Famous 20th Century American Composers

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 1 John Williams

John Williams
5
Famous As: Composer
Birthdate: February 8, 1932
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Queens, New York City

John Williams is an American composer, pianist, trombonist, and conductor. Widely considered the greatest film composer ever, John Williams has played a significant role in the American film industry by composing music for films, such as the Jurassic Park films, Star Wars saga, the Indiana Jones films, and Schindler's List. He has also influenced several other composers like Marcus Paus.

 2 Quincy Jones

Quincy Jones
5
Famous As: Musician, Composer
Birthdate: March 14, 1933
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Chicago, Illinois, United States

Regarded as one of the most popular and influential jazz musicians of the previous century, Quincy Jones is known for his work with other legendary artists like Michael Jackson and Frank Sinatra. As the first African-American to find success at the Academy Awards ceremony, Quincy has influenced a host of black musicians and songwriters.

 3 George Gershwin

George Gershwin
4
Famous As: Composer, Pianist
Birthdate: September 26, 1898
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Brooklyn, New York, United States
Died: July 11, 1937

George Gershwin was an American pianist, composer, and painter. His work Porgy and Bess is widely regarded as an American cultural classic and one of the 20th century's most important American operas. Many of his compositions have been used in films and television series. His life and work inspired the 1945 biographical movie, Rhapsody in Blue.

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 4 Leonard Bernstein

Leonard Bernstein
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Famous As: Conductor, Composer
Birthdate: August 25, 1918
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Lawrence, Massachusetts, United States
Died: October 14, 1990

Leonard Bernstein was an American composer, music educator, conductor, pianist, author, and humanitarian. One of the most important cultural personalities of 20th century America, Bernstein influenced many generations of musicians. He is also credited with mentoring famous conductors like John Mauceri, Herbert Blomstedt, Alexander Frey, Marin Alsop, and Edo de Waart among many others.

 5 Stephen Sondheim

Stephen Sondheim
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Famous As: American composer
Birthdate: March 22, 1930
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: New York City
Died: November 26, 2021

Stephen Sondheim is an American lyricist and composer. Widely regarded as one of the 20th century's most prominent figures in musical theatre, Sondheim is credited with reinventing the American musical. In 1981, he founded Young Playwrights Inc. to encourage young people to write for the theatre. An openly gay composer, Sondheim also serves as an inspiration to the LGBT community.

 6 Sergei Rachmaninoff

Sergei Rachmaninoff
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Famous As: Composer
Birthdate: April 1, 1873
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Oneg, Russia
Died: March 28, 1943

Sergei Rachmaninoff was a Russian composer, conductor, and virtuoso pianist of the late Romantic period. Credited with exploring the expressive possibilities of the piano, Rachmaninoff's music continues to be featured in films. His four-year struggle with depression, which was followed by the critical failure of his Symphony No. 1, was depicted in the 2015 musical Preludes.

 7 Philip Glass

Philip Glass
4
Famous As: Founder of the Philip Glass Ensemble
Birthdate: January 31, 1937
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Baltimore, Maryland, United States
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 8 John Cage

John Cage
5
Famous As: Composer, Writer
Birthdate: September 5, 1912
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Los Angeles, California, United States
Died: August 12, 1992
John Cage was one of the most influential avant-garde composers of the post-World War II era. He pioneered many innovative techniques in music, such as the prepared piano and electroacoustic music. His composition 4′33″ involved musicians sitting silently, without playing any instrument, while the audience heard environmental sounds. 

 9 Ray Charles

Ray Charles
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Famous As: Singer-songwriter
Birthdate: September 23, 1930
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Albany, Georgia, United States
Died: June 10, 2004

Ray Charles went on to become a great singer-songwriter, composer, and pianist, despite suffering blindness due to glaucoma early in his life. One of the most respected and decorated musicians of all time, Ray Charles has been named in lists, such as 100 Greatest Singers of All Time. He pioneered the soul music genre, which remains his greatest contribution.

 10 Miles Davis

Miles Davis
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Famous As: Jazz Trumpeter
Birthdate: May 26, 1926
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Alton, Illinois, United States
Died: September 28, 1991
Jazz trumpeter and composer Miles Davis was a pioneer in the bepop and jazz fusion genres. His work also had electronic, African, and Spanish influences. His album Kind of Blue sold 5 million copies in the U.S. and was termed a national treasure by the House of Representatives, years later. 

