This week, I explore and rank the 25 best falsetto singers of all time.  Then, for good measure, I add a list of ten honorable mentions because, well, one list is never enough at djrobblog.  Both lists span several genres and includes a few surprises.  I’ve also included some special video clips of classic falsetto performances, which you can see here on djrobblog. defines the term “falsetto” as: 1) an unnaturally or artificially high-pitched voice or register, especially in a man, and 2) a person, especially a man, who sings with such a voice.

Wikipedia offers a more technical explanation, stating that falsetto, the Italian diminutive of falso or “false,” is “the vocal register occupying the frequency range just above the modal voice register and overlapping with it by approximately one octave.”  It goes on to explain how falsetto is produced by the vocal chords (by both men and women) and is one of four main vocal registers cited in speech pathology.  Who knew that there was such a scientific definition?

No, these are not lips or any other part of the body. It’s a picture of vocal chords, which are used differently when someone is singing in falsetto voice, instead of the more natural modal range.

I read this with keen interest, particularly the Wikipedia entry, which even included a .gif file depicting the movement of the vocal chords as they produce a falsetto sound.  The article offers that falsetto singing can sound “breathy” or “hooty” – at least per one description – particularly if the artist isn’t a strong falsetto singer capable of producing the sound with more “ring” to it.  Now those were terms I could understand much easier.

So you may be asking, why was I even looking up the term, “falsetto”?  What got me so interested in a vocal style that, as a kid, I once thought “sounded like a girl,” especially when hearing male singers like Russell Thompkins, Jr. of the Stylistics?  (For years as a child, I actually thought “Betcha By Golly Wow” was sung by a woman.)

Well, to answer your question, look no further than this week’s top 40 pop songs.  You’ll find a full dozen hits where the singers (all male) use varying degrees of falsetto to get their messages across.  That number increases to a baker’s dozen if you include Selena Gomez’ single “Good For You,” where the female singer walks a fine vocal line between falsetto and her own breathy tenor.

But to consider Gomez a falsetto would be going against the conventional wisdom that falsetto singing has been, for the most part, a man’s thing, which is ironic considering men have used it to hit high-pitched notes that are more naturally becoming of their female counterparts.  I’m going to go on a limb here and guess that when women go above their own natural ranges to produce the sound that Wikipedia referred to as “hooty” (recall the second verse on Janet Jackson’s #1 single “Love Will Never Do,” for example), there’s a different term that musicologists use to describe it.  (But guess what fellas, it probably really is falsetto when the ladies do it.)

For the purpose of this article, however, I’m going to follow the conventional, but controversial wisdom and leave Gomez out of further falsetto discussion.  Not just because of the fine line that her vocals straddle between high tenor and falsetto, but because, even with all the Internet’s claims that women can and do use this vocal technique, my web search did not produce one legitimate example of a female falsetto singer.

So with that bit of gender discrimination out of the way, this week’s list of male sopranos includes songs ranging from minimal falsetto where the singer offers a simple “wooo!” or “oooh-hoo,” (e.g., “Uptown Funk” or “Shut Up and Dance”), to those that include more prominent uses of falsetto throughout, like newcomer Charlie Puth’s recent #1 hit “See You Again” or Maroon5’s former runner-up single “Sugar,” featuring leader Adam Levine doing his best high-register singing yet.

Petersburg, Va. native Trey Songz has been riding the top 40 of the Billboard Hot 100 for nearly four months with his falsetto-sung hit, “Slow Motion.”

Perhaps the best uses of falsetto in this week’s top 40 belong to pop/R&B crooners The Weeknd, Jason Derulo and Trey Songz.  This trio of hit makers alternates effortlessly between their more natural tenors and that “octave above modal” vocal range that brings home their respective hits.  Rising star The Weeknd has three such tunes on the chart, including one of the biggest hits of 2015, “Earned It.”  Derulo and Songz do it with their long-running top-40 singles, “Want To Want Me” and “Slow Motion,” respectively.

Now, I don’t know if there is a published statistic that tracks the weeks with the highest number of falsetto songs in the top 40, but if such stats were being kept, I’m sure the week of August 15, 2015, would give any other chart week a run for its money, maybe with the exception of that 1970s era when singers like Al Green, Barry Gibb (of the Bee Gees) and Phillip Bailey (of Earth Wind & Fire) dominated the charts.

