Famous Black Jazz Musicians

Right IconThis 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 Jazz Musicians
 1 
Billie Holiday
(One of the Greatest Jazz Singers from the 1930s to the 1950s)
Billie Holiday
4
Birthdate: April 7, 1915
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States
Died: July 17, 1959
Jazz legend Billie Holiday had a tumultuous childhood and ended up in prison due to prostitution. Upon her release, at 14, she started singing using her pseudonym and performed at sold-out Carnegie Hall shows. Nicknamed Lady Day, she was riddled with alcohol and drug issues. She won four posthumous Grammys.
 2 
Miles Davis
(Trumpeter and one of the Most Prominent Figures in the History of Jazz)
Miles Davis
4
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. 
 3 
Louis Armstrong
(American Writer & Professor of Biochemistry Best Known for His Hard Science Fiction Novels)
Louis Armstrong
4
Birthdate: August 4, 1901
Sun Sign: Leo
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. 

 4 
Nat King Cole
(Singer and Jazz Pianist Best Known His Soft Baritone Voice)
Nat King Cole
5
Birthdate: March 17, 1919
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Montgomery, Alabama, United States
Died: February 15, 1965
Jazz pianist/singer Nat King Cole, father of singer Natalie Cole, is best remembered for tracks such as Too Young and Mona Lisa. His last album, L-O-V-E, was recorded while he battled lung cancer. With The Nat King Cole Show, he became the first African-American to host his own show.
 5 
Chaka Khan
(Singer)
Chaka Khan
6
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.
 6 
John Coltrane
(One of the Most Influential Saxophonists in Music History)
John Coltrane
4
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.
 7 
Don Shirley
(Classical and Jazz Pianist and Composer)
Don Shirley
4
Birthdate: January 29, 1927
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Pensacola, Florida, United States
Died: April 6, 2013

Don Shirley was an American jazz and classical pianist and composer. He is best remembered for his association with Cadence Records where he recorded many albums during the 1950s and 1960s. Apart from performing in numerous concert tours, Shirley also wrote organ symphonies and piano concerti. Shirley's friendship with his bodyguard Tony Lip was dramatized in the film Green Book.

 8 
Thelonious Monk
(Jazz Pianist & Composer)
Thelonious Monk
4
Birthdate: October 10, 1917
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Rocky Mount, North Carolina, United States
Died: February 17, 1982

Thelonious Monk was an American jazz pianist and composer who was noted for his unorthodox approach and idiosyncrasy during his performance. Mentored by Mary Lou Williams, Thelonious Monk contributed to bebop and was associated with Columbia and Riverside labels. His run-in with the police affected his performance after his New York City Cabaret Card was confiscated following the discovery of narcotics in a car.

 9 
Ralph Tresvant
4
Birthdate: May 16, 1968
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Roxbury
 10 
Al Jarreau
(Musician)
Al Jarreau
4
Birthdate: March 12, 1940
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Milwaukee, Wisconsin, United States
Died: February 12, 2017
 11 
Esperanza Spalding
(Music educator, Jazz musician, Singer)
Esperanza Spalding
4
Birthdate: October 18, 1984
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Portland
 12 
Wynton Marsalis
(Trumpeter)
Wynton Marsalis
4
Birthdate: October 18, 1961
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: New Orleans, Louisiana, United States
 13 
Sarah Vaughan
3
Birthdate: March 27, 1924
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Newark, New Jersey, United States
Died: April 3, 1990
 14 
Michael McCary
4
Birthdate: December 16, 1971
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Philadelphia
 15 
Alice Coltrane
(Musician)
Alice Coltrane
3
Birthdate: August 27, 1937
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Detroit, Michigan, United States
Died: January 12, 2007
 16 
Hugh Masekela
(South African Trumpeter Known for His Jazz Compositions and for Writing Well-Known Anti-apartheid Songs)
Hugh Masekela
3
Birthdate: April 4, 1939
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Emalahleni Local Municipality, South Africa
Died: January 23, 2018

A pioneer of South African jazz, instrumentalist Hugh Masekela excelled in the trumpet and introduced South African music to countries such as the U.S. He was also a vocal anti-apartheid activist, played for the Jazz Epistles, and was known for his iconic albums such as Hope and Johannesburg.