 11 Billy Joel

Billy Joel
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Famous As: Singer, Composer
Birthdate: May 9, 1949
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: New York, New York, United States

Popularly known as the Piano Man, Billy Joel is a singer-songwriter and musician. Having sold more than 150 million records worldwide, Billy is one of the best-selling musicians of all time. He is also America's third best-selling solo artist and the sixth best-selling recording artist. He is also known for his multiple relationships with popular women.

 12 Joan Jett

Joan Jett
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Famous As: Singer-songwriter
Birthdate: September 22, 1958
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Wynnewood, Pennsylvania, United States

Joan Jett, also known as The Queen of Rock 'n' Roll, is the frontwoman of Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, best known for their rendition of the Arrows song I Love Rock 'n Roll, which topped the Billboard Hot 100. Jett also released the hit Cherry Bomb with the Runaways

 13 Danny Elfman

Danny Elfman
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Famous As: Composer
Birthdate: May 29, 1953
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Los Angeles, California, United States

Composer, singer, songwriter, and record producer, Danny Elfman is best known for his association with the new wave band Oingo Boingo. He has written over 100 feature film scores and has composed music for numerous TV shows and stage productions. He is the recipient of two Emmy Awards and one Grammy and has been nominated for the Academy Award.

 14 Joe Walsh

Joe Walsh
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Famous As: Guitarist, Singer
Birthdate: November 20, 1947
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Wichita, Kansas, United States

Joe Walsh is an American guitarist, songwriter, and singer. Over the years Walsh has contributed to the success of popular rock bands such as Eagles and James Gang. In 1998, he was made an inductee of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In 2011, he was ranked 54th on Rolling Stone magazine's 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time list.

 15 Tom Waits

Tom Waits
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Famous As: Musician, Composer, & Songwriter
Birthdate: December 7, 1949
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Pomona, California, United States

Tom Waits is a musician and songwriter. His lyrics, which are delivered in his trademark gravelly voice, often focus on the underbelly of society. His story of being born in a middle-class family to becoming one of the greatest songwriters of all time serves as an inspiration to many. He has also influenced several musicians and attained a cult following.

 16 Alanis Morisette

Alanis Morisette
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Famous As: Singer-Songwriter
Birthdate: June 1, 1974
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Ottawa, Canada

Alanis Morisette is a Canadian-American singer-songwriter and actress. Renowned for her mezzo-soprano voice, Morisette has been named by Rolling Stone as the Queen of Alt-Rock Angst. A recipient of 13 Juno Awards and seven Grammy Awards, Morisette has released several successful albums, including Jagged Little Pill, which was named in Rolling Stone magazine's 500 Greatest Albums of All Time list.

 17 Luther Vandross

Luther Vandross
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Famous As: Singer
Birthdate: April 20, 1951
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: New York City
Died: July 1, 2005

Luther Vandross was an American record producer and singer-songwriter. As a background vocalist, Vandross contributed to the success of several songs recorded by artists like David Bowie, Diana Ross, and Judy Collins. Regarded as a singer with one of the greatest voices in recorded history, Luther Vandross' works have influenced many artists like D'Angelo, Jaheim, Ne-Yo, John Legend, and Usher.

 18 Don Henley

Don Henley
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Famous As: Musician, Singer
Birthdate: July 22, 1947
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Gilmer, Texas, United States

Don Henley is an American record producer, singer, songwriter, and musician. A founding member of Eagles, Henley contributed immensely to the success of the band. Don Henley has also been successful as a solo artist, selling more than 10 million albums and winning two Grammy Awards. In 2008, Rolling Stone magazine named him among the greatest singers of all time.

 19 Chaka Khan

Chaka Khan
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Famous As: Singer
Birthdate: March 23, 1953
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Naval Station Great Lakes, Illinois
Ten-time Grammy-winning funk/R&B/disco artist Chaka Khan, or the Queen of Funk, soared to fame as the frontwoman of the band Rufus. Known for her hit track I Feel for You, Khan has sold 70 million records and has ranked 17th on VH1’s 100 Greatest Women of Rock & Roll list.

 20 Virgil Abloh

Virgil Abloh
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Famous As: Fashion designer
Birthdate: September 30, 1980
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Rockford, Illinois, U.S.

Virgil Abloh is not just a designer but also a qualified architect. He has been a DJ, too. Apart from heading Louis Vuitton's menswear collection as its artistic director, he also became the first Black designer to lead a major fashion brand. He has also launched the luxury streetwear label Off-White.

