The Best Female Broadway Singers of All Time

Broadway has always been a magical place where stories come alive through music and performance. Over the years, many talented women have graced the stages of Broadway, captivating audiences with their powerful voices and unforgettable performances. These women have not only entertained millions but have also left a lasting mark on the world of musical theater.

In this article, we will celebrate some of the best female Broadway singers of all time. From the pioneering vocals of Ethel Merman to the modern melodies of Idina Menzel, join us as we explore the incredible talents and contributions of these iconic women.

Betty Buckley

Betty Buckley from the television series Eight Is Enough

Betty Buckley, often referred to as “The Voice of Broadway,” has had a remarkable career that spans several decades. She is best known for her role as Grizabella in the original Broadway production of “Cats,” where her heart-wrenching rendition of “Memory” became a defining moment in musical theater. Buckley’s contributions to Broadway also include standout performances in “Sunset Boulevard,” where she played the enigmatic Norma Desmond, and in “The Mystery of Edwin Drood,” showcasing her versatility and depth as a performer.

Notable Performances and Awards

  • “Cats” (1982): Her portrayal of Grizabella earned her a Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical, solidifying her status as a Broadway star.
  • “Sunset Boulevard” (1994): Buckley took on the demanding role of Norma Desmond in the U.S. national tour, for which she received critical acclaim for her powerful performance.
  • “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” (1985): Playing multiple roles in this production, she demonstrated her ability to captivate audiences with her dynamic acting and singing.

Impact and Legacy

Betty Buckley’s influence on Broadway extends beyond her performances. Her ability to convey deep emotion through song has set a standard for musical theater performers. Her dedication to the arts is also evident through her work as a teacher and mentor to aspiring actors and singers. Buckley’s legacy is not only in the roles she played but also in the inspiration she continues to provide for future generations of theater artists.

Ethel Merman

Ethel Merman from her performance in Call Me Madam in 1967

Ethel Merman was renowned for her powerful voice and commanding stage presence, traits that earned her the nickname “The Queen of Musical Comedy.” Her career on Broadway spanned over three decades, during which she starred in numerous hit shows that are now considered classics. Merman’s robust mezzo-soprano voice became a defining feature of the Broadway musical scene, setting a standard for musical theater performances.

Key Roles and Performances

  • “Gypsy” (1959): Ethel Merman’s role as Rose in “Gypsy” is perhaps her most iconic. Her performance of “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” is legendary, showcasing her ability to blend powerful vocals with deep emotional expression.
  • “Anything Goes” (1934): As Reno Sweeney in Cole Porter’s “Anything Goes,” Merman introduced some of Porter’s most famous songs, including “I Get a Kick Out of You” and “You’re the Top,” cementing her status as his muse and a premier interpreter of his work.
  • “Annie Get Your Gun” (1946): Her portrayal of sharpshooter Annie Oakley provided another standout moment in her career, with songs like “There’s No Business Like Show Business” becoming forever associated with her indomitable spirit.

Her Lasting Influence on Broadway Music and Performance

Ethel Merman’s style and approach to musical theater significantly influenced how performances were delivered on Broadway. Her ability to project her voice without amplification allowed her to fill theaters with her dynamic sound, a necessity in the era before body microphones became common. This powerful projection became a hallmark of Merman’s performances and influenced generations of singers who aspired to replicate her vocal strength.

Patti LuPone

Patti LuPone is a force to be reckoned with on the Broadway stage, known for her raw emotional power and unparalleled vocal strength. With a career that has spanned over four decades, LuPone has tackled some of the most challenging and iconic roles in musical theater, earning her a distinguished place among Broadway legends.

Iconic Roles and Performances

  • “Evita” (1979): LuPone’s portrayal of Eva Perón in “Evita” brought her international acclaim and a Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical. Her performance of “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” became a defining moment in her career, showcasing her ability to connect deeply with her character and audience.
  • “Gypsy” (2008): In her role as Rose in “Gypsy,” LuPone brought a gritty realism and intensity that won her another Tony Award. Her renditions of “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” and “Rose’s Turn” are considered some of the best in the show’s storied history.
  • “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” (2005): Playing Mrs. Lovett, LuPone demonstrated her versatility and comic timing, adding depth to a complex character while delivering a vocally demanding performance.

Contributions to Contemporary Musical Theater

Patti LuPone’s influence extends beyond her performances. She has been a vocal advocate for the preservation of live theater and the authentic experience of performance, famously critiquing the use of microphones and amplification in theaters. Her commitment to the craft of stage performance and her willingness to tackle complex characters have inspired a new generation of performers.

