Learn About Top 10 British Singers

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The UK has one of the world’s largest and most influential music industries.

The ten singers discussed in this article have demonstrated their greatness through their vocal technique, vocal range, and overall rendition of songs in different genres.

1. Dusty Springfield (1939-1999)

Dusty Springfield in November 1966
Paige Segal is filmed as Dusty Springfield during the making of the 2014 movie The Soul of Blue Eye. (© Bob Bekian, CC BY-SA 2.0)
Springfield at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, 1968 (© Anefo, CC0)

Springfield was born Mary Isobel Catherine Bernadette O’Brien to Gerard, a tax accountant, and Catherine O’Brien. She attended St. Anne’s Convent School in Northfield.

In 1960, Springfield, her brother, and Tim Feild formed The Springfields, a folk-pop trio. Her brother took the name “Tom” and she chose “Dusty”. One of their songs, Island of Dreams, reached no. 5 in the UK.

In 1963 and 1966, Springfield performed her first solo single, I Only Want to be With You. She also hosted the first UK television appearance of various Motown (US) musicians on a British television music series called Ready Steady Go. When she released You Don’t Have to Say You Love me, it reached no. 1 in the UK and no. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100. In 1968, Son of a Preacher Man followed which became no. 9 in the UK and no. 10 in the US.

During the 1970s, Springfield lived in the US. Her records and duos with other musicians didn’t get her much attention. In 1987, she signed up with The Pet Shop Boys, a UK duo, and recorded What Have I Done to Deserve This?. It became no. 2 in the UK.

Springfield’s numerous awards include the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE).

In 1999, Springfield succumbed to cancer.

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2. John Lennon (1940-1980)

A photo of John Lennon in a press conference on September 11, 1964
John Lennon (left) and the rest of the Beatles arriving in New York City in 1964
Lennon autographing a copy of Double Fantasy for Chapman, six hours before his death.

Lennon was born to Alfred, a merchant seaman, and Julia Lennon. He attended Dovedale Primary School, Quarry Bank High School, and Liverpool College of Art.

In 1955, Lennon formed a skiffle group called the Quarrymen. In 1957, Paul McCartney joined the band. They changed the name to The Beatles.

In 1964, Lennon and the Beatles appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show (US). They became international stars. His marriage to Cynthia Powell and their son, Julian were kept a secret.

In 1967, Lennon performed All You Need Is Love, which was adopted by the anti-war movement. Divorced for over a decade, in 1969, he married Yoko Uno, an artist and had a son, Sean. John left the Beatles in 1970 and started a new band, Plastic OnoBand.

Between 1968 and 1975, Lennon and Ono produced a series of recordings, including Give Peace A Chance and Imagine.

From 1975 to 1980, Lennon took a break from the music business and became a “Nanny” for his son, Sean. In 1980, he resumed his musical profession. However, after giving a fan, David Chapman, an autograph, Chapman, murdered him in his home. Earlier in 1965, he had been made a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE). In 1987, Lennon was posthumously inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994.

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3. Freddie Mercury (1946-1991)

Freddie Mercury at Madame Tussauds in London
Mercury singing during a Queen concert in Frankfurt, Germany, 1984 (© Thomas Steffan, CC BY-SA 3.0)
Decaying Photo of Freddie Mercury outside Mercury House, Stone Town, Zanzibar, Tanzania (© Adam Jones, CC BY-SA 2.0)

Mercury was born Farrokh Bulsara to Bomi, a cashier on the High Court for the British government, and Jer. He grew up in India and attended St. Peters School, an English-style boarding school.

Mercury took piano lessons at age seven. At age twelve he started a band, The Hectics. At that point he started calling himself “Freddie”.

In 1964, Mercury’s family moved to Feltham, Middlesex where he attended Isleworth Polytechnic School. Later, he enrolled in Ealing Art School and earned a degree in graphic art and design.

Mercury joined Smile in 1969, a college band started by Brian May. Mercury encouraged the band to change its name to Queen. He wanted to be majestic and outrageous. They signed with Trident in 1972. Their albums Queen I and Queen II didn’t receive much notice beyond the UK, but in 1974, they performed Heart Attack, followed by A Night at the Opera and became international successes.

Mercury left Trident in 1975 and, in 1977, We Are the Champions and We Will Rock You were international hits. Freddie legally changed his name to Mercury.

All of the band members were writers. In 1982, Mercury performed Another One Bites the Dust, written by John Deacon. It was a huge success.

In 1988, with no operatic training, Mercury teamed up with Montserrat Caballe, a Spanish opera singer and performed at La Nit, an open-air concert in Barcelona.

