20th Century Musicians

The 20th century was a turbulent yet fascinating phase in the music industry. From modernism to minimalism, the previous century yielded richness that was shaped by the events that defined the era – war, race, sex, politics and religion each of which shaped the soundtrack of the bygone century. Interestingly, much of the music of the past century is as fascinating as the historical and cultural context of the century. 20th century gave us some ingenious musicians whose compositions have moved us, astonished us, baffled us, made us think, cry and made our hearts soar. Their musical journey is worth contemplating and their musical masterpieces worth listening to again and again. So, be it the 1960s heroes ‘the Beatles’ or modern insurgents ‘Eminem’, early pioneers ‘Chuck Berry’ or the bluesmen who made it all possible ‘Howlin' Wolf’, the century has had a surge of inherently talented musicians who were pioneers in their own field and gave the industry its much needed boost. They changed the face of music industry with their poignant renditions that touched and soothed the heart and soul. Check this section for a list of famous musicians of the 20th century.

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

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 1 Prince

Prince.
24
Famous As: African-American Singer
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.

 2 John Lennon

John Lennon.
41
Famous As: Singer-songwriter & Musician
Birthdate: October 9, 1940
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Liverpool, England
Died: December 8, 1980

John Lennon was part of the hugely successful and popular music band, Beatles. It became the first British band to break out big in the US. However, they eventually broke up. Subsequently, Lennon went solo, with 1971 album, Imagine, being his most successful and acclaimed post-Beatles efforts. Sadly he was shot dead by a deranged fan in New York.

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 3 Kurt Cobain

Kurt Cobain.
45
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 Frank Sinatra

Frank Sinatra.
7
Famous As: Singer and Actor
Birthdate: December 12, 1915
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Hoboken, New Jersey, United States
Died: May 14, 1998

Amongst the most popular singers of the 20th century and one of the bestselling artists of all time, Frank Sinatra began his musical career singing with bands and later established his successful solo career with albums like The Voice of Frank Sinatra. Also an award winning actor, he featured in movies like From Here to Eternity and The Manchurian Candidate.

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 5 Johnny Cash

Johnny Cash.
9
Famous As: Country 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.

 6 The Notorious B.I.G.

The Notorious B.I.G..
9
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. 

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 7 George Harrison

George Harrison.
23
Famous As: Musician
Birthdate: February 25, 1943
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Liverpool, England
Died: November 29, 2001

Gaining fame as the lead guitarist of the rock band, the Beatles, English musician, George Harrison, helped broaden the scope of popular music in the Western world. He was also successful as a solo performer and released many best-selling albums. He was named in Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time

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 8 Jim Morrison

Jim Morrison.
17
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.

 9 Marvin Gaye

Marvin Gaye.
10
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.

 10 Louis Armstrong

Louis Armstrong.
14
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. 

 11 Leonard Cohen

Leonard Cohen.
10
Famous As: Singer-songwriter
Birthdate: September 21, 1934
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Westmount
Died: November 7, 2016

Leonard Cohen was one of the most popular Canadian celebrities of all time. After starting his career as a poet and novelist, Leonard went on to become a famous singer-songwriter, exploring themes like sexuality, religion, depression, and romantic relationships in his work. Leonard Cohen was one of the inspirations for Steven Clark and Matthew Bissonnette's 2002 film Looking for Leonard.

 12 Buddy Holly

Buddy Holly.
6
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.

 13 Carole King

Carole King.
6
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.

 14 John Williams

John Williams.
9
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.

 15 Chuck Berry

Chuck Berry.
12
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.

 16 Hank Williams

Hank Williams.
22
Famous As: Singer-songwriter, Musician
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.  

 17 Sam Cooke

Sam Cooke.
5
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. 

 18 Slash

Slash.
13
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.

 19 Stevie Ray Vaughan

Stevie Ray Vaughan.
6
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.

 20 Frank Vincent Zappa

Frank Vincent Zappa.
5
Famous As: American musician
Birthdate: December 21, 1940
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Baltimore, Maryland, U.S
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.

 21 Roy Orbison

Roy Orbison.
8
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.

 22 Angus Young

Angus Young.
7
Famous As: Co-founder & Lead Guitarist of the Hard Rock Band, AC/DC
Birthdate: March 31, 1955
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Glasgow
Angus Young, AC/DC co-founder, lead guitarist, and songwriter, migrated to Australia at 13. After dropping out of school at 15, he started playing instruments. Named the Best Australian Guitarist of All Time by Australian Guitar magazine, he is known for his uniform outfits and for reviving Chuck Berry's "duck walk."

