Famous 20th Century American Musicians

Find out more about the greatest 20th Century American Musicians, including Taylor Swift, Taj Mahal, Eminem, Scott Weiland and Young Thug.

This ranking is based on an algorithm that combines various factors, including the votes of our users and search trends on the internet.

Vote for Your Favourite American

 1 Eminem

Eminem
73
Famous As: Rapper, Songwriter
Birthdate: October 17, 1972
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Saint Joseph, Missouri, United States

Amongst the biggest rappers of all time, Eminem gained worldwide popularity with the release of albums like The Slim Shady LP and The Marshall Mathers LP. His subsequent albums became huge successes further making him a bigger sensation and one of the bestselling music artists of all time. His fame greatly inspired other white rappers to succeed in popular music.

 2 Prince

Prince
30
Famous As: Singer-songwriter
Birthdate: June 7, 1958
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States
Died: April 21, 2016

Singer-songwriter, dancer, and musician, Prince is is widely regarded as one of the greatest musicians of his generation. He was considered a guitar virtuoso and could also play several other instruments. With worldwide sales of over 150 million records, he is ranked among the best-selling music artists of all time. He was also well known for his flamboyant persona.

Recommended Lists:

 3 Kurt Cobain

Kurt Cobain
50
Famous As: Singer-songwriter & Musician
Birthdate: February 20, 1967
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Aberdeen, Washington, United States
Died: April 5, 1994

Gaining fame as a member of the rock band Nirvana, singer-songwriter and musician Kurt Cobain was often heralded as a spokesman of Generation X. He is considered to be one of the most influential musicians in the history of alternative rock. He enjoyed tremendous professional success, but his personal life was troubled. He died of suicide at just 27.

 4 Johnny Cash

Johnny Cash
12
Famous As: Singer-Songwriter
Birthdate: February 26, 1932
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Kingsland, Arkansas, United States
Died: September 12, 2003

Johnny Cash, the American singer, songwriter and actor, was known for sorrow, moral suffering and redemption themes in his music. His genre was country, rock and roll, blues, folk and gospel sounds and he is one of the best-selling artists of all time. Cash had issues with drinking and drug abuse. Later he was diagnosed with a neurodegenerative disease.

 5 Aretha Franklin

Aretha Franklin
30
Famous As: Singer & Activist
Birthdate: March 25, 1942
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Memphis, Tennessee, United States
Died: August 16, 2018

Widely regarded as the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin was a singer-songwriter, actress, and civil rights activist. Recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, Aretha was ranked number one on Rolling Stone magazine's 100 Greatest Singers of All Time list in 2010. Having sold over 75 million records, she is also one of the best-selling musicians ever.

 6 Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan
11
Famous As: Singer & Songwriter
Birthdate: May 24, 1941
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Duluth, Minnesota, United States

Singer-songwriter and author, Bob Dylan, is widely regarded as one of the greatest songwriters of all time. Active in the music industry for almost six decades, he is a major pop culture icon who introduced a range of political, social, and literary influences to pop music. He is a Nobel laureate and a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

 7 The Notorious B.I.G.

The Notorious B.I.G.
10
Famous As: Rapper, Songwriter
Birthdate: May 21, 1972
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: New York City, New York, United States
Died: March 9, 1997

The Notorious B.I.G. was a rapper and songwriter and is considered one of the best ever. His debut album Ready to Die in 1994 was critically acclaimed. He was murdered in a drive-by shooting in Los Angeles in September 1996. His album Life After Death was released two weeks after his death. 

You May Like

 8 Dr. Dre

Dr. Dre
18
Famous As: Rapper, Record producer, and entrepreneur
Birthdate: February 18, 1965
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Compton, California, United States

Rapper, record producer, and audio engineer, Dr. Dre, is the founder and CEO of Aftermath Entertainment and Beats Electronics. He is credited with the popularization of  West Coast G-funk, a sub-genre of hip hop. After establishing himself in the music industry, he promoted the careers of many other rappers, including 2Pac and Snoop Dogg.

 9 Stevie Wonder

Stevie Wonder
8
Famous As: Singer-songwriter
Birthdate: May 13, 1950
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Saginaw, Michigan, United States

American singer and songwriter, Stevie Wonder, is one of most influential and the best-selling musicians of all time. That Girl, Gotta Have You, I Just Called to Say I Love You, Part-Time Lover and Happy Birthday are some of his chartbuster songs. He has won many awards and accolades, including 25 Grammy Awards.