Mercury died in 1991. He was posthumously inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001, Songwriters Hall of fame in 2003, and the UK Music Hall of Fame in 2004.

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4. David Bowie (1947-2016)

Bowie in Tinley Park, Illinois, during the Heathen Tour, 2002 (© Photobra|Adam Bielawski, CC BY-SA 3.0)
Bowie as the Thin White Duke at Maple Leaf Gardens, Toronto, 1976 (© Jean-Luc, CC BY-SA 2.0)
Bowie's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (© iluvrhinestones, CC BY-SA 2.0)

David Bowie was born David Robert Jones to Haywood, a promotions officer for the children’s charity, Barnardos, and Margaret, a waitress.

After attending Stockwell Infants School, the family relocated and finally settled in Sundridge Park and Bowie enrolled in Burnt Ash Junior School, where he got involved in various music activities. In 1958, Bowie entered Bromley Technical High School and studied art, music, and design.

In 1962, Bowie formed a band, The Konrads. To avoid confusion with Davy Jones, a member of the Monkees, he changed his name from Jones to Bowie, after an American pioneer. During this period, he got into a fight with George Underwood, a classmate. He was hit in the eye which caused a permanently dilated pupil, giving the appearance of having two different colored eyes. Bowie would later say that it gave him a kind of mystique.

In 1969, Bowie released Space Oddity, which reached the top five in the UK. He also married Angela Barnett and in 1971, they had a son, Duncan.

In 1972, Bowie created the character, Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders from Mars. He and the band members wore elaborate costumes.

Bowie moved to the US in 1974. His new sound, Plastic Soul, and new character, The Thin White Duke didn’t resonate well with his audience, however, his recording of Fame in 1975 was a US success.

In the 1983, Bowie released which became an immediate hit.

In 1992, after divorcing Angela, Bowie married Somali-born model, Iman. In 2000, they had a daughter, Alexandria. Bowie received many awards and honors, including being inducted in 1996 into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In 2006, Bowie was given the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.

In 2016, Bowie recorded his last album, Blackstar. He died shortly thereafter.

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5. Elton John (1947-)

Elton John attending the premiere of The Union at the Tribeca Film Festival. (© David Shankbone, CC BY 3.0)
John at the Musikhalle Hamburg, in March 1972 (© Heinrich Klaffs, CC BY-SA 2.0)
John onstage in 1971 (© yabosid, CC BY-SA 2.0)

John was born Reginald Kenneth Dwight to Stanley, a flight lieutenant in the Royal Air Force, and Sheila.

He attended school in Pinner and Reddiford. He learned to play the piano at an early age and was given a junior scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music when he was eleven.At age fifteen, John played at a hotel four nights a week. His vision was normal, but he adopted horn-rimmed glasses to imitate Buddy Holly. He started his own band, Bluesology in the 1960s. They backed touring American soul and R & B musicians.

In 1967, he met Bernie Taupin, a lyricist. Their first song was Scarecrow. John changed his birth name, Reginald Kenneth Dwight to Elton John in homage to saxophonists Elton Dean and Long John Baldry.

In 1972, Honky Chateau became their first US no. 1 album. John legally changed his name to Elton Hercules John. Later, in 1973, they released Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only the Piano Player which was a success in the UK, US, and Australia. In 1976, John performed Don’t Go Breaking My Heart and began to wear elaborate costumes on stage.

In 1994, John performed Can You Feel the Love Tonight, a song for the Disney film, The Lion King, for which they won an Academy Award. Later, in 1997, Taupin revised the song Candle in the Wind and John performed it at the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales. In 1998, John was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II for services to music and charitable services.

John’s career has spanned over half a century and his collection of awards reflect myriad categories, including being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994.

In 2018, a three-year farewell tour was planned with 300 concerts world-wide, but it was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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6. Elaine Page (1948-)

Elaine Jill Paige OBE is an English singer and actress, best known for her work in musical theatre. (© Ben6970, CC BY-SA 4.0)
Elaine Paige at the Gala Final of the BBC Radio 2 Voice of Musical Theatre 2006. (© aunt agatha, CC BY-SA 2.0)

Paige was born Elaine Jill Bickerstaff to Eric, an estate agent, and Irene Bickerstaff, a milliner. She attended Southaw Girls’ School in Oakleigh Park.

Her parents encouraged her love of music and enrolled her in the Aida Foster Theatre School.

In 1964, Paige auditioned for the production The Roar of the Greasepaint – The Smell of the Crowd. She was rejected. She reauditioned under a different name. Looking through the pages of a book for inspiration, she decided upon Paige, adding an “i”. She won the part.

