Nothing adds to the raw grit of metal and rock music like a raspy singing voice. Also described as smoky or raw, raspy vocals are one of the most distinct qualities a singer can have. So, who are some of the most popular raspy-voiced singers?
Some of the most popular singers with raspy voices include but aren’t limited to Bob Dylan, Kurt Cobain, John Jett, and Lemmy Kilmister.
Read on to learn more about the most popular and best-known male and female singers with raspy voices.
1.) Bob Dylan
What list of raspy-voiced singers is complete without the lyrical powerhouse that is Bob Dylan? With a gravelly voice that only makes his profound song lyrics more impactful, there’s no doubt that Dylan is one of the most influential songwriters of all time and a major pop culture icon with a career spanning more than six decades.
One of Dylan’s most famous songs – “Blowin’ in the Wind” (1963) – is widely considered a protest song and consists of several deep, soulful verses contemplating the nature of freedom, war, and peace.
2.) Joan Jett
With her raw, gritty alto and commanding stage presence, Joan Jett began her career at 16 as the lead singer of her first band, The Runaways. She is known for her punk rock style with glam rock and metal elements. A few of her most popular songs include “I Love Rock N’ Roll” and “Cherry Bomb.”
3.) Brian Johnson
Brian Johnson is the third lead singer in the history of the iconic Australian hard rock band AC/DC, best known for his raspy voice and signature high-pitched shrieking vocals.
Johnson replaced leader singer Bon Scott, who’d died unexpectedly in February of 1980 from acute alcohol poisoning.
Despite its tragic beginnings, recruiting Johnson was one of the best things to happen to AC/DC. Back in Black became the second-bestselling album of all time.
4.) Janis Joplin
Dying young at 27, Janis Joplin left behind a legacy and is considered one of the most outstanding contributions to psychedelic rock. She released four albums – two with her band Big Brother and the Holding Company and two during her solo career.
With gritty, soulful vocals and an amazing stage presence, Joplin remains a legend in music history.
Adele’s smoky alto vocals add depth to her music, which centers around loss, heartbreak, and nostalgia themes. Born in London, England, Adele became one of the best-selling female musical artists of the century, with her second studio album, 21 becoming the best-selling album of the 21st century.
Adele is still an iconic musical presence today, having recently released her fourth studio album, 30, in 2021.
6.) Kurt Cobain
The second artist on our list to have passed away at 27, Kurt Cobain is best known for his time as frontman for the grunge band Nirvana. His angsty vocals were the perfect addition to his song lyrics, which included anger, despair, and nihilism themes.
The raspy vocal style of Kurk Cobain contributed well to these difficult musical themes.
7.) Michael Kiske
Known for his raspy wails during his time as lead vocalist for German power metal band Helloween, Michael Kiske has enjoyed international fame as part of Helloween, Unisonic, and as a solo artist.
Kiske began his musical career at age 17 with his first band Ill Prophecy, but his first commercial success came when he joined Helloween in 1986.
8.) Alice Cooper
Arguably one of the best and most influential metal singers of all time, Alice Cooper is best known for his snarling vocals and dominating stage presence in the shock rock genre. Known as “the godfather of shock rock,” Cooper is hailed for his theatrical performances reminiscent of classic horror, and his snarling rasp makes his music even more memorable.
Alice Cooper has had several hits, including but not limited to “Billion Dollar Babies,” “Poison,” “Eighteen,” and “School’s Out.”
9.) Joe Elliott
Joe Elliott gained critical acclaim and international success as the frontman of the British heavy metal band Def Leppard. The band has sold over 100 million albums globally, solidifying them in music history as one of the greatest-selling musical artists of all time.
While Joe Elliot has helped push Def Leppard to new heights, interviews say that his biggest challenge was becoming a dad in his 50s.
10.) Steven Tyler
With a seductive stage presence and a raspy voice to match, Steven Tyler has a versatile voice that can go from energetic and powerful rock anthems to soulful power ballads. He is best known for his time as lead vocalist for the American rock band Aerosmith.
Steven Tyler is also willing to do extra work for his music. He went so hard he ruptured a blood vessel when he was 25 while singing the high note in the well-known song: “Dream On.” Thankfully, a medical procedure helped him heal from the damage.
11.) Tom Waits
An experimental singer with low, gravelly vocals, Tom Waits, is a versatile singer who has found success in several genres, including blues, vaudeville, jazz, and rock.