 10 Stevie Nicks

Stevie Nicks
36
Famous As: Singer-Songwriter
Birthdate: May 26, 1948
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Phoenix, Arizona, United States

Stevie Nicks is a songwriter and vocalist with the British-American rock band, Fleetwood Mac. She also performs solo and is known for her unique voice. She has numerous hits to her credit and her records have sold in millions. She has won many awards, including the Grammy and was named one of the 100 Greatest Songwriters of All Time by the Rolling Stone magazine.

 11 Jay-Z

Jay-Z
12
Famous As: Rapper
Birthdate: December 4, 1969
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Brooklyn, New York, United States

Jay-Z is an American rapper and songwriter and is one of the world's best-selling music artists. His debut album Reasonable Doubt was hugely successful in 1996 and since then he has gone on to release many more acclaimed and successful albums. He has been charged with assaulting a record executive and was given a three-year probation sentence in January 2000.

 12 Jim Morrison

Jim Morrison
19
Famous As: Singer-songwriter
Birthdate: December 8, 1943
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Melbourne, Florida, United States
Died: July 3, 1971

Considered the prototypical rock star, Jim Morrison remains one of the most influential singer-songwriters, almost five decades after his death. Jim influenced the counterculture of the 1960s as he embodied the hippie counterculture rebellion. Due to his erratic performances and wild personality, he is regarded as one of the most iconic frontmen in rock history.

 13 Dolly Parton

Dolly Parton
15
Famous As: Singer-songwriter
Birthdate: January 19, 1946
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Locust Ridge, Tennessee, United States

Multifaceted personality, Dolly Parton is a singer, songwriter, record producer, actress, author and businesswoman and is known mainly for her work in country music. She has received various accolades and awards in her very successful singing career spanning several decades and has composed over 3,000 songs. She has also worked in several movies and is a prolific songwriter.

 14 Marvin Gaye

Marvin Gaye
11
Famous As: Singer, Musician
Birthdate: April 2, 1939
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Washington, D.C., United States
Died: April 1, 1984

American singer Marvin Gaye is one of the most successful black artists ever and his albums have sold in millions. His success reached great heights with the 1972 song What's Going On. The 1982 single Sexual Healing was the biggest hit of his career and was a chartbuster. He was tragically shot dead by his father after a family altercation.

 15 Tom Petty

Tom Petty
6
Famous As: Singer
Birthdate: October 20, 1950
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Gainesville, Florida, United States
Died: October 2, 2017

A rock icon and creator of sprit-lifting songs, Thomas Earl Petty was one of the defining musicians of the 1970s and the lead vocalist and guitarist of the band Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Writing songs and creating music up till his last breath, Petty is noted for positivity and self- liberation themed songs, a rarity in rock music.

 16 Billy Joel

Billy Joel
17
Famous As: Singer-songwriter
Birthdate: May 9, 1949
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: The Bronx, 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.

 17 Ray Charles

Ray Charles
19
Famous As: Singer-songwriter & Musician
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.

 18 Eddie Van Halen

Eddie Van Halen
54
Famous As: Guitarist
Birthdate: January 26, 1955
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Nijmegen
Died: October 6, 2020

Eddie Van Halen was an American songwriter and guitarist. The co-founder of the popular rock band Van Halen, Eddie is widely considered one of the greatest guitar players in the history of rock music. He is credited with popularizing the tapping technique, which is now used extensively by guitarists all over the world.

 19 Louis Armstrong

Louis Armstrong
15
Famous As: Trumpeter
Birthdate: July 4, 1901
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: New Orleans, Louisiana, United States
Died: July 6, 1971

Louis Armstrong was an American trumpeter and singer who played an important role in the development of jazz. Thanks to his playing, trumpet became known as a solo instrument and jazz, which was previously known as a collectively improvised folk music, became a soloist's art form. Not surprisingly, Louis Armstrong is widely accepted as the embodiment of jazz. 