In 1968, she appeared in Hair, a rock musical about the Hippie counterculture. One of the songs, The Age of Aquarius, became an anti-Vietnam War anthem.

In 1978 Paige was asked to star in Andrew Webbers first production of Evita, the story of Eva Peron, wife of an Argentinian president. She received critical acclaim. Later, in his production of Cats, she played the role of Grizabella and had a top 10 hit with the song, Memory.

In 1985, Paige sang a duet, I Know Him So Well, with Barbara Dickson. This became one of the biggest selling records by a female duo in UK history. The song was from the musical, Chess. Later, Paige was asked to star in it. Her albums, Stages in 1983, Cinema in 1984, and the cast record from Chess in 1985 gave Paige three consecutive successful albums.

Over the decades, Paige appeared in a number of musicals, including the role of Edith Piaf, French chanteuse, in the play, Piaf, in 1993.

Paige traveled to New York in 1996 and made her Broadway debut in Sunset Boulevard, playing the role of Norma Desmond, a former silent film star.

Beginning in 2004, Paige hosted her own radio show, Elaine Paige on Sunday. It received modest praise, but millions of people tuned in each week.

Paige has received numerous awards, notably in 1995, she was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for her contributions to musical theatre.

Currently, Paige is Vice-President of the Children’s Trust, a UK charity for children with brain injury.

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7. Susan Magdalane Boyle (1961-)

Boyle in November 2009 (© Deborah Wilbanks, CC BY-SA 3.0)
Boyle performing during her first concert tour, Susan Boyle in Concert, 2013 (© Wasforgas, CC BY-SA 3.0)

Boyle was born to Patrick, a miner, and Bridget Boyle, a shorthand typist. Her early school days were stressful because of the reported bullying.

Boyle pursued her love of music and took music lessons from vocal coach, Fred O’Neil. Later, she attended the Edinburgh Acting School. In 1995, she auditioned for My Kind of People. She was rejected. She left school without graduating and took a job as a cook at West Lothian College.

In 1998, using her savings, Boyle recorded three songs for a charity CD; Cry Me A River, Killing Me Softly with His Song, and Don’t Cry for Me Argentina.

In 2009, Boyle auditioned for the third series of Britain’s Got Talent (BGT). Initially, she was intimidated because of her age (48) and what she perceived as her unattractiveness. She put aside her fear as a tribute to her mother who had died in 2007. As she expected, the panel was condescending, particularly Simon Cowell, a well-known irascible panelist. However, she smiled and sang I Dreamed a Dream, from Les Miserables. Their mouths fell open. She became an instant hit.

Later, it became her debut album, which outsold the rest of the top 5 albums on UK’s charts in its first week. The three songs, she had recorded were uploaded to the internet after her performance at BGT. Later, at a television special, she performed a duet with Elaine Paige and sang I Know Him So Well. The performance was TV Guide Network’s highest rated television special in history.

In 2010, Paige released her second album, The Gift. It became only the third album to top both the UK and US album charts twice in the same year. It was the first Christmas album to top the UK chart.

From 2010 to 2013, Paige sang at various charities, including the Prince and Princess of Wales Hospice 35th anniversary review performance.

In 2012, Paige sang From This Moment On, a duet with Placido Domingo, opera singer.

Between 2013 and 2014, Boyle was featured in several movies. At the 2014 Commonwealth Games’ opening ceremony, Boyle honored Queen Elizabeth II by singing Mull of Kintyre, a song written by Paul McCartney.

In 2019, she sang a duet with Michael Ball, from her album, A Million Dreams Ten, a compilation of several previously released songs.

Over Boyle’s eleven-year career, she has been nominated and won awards, including The World Music Award and the Japan Gold Disc Award. She is active in various charities.

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8. George Michael (1963-2016)

George Michael performing on The Summit stage in Houston (Texas, USA) during the Faith World Tour in 1988.
Michael (left) and Andrew Ridgeley as Wham!, circa 1984–1985 (© Louise Palanker, CC BY-SA 2.0)
Michael onstage in Munich, 2006 (© Insasse, CC BY-SA 3.0)

Michael was born Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou to Kyriacos, a Greek Cyriot restauranteur, and Lesley, an English dancer.

He attended Roe Green Junior School and Kingsbury High School. Later, he attended Bushey Meads School in Bushey.

Michael’s first introduction to show business was as a DJ. He played local clubs and schools around Bushey, Stanmore, and Watford.

In 1981, he teamed up with Andrew Ridgeley and formed Wham. Their first album in 1983 was Fantastic. It was no. 1 in the UK, followed by Make It Big, which became no. 1 in the US. Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go was a no. 1 hit in the UK and US. Michael left Wham in 1986. He did a single in 1987, Faith, which became a certified diamond for sales of ten million copies in the US.