 21 Trent Reznor

Trent Reznor
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Famous As: Frontman and founder of the industrial rock band Nine Inch Nails
Birthdate: May 17, 1965
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: New Castle, Pennsylvania, United States

Trent Reznor is an American singer, songwriter, musician, record producer, and composer. Reznor is credited with founding the popular band Nine Inch Nails, where he serves as the principal songwriter, lead vocalist, and multi-instrumentalist. Trent Reznor is also credited with mentoring Marilyn Manson and has contributed to the latter's albums. . 

 22 Dimebag Darrell

Dimebag Darrell
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Famous As: Guitarist, Composer, Musician
Birthdate: August 20, 1966
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Dallas
Died: December 8, 2004

 23 Duke Ellington

Duke Ellington
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Famous As: Greatest Jazz Composer & Bandleader
Birthdate: April 29, 1899
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Washington, D.C., United States
Died: May 24, 1974
Jazz legend Duke Ellington managed his orchestra till his death, and over a 6-decade-long career. He is known for his collaborations with legends such as pianist and composer Billy Strayhorn. He termed his music “American music” and refused to attach any category to it. He received a posthumous Pulitzer Prize.

 24 Christopher Guest

Christopher Guest
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Famous As: Screenwriter, Director
Birthdate: February 5, 1948
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: New York, New York, United States

Screenwriter, composer, musician, and director Christopher Guest is a multifaceted man. He is known for writing and directing a series of comedy films shot in mock-documentary (mockumentary) style. He has also starred in many of his films, often playing comedic characters. Despite his penchant for portraying comedic characters onscreen, he is known to be a serious person in real life.

 25 John Coltrane

John Coltrane
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Famous As: Saxophonist, Composer
Birthdate: September 23, 1926
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: HaHamlet, North Carolina, United States
Died: July 17, 1967
Jazz saxophonist John Coltrane is remembered for his significant influence on modern jazz. He was initially part of the Navy band and eventually collaborated with musicians such as Miles Davis. He won a Pulitzer Prize and a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, and was canonized by the African Orthodox Church.

 26 Tom Morello

Tom Morello
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Famous As: Musician
Birthdate: May 30, 1964
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: New York City, United States

Tom Morello is an American musician, rapper, singer, actor, songwriter, and political activist. Morello is best known for his association with Rage Against the Machine, which he co-founded with Zack de la Rocha. Renowned for his creative and unique guitar playing style, Tom Morello was ranked among the 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time by Rolling Stone magazine.

 27 Rick Rubin

Rick Rubin
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Famous As: Record Producer
Birthdate: March 10, 1963
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Lido Beach

A record producer, Rick Rubin is the former co-president of Columbia Records and a co-founder of Def Jam Recordings. By promoting the musical groups  Beastie Boys, LL Cool J, and Public Enemy, he helped popularize hip hop music. He has been named on Time's 100 Most Influential People in the World.

 28 Steven Van Zandt

Steven Van Zandt
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Famous As: Musician, Actor
Birthdate: November 22, 1950
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Winthrop, Massachusetts, United States

Steven Van Zandt is an American singer, musician, songwriter, actor, producer, and activist. Steven is renowned for his association with E Street Band. As a member of the band, Steven was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2014. Also known for his philanthropic efforts, Steven works with a nonprofit organization called Little Kids Rock.

 29 Mos Def

Mos Def
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Famous As: Rapper, Actor
Birthdate: December 11, 1973
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Brooklyn, New York, United States

 30 Carroll O’Connor

Carroll O’Connor
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Famous As: Actor
Birthdate: August 2, 1924
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: The Bronx, New York, United States
Died: June 21, 2001

Carroll O'Connor was an American actor, director, and producer. In a TV career that spanned 40 years, O'Connor popularized several fictional characters, including Archie Bunker from the sitcom All in the Family, for which he received four Emmy Awards. In 1996, he was ranked 38th on the 50 Greatest TV Stars of All Time list published by TV Guide.

 31 Arnold Schoenberg

Arnold Schoenberg
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Famous As: Composer
Birthdate: September 13, 1874
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Leopoldstadt, Vienna, Austria
Died: July 13, 1951
Austrian-born composer Arnold Schoenberg was part of the German Expressionist Movement and led the Second Viennese School. Being Jewish, he was banned by the Nazis and later became an American citizen. Known for his twelve-tone technique, he coined the term developing variation and formed motifs without a centralized melodic idea.