Waits’ musical interest blossomed during his days in elementary school when he learned to play several instruments, such as the bugle, ukulele, and guitar.
12.) Chris Cornell
The lead vocalist for both Audioslave and Soundgarden has a powerfully gritty and raw voice that lends a unique emotional quality to his music. Hits that showcase Cornell’s vocal talent include “Black Hole Sun” and “Doesn’t Remind Me.”
While Cornell passed away unexpectedly in 2017, his legacy and musical influence live on.
13.) Joakim Brodén
Lead vocalist of Swedish power metal band Sabaton, Joakim Brodén’s powerful and gritty vocals add a genuine quality to the band’s lyrics, which center around historical events in world history.
With lyrics that don’t sugarcoat tales of war and bloodshed, Brodén’s raw vocals carry a fitting emotional impact.
14.) Tina Turner
This soulful singer’s smoky vocals only add to her rich ballads about love and loss. Her distinctive sound has earned her the title as the unofficial Queen of Rock N’ Roll.
Today, after a career spanning half a century, Turner is widely considered one of the most impactful female vocalists of all time.
15.) Louis Armstrong
Few are unfamiliar with Louis Armstrong’s jazzy anthem “Wonderful World,” which best showcases the jazz trumpeter’s gravelly vocals. Armstrong’s career began in the 1920s in New Orleans, and he remains one of the world’s most influential jazz musicians.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame listed Louis Armstrong’s “West End Blues” as one of the top 500 songs that shaped rock n’ roll. This was a one-hit wonder by Louis Armstrong and his Hot Five.
16.) Axl Rose
Rose’s snarling rasp and wide vocal range have earned him an entry on our list. Axl Rose was the frontman for the metal band Guns N’ Roses during the 1980s before starting a solo career.
Rose has the unique ability to hit high notes that are nearly impossible for many male singers. According to major outlets like Rolling Stone, he is one of the world’s best male singers.
17.) Lzzy Hale
No, it isn’t a typo. Lzzy Hale’s raspy, seductive vocals are as characteristic as the spelling of her first name. Hale began her musical career in 1997 when she and her brother founded the band Halestorm.
In 2021, Lzzy Hale’s legacy was cemented as Gibson’s first female brand ambassador. She designed her own guitar (The Lzzy Hale Signature Explorer) to celebrate this collaboration.
18.) Jim Morrison
With a tragic persona that lives on even after his unexpected death in 1971, Morrison’s gritty, haunting vocals are what made the American rock band The Doors’ music so unforgettable. A lyrical legend and powerhouse of musical talent, Jim Morrison remains influential in pop culture.
19.) Lemmy Kilmister
Listen to “The Ace of Spades,” and you’ll understand why Lemmy Kilmister is on this list. The lead vocalist for the British metal band Motörhead.
Besides being the band’s lead vocalist, Kilmister was Motörhead’s bassist, founder, and main songwriter.
20.) Bonnie Tyler
This Welsh singer’s characteristic husky alto is best showcased in hits such as “Holding Out for a Hero” and “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” the latter released in 1983 and topped the charts in both the US and the UK.
Tyler grew up in a big family with five siblings, whose wide range of musical tastes helped expose Tyler to different genres of music at an early age.
21.) Stevie Nicks
With an ethereal stage presence and haunting, smoky vocals, it’s no wonder why Stevie Nicks was named by Rolling Stone as the reigning queen of rock n’ roll.
The singer for American psychedelic rock band Fleetwood Mac has won numerous awards, including eight Grammys and two American Music Awards for her work as a solo artist.
22.) Alannah Myles
This Canadian singer is best known for her soulful rock ballad “Black Velvet,” which hit number one on the US Billboard’s Hot 100 in 1990. Her smoky alto is lauded for its raw power, lending an emotional depth to her music.
This powerful feminist icon – with her rebellious image and energetic stage presence – possesses a gritty voice that lends extra layers to her lyrics, which center around female empowerment, love, and family.
Known simply by her stage name, Pink released her debut album, Can’t Take Me Home, in 2000, which was the first in a long and successful career.
24.) Whitney Houston
With over 200 million albums sold worldwide, it isn’t hard to see why Whitney Houston is one of the best-selling female artists of all time. Houston is best known for her raw, soulful vocals highlighting love and loss themes in her music.
A few of Houston’s best hits include “Heartbreak Hotel,” “Saving All my Love for You,” and “My Love is Your Love.”