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The lead vocalist in
popular music Popular music is music with wide appeal that is typically distributed to large audiences through the music industry. These forms and styles can be enjoyed and performed by people with little or no musical training.Popular Music. (2015). ''Funk & ...
is typically the member of a group or band whose voice is the most prominent
melody A melody (from Greek language, Greek μελῳδία, ''melōidía'', "singing, chanting"), also tune, voice or line, is a Linearity#Music, linear succession of musical tones that the listener perceives as a single entity. In its most literal ...

melody
in a performance where multiple voices may be heard. The lead singer sets their voice against the
accompaniment Accompaniment is the which provides the ic and/or support for the or main themes of a or instrumental piece. There are many different styles and types of accompaniment in different genres and styles of music. In , the main accompaniment a ...
parts of the ensemble as the dominant sound. In
vocal groupA vocal group in the music industry The music industry consists of the individuals and organizations that earn money by Musical composition, writing songs and musical compositions, creating and selling Sound recording and reproduction, recorded ...
performances, notably in
soul In many religious, philosophical, and myth Myth is a folklore genre consisting of narratives that play a fundamental role in a society, such as foundational tales or origin myths. The main characters in myths are usually non-humans, such as ...

soul
and
gospel music Gospel music is a genre of Christian music Christian music is music Music is the art of arranging sounds in time to produce a composition through the elements of melody, harmony, rhythm, and timbre. It is one of the universal cult ...
, and early
rock and roll Rock and roll (often written as rock & roll, rock 'n' roll, or rock 'n roll) is a genre of popular music Popular music is music with wide appeal that is typically distributed to large audiences through the music industry. These forms and sty ...
, the lead singer takes the main vocal melody, with a
chorus Chorus may refer to: Music * Chorus (song) or refrain, line or lines that are repeated in music or in verse * Chorus effect, the perception of similar sounds from multiple sources as a single, richer sound * Chorus form, song in which all verses ...

chorus
or harmony vocals provided by other band members as backing vocalists. Lead vocalists typically incorporate some movement or gestures into their performance, and some may participate in dance routines during the show, particularly in pop music. Some lead vocalists also play an instrument during the show, either in an accompaniment role (such as strumming a guitar part), or playing a lead instrument/instrumental solo role when they are not singing (as in the case of lead singer-guitar virtuoso
Jimi Hendrix James Marshall "Jimi" Hendrix (born Johnny Allen Hendrix; November 27, 1942September 18, 1970) was an American musician, singer, and songwriter. Although his mainstream career spanned only four years, he is widely regarded as one of the most ...

Jimi Hendrix
). The lead singer also typically guides the vocal ensemble and band with visual cues to indicate changes of tempo or dynamics, stops or pauses, and the starts of new sections (unless there is also a conductor onstage, as with a
big band A big band is a type of musical ensemble A musical ensemble, also known as a music group or musical group, is a group of people who perform Instrumental music, instrumental or vocal music, with the ensemble typically known by a distinct na ...

big band
or unless an instrumentalist bandleader is providing this role). The lead vocalist also typically speaks to the audience between songs, to give information about the songs (such as who wrote them or why it was chosen), introduce the band members, and develop a rapport with the audience. The lead vocalist may also play a leadership role in rehearsals, unless there is a bandleader who takes on this role. If the lead singer is a singer-songwriter, she or he may write some or all of the lyrics or create entire songs (including chords and melodies). Examples of a lead vocalist in rock music are
Freddie Mercury Freddie Mercury (born Farrokh Bulsara; 5 September 1946 – 24 November 1991) was a British singer, songwriter, record producer and lead vocalist of the rock Rock most often refers to: * Rock (geology) A rock is any naturally o ...
from
Queen Queen may refer to: Monarchy * Queen regnant, a female monarch of a Kingdom ** List of queens regnant * Queen consort, the wife of a reigning king * Queen dowager, the widow of a king * Queen mother, a queen dowager who is the mother of a reigni ...
and
Mick Jagger Sir Michael Philip Jagger (born 26 July 1943) is an English singer, songwriter, actor, and film producer who has achieved international fame as the lead vocalist and one of the founder members of the Rolling Stones. His Jagger–Richards, son ...
from the
Rolling Stones The Rolling Stones are an English rock Rock most often refers to: * Rock (geology) A rock is any naturally occurring solid mass or aggregate of minerals or mineraloid matter. It is categorized by the minerals included, its Chemical ...
. Similarly in soul music,
Smokey Robinson William "Smokey" Robinson Jr. (born February 19, 1940) is an American singer, songwriter, record producer, and former record executive. Robinson was the founder and front man of the Motown vocal group the Miracles, for which he was also chief s ...