 20 Buddy Holly

Buddy Holly
7
Famous As: Singer-songwriter
Birthdate: September 7, 1936
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Lubbock, Texas, United States
Died: February 3, 1959

Musician and singer-songwriter Buddy Holly was a central figure of mid-1950s rock and roll. Born to a musical family, he learned to sing and play the guitar as a child. He began his career as a teenager and found much success within a short period. Sadly, he died in an aircraft crash when he was just 22 years old.

 21 Axl Rose

Axl Rose
11
Famous As: Musician
Birthdate: February 6, 1962
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Lafayette, Indiana, United States
Rock and Roll Hall of Famer W. Axl Rose, being true to his rebel spirit, fled to Los Angeles on a bus at 17, before he co-founded the legendary hard rock band Guns N' Roses. Working as the lead vocalist/lyricist of the band, he soon became a global sex symbol. 

 22 Carole King

Carole King
7
Famous As: Composer
Birthdate: February 9, 1942
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Manhattan, New York City, New York

Carole King is an American singer-songwriter. As a songwriter, King has contributed immensely to the success of other singers and is widely regarded as one of the most successful female songwriters of the 20th century. In 2013, she became the first woman to be honored with the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song.

 23 Slash

Slash
15
Famous As: Musician
Birthdate: July 23, 1965
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Hampstead

Slash is an English-American songwriter, musician, and record producer. After achieving popularity as the lead guitarist of Guns N' Roses, Slash left the band to form Velvet Revolver, a hard rock supergroup. Widely regarded as one of the greatest guitar players in the history of rock, Slash is often named in lists, such as the Top Guitarists of All Time.

 24 John Williams

John Williams
11
Famous As: Composer
Birthdate: February 8, 1932
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Floral Park, New York, United States

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.

 25 Chuck Berry

Chuck Berry
13
Famous As: Singer-songwriter & Guitarist
Birthdate: October 18, 1926
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: St. Louis, Missouri, United States
Died: March 18, 2017

Chuck Berry was an American singer-songwriter. Referred to as the Father of Rock and Roll, Berry is credited with pioneering rock and roll music. He is also credited with influencing the attitude with which the rock music lifestyle is usually associated. Also revered for his guitaring skills, Berry is often included in lists like the Greatest Artists of All Time.

 26 Hank Williams

Hank Williams
23
Famous As: Singer-songwriter
Birthdate: September 17, 1923
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Mount Olive, Alabama, United States
Died: January 1, 1953

Musician Hank Williams is widely considered one of the most influential and significant American singer-songwriters of the 20th century. Hank Williams influenced several singers, such as Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry, Johnny Cash, and Charley Pride to name a few. Since his untimely death at the age of 29, many artists have released tribute albums honoring Hank Williams.  

 27 Paul Simon

Paul Simon
11
Famous As: Musician
Birthdate: October 13, 1941
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Newark, New Jersey, United States

One half of the popular musical duo Simon & Garfunkel, Paul Simon is a singer-songwriter, musician, and actor. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest guitarists and songwriters of all time. His career, which has spanned more than 60 years, has been so influential that Time named him among the 100 People Who Shaped the World in 2006.

 28 Sam Cooke

Sam Cooke
6
Famous As: Singer-songwriter
Birthdate: January 22, 1931
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Clarksdale, Mississippi, United States
Died: December 11, 1964
The King of Soul Sam Cooke is best remembered for his hits A Change is Gonna Come, You Send Me, and Wonderful World. He began singing gospel as a child and later joined The Soul Stirrers. He was shot and killed by a motel manager in Los Angeles. 

 29 Bruce Springsteen

Bruce Springsteen
9
Famous As: Singer-songwriter
Birthdate: September 23, 1949
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Long Branch, New Jersey, United States

Considered one of the greatest rock stars, Bruce Springsteen’s catalogue of songs over many decades is unparalleled. His fame skyrocketed in 1975 after the release of his third album, Born to Run, and it reached dizzying heights with his seventh album, Born in the USA, in 1984. He was inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1999.

 30 Quincy Jones

Quincy Jones
12
Famous As: Record Producer, Songwriter
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.

 31 Stevie Ray Vaughan

Stevie Ray Vaughan
7
Famous As: Musician, Singer, Songwriter, Record Producer
Birthdate: October 3, 1954
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Dallas
Died: August 27, 1990

Stevie Ray Vaughan was an American musician. Stevie achieved so much in his mainstream career, that spanned only seven years, that he is widely regarded as one of the greatest guitarists ever and one of the most influential and iconic musicians in the blues music history. He is credited with reviving blues-rock and his work continues to influence several artists.

