lead vocals
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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 File:Walking bass.PNG, 250px, "Walking basslines", so-named because they rise and fall in a regular pattern, are a widely used style of accompaniment bassline in jazz, blues and rockabilly. Accompaniment is the part (music), musical part which ...
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 gods, demigods, o ...

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 cultu ...
, 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 ...
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 band Queen (band), Queen. Regarded as one of the greatest singers in the hist ...
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 infl ...

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 ...
.


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 music that is "purely and solely the creation" of generations of African Americans, which merged African cultural heritage with the exper ...
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 In many religious, philosophic ...

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, soul music, soul, and rock and roll singer. He was one of the most widely imitated R&B singers of the 1950s and early 1960sPalmer, Robert (1981)"Roy B ...

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 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 was originally used by record companies to describe recordings marketed predominantly to urban Afri ...
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 Beat, beats or beating may refer to: Common meanings Assigned activity or area * Patrol, an area (usually geographic) that one is responsible to monitor, including: ** Beat (police), the territory and time that a police officer patrols ** Beat ...
' groups of the 1960s, and in US groups such as
The Beach Boys The Beach Boys are an American Rock music, rock band that formed in Hawthorne, California, in 1961. The group's original lineup consisted of brothers Brian Wilson, Brian, Dennis Wilson, Dennis, and Carl Wilson, their cousin Mike Love, and frien ...

The Beach Boys
. From these various points – including
Motown Motown Records is an American record label owned by the Universal Music Group Universal Music Group B.V. (often abbreviated as UMG) is a global Music industry, music corporation that is majority owned by the French media conglomerate Viv ...
– 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 infl ...

The Beatles
– the role of lead singer alternated (in this case, principally between two performers), while in others – for example,
Herman's Hermits Herman's Hermits are an English beat rock and Pop music, pop group formed in 1964 in Manchester, originally called Herman and His Hermits and featuring lead singer Peter Noone. Produced by Mickie Most, they charted with number ones in the UK ...

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 Fall Out Boy is an American Rock music, rock band formed in Wilmette, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, in 2001. The band consists of lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist Patrick Stump, bassist Pete Wentz, lead guitarist Joe Trohman, and drummer An ...
is guitarist
Patrick Stump Patrick Martin Stumph (born April 27, 1984), known professionally as Patrick Vaughn Stump, is an American musician, singer, songwriter, record producer, actor and film composer. He is the lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist of the Rock music, ro ...
, the bassist and lyricist,
Pete Wentz Peter Lewis Kingston Wentz III (born June 5, 1979) is an American musician, singer, songwriter, A&R consultant, author, and record executive. He is best known as the bassist A bassist, or bass player, is a musician who plays a bass instru ...
, 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 Angus McKinnon Young (born 31 March 1955) is an Australian musician, best known as the co-founder, lead guitarist, and songwriter of the Australian hard rock band AC/DC. He is known for his energetic performances, schoolboy-uniform stage outfit ...
of
AC/DC AC/DC are an Australian rock music, rock band formed in Sydney in 1973 by Scottish-born brothers Malcolm Young, Malcolm and Angus Young. Their music has been variously described as hard rock, blues rock, and heavy metal music, heavy metal, but ...
, who is the band's lead guitarist, and co-leader with his brother
Malcolm Young Malcolm Mitchell Young (6 January 1953 – 18 November 2017) was an Australian musician and songwriter. He was best known as the co-founder, rhythm guitarist, backing vocalist, and songwriter of the rock band AC/DC AC/DC are an Australian ...
(until the latter's death in 2017); while lead singer
Brian Johnson Brian Francis Johnson (born 5 October 1947) is an English singer and songwriter. In 1980, after the death of Bon Scott Ronald Belford "Bon" Scott (9 July 1946 – 19 February 1980) was an Australian singer, songwriter and instrumentalis ...

Brian Johnson
(and before him
Bon Scott Ronald Belford "Bon" Scott (9 July 1946 – 19 February 1980) was an Australian singer, songwriter and instrumentalist, best known for being the lead vocalist and lyricist of the Australian hard rock Hard rock or heavy rock is a loosely ...
) 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 A mascot is any human, animal, or object thought to bring luck Luck is the phenomenon and belief that defines the experience of notably positive, negative, or improbable events. The naturalistic interpretation is that positive and negative e ...

mascot
, frequently featuring on album covers and promotional materials. In many bands, such as
The Who The Who are a British Rock music, rock band formed in London in 1964. Their classic lineup consisted of lead singer Roger Daltrey, guitarist and singer Pete Townshend, bass guitarist and singer John Entwistle, and drummer Keith Moon. They are c ...
,
Led Zeppelin Led Zeppelin were an English Rock music, rock band formed in London in 1968. The group consisted of vocalist Robert Plant, guitarist Jimmy Page, bassist/keyboardist John Paul Jones (musician), John Paul Jones, and drummer John Bonham. With a ...
,
Living Colour Living Colour is an American rock band from New York City New York City (NYC), often simply called New York, is the List of United States cities by population, most populous city in the United States. With an estimated 2019 population of ...
,
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 The Stone Roses were an English rock band formed in Manchester Manchester () is a city and metropolitan borough in Greater Manchester, England. The city has the country’s List of English districts by population, fifth-largest population ...
and
Oasis In geography Geography (from Greek: , ''geographia'', literally "earth description") is a field of science devoted to the study of the lands, features, inhabitants, and phenomena of the Earth and planets. The first person to use the ...
, 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 Alice in Chains (often abbreviated as AIC) is an American 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 inc ...