Smokey Robinson
was the lead singer of
The Miracles The Miracles (also known as Smokey Robinson and the Miracles from 1965 to 1972) were an American rhythm and blues Rhythm and blues, often abbreviated as R&B, is a genre of popular music that originated in African-American communities in th ...
. There may be two or more lead vocalists in a band who rotate singing lead between songs or within songs, such as with
The Beatles The Beatles were an English Rock music, rock band formed in Liverpool in 1960, whose best-known line-up comprised John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr. They are regarded as the Cultural impact of the Beatles, most inf ...

The Beatles
or
Fleetwood Mac Fleetwood Mac are a British Rock music, rock band, formed in London in 1967. Fleetwood Mac were founded by guitarist Peter Green (musician), Peter Green, drummer Mick Fleetwood and guitarist Jeremy Spencer, before bassist John McVie joined the ...
, or two or more vocalists may share lead vocals on the same lines, as was often the case with
ABBA ABBA ( , ) are a Swedish pop group formed in Stockholm Stockholm is the Capital city, capital of Sweden. It has the most populous urban area in Sweden as well as in Scandinavia. 1 million people live in the Stockholm Municipality, mun ...

ABBA
.


Terminology

The lead vocalist may also be called the main vocalist, lead vocals, or lead singer. Especially in rock music, the lead singer or solo singer is often the front man or front woman, who may also play one or more instruments and is often seen as the leader or spokesman of the band by the public.


History

It is uncertain when the term "lead vocals" was first used, but it may have emerged in the late 1930s, when rich vocal interplay with multiple voices where one or more voices may dominate began to impact on North American popular music, which was previously dominated by solo vocals. The practice of using a lead singer in vocal groups, however, has a longer history: an early form is the "
call and response Call and response is a form of interaction between a speaker and an audience in which the speaker's statements ("calls") are punctuated by responses from the listeners. This form is also used in music, where it falls under the general category of A ...
" found in
work song A work song is a piece of music closely connected to a form of work, either sung while conducting a task (usually to coordinate timing) or a song linked to a task which might be a connected narrative, description, or protest song. Definitions and c ...
s and
spirituals Spirituals (also known as Negro spirituals, Spiritual music, or African-American spirituals) is a genre of Christian music Christian music is music Music is the art of arranging sounds in time to produce a composition through the el ...
sung by African-American slaves. Songs of the late nineteenth century frequently used a leading solo voice (or "call"), followed by a choral response by other singers. As the style developed through early commercial recordings and performances in the early 20th century, the role of the lead vocalist became more established, although popular groups of the 1930s and 1940s such as
the Ink Spots The Ink Spots were an American vocal jazz group who gained international fame in the 1930s and 1940s. Their unique musical style presaged the rhythm and blues Rhythm and blues, often abbreviated as R&B, is a genre of popular music that orig ...
and
the Mills Brothers The Mills Brothers, sometimes billed the Four Mills Brothers, and originally known as the Four Kings of Harmony, were an American jazz and Traditional pop music, traditional pop vocal quartet who made more than 2,000 recordings that sold more tha ...
generally used different lead singers on different songs rather than keeping the same lead singer throughout. By the 1950s, singers such as
Sam Cooke Samuel Cook (January 22, 1931 – December 11, 1964), known professionally as Sam Cooke, was an American singer, songwriter, and entrepreneur. Considered to be a pioneer and one of the most influential soul music, soul artists of all time, C ...

Sam Cooke
(with
the Soul Stirrers The Soul Stirrers were an American gospel music Gospel music is a genre of Christian music. The creation, performance, significance, and even the definition of gospel music varies according to culture and social context. Gospel music is comp ...
) and
Clyde McPhatter Clyde Lensley McPhatter (November 15, 1932 – June 13, 1972) was an American rhythm and blues Rhythm and blues, often abbreviated as R&B, is a genre of popular music that originated in African-American communities in the 1940s. The term wa ...