Michael did numerous solo performances, including I Knew You Were Waiting, a duet with Aretha Franklin in 1988. He won a Grammy Award for best R & B performance. In 1990, Michael attempted a new approach to writing songs. He produced Listen Without Prejudice, Vol. 1. and a single, Praying for Time that spoke to social ills and injustices. Both were instant successes in the US and UK. In 1991, he sang a duet with Elton John, Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me, which became a no. 1 in the UK and US.

Michael’s career spanned over three decades. He was enormously popular and received many honors, including numerous Billboard Music and American Music Awards.

After a prolonged illness, Michael died in 2016 of heart and liver disease.

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9. Leona Lewis (1985-)

Lewis at the 2014 Mercy For Animals charity event, in Los Angeles (© Lucas Secret, CC BY 2.0)
Lewis performing at the Clive Davis Pre Grammy Gala in 2009 (© Truu, GFDL 1.2)
Leona Lewis at the Hackney Weekend Festival 23rd June 2012 (© Peggyzone100, CC BY-SA 3.0)

Lewis was born to Aural, a Youth Offending Officer, and Maria Lewis. Noticing her interest in singing, Lewis was sent to a number of schools focusing on theatre, but she finally enrolled at the BRIT School for Performing Arts and Technology in Croydon.

In 2006. Lewis entered and won the third series of The X-Factor. Her winning single was A Moment Like This. It was no. 1 for four weeks on the UK singles chart and it broke a world record for reaching 50,000 digital downloads within thirty minutes. Her prize was a million dollar contract with Syco Music.

In 2007, Lewis signed a five-album contract with J Records in the US. Her debut album, Spirit, reached platinum in the UK and was the fourth best-selling album of the 2000s and one of the best-selling albums in UK history.

In 2014, she left Syco and signed with Universal Music’s Island Records UK. She left them in 2016. In that same year, she made her Broadway debut in the musical Cats. She played the role of Grizabella.

In 2018, she teamed up with Calum Scott to sing You Are the Reason. She also had a recurring role on the American television series, The Oath.

Lewis’s fifteen-year career has earned her many awards and nominations, World Music awards. She also received the Music of Black Origin (MOBO) award. This award honored hip hop, grime, R & B, soul, reggae, jazz, gospel, and African music.

In 2021, a tour is planned with Gary Barlow and his tour All the Hits Live, incorporating fourteen dates in the UK and Ireland.

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10. Adele (1988-)

Adele performing at the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tennessee, on her Adele Live 2016 tour (© Kristopher Harris, CC BY 2.0)
Adele performing at the Adelaide Oval in Adelaide, Australia, March 2017 (© Robst56, CC BY-SA 2.0)
Adele at Wembley Stadium in June 2017. Adele's concert on 28 June was attended by 98,000 fans, a stadium record for a UK music event. (© Ian Hughes, CC BY 2.0)

Adele was born Adele Laurie Blue Adkins to Mark Evans, seaman, and Penny Adkins, a furniture maker.

Her father left home when Adele was a toddler and her mother raised her alone. They relocated several times and Adele was educated at a variety of schools. She didn’t do well in the traditional classroom, so her mother enrolled her in The BRIT School for Performing Arts and Technology in Croydon.

Adele got a lucky break in the music business when she did a three-song demo for a class project. A friend put it on Myspace and got the attention of XL Recordings. In 2006, four months after she graduated, they offered her a contract.

In 2007, Adele released her breakthrough album, Hometown Glory. In that same year, she released her debut album, Nineteen, which became a no. 1 hit. Chasing Pavements followed.

In 2008, Columbia Records scheduled a US tour, but Adele cancelled it for personal reasons. This did not endear her to the industry, but later, she appeared on Saturday Night Live and sang Chasing Pavements. The song achieved gold status in 2009. In 2011, Adele released Twenty-One and Someone Like You and became the first living artist to achieve the feat of two top five hits in the singles and albums chart since 1964.

In 2012, Adele co-wrote and recorded Skyfall, a theme for a James Bond movie of the same name.

In 2015, continuing the practice of naming albums after her age, she released Twenty-Five. It became the year’s best-selling album in the UK and the US.

Adele’s awards include the Academy Award, the Golden Globe, BRIT, Ivor Novello, and others. She is currently working on a new album. Work has been delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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11. Conclusion

Much like art is in the “eye” of the beholder, music is in the “ear” of the beholder.

Without question, record sales are paramount, but the ten singers discussed above have demonstrated how music is an important part of British culture and is an indicator of the multi-cultural nature of Britain today.