This is really my top 20 human singers, and to be equitable I'm splitting it between men and women. Another reason for splitting it is men alone, or women alone, just wouldn't warrant a whole post.
People feel strongly about their favorite singers, so even though this isn't the most original idea, I'm hoping for a bit of participation on a Friday night.
The order is somewhat whim. If they made the list I love them to pieces.
Men (As a friend of feminists I shun "ladies first"):
1) Ray Charles - I've heard it said that if Ray covered a song, that automatically made that the definitive version. I couldn't agree more.
2) Bobbie McFerrin - Maybe known to wider audiences for his "Don't Worry Be Happy" this fabulous jazz singer and son of classical musicians does a "Wizard of Oz" medely that will knock your feet off. Try also his "Sunshine of Your Love."
3) Tim O'Brien - Sang with the bluegrass band Hot Rize. My love of his music comes from their alter ego band Red Knuckles and the Trail Blazers. "One Woman Man" alone gets him my #3 spot.
4) Freddie Mercury - Even though Queen's studio work was highly produced and they couldn't reproduce it live, the man could sing, my oh wow could the man sing.
5) Glenn Shorrock - Listen to "Cool Breeze" my Little River Band. So what if you've heard it gzillion times? Just for a moment pretend it was new. "Statue of Liberty" is pretty good too.
6) Rod Stewart - Pop burnout work aside, he has this earthy grit and sting in songs like "Shapes of Things", and the songs he did with Jeff Beck on the Truth album, including "I'm Losing You."
7) Jack Teagarden - Most frequently encountered as a sidekick of Louis Armstrong, he plays a mean and clean trombone. But when he sings he brings in the full spirit and wit of Texas verbal tradition. All the cigar chomping flavor, without anything unpleasant. He's pure joy. I recommend "I'm an Old Cowhand", and his duet with Louis on "Rocking Chair."
8) Ray Benson - A baritone with wit. Front-man for Asleep at the Wheel. Examples I'd hold up are "Red Stick" and "Miles and Miles of Texas".
9) John Hartford - If effortless counts for anything, John makes the list. When he was dying, he held court. People came from everywhere. First he jammed with them, then he sang along, then he listened and smiled, and people played for him all the way out. Man oh man what a way to go. I'd suggest listening to the whole "Areoplain" record (if you can find anyone who will part with it).
10) Dean Martin - Again, effortless. "That's Amore" sums it up.
1) Joan Armatrading - Songwriter, guitar whiz and singer. I have many favorites but off the top of my head, "Me, Myself, I", "Friends" and "Opportunity."
2) Janis Joplin!
3) Billie Holiday - What is it about her singing that blows me away? I can't put my finger on it, and yet I *had* to make "Easy Livin'" the song I played for Janie during our wedding. I guess I have a weakness for dysfunctional love songs, but it goes beyond that.
4) Ella Fitzgerald - For sheer technical merit.
5) Alanis Morissette - I like that she was already successful and threw it all away to become an even better singer. I like the orneryness.
6) Grace Slick - Women were expected to sing sweetly, and she barked it out. What a commanding voice.
7) Chris O'Connell - The female voice of Asleep at the Wheel. Crisp. Clear. Real twang; not fake. Listen to her version of "Kind of Love I Can't Forget".
8) Barbara Steisand - Again, technical merit has to count for something.
9) Dolly Parton - What(?) you say? I'm not making any apologies. This is part technical merit, and part points for singing in her natural voice.
10) Julie Andrews - When Ben Kingsley was working on a movie with her, someone wanted to talk with him and he said something like, "Excuse me; I'm falling in love here."