Republic [RS#17]

Robert Plant, lead singer for Led Zeppelin, explains how Elvis greatly influenced him: "The first Elvis song I heard was 'Hound Dog.' I wasn't equipped with any of the knowledge I have now, about the Big Mama Thornton version or where all that swing was coming from. I just heard this voice, and it was absolutely, totally in its own place. The voice was confident, insinuating and taking no prisoners. He had those great whoops and diving moments, those sustains that swoop down to the note like a bird of prey. I took all that in. You can hear that all over Led Zeppelin."

Opera Singers, Popera Singers, Classical Singers, Gospel Singers and Golden Age Singers/Crooners

Louis Armstrong [RS#39]

Tony Bennett

Andrea Bocelli [Ranker#20]

Montserrat Caballé

Maria Callas [Ranker#40]

José Carreras

Enrico Caruso was the first million-selling recording star

Nat King Cole

Bing Crosby

Plácido Domingo

Fats Domino

Phil & Don Everly aka the Everly Brothers

Lara Fabian

Ella Fitzgerald [RS#45, Ranker#12]

Judy Garland

Josh Groban

Billie Holiday [RS#4]

Mississippi John Hurt

Mahalia Jackson

Etta James

George Jones [RS#24]

Mario Lanza

Brenda Lee [RS#161, WTF?]

Jenny Lind

Luciano Pavarotti is the measuring stick for modern tenors

Leontyne Price

Paul Robeson was perhaps the greatest bass singer ever, for Sweet Chariot, Jerusalem, Shenandoah, Ol' Man River and other classics

Nina Simone: You Know How I Feel, Please Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood, I Put a Spell on You, Here Comes the Sun [RS#21]

Frank Sinatra aka "The Voice" and the biggest thing before Elvis [RS#19]

Bessie Smith [RS#33]

Dusty Springfield [RS#35]

Joan Sutherland

Dionne Warwick

Hank Williams Sr. [RS#30]

High Honorable Mentions in Alphabetical Order

According to Ranker, which weighs public opinion via online polls, the Best Singers of All Time are: Freddie Mercury (#1) followed by Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Aretha Franklin, Elvis Presley, Celine Dion, Elton John, Prince, George Michael, David Bowie, John Lennon, Nat King Cole, Karen Carpenter



Angelis: for soaring, piercing, picture-perfect notes on Even Though You're Gone, Morning Has Broken, Pie Jesu, Somewhere Over the Rainbow, O Holy Night

Jackie Evancho: her performances of Ave Marie and Pie Jesu at age ten showed otherworldly talent, as if an angel became human ...

Josh Krajcik: his wonderfully moving rendition of "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" during a talent contest is one of the most moving performances I have ever witnessed

Alison Krauss

Ron Argent of the Zombies and Argent was stylistically ahead of his time with Time of the Season, She's Not There, Tell Her No, Liar, Hold You Head Up

Pat Benatar

Chester Bennington of Linkin Park

Eric Burdon of The Animals/WAR: House of the Rising Sun, Spill the Wine, Please Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood

Eric Carmen: for All By Myself, Hungry Eyes, Never Gonna Fall in Love Again, Go All the Way (with the Raspberries)

Kurt Cobain of Nirvanna: for All Apologies, Come As You Are, Lithium, Where Did You Sleep Last Night

Judy Collins: Bread and Roses, Send in the Clowns, Both Sides Now, Someday Soon, Amazing Grace

Celia Cruz [RS#18]

Miley Cyrus

Dido: impeccable (but more importantly, moving) vocals on White Flag, Thank You and Here with Me

Bob Dylan [RS#15, WTF?]

Phil & Don Everly: the Everly Brothers: were much-emulated stylists who influenced the Beatles, the Bee Gees and other "boy bands"

Dan Fogelberg: Ghosts, many others

John Fogerty: gritty bridge from Dylan to Springsteen with Fortunate Son, Who'll Stop the Rain, Lodi, Someday Never Comes

David Gates of Bread: Clouds, Everything I Own, If, Pieces of April

Andy Gibb, Barry Gibb, Robin Gibb, Maurice Gibb: the Bee Gees (Brothers Gibb) and their other brother Andy were all remarkable singers

Emmylou Harris

Faith Hill

Russell Hitchcock of Air Supply: Lost in Love, All Out of Love, Making Love Out of Nothing at All

Buddy Holly: Rave On, Not Fade Away, That'll Be the Day and many others

Jennifer Hudson

Chris Isaak: a sweeter, more ethereal Elvis on Wicked Game, Blue Moon, Somebody's Crying

Janet Jackson

George Jones: country at its best on He Stopped Loving Her Today, She Still Thinks I Care, Golden Ring, Choices

Martin Kemp of Spandau Ballet: for his wonderfully smooth, rich, lush vocals on True, Gold, Only When You Leave

Leona Lewis: Bleeding Love, Trouble

Demi Lovato

Michael McDonald: I Keep Forgettin', What a Fool Believes, On My Own, Sweet Freedom

Bob Marley: a real wailer on Redemption Song, I Shot the Sheriff, No Woman No Cry, Red Red Wine

Alanis Morissette: Ironic, Uninvited, Your Learn, Thank U

Jim Morrison of the Doors: Riders on the Storm, Gloria, People are Strange, Light My Fire

Van Morrison: Tupelo Honey, Moondance

Harry Nilsson: his Without You is the perfect voice matched with the perfect song (Paul McCartney called it the best rock song ever)

Sinead O'Connor: especially for Nothing Compares 2 U, perhaps the most touching song of love and loss of all time

Katy Perry: I Kissed a Girl, Firework, E.T. (Alien), Part of Me, The One that Got Away, Wide Awake

Patti Smith: Because the Night, Gloria

Bruce Springsteen: the male Janis Joplin with Born to Run, Thunder Road, Jungleland and many others [RS#77]

Harry Styles

Taylor Swift

Geoff Tate

Lucy Thomas

Shania Twain

Carrie Underwood

Hayley Williams of Paramore has arguably the most powerful voice in modern mainstream rock

Jackie Wilson: Lonely Teardrops, Higher and Higher

Others Coming Soon

Chuck Berry, Michael Buble, Lou Christie, Bruce Dickinson, George Harrison, Bobby Hatfield, Jimi Hendrix, Jerry Lee Lewis, Bob Marley, Shakira, Jimmy Scott, Ringo Starr, Sly Stone, Taylor Swift, Steven Tyler, Usher, Luther Vandross, Muddy Waters, Roger Waters

Related Page: The Best Singers of All Time, The Best Singer-Songwriters

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