 23 Brian Wilson

Brian Wilson.
7
Famous As: Musician, Singer
Birthdate: June 20, 1942
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Inglewood

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.

 24 Bob Marley

Bob Marley.
2
Famous As: Singer-Songwriter
Birthdate: February 6, 1945
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Nine Mile, Jamaica
Died: May 11, 1981

Bob Marley was a Jamaican singer and songwriter who sold 20 million records in his career. He was the first international star to come from the ‘Third World’ and is considered one of the forerunners of reggae. A fusion of reggae, ska and rocksteady was his music’s hallmark. Marley died due to cancer at the age of 36.

 25 Jimi Hendrix

Jimi Hendrix.
7
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.

 26 Lindsey Buckingham

Lindsey Buckingham.
4
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.

 27 Bernie Taupin

Bernie Taupin.
4
Famous As: Lyricist & Singer
Birthdate: May 22, 1950
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Sleaford

Lyricist Bernie Taupin is best known for his collaboration with Elton John for over 30 albums. Their works include the iconic hit Candle in the Wind. Taupin has also had a successful solo career and has performed with the band Farm Dogs. He has also exhibited his original artwork.

 28 Missy Elliott

Missy Elliott.
5
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

 29 Robert Johnson

Robert Johnson.
7
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. 

 30 Carlos Santana

Carlos Santana.
6
Birthdate: July 20, 1947
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Autlán de Navarro, Jalisco, México

Guitarist Carlos Santana rose to fame in the late 1960s and 1970s with his rock band Santana. He introduced elements of Latin American jazz in his rock music to create unique songs. He is the recipient of ten Grammy Awards and three Latin Grammy Awards. Rolling Stone magazine listed him on its list of the 100 greatest guitarists in 2015.

 31 Jeff Lynne

Jeff Lynne.
4
Famous As: Singer-songwriter, Record producer
Birthdate: December 30, 1947
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Shard End

Jeff Lynne is an English multi-instrumentalist, record producer, singer, and songwriter. He is credited with co-founding the popular rock band Electric Light Orchestra. He is also credited with popularizing the band with his leadership skills following the exit of co-founder Roy Wood in 1972. In the 2020 Birthday Honours, Lynne was appointed OBE for services to music.

 32 Merle Haggard

Merle Haggard.
9
Famous As: Singer-songwriter
Birthdate: April 6, 1937
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Oildale, California, United States
Died: April 6, 2016
Country singer Merle Haggard initially gained fame performing with The Strangers. He had several brushes with the law in his younger days, before he launched his music career. His songs reflected the angst of the working class. He won several accolades, including a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.

 33 Ricky Nelson

Ricky Nelson.
9
Famous As: Musician
Birthdate: May 8, 1940
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Teaneck, New Jersey, US
Died: December 31, 1985

Ricky Nelson was an American pop pioneer, rock & roll star, and singer-songwriter. After establishing himself as a top teen idol during the 1950s, Ricky Nelson went on to release several chartbusting songs. He achieved great popularity and was ranked 91st on Rolling Stone magazine's 100 Greatest Artists of All Time list.

 34 B.B. King

B.B. King.
7
Famous As: Singer-songwriter
Birthdate: September 16, 1925
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Berclair, Mississippi
Died: May 14, 2015
Known as “The King of the Blues,” legendary musician B. B. King introduced a signature style of soloing using string bending and vibrato. His song The Thrill is Gone won him a Grammy Hall of Fame Award. He was featured on Rolling Stone’s “100 greatest guitarists of all time” list.

 35 John Bonham

John Bonham.
5
Famous As: Drummer of Rock Band Led Zeppelin
Birthdate: May 31, 1948
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Redditch, England, UK
Died: September 25, 1980

John Bonham was an English drummer and songwriter. Considered one of the most influential and greatest rock drummers in history, Bonham was part of the world-renowned rock band Led Zeppelin. He influenced several drummers like Joey Kramer, Dave Grohl, Ian Mosley, Neil Peart, and Tommy Lee among other famous drummers. Bonham is a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee.

 36 Jerry Garcia

Jerry Garcia.
6
Famous As: Musician
Birthdate: August 1, 1942
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: San Francisco
Died: August 9, 1995

Jerry Garcia had an illustrious 30-year career as the lead guitarist and vocalist of the rock band the Grateful Dead. Rolling Stone ranked him 13th on their 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time list. He was known for his improvisations, participated in many side projects, and released several solo albums.

 37 Trent Reznor

Trent Reznor
5
Famous As: Singer, Composer, Pianist, Musician, Singer-songwriter, Guitarist, Record producer
Birthdate: May 17, 1965
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Mercer

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. . 