Idina Menzel

Idina Menzel has become synonymous with contemporary Broadway success, celebrated for her incredible vocal range and emotional depth. Menzel first captured the hearts of theater audiences with her breakthrough role in “Rent,” but it was her performance in “Wicked” that catapulted her into stardom.

Landmark Roles and Performances

  • “Rent” (1996): As Maureen Johnson in the original cast of “Rent,” Menzel showcased her unique voice and dynamic presence. The role earned her a Tony nomination and positioned her as a rising star in musical theater.
  • “Wicked” (2003): Menzel’s portrayal of Elphaba in “Wicked” is perhaps her most iconic role. Her performance of “Defying Gravity” became a defining anthem of empowerment, earning her the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical. This role solidified her status as a Broadway legend.
  • “If/Then” (2014): Returning to Broadway in “If/Then,” Menzel explored the complexities of life’s choices and their consequences, delivering another powerful performance that resonated deeply with audiences.

Impact on Musical Theater

Idina Menzel’s influence on Broadway extends beyond her roles. She has been pivotal in bringing contemporary musicals into the mainstream, connecting younger audiences to theater with her modern sensibility and relatable characters. Her performances are noted for their sincerity and intensity, bringing a palpable authenticity to her roles.

Continuing Legacy

Beyond Broadway, Menzel has also made significant contributions to film and music, most notably through her voice role as Elsa in Disney’s “Frozen,” where her song “Let It Go” became an international phenomenon. This crossover appeal has helped bridge the gap between Broadway and popular music, bringing theater to a broader audience.

Bernadette Peters

Bernadette Peters on Tim Conway Show (1977)

Bernadette Peters is celebrated for her expressive voice and captivating performances, which have made her one of Broadway’s most beloved leading ladies. With a career that spans several decades, Peters has become famous for her interpretations of Stephen Sondheim’s works and her ability to bring a unique charm and depth to every role she undertakes.

Signature Roles and Performances

  • “Sunday in the Park with George” (1984): As Dot in this Stephen Sondheim musical, Peters delivered a performance that was both nuanced and emotionally resonant, earning her critical acclaim and solidifying her reputation as a Sondheim interpreter.
  • “Into the Woods” (1987): Playing the role of the Witch in “Into the Woods,” Peters showcased her versatility, blending humor, pathos, and a powerful vocal performance, particularly noted in her rendition of “Last Midnight.”
  • “Annie Get Your Gun” (1999): Her portrayal of Annie Oakley brought a new vitality to the classic role, earning Peters a Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical. Her performance combined robust singing with radiant star power.

Impact and Artistry

Bernadette Peters is known for her distinctive, curly red hair and her uniquely melodic voice that effortlessly conveys emotion, whether in song or dialogue. Her performances are often praised for their emotional depth and her exceptional ability to connect with her audience. She is particularly adept at portraying complex characters, making them relatable and endearing.

Legacy in Musical Theater

Bernadette Peters’ contributions to Broadway extend beyond her performances. She is also recognized for her philanthropic efforts, particularly in animal advocacy and arts education. Her legacy is not only that of a talented performer but also of a compassionate individual who uses her fame to make a positive impact.

Liza Minnelli

American entertainer Liza Minnelli, circa 1973

Liza Minnelli, the daughter of legendary actress Judy Garland and film director Vincente Minnelli, was practically destined for stardom. Her career on Broadway began at a young age, leading quickly to her prominence both on stage and in film. Minnelli’s electric performances and vibrant personality have made her one of the most iconic figures in the entertainment industry.

Key Broadway Roles and Performances

  • “Flora the Red Menace” (1965): Liza Minnelli won a Tony Award for her performance in this musical at just 19 years old, making her one of the youngest performers ever to receive such an honor. Her portrayal of Flora showcased her dynamic vocal abilities and charismatic stage presence.
  • “The Act” (1977): Another Tony-winning performance, “The Act,” featured Minnelli in a role that was tailor-made for her talents, allowing her to display her powerful voice and dramatic flair in songs like “My Own Space.”
  • “Chicago” (1975): Minnelli stepped in as a replacement for an ailing Gwen Verdon in the role of Roxie Hart, bringing her unique energy and interpretation to the character and further solidifying her status as a Broadway luminary.