Alice in Chains
, with singer
Layne Staley Layne Thomas Staley (born Layne Rutherford Staley; August 22, 1967 – April 5, 2002) was an American musician best known as the original lead singer and co-songwriter of the rock band Alice in Chains, which rose to international fame in the earl ...

Layne Staley
(and later
William DuVall William Bradley DuVall (born September 6, 1967) is an American musician best known as the current co-lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist for the rock Rock most often refers to: * Rock (geology) A rock is any naturally occurring solid m ...
) sharing vocal duties with guitarist
Jerry Cantrell Jerry Fulton Cantrell Jr. (born March 18, 1966) is an American musician and singer-songwriter. He is best known as the founder, lead guitarist, co-lead vocalist, and main songwriter of rock band Alice in Chains. The band rose to international fam ...

Jerry Cantrell
, or
Underoath Underoath (stylized as Underøath or UnderOath) is an American rock band from Tampa, Florida Tampa () is a major city that serves as the county seat of Hillsborough County, Florida, United States. It is on the west coast of Florida on Tam ...

Underoath
, with singers
Spencer Chamberlain Spencer Chamberlain (born January 4, 1983) is an American musician, best known for being the current lead vocalist for the metalcore Metalcore (or metallic hardcore) is a :Fusion music genres, fusion music genre that combines elements of extrem ...

Spencer Chamberlain
and
Aaron Gillespie Aaron Roderick Gillespie (born July 18, 1983) is an American musician, best known for being the original drummer and clean vocalist for the metalcore Metalcore (or metallic hardcore) is a :Fusion music genres, fusion music genre that combines ...
(drummer) sharing vocal duties. Another example is
Blink-182 Blink-182 (sometimes written as Blink 182; often stylized in all lowercase as blink-182) is an American rock Rock most often refers to: * Rock (geology) A rock is any naturally occurring solid mass or aggregate of minerals or mineraloi ...
, in which vocal duties are split between bassist
Mark Hoppus Mark Allan Hoppus (born March 15, 1972) is an American musician, singer, songwriter, record producer, and former television personality best known as the bassist and co-lead vocalist of the rock band Blink-182, as well as part of pop rock duo ...
and guitarist
Tom DeLonge Thomas Matthew DeLonge () (born December 13, 1975) is an American musician, singer, songwriter, author, record producer, actor, and filmmaker. Possessing a distinctive nasal singing voice, he is the lead vocalist and guitarist of the rock band ...

Tom DeLonge
. Hoppus usually carries out most media either by himself or together with DeLonge, while the band's other member, drummer
Travis Barker Travis Landon Barker (born November 14, 1975) is an American musician, songwriter, and record producer. He serves as the drummer for the Rock music, rock band Blink-182. Barker has also performed as a frequent collaborator with hip-hop music, hip ...

Travis Barker
, usually remains quiet.
Linkin Park Linkin Park is an American rock band from Agoura Hills, California. The band's current lineup comprises vocalist/rhythm guitarist Mike Shinoda, lead guitarist Brad Delson, bassist Dave Farrell, DJ/turntablist Joe Hahn and drummer Rob Bou ...
had two vocalists as well, with
Chester Bennington Chester Charles Bennington (March 20, 1976 – July 20, 2017) was an American singer, songwriter, and occasional actor. He was best known as the lead vocalist of Linkin Park Linkin Park is an American rock band from Agoura Hills, C ...

Chester Bennington
handling most singing and
Mike Shinoda (, born February 11, 1977) is an American musician, rapper, singer, songwriter, record producer, and graphic designer. He co-founded Linkin Park in 1996 and is the band's lead vocalist, as well as rhythm guitarist, keyboardist, primary songwrit ...
focused more on rapping lines; both were considered frontmen. Another example is the
thrash metal Thrash metal (or simply thrash) is an Extreme metal, extreme subgenre of heavy metal music characterized by its overall aggression and often fast tempo.Kahn-Harris, Keith, ''Extreme Metal: Music and Culture on the Edge'', pp. 2–3, 9. Oxford: Be ...
band
Metallica Metallica is an American heavy metal Heavy metal may refer to: *Heavy metals, a loose category of relatively dense metals and metalloids **Toxic heavy metal, any heavy metal chemical element of environmental concern *Heavy metal music, a g ...

Metallica
, in which
James Hetfield James Alan Hetfield (born August 3, 1963) is an American musician and songwriter, best known as the co-founder, lead vocalist, rhythm guitarist and primary songwriter for heavy metal band Metallica. He is mainly known for his intricate rhythm ...
(lead singer and rhythm guitarist) and
Lars Ulrich Lars is a common male name in Germanic languages, Germanic-speaking countries, excluding the Anglosphere. Origin ''Lars'' is derived from the Roman name ''Laurentius (disambiguation), Laurentius'', which means "from Laurentum" or "crowned with laur ...

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 No Doubt is an American rock music, rock band from Anaheim, California, formed in 1986. The band consists of vocalist Gwen Stefani, guitarist Tom Dumont, bassist Tony Kanal, and drummer Adrian Young. Since the mid-1990s, they have been supported ...
at first had John Spence on lead vocals and
Gwen Stefani Gwen Renée Stefani (; born October 3, 1969) is an American singer and songwriter. She is a co-founder, lead vocalist, and the primary songwriter of the band No Doubt, whose singles include " Just a Girl", "Spiderwebs (song), Spiderwebs", and "Do ...

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 This category Category, plural categories, may refer to: Philosophy and general uses *Categorization, categories in cognitive science, information science and generally *Category of being *Categories (Aristotle), ''Categories'' (Aristotle) *Cat ...
Singing Musical terminology de:Band (Musik)#Frontleute