 38 Lou Reed

Lou Reed.
4
Famous As: Musician, Singer
Birthdate: March 2, 1942
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Southampton, New York, United States
Died: October 27, 2013
Lou Reed redefined the glam rock genre with his album Transformer. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee initially wrote sings for Pickwick Records and performed with the Velvet Underground. He then released 20 solo albums. His parents had made him go through electro-shock therapy to “cure” his bisexuality.

 39 Thom Yorke

Thom Yorke.
4
Famous As: Singer, Musician, Songwriter
Birthdate: October 7, 1968
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Wellingborough

English musician, Thom Yorke, is the main vocalist and songwriter of the rock band Radiohead. He is a multi-instrumentalist as well. Active in the music industry for over 35 years, he performs both as part of his band and as a solo artist. He is a human rights activist and also supports animal rights, environmental and anti-war causes.

 40 Keith Moon

Keith Moon.
6
Famous As: Drummer
Birthdate: August 23, 1946
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Wembley, England
Died: September 7, 1978

Keith Moon was an English drummer whose drug addiction and self-destructive behavior overshadowed his contribution to the rock band The Who. His drumming continues to attract appreciation from critics. Several other drummers like Dave Grohl and Neil Peart have cited Moon's drumming style as an influence. In 1982, he was inducted posthumously into the Modern Drummer Hall of Fame.

 41 Dimebag Darrell

Dimebag Darrell
5
Famous As: Guitarist, Composer, Musician
Birthdate: August 20, 1966
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Dallas
Died: December 8, 2004

 42 Mark Knopfler

Mark Knopfler
5
Famous As: Singer-songwriter, Guitarist, Record producer, Film score composer
Birthdate: August 12, 1949
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Glasgow

Best known as the lead guitarist and singer of the popular rock band Dire Straits, Mark Knopfler is one of Britain’s most celebrated guitar icons. Known for hits such as Sultans of Swing, he and his band also released Brothers in Arms, one of the best-selling albums of all time.

 43 Lars Ulrich

Lars Ulrich.
5
Famous As: Drummer
Birthdate: December 26, 1963
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Gentofte

Musician, songwriter, and record producer, Lars Ulrich, is best known as the drummer and co-founder of American heavy metal band Metallica. Born into a family of tennis players, he was initially expected to play the sport as well. However, he was more interested in music and proceeded to pursue a successful career in the field. 

 44 Rick Rubin

Rick Rubin.
5
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.

 45 Ronnie Wood

Ronnie Wood.
4
Famous As: Musician & Songwriter
Birthdate: June 1, 1947
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Hillingdon, Middlesex, England

Ronnie Wood is a musician and songwriter. Over the years, Wood has been an important member of popular rock bands like the Rolling Stones, Jeff Beck Group, and Faces. He is one of the few musicians to be inducted twice into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. A cancer survivor, Wood serves as an inspiration to those fighting cancer.

 46 David Byrne

David Byrne.
5
Famous As: American-Scottish musician
Birthdate: May 14, 1952
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Dumbarton, Scotland
Talking Heads lead vocalist and avant-garde musician David Byrne has won several awards, including the Grammy, Oscar, and Golden Globe. He has spoken at TED Talks, launched his own record label, and held visual arts exhibitions. He advocates for cycling and has mostly used a bike throughout his life.

 47 Elvis Costello

Elvis Costello.
5
Birthdate: August 25, 1954
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Paddington, London, England

Regarded as one of the greatest artists of all time, Elvis Costello is a British singer-songwriter. Often counted among British cultural icons, Costello is also known for his humanitarian efforts; a prominent member of the Jazz Foundation of America, Costello has played a crucial role in saving the lives of many elderly blues and jazz musicians in America.

 48 Beck

Beck.
5
Famous As: Musician
Birthdate: July 8, 1970
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Los Angeles, California, United States

Beck is an American musician and record producer. He came into prominence for creating musical collages of several genres. Beck has been applauded by music lovers and critics as being one of the most idiosyncratically creative musicians of alternative rock. Two of his albums were named in the 500 greatest albums of all time list by Rolling Stone magazine. 

 49 Isaac Hayes

Isaac Hayes
4
Famous As: Singer-songwriter
Birthdate: August 20, 1942
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Covington, Tennessee, United States
Died: August 10, 2008

 50 Nile Rodgers

Nile Rodgers
4
Famous As: Guitarist, Composer, Songwriter, Record producer, Film score composer
Birthdate: September 19, 1952
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: New York City