 17 
Wes Montgomery
(Musician)
Wes Montgomery
3
Birthdate: March 6, 1923
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Indianapolis, Indiana, United States
Died: June 15, 1968
 18 
Jelly Roll Morton
(Pianist, Bandleader, Composer, Conductor, Jazz musician)
Jelly Roll Morton
3
Birthdate: October 20, 1890
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Gulfport
Died: July 10, 1941
 19 
Art Blakey
(Drummer)
Art Blakey
3
Birthdate: October 11, 1919
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Pittsburgh Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Died: October 16, 1990
 20 
Lester Young
(Musician)
Lester Young
3
Birthdate: August 27, 1909
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Woodville, Mississippi, United States
Died: March 15, 1959
 21 
Branford Marsalis
(Saxophonist primarily known for his work in jazz as the leader of the Branford Marsalis Quartet)
Branford Marsalis
3
Birthdate: August 26, 1960
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Breaux Bridge, Louisiana, United States
 22 
Grover Washington, Jr.
3
Birthdate: December 12, 1943
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Buffalo, New York, United States
Died: December 17, 1999
 23 
James Jamerson
(Bass player)
James Jamerson
3
Birthdate: January 29, 1936
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Charleston, South Carolina, United States
Died: August 2, 1983
 24 
Max Roach
(Musician)
Max Roach
3
Birthdate: January 10, 1924
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Pasquotank County, North Carolina, U.S.
Died: August 16, 2007
 25 
McCoy Tyner
(Pianist)
McCoy Tyner
3
Birthdate: December 11, 1938
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States
Died: March 6, 2020
 26 
Don Cherry
(Jazz trumpeter)
Don Cherry
3
Birthdate: November 18, 1936
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, United States
Died: October 19, 1995
 27 
W. C. Handy
(Composer)
W. C. Handy
3
Birthdate: November 16, 1873
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Florence, Alabama, United States
Died: March 28, 1958
 28 
Buddy Bolden
(Musical Artist)
Buddy Bolden
3
Birthdate: September 6, 1877
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: New Orleans, Louisiana, United States
Died: November 4, 1931
 29 
Billy Strayhorn
(Former Jazz artist known for this three-decade collaboration with Duke Ellington)
Billy Strayhorn
3
Birthdate: November 29, 1915
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Dayton, Ohio, United States
Died: May 31, 1967
 30 
Louis Jordan
(Singer, Actor, Saxophonist, Jazz musician)
Louis Jordan
3
Birthdate: July 8, 1908
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Arkansas
Died: February 4, 1975
 31 
Roy Hargrove
(Musician)
Roy Hargrove
4
Birthdate: October 16, 1969
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Waco, Texas, United States
Died: November 2, 2018
 32 
Freddie Hubbard
(Trumpeter)
Freddie Hubbard
3
Birthdate: April 7, 1938
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Indianapolis, Indiana, United States
Died: December 29, 2008
 33 
Donald Byrd
(Musician)
Donald Byrd
3
Birthdate: December 9, 1932
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Detroit, Michigan, United States
Died: February 4, 2013
 34 
Ron Carter
(Musician)
Ron Carter
3
Birthdate: May 4, 1937
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Ferndale, Michigan, U.S.
 35 
Eric Dolphy
(Musician)
Eric Dolphy
3
Birthdate: June 20, 1928
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Los Angeles, California, United States
Died: June 29, 1964
 36 
Earl Hines
(Jazz musician)
Earl Hines
3
Birthdate: December 28, 1903
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Duquesne, Pennsylvania, United States
Died: April 22, 1983
 37 
Nathan East
(Bassist, Jazz musician)
Nathan East
3
Birthdate: December 8, 1955
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Philadelphia
 38 
Ray Brown
(Former jazz double bassist known for extensive work with Oscar Peterson and Ella Fitzgerald)
Ray Brown
3
Birthdate: October 13, 1926
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, United States
Died: July 2, 2002
 39 
Horace Silver
(Pianist)
Horace Silver
3
Birthdate: September 2, 1928
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Norwalk, Connecticut, U.S.
Died: June 18, 2014
 40 
Cleo Laine
(Actress, Singer)
Cleo Laine
3
Birthdate: October 28, 1927
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Uxbridge, Middlesex, England
 41 
Terence Blanchard
2
Birthdate: March 13, 1962
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: New Orleans, Louisiana, United States
 42 
Billy Cobham
(Drummer)
Billy Cobham
0
Birthdate: May 16, 1944
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Colón, Panama
 43 
Chester Thompson
(Drummer Best Known for His Tenures with Frank Zappa & The Mothers of Invention)
Chester Thompson
2
Birthdate: December 11, 1948
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Baltimore, Maryland, United States
 44 
William Onyeabor
3
Birthdate: March 26, 1946
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Nigeria
Died: January 16, 2017
 45 
Charlie Christian
2
Birthdate: July 29, 1916
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Bonham, Texas, United States
Died: March 2, 1942
 46 
Ramsey Lewis
(Radio personality, Jazz musician, Pianist)
Ramsey Lewis
3
Birthdate: May 27, 1935
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Chicago
 47 
Albert Ayler
(Saxophonist, Composer)
Albert Ayler
2
Birthdate: July 13, 1936
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Cleveland, Ohio, United States
Died: November 25, 1970
 48 
Joe Henderson
(Musician)
Joe Henderson
2
Birthdate: April 24, 1937
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Lima, Ohio, United States
Died: June 30, 2001
 49 
Carter Beauford
(Drummer, Musician)
Carter Beauford
0
Birthdate: November 2, 1958
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Charlottesville, Virginia, United States
 50 
Christian Scott
(Trumpeter)
Christian Scott
2
Birthdate: March 31, 1983
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: New Orleans, Louisiana, United States