Crossover Appeal and Enduring Influence

Liza Minnelli’s influence stretches across multiple entertainment mediums, including television and film, most notably her Academy Award-winning role in “Cabaret.” Her ability to blend theatrical intensity with filmic nuance helped bridge the gap between Broadway and Hollywood, making musical theatre more accessible to a broader audience.

Legacy and Ongoing Impact

Liza Minnelli’s work has had a lasting impact on the entertainment industry. Her performances are celebrated for their vitality and emotion, and she continues to be a role model for performers worldwide. Minnelli has also been a vocal advocate for the LGBTQ+ community, using her platform to support causes and bring attention to critical issues.

Audra McDonald

Audra McDonald performs in the East Room of the White House during the National Governors Association Dinner hosted by President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, Feb. 24, 2013

Audra McDonald stands out as one of Broadway’s most decorated performers, holding a record number of Tony Awards for her acting—a testament to her unparalleled skills on the stage. Her ability to deliver both operatic and theatrical performances with equal finesse has made her a beloved figure in the theater community.

Landmark Roles and Achievements

  • “Carousel” (1994): McDonald’s portrayal of Carrie Pipperidge in “Carousel” won her the first of many Tony Awards, immediately establishing her as a major talent in the theater world.
  • “Ragtime” (1998): As Sarah in “Ragtime,” McDonald’s heartfelt performance, including the emotionally charged song “Your Daddy’s Son,” earned her another Tony Award, further cementing her status as a leading actress.
  • “Porgy and Bess” (2012): In her role as Bess in “Porgy and Bess,” McDonald showcased her ability to blend classical and musical theatre styles, winning yet another Tony Award and demonstrating her dynamic range and powerful voice.
  • “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill” (2014): Portraying jazz legend Billie Holiday, McDonald gave a tour-de-force performance that was both a critical and commercial success, earning her a record-breaking sixth Tony Award.

Advocacy and Impact

Beyond her performances, Audra McDonald is known for her activism, particularly in support of equal rights and mental health awareness. She uses her platform to advocate for underrepresented communities, making her a powerful voice both on and off the stage.

Continuing Influence and Legacy

Audra McDonald’s influence on Broadway and beyond is profound. Her commitment to diverse roles and her ability to convey deep emotional truths have opened doors for other artists of color and inspired countless performers. Her legacy is not only in the awards and accolades she has received but also in her dedication to lifting others and making the arts more inclusive.

Chita Rivera

Chita Rivera (second from right) & Paula Kelly (third from right) in Sweet Charity in 1969

Chita Rivera is a legendary figure in Broadway history, known for her incredible dancing skills, powerful singing voice, and magnetic stage presence. As one of the first Hispanic women to achieve major success on Broadway, Rivera broke barriers and paved the way for future generations of performers.

Iconic Roles and Milestone Performances

  • “West Side Story” (1957): Rivera’s portrayal of Anita in the original production of “West Side Story” was a career-defining role, showcasing her fiery talent and earning her widespread acclaim. Her performance of songs like “America” became iconic, highlighting her ability to convey complex emotions through dance and song.
  • “Chicago” (1975): In “Chicago,” Rivera originated the role of Velma Kelly, bringing a blend of sass and sophistication to the character. Her rendition of “All That Jazz” is especially memorable, embodying the spirit of the show and further establishing her as a Broadway star.
  • “Kiss of the Spider Woman” (1993): Rivera’s role as Aurora/Spider Woman exemplified her versatility and dramatic depth. This performance earned her a Tony Award, reinforcing her status as a leading talent in musical theater.

Impact and Contributions to the Arts

Chita Rivera’s impact on musical theater extends beyond her performances. As a trailblazer for Hispanic artists, she has been a vocal advocate for diversity and representation in the arts. Her success has inspired countless performers from minority backgrounds to pursue their dreams in theater and beyond.

Legacy and Ongoing Influence

Rivera’s legacy is one of resilience, versatility, and passion. She has been honored with numerous awards and accolades, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, which recognizes her contributions to American culture through the performing arts. Even beyond her active performing career, Rivera continues to influence the world of theater through her work in education and mentorship, helping to nurture the next generation of Broadway stars.


The remarkable women featured in this article have left an indelible mark on Broadway, each bringing their unique talents and passion to the stage. From Betty Buckley’s haunting melodies to Chita Rivera’s dynamic performances, these leading ladies have not only entertained audiences but have also shaped the landscape of musical theater. Their contributions go beyond their roles, as they have inspired generations of performers and changed the face of Broadway forever. As we celebrate these iconic women, we recognize their lasting impact on the arts and the powerful legacy they continue to build.