25 Of The Greatest And Most Famous American Singers Of All Time

Written by Dan Farrant
Last updated

We’d like to believe that there isn’t more American than music. From the blues of the South to country music of the Midwest, the vast and diverse landscape has given birth to some of the most talented and famous singers in the world.

Whether you’re a fan of rock, pop, blues, or country, there’s an amazing singer to suit your preference.

In this post, we’re going to look at the lives and careers of 25 of the greatest and most famous American singers of all time. Let’s get started.

1. Elvis Presley

None has done it quite like Elvis Presley, who would forever be known as the King of Rock and Roll. His contribution to the music industry and American culture is far-reaching and even after his death, he is considered an iconic figure.

Presley rose to prominence in the mid-1950s, with a musical style incorporating gospel, country, and rock and roll. His self-titled debut album came out in 1956 and reached #1 on the charts. It produced several hit songs such as “Blue Suede Shoes” and “Blue Moon.”

In a career that spanned more than two decades, Presley proved he was a force to be reckoned with. He is one of the best-selling music artists of all time with more than 500 million records sold.

In addition, he received various accolades such as three Grammy wins. He was also inducted into multiple music halls of fame.

2. Michael Jackson

Another big name in the world of music is Michael Jackson. Born in Gary, Indiana, he began as a child star in the late 1960s as a member of Jackson 5 with his brothers.

In the 1970s, Jackson went solo, finding massive success in his 1982 album, Thriller. It produced seven hit singles, including “Billie Jean,” “Beat It,” and “Thriller.” Aside from these, he also released equally successful singles such as “Smooth Criminal,” Black or White,” and “Rock with You.”

Jackson is known for his unique blend of rock, soul, and pop. He used the music video not just as a promotional tool but as an art form. In addition, he became famous for his dance techniques, particularly the moonwalk.

Throughout his career, Jackson sold over 400 million records and was nicknamed the “King of Pop.” He won 15 Grammy Awards and 39 Guinness World Records. Also, he was inducted into many halls of fame such as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Songwriters Hall of Fame, and the Rhythm and Blues Music Hall of Fame.

3. Madonna

Did you know that Madonna initially planned to pursue a career in modern dance before transitioning to music? She had also been a vocalist, drummer, and guitarist for some rock bands before eventually going on a solo career.

Born in Bay City, Michigan, Madonna was one of the top female singers of the 1980s and is dubbed the “Queen of Pop.” Her debut self-titled album came out in 1983 and featured the hit songs “Borderline,” “Lucky Star,” and “Holiday.”

She followed this up a year later with her album Like a Virgin, which included the title track and “Material Girl.” Other Madonna hits include “Papa Don’t Preach,” “Vogue,” and “Express Yourself.”

She has sold over 300 million records, making her the top-selling female artist ever. In 2008, she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Related: Up next is our list of the greatest female singers of all time.

4. Whitney Houston

Pop singer Whitney Houston was born in Newark, New Jersey. Dubbed “the Voice,” she became known for her powerful and soulful vocals.

Her career began when she signed to Arista Records at the age of 19. Soon she released her self-titled album, which continues to be one of the top-selling records ever.

In 1992, Houston starred alongside Kevin Costner in the hit film The Bodyguard. The featured song “I Will Always Love You” won a Grammy Award, and it remains a beloved song to this day. Other hits by Houston include “I Wanna Dance with Somebody,” “How Will I Know,” “Higher Love,” and “Where Do Broken Hearts Go.”

Selling over 200 million records worldwide makes Houston one of the best-selling music artists of all time. And only recently, Rolling Stone ranked her the second-greatest singer of all time.

5. Bruce Springsteen

The legendary singer, songwriter, and musician Bruce Springsteen was born in Long Branch, New Jersey. His rock and roll career began in the 1960s and culminated in the 1980s.

Springsteen’s breakthrough came with the release of the album Born to Run. It peaked at #3 on the Billboard 200 and propelled him to global fame.

His 1984 album, Born in the U.S.A., was his most successful album. Seven singles off the album hit the Top 10. The album was certified 17x Platinum by RIAA and topped the charts in many countries.

Throughout his career, Springsteen sold more than 150 million records. He won 20 Grammy Awards and was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1999.

6. Frank Sinatra

The “Ol’ Blue Eyes” Frank Sinatra graces our list as one of the artists who enjoyed such unprecedented success in the early to mid-1940s.

Born in New Jersey, Sinatra began his career in the swing era. His distinctive smooth and rich vocals caught the attention of many “bobby-soxers” (young female fans).

Sinatra’s music spans multiple genres, including jazz, pop, and traditional pop. He became famous for international hits including “My Way,” “New York, New York,” and “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.”

One of the top-selling musicians, Sinatra has sold over 150 million records and is one of the most recognizable American singers of the 20th century.

7. Steven Tyler

The American singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist Steven Tyler is best known as the lead singer for Aerosmith. He co-founded the rock band in 1970, and in this band, he became known as the “Demon of Screamin'” due to his high screams and powerful vocals.

With Tyler as the frontman, Aerosmith released 15 albums. Twenty-five were certified gold, 18 platinum, and 12 multi-platinum. Their hits include “Dream On,” “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing,” and “Crazy.”

Tyler has been performing with the band for over 50 years, during which they have sold more than 150 million records. In 2016, he released his first solo album titled We’re All Somebody from Somewhere.

8. Bob Dylan

The famed Robert Allen Zimmerman — that’s Bob Dylan for you — was born in Duluth, Minnesota. With a career that spanned six decades, he became one of the most influential figures in popular music and culture.

Dylan’s career began in the early 1960s with songs that tackled social issues and civil rights. “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “The Times They are a-Changing” are just some examples that became anthems for the anti-war movement.

Throughout his career, Dylan sold more than 145 million records worldwide. He has also won multiple Grammy Awards and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, and the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

9. Stevie Nicks

In the mid-1970s, singer-songwriter Stevie Nicks was at the height of fame as a member of the rock band Fleetwood Mac. Her vocal chemistry