 32 Ronnie James Dio

Ronnie James Dio
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Famous As: Former heavy metal singer, songwriter and composer
Birthdate: July 10, 1942
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Portsmouth, New Hampshire, United States
Died: May 16, 2010

 33 Bret Michaels

Bret Michaels
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Famous As: Singer
Birthdate: March 15, 1963
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Butler, Pennsylvania

Singer-songwriter and musician Bret Michaels first gained fame as the frontman of the rock band Poison. He also performs as a solo artist and has released many albums. He is an occasional actor as well and has appeared in numerous films and TV shows.  

 34 Ronnie Van Zant

Ronnie Van Zant
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Famous As: Singer, Singer-songwriter, Musician, Composer, Guitarist
Birthdate: January 15, 1948
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Jacksonville
Died: October 20, 1977

 35 David Lee Roth

David Lee Roth
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Famous As: Singer, Musician
Birthdate: October 10, 1954
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Bloomington, Indiana, United States

David Lee Roth is an American rock singer, songwriter, musician, and former radio personality. Renowned for his energetic stage persona, Roth was a long-time member of the popular hard rock band Van Halen where he served as the lead singer. In 2007, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

 36 Sammy Hagar

Sammy Hagar
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Famous As: Singer-Songwriter,
Birthdate: October 13, 1947
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Salinas, California, United States

 37 Nile Rodgers

Nile Rodgers
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Famous As: Guitarist, Composer, Songwriter, Record producer, Film score composer
Birthdate: September 19, 1952
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: New York City

 38 Don Shirley

Don Shirley
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Famous As: Composer
Birthdate: January 29, 1927
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Pensacola, Florida, USA
Died: April 6, 2013

 39 Sufjan Stevens

Sufjan Stevens
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Famous As: Singer-songwriter most famous for his Illinois album, which includes the hit Chicago
Birthdate: July 1, 1975
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Detroit, Michigan, United States

 40 Charlie Parker

Charlie Parker
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Famous As: Jazz saxophonist, composer
Birthdate: August 29, 1920
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Kansas City, Kansas, United States
Died: March 12, 1955

Charlie Parker was an American composer and jazz saxophonist. A highly influential soloist, Parker played a significant role in the development of a form of jazz called bebop. He is also credited with introducing harmonic ideas into jazz, such as chord substitutions and rapid passing chords. His contribution to jazz and bebop made him an icon of the hipster subculture.

 41 Nancy Wilson

Nancy Wilson
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Famous As: Musician
Birthdate: March 16, 1954
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: San Francisco, California, United States

Nancy Wilson is a celebrated musician, singer, songwriter and composer.  A guitar virtuoso from the age of ten, she joined the rock band Heart in early 1970s, releasing numerous albums with them. She released her first solo studio album in 2021.

 42 Michel'le

Michel'le
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Famous As: Singer-Songwriter
Birthdate: December 5, 1970
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Compton, United States

 43 James Horner

James Horner
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Famous As: Composer, conductor, and orchestrator of film scores
Birthdate: August 14, 1953
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Los Angeles, California, United States
Died: June 22, 2015

 44 Randy Newman

Randy Newman
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Famous As: Singer-songwriter & Pianist
Birthdate: November 28, 1943
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Los Angeles, California, United States

 45 Glenn Miller

Glenn Miller
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Famous As: Trombonist
Birthdate: March 1, 1904
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Clarinda, Iowa, United States
Died: December 15, 1944

 46 Kenny G

Kenny G
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Famous As: Saxophonist
Birthdate: June 5, 1956
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Seattle, Washington, United States

Kenneth Bruce Gorelick, better known as Kenny G, is a best-selling jazz saxophonist who has sold over 75 million records and even owns a line of saxophones. He is also a certified pilot and a skilled golfer who has participated in the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am seven times.

 47 Kenny Loggins

Kenny Loggins
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Famous As: Singer-songwriter,
Birthdate: January 7, 1948
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Everett, Washington, United States

 48 Pat Boone

Pat Boone
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Famous As: Actor, Singer, Singer-songwriter, Composer
Birthdate: June 1, 1934
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Jacksonville

 49 Teddy Pendergrass

Teddy Pendergrass
4
Famous As: Singer
Birthdate: March 26, 1950
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Kingstree, South Carolina, USA
Died: January 13, 2010

 50 Yanni

Yanni
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Famous As: Composer
Birthdate: November 14, 1954
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Kalamata, Greece

Yanni is a Greek keyboardist, pianist, composer, and music producer. He achieved international recognition by organizing and producing concerts at historic monuments, such as Taj Mahal, Burj Khalifa, and the Great Sphinx of Giza. Adhering to his one world, one people philosophy, Yanni works with musicians of various nationalities to create music that incorporates an eclectic fusion of ethnic sounds.