 32 Jerry Lee Lewis

Jerry Lee Lewis
8
Famous As: Singer
Birthdate: September 29, 1935
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Ferriday, Louisiana, United States
Four-time Grammy-winner Jerry Lee Lewis, nicknamed “The Killer,” is best known for his track Great Balls of Fire. A controversy surrounding his marriage to his 13-year-old cousin Myra destroyed his career. Named to Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Artists of All Time, he was also part of the Million Dollar Quartet.

 33 Little Richard

Little Richard
10
Birthdate: December 5, 1932
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Macon, Georgia, U.S.A
Died: May 9, 2020
The Architect of Rock and Roll Little Richard is best known for his track Tutti Frutti, which was included in the National Recording Registry. His music was characterized by energetic piano and back beats. His songs broke all racial barriers and were equally appreciated by white and black listeners.

 34 Roy Orbison

Roy Orbison
9
Famous As: Singer-Songwriter
Birthdate: April 23, 1936
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Vernon, Texas, United States
Died: December 6, 1988
Six-time Grammy-winner Texan rocker Roy Orbison gained fame with songs such as Oh, Pretty Woman and Drove All Night. His shyness and stage fright made him dye his hair black and wear sunglasses. The "Caruso of Rock" was part of the Traveling Wilburys, along with legends such as Bob Dylan.

 35 Frank Vincent Zappa

Frank Vincent Zappa
7
Famous As: Musician
Birthdate: December 21, 1940
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Baltimore, Maryland, United States
Died: December 4, 1993

Frank Zappa was an American composer, multi-instrumentalist, singer-songwriter, and bandleader. Widely regarded as one of the most stylistically diverse and innovative rock musicians of his generation, Zappa was named in Rolling Stone magazine's 100 Greatest Artists of All Time list in 2004. Zappa's works have influenced other musicians like Alice Cooper, Jimi Hendrix, Simon Phillips, Steve Vai, and Warren DeMartini.

 36 Eddie Vedder

Eddie Vedder
6
Famous As: Musician & Singer
Birthdate: December 23, 1964
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Evanston, Illinois, United States
Pearl Jam lead singer and guitarist Eddie Vedder went from being a hotel security guard to being ranked 7 on Rolling Stone’s list of the Best Lead Singers of All Time. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee has been a vocal supporter of environmental initiatives and abortion rights.

 37 Brian Wilson

Brian Wilson
8
Famous As: Singer-songwriter
Birthdate: June 20, 1942
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Inglewood, California, United States

Brian Wilson is a singer-songwriter and record producer. He is credited with co-founding the popular rock band, The Beach Boys. Referred to as a genius, Wilson serves as an inspiration to several indie musicians. Regarded as one of the most significant songwriters of his generation, Wilson is often featured in lists, such as the 100 Greatest Songwriters of All Time.

 38 Billie Joe Armstrong

Billie Joe Armstrong
17
Famous As: Singer, Musician, Guitarist
Birthdate: February 17, 1972
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Oakland, California, United States

Billie Joe Armstrong is an American musician and record producer. He is credited with co-founding and popularizing the rock band, Green Day. As a guitarist and vocalist, he has also contributed immensely to the success of the punk rock band Pinhead Gunpowder. In 1997, Armstrong founded Adeline Records to help support contemporary bands; the record company was closed in 2017.

 39 Jon Bon Jovi

Jon Bon Jovi
8
Birthdate: March 2, 1962
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Perth Amboy, New Jersey, United States

Known as the iconic founder of the popular rock band Bon Jovi, Jon Bon Jovi is a record producer and singer-songwriter. In 2012, he was named in Billboard magazine's The Most Powerful and Influential People In The Music Business list. Also a well-known philanthropist, he founded the Jon Bon Jovi Soul Foundation in an attempt to eradicate poverty and homelessness.