From left, El DeBarge, Abel Tesfaye (a/k/a The Weekend) and the Bee Gees (Robin, Barry and Maurice Gibb)…all noted falsetto singers (well, except Maurice).

Which (finally) brings me to the premise of this article.  The predominant use of falsetto in this week’s hits had me wondering which artists over time were the best at producing that “false voice” and making it sound so real?  By now you know me well enough to know that I couldn’t pass up this opportunity to come up with yet another “djroblist”…one that ranks the best falsetto singers of all time – in countdown fashion from 25 to 1.  After the list of top 25 falsetto singers, I have ten “honorable mentions” – i.e., guys who didn’t make the cut, either because the competition was too stiff, or because they simply didn’t provide enough of a falsetto sample size, but did just enough to make them noteworthy.

Also, only one of the current occupants of this week’s Billboard top 40 are on the djroblist of top falsetto singers.  Which one is it?  You’ll find out by scrolling through the countdown of the Top 25 Falsetto Singers of All Time, which begins now…


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The Best Falsetto Singers - a "Men Only" Club


Apr 17, 2016 - - 2330
25. Elton John

Best falsetto performances: “Bennie & the Jets,” “Tiny Dancer,” “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.” Elton used falsetto often, especially in his early-to-mid 1970s heyday. And although he never professed to be an R&B singer, nor even pretended to be able to hit the notes of his R&B contemporaries, his use of falsetto proved effective. The video below is of his classic “live” Soul Train performance a year after “Bennie & the Jets” was a hit. You’ll have to wait until about two-thirds through the performance to hear him unleash his falsetto on the all-too-happy group of Soul Train Dancers that surrounded him on stage.

Honorable mention:

Below are some singers who just missed the Top 25 cut.  The list includes some artists who made their living using their natural singing voices, but who took that occasional dip in the soprano pool to produce some of the best (or at least most memorable) falsetto performances of their careers.

1. Mick Jagger (of the Rolling Stones): “Emotional Rescue,” “Fool to Cry,” “Waiting On A Friend,” “Worried About You.”  Rock critics often criticize the Stones’ “Miss You,” from their 1978 Some Girls album, for being a sellout to disco.  But “Emotional Rescue” from two years later, featuring Jagger’s falsetto, was even more disco-sounding.  Check it out.

2.  Sam Smith: “Lay Me Down,” “Stay With Me,” “I’m Not The Only One.”  This up-and-comer will surely be on the top 25 list soon.

3. Del Shannon: “Runaway.”  This 1961 number one song employed one of the earliest uses of falsetto in pop music.   Check out a performance from 1964 in the video below.

4. The Dream: “Falsetto.”  The Dream had the boldness to have one of the few songs actually titled “Falsetto,” yet in the lyrics ascribe the speech pathology to what a woman would be “talking like” once he encountered her.  When he demonstrates with his own powerful falsetto on the “ooh baby” lines, it’s nothing short of convincing.  At least we know he believes women can do falsetto.  See it below.

5.  Miguel:  “All I Want Is You,” “How Many Drinks?”  I haven’t investigated it yet, but I get the impression that his latest album, Wildheart, features some bone-tingling falsetto performances.

6. Lou Christie: “Lightning Strikes.”  Another one of those songs that, as a kid, I always thought a woman sang (at least the famous falsetto chorus).

7. Brian Wilson (of the Beach Boys): “Wouldn’t It Be Nice?” “Fun, Fun, Fun,” “Don’t Worry Baby,” “California Girls.”  The more I think about it, maybe Brian belongs in the top 25.

8.  Carl Wilson (of the Beach Boys): “Good Vibrations,” “God Only Knows.”  The Beach Boys Pet Sounds album is one of the best LPs of all time.  Aside from its state-of-the-art music production by Brian, the songs by Brian and his brother, the late Carl Wilson (sung in falsetto by each of them) further show why.   Here’s a video of Carl leading “God Only Knows” from that album.