Clyde McPhatter
(with
the Drifters The Drifters are several American doo-wop Doo-wop (also spelled doowop and doo wop) is a genre of rhythm and blues Rhythm and blues, often abbreviated as R&B, is a genre of popular music that originated in African-American communities i ...

the Drifters
) took on more clearly defined roles as lead singers, and by the end of the decade credited group names often changed to reflect the leading roles of the main vocalists, with examples such as
Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers The Teenagers are an American doo wop Doo-wop (also spelled doowop and doo wop) is a genre of rhythm and blues music that originated among African-American youth in the 1940s, mainly in the large cities of the United States, including New Y ...
and Dion & the Belmonts.David Horn, '"Lead Singer", in ''Continuum Encyclopedia of Popular Music of the World: Volume II: Performance and Production'', A&C Black, 2003, pp.103–104
/ref> Academic David Horn has written:
The influence of US rhythm and blues recordings may well be a crucial one in the assimilation of the format of lead singer plus backing group into the guitar-based British 'beat music, beat' groups of the 1960s, and in US groups such as The Beach Boys. From these various points – including Motown – it went on to become a standard device in much rock and pop music. In some bands – most famously,
The Beatles The Beatles were an English Rock music, rock band formed in Liverpool in 1960, whose best-known line-up comprised John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr. They are regarded as the Cultural impact of the Beatles, most inf ...

The Beatles
– the role of lead singer alternated (in this case, principally between two performers), while in others – for example, Herman's Hermits – one lead singer dominated.


Characteristics and exceptions in rock and pop music

There are as many types and styles of lead singer as there are styles and genres of music. However, the lead singer of a group or band is usually the main focus of audiences' attention."Role of the Lead Vocalist", ''Vocalist.org.uk''
Accessed 2 May 2015
The lead vocalist of band is sometimes called the "front man" or "front woman", as the most visible performer in a group. While most bands have a single lead singer, many others have dual lead singers or other members of the band that sing lead on particular songs. The lead singer often defines the group's image and personality to the general public. In modern rock music, the lead singer is often the band's leader and spokesperson. While lead singers or spokespersons for any musical ensembles can be called a front man, the term is used very widely in rock music. Since the position commonly has an expanded role from simple lead vocalists, there have been cases in which the front man for a band is someone other than the lead vocalist. For example, while the lead vocalist for the band Fall Out Boy is guitarist Patrick Stump, the bassist and lyricist, Pete Wentz, is generally called the front man, both in the media and by the band members themselves, since he represents the band in most interviews and contributes most to the band's image in the popular media. Another example is Angus Young of AC/DC, who is the band's lead guitarist, and co-leader with his brother Malcolm Young (until the latter's death in 2017); while lead singer Brian Johnson (and before him Bon Scott) is the band's front man, Angus Young can be thought to share the front man position with Johnson, due to his on-stage antics and his role as the band's mascot, frequently featuring on album covers and promotional materials. In many bands, such as The Who, Led Zeppelin, Living Colour,
Queen Queen may refer to: Monarchy * Queen regnant, a female monarch of a Kingdom ** List of queens regnant * Queen consort, the wife of a reigning king * Queen dowager, the widow of a king * Queen mother, a queen dowager who is the mother of a reigni ...
, The Stone Roses and Oasis (band), Oasis, the lead guitarist may share spokesman responsibilities with the lead singer. Usually, this is derived from that guitarist's specific role as a co-songwriter, co-founder and/or co-vocalist. Also in some cases, there are two frontmen, such as Alice in Chains, with singer Layne Staley (and later William DuVall) sharing vocal duties with guitarist Jerry Cantrell, or Underoath, with singers Spencer Chamberlain and Aaron Gillespie (drummer) sharing vocal duties. Another example is Blink-182, in which vocal duties are split between bassist Mark Hoppus and guitarist Tom DeLonge. Hoppus usually carries out most media either by himself or together with DeLonge, while the band's other member, drummer Travis Barker, usually remains quiet. Linkin Park had two vocalists as well, with Chester Bennington handling most singing and Mike Shinoda focused more on rapping lines; both were considered frontmen. Another example is the thrash metal band Metallica, in which James Hetfield (lead singer and rhythm guitarist) and Lars Ulrich (drummer) share the spokesperson duties for being both founders and the only members who have never left the band. Some lead vocalists started out as backup vocalists. No Doubt at first had John Spence on lead vocals and Gwen Stefani on backing vocals. After Spence died by suicide, Stefani took over on lead vocals.


See also

* List of lead vocalists


References

{{reflist Occupations in music Singing Musical terminology de:Band (Musik)#Frontleute