 40 James Hetfield

James Hetfield
9
Famous As: Musician, Songwriter
Birthdate: August 3, 1963
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Downey, California, United States

James Hetfield is an American songwriter and musician. He is credited with co-founding one of the most popular heavy metal bands of all time, Metallica. James Hetfield is often regarded as one of the greatest guitarists and vocalists ever. Since the 1980s, Hetfield has played a key role in the success of ESP Guitars, as one of its major endorsers.

 41 Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson
72
Famous As: King of Pop
Birthdate: August 29, 1958
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Gary, Indiana, United States
Died: June 25, 2009

The King of Pop and an international superstar, Michael Jackson was a musical entertainer whose work – both with Jackson 5 and solo – won accolades and hearts worldwide. Equally popular were his unique dance moves that created sensation and shaped future dance styles. Amongst the most successful entertainers of all time, Jackson was later accused of child molestation.  

 42 Loretta Lynn

Loretta Lynn
5
Famous As: Singer-songwriter
Birthdate: April 14, 1932
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Butcher Hollow, Kentucky, United States

Loretta Lynn is an American singer known for her groundbreaking contribution to country music. In a career spanning six decades, she has released multiple gold albums and has won Grammy Award thrice. Apart from being the most decorated female country singer, Loretta is also the only female Academy of Country Music (ACM) Artist of the Decade (the 1970s).

 43 Tommy Lee

Tommy Lee
13
Famous As: Musician
Birthdate: October 3, 1962
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Athens, Greece
Best known as the drummer and founding member of the bands Mötley Crüe and Methods of Mayhem, Tommy Lee Bass has been riddled with major controversies and has even spent time in jail for spousal abuse. Brash and bold, he has also been named to VH1's 100 Sexiest Artists list.

 44 Neil Diamond

Neil Diamond
5
Famous As: Singer-songwriter & Musician
Birthdate: January 24, 1941
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Brooklyn, New York, United States
Neil Diamond has sold more than 125 million records and has had 10 Hot 100 and Adult Contemporary chart-topping singles. The Lifetime Achievement Grammy-winner was also inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. His song Sweet Caroline was preserved in the National Recording Registry for being culturally relevant.

 45 Steven Tyler

Steven Tyler
7
Famous As: Singer-songwriter
Birthdate: March 26, 1948
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Stuyvesant Polyclinic

Popularly known as the Demon of Screamin, Steven Tyler is the lead singer of the famous rock band Aerosmith. Known for his high-energy performances, Tyler is named in Rolling Stone magazine's list of 100 Greatest Singers. Also a well-known philanthropist, Tyler launched a non-profit organization called Janie's Fund and has helped raise more than $2.4 million for the organization.

 46 Joe Walsh

Joe Walsh
7
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.

 47 Jimi Hendrix

Jimi Hendrix
9
Famous As: Singer & Musician
Birthdate: November 27, 1942
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Seattle, Washington, United States
Died: September 18, 1970

One of the most celebrated musicians of the 20th century, Jimi Hendrix began playing guitar at the age of 15. As his career progressed, he became the first musician to use stereophonic phasing effects in recordings. Rolling Stone ranked him as the greatest guitarist and the sixth greatest artist of all time. He died under mysterious circumstances at the age of 27.

 48 Lindsey Buckingham

Lindsey Buckingham
6
Famous As: Singer, Musician
Birthdate: October 3, 1949
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Palo Alto

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Lindsey Buckingham ruled the American rock scene with the band Fleetwood Mac, performing with his then-girlfriend, Stevie Nicks. Rolling Stone named him one of the 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time. After a brief hiatus, he rejoined the band but was fired eventually.

 49 Missy Elliott

Missy Elliott
6
Famous As: Rapper
Birthdate: July 1, 1971
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Portsmouth
Four-time Grammy-winning rapper Missy Elliott, known for her chartbusting tracks such as Get Ur Freak On, was ranked fifth on Billboard’s 100 Greatest Music Video Artists of All Time list. She was initially part of the R&B group Sista and then collaborated with Timbaland in the collective Swing Mob

 50 Robert Johnson

Robert Johnson
8
Famous As: Singer
Birthdate: May 8, 1911
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Hazlehurst, Mississippi, United States
Died: August 16, 1938

Singer and guitarist Robert Johnson is remembered as a Delta blues legend. Lack of proper documentation of his early life led to various legends surrounding him, such as one that claimed he had made a deal with the Devil to excel in music. He also inspired an award-winning biography.