9. Remy Shand: “Take a Message.”  A very close friend introduced me to this artist, and I found Shand’s work impressive enough to include as an honorable mention in the article.

And no tribute to falsetto singers would be complete without mentioning the ultimate in falsetto performers and this camp classic…

10. Tiny Tim: “Tiptoe Through the Tulips.”  If you’re old enough to remember this ukelele playing falsetto singer (complete with a vibrato that would be the envy of any modal-voice singer), then you can truly appreciate falsetto at its most impressive.

Want more of the late Tiny Tim?  Check out this performance of “Earth Angel,” where he displays his versatility as both baritone and falsetto in the song’s verses.

In my best falsetto voice, I hope you enjoyed this tiptoe through the falsetto maze with me…and, as always, thanks for all the love and support.


By DJ Rob

96 thoughts on “The Best Falsetto Singers – A “Men Only” Club”
  1. Wayne Cooper hands down #1 Bobby Debarge #2, Phillip Bailey #3 EJ of enchantment…with Gloria and #4 would be dude from lakeside with say yes…

  2. Barry is definitely No.1 in falsetto vocals. A closer ear will tell you his falsetto technique and register is the most difficult style to emulate. Proof: majority of the aforementioned songers uses the easier technique which is the breathy, more open-air sound, whereas Barry uses the super-tight / non-airy sound wirh accompanying tremolo. The only other singer who has the same technique is Phil Bailey.
    All those who try to imitate Barry’s singing… even the tribute bands, fail miserably and most of the time.sounded goofy or comical, simply because the real technique is difiicult and I’ve proven isca special distinct talent. Anybody can attempt to try the falsetto, but that special.sound from Barry is very unique that even the tribute bands fails.
    He actually made the falsetto sound, which was in the early days stigmatized as soft (that’s why early falsetto songs were limited to ballads only), feminine, and for comedy, into something MUSCULAR and kick-ass songs that he took the art of falsetto singing & sound into a breakthrough uppermost level enough to become a worldwide sounf-phenomena.

  3. This is a list doomed to be challenged. I think youve done well for the most part. I think Sylvester shouldve been on it or at least mentioned, and for me the shrill tone, the wobbly vibrato and the grating nasal base of the Gibb Brothers voices make them, for me, the worst falsetto voices ever, their hits most of which I DO like, notwithstanding. Great songwriters, terrible singers. Just my two cents.

  4. None of these folks are # 1 falsetto singer’s in my opinion. Very talented her good singer’s but not the best. Where’s Donnie Elbert? Where’s Eddie Holman? Where’s the lead singers from the Stylistic, The Temprees, Blue Magic, and Chi Lites…Heat Wave? Let’s get real…. None of these cats though good can go head up with any of these guys named in head up Falsetto face off.

  5. Uh..Morten Harket Singer from A-ha? Remember Take on me?? should hear him live…He has a number of songs that shows a lot of vocal prowess when he is on the money!

    1. Thank you for your comment! I was just going to post how could you not include Morten Harket of aha. Have you not heard the song Living a boy’s Adventure Tale? He has an amazing voice. 5 octaves. Incredible falsetto. He sounds the same live as he does on his records which is a testament to his true voice.

        1. It’s true. If you listen to the music of a-ha you will realise just how great he is. I adore Barry Gibb without a doubt but Marten Harket should be high up on this list without a doubt.

  6. I think Brian McKnight has a very good falsetto too. Case in point; Whenever you call (with Mariah Carey)

  7. I think the greatest falsetto of all time was Larry Henley (bread and butter). He went on to cowrite Wind Beneath My Wings.

    1. Interesting entry. He had a great singular performance on that one, but I considered those who had larger bodies of work. Thanks for the tidbit on “Wind.”

  8. Good list, for me Barry Gibb would be number 1. Dude has a sick falsettos and still sounds great in his 70s.

  9. Sorry…but quite disappointed you didn’t include Brian McKnight on the list. He has an amazing range to begin with…but he’s particularly admired for his strong falsetto. If not already familiar, check out “Back at One”…a very popular hit, and a personal favorite – the note he belts out @3:26 (approx)…wow.

    I agree with others…Frankie Valli, Philip Bailey and Barry Gibb…come ON! Yes, yes, yes, Yes, YES…to all three!

    Other noteworthy “exclusions”… Matt Bellamy (MUSE) – particularly “Supermassive Black Hole”…and Charles Pettigrew of Charles & Eddie (“Would I Lie To You”)…a lovely, lovely voice.

    I also agree that a true master of falsetto is if he can (successfully) perform live…no “magic studio stuff.”

    I do believe those mentioned above apply. 😀

      1. Scheesh…I’m thinking Top 152 (just kidding…well, not really ;P)…Oh…and I tremendously apologize…how could I forget to include the amazing Sam Smith…? Musta been watching TV…knitting…or something…

  10. Not trying to be rude but this is all wrong. Bobby Debarge and El in my opinion should be #1 and 2 and some of these shouldn’t be on hear at all. I clearly don’t understand how some of these people even made the list.

    1. I’m not aware of how much he contributed to their success. I remember when he passed in the mid-70s, but not familiar with his vocal solos.

    2. Howard Hewett was the best to ease into the falsetto seemingly without any effort. One of the best, if not the best.

      1. The late Phil Perry (especially on “Can I”) had one of the best falsetto voices ever. His almost seemed natural vs. the “false” voice that others use to achieve it.

        1. Phil Perry isn’t dead. Eddie Kendricks, the 1st tenor of the Temptations recorded the song , Can I ( Google the live version on Soul Train ). Eddie has passed. Phil was formally the lead singer of the Montclairs before going solo and singing with Quincy Jones and George Duke before recording a number 1 hit, Call Me. Phil still is performing although he has to be at least 71 years old.

          1. You’re absolutely right. For some reason when I wrote that, I was thinking David Peaston, who covered “Can I” in 1989. I have Eddie Kendrick’s version (and I’ve seen the Soul Train clip you’re referring to). Thanks for the correction, duly noted!

  11. And I forget to mention Little Anthony and Steve Perry. They definitely belong at the top. Steve Perry is one of the greatest vocalists that has ever lived.

  12. Why is Russell Thompkins Jr. not #1? He is in my opinion the greatest of everyone on your list. (I can sing just like him btw, but of course no one knows who I am) And where is Eddie Holman?(Lonely girl, and If I don’t have you) and William Hart fromThe Delfonics? (Hey! Love, Didn’t I blow your mind this time, and La la la means I love you)

  13. What about the falsetto on some of Jan and Dean’s songs, especially Drag City and Surf City. Dean did some falsetto but I believe it was someone else on most of the records.

    1. Serial, they’re just one of several artists who didn’t make the cut but have falsetto somewhere in their repertoire of hits. Thanks for the comment.

    2. It was Brian Wilson. Brian and Jan and Dean often sang on the others’ recordings even though the label–Capital Records–frowned on it.

    1. Good suggestion. And for those who don’t know, he was the lead singer and principle member of the Delfonics (“La La Means I Love You” and “Didn’t I Blow Your Mind”). He deserves honorable mention at the least. Thanks!

      1. I know this is an old post but I just stumbled upon your list of best falsetto singers. It was an interesting list. I see someone asked about William Hart so… What about Eban Brown that took over for Russel Thompkins of the Stylistics, he was seamless and flawless as he did so? Not even an honorable mention.? Not many could step in like that and then carry the group for 18 years!

          1. Nice list but you gotta find a way to add Johnnie Wilder Jr. of Heatwave, William Hart of the Delfonics and Emanuel “EJ” Johnson of Enchantment.

            Glenn Leonard of the Temptations was also a hidden gem that song on the classic “Silent Night”.

  14. Maurice Gibb provided the falsetto on “nights on broadway”. Very fine work indeed on Maurice’s part. Why would you disparage him?
    Check out Bee Gees, “Nights On Broadway,” midnight special video. Maurice provides the highest octave on the song.

    1. You’re right, Maurice did the “Blamin’ it all” background parts in falsetto, as well as some falsetto harmonizing. But big brother Barry took it home at the end with those primal falsetto screams as the song fades. It was this single that introduced the public to Barry’s falsetto,…and the rest, as the say, is history.

    1. I’m not sure where he is right now. But he’s not on this list because he’s not known for having an exceptional falsetto voice. His tenor is wide-ranging, and he dabbles in falsetto, but it doesn’t regularly (at least that I’m aware of) go into high falsetto register. There’s a fine line. Muse is great though!

  15. I’d suggest Tim Buckley’s ‘Gypsy Woman’ from “Live at the Troubadour 1969”. Definitely deserves consideration for this list.

  16. I agree with Darryl Outing that live performance is what tells the truth of a singer’s abilities. I’m also a believer that even the greatest singers have days where they are just “off”. Queen Aretha is a great example, by the way. However, experiencing Trey, as well Chris Brown (hey, couldn’t Breezy get an honorable mention though?! Especially for “Fine China” & “New Flame”) I digress lol…but really Trey was on point vocally when they were here in DC back in February. Just my 2 cents…

  17. Great list but I have a problem with Trey Songz, Justin Timberlake and Robin Thicke. While these guys sound great on CD I’ve heard them sing live which is how I judge if they truly have vocals we can call above average and can be considered gifted. I call them studio vocals, because live they were pitchy and couldn’t hold notes with crystal clarity. Here’s the real kicker, a gifted falsetto can transition in and out of falsetto to regular vocal seamlessly. They sing the notes with crystal clarity. Live performance is really big for me, because the studio can make anybody sound good.

    1. Big Cuz, thanks for the comments. I agree with the premise that a singer’s real abilities are best judged with live performances. Unfortunately, the only one of these performers that I’ve actually seen live in concert is Philip Bailey (three times), and yes he hit the same high notes 30 years after his EWF heyday. I’ve seen some of the others sing on TV, but not in concert. I’m also a believer that singers can have “bad days” too when it comes to singing live. For example, I wouldn’t judge Aretha’s abilities by any of her recent live performances (that I’ve seen on TV). However, in a more relaxed studio environment, she may still be able to belt out a tune or two much closer to her standards.

  18. Your work is always great, but this is one of your GREATEST! I agree with most of the list, but I am partial to Trey, Ron Isley, & El…they all should be higher on the list! I would put Trey in the teens at least, Ron around 5 or 6, & El is an easy #2 or 3. Robin Thicke is way too high for me…I like some of his music, but his falsetto wearies me lol! What about John Legend as an honorable mention? “Tonight (best you ever had)” & “All of Me”…I know he’s not a huge falsetto singer, but how he glides into his falsetto on the word “all” makes the song. What ya think?

    1. John Legend’s baritone irritates me, so I never even gave his falsetto a second thought. Too many greats on the list to add him. As for the others, I’m beginning to think El might be too low, but there’s only so much room at the top with all these legends up there. Moving up those people you mentioned would mean moving people like Russell Thompkins, Jr. down…and that would be blasphemy! Lol. Thanks for the compliments Cameo!

      1. Too funny…poor lil John Legend ain’t stand a chance with you lol! Glad El is getting so much positive feedback. Not too many can do what he STILL does after over 25 years of smoking crack, etc. – unheard of! I feel you concerning Russell Thompkins, Jr though. Awesome list!

  19. I agree with #1 of course! Robin Thick is way too high. price should be #3 (remember “International Lover”?).

    1. LOL…Yeah, I definitely remember “International Lover.” That was the shiznit back in our PHS days. I also just discovered that Prince’s NPG folks removed his video from YouTube, which means we can’t see it. Interestingly enough, it was the only Prince video I could still find yesterday when I was researching this, meaning the increase in views from the blog may have prompted its removal. I’m tempted to move him down the list now (just kidding).

  20. Impressive list! I probably would put El DeBarge and his brother Bobby higher on the list. I was very enlightened at how many artists fit the bill for this category. Keep up the good work.

    1. I moved El up with each edit of the list. You’re right, he’s clearly one of the best falsetto singers ever – in terms of the pure quality and range of his vocals.

  21. Another good read. I agree with most of your choices but maybe not in the same order. I’m sensing a little Earth, Wind and Fire bias. Lol!

      1. Wayne Cooper “Why have I lost You”, Cameo 1978 and 1980 version best falsetto and Philip Bailey 2nd, El And Bobby Debarge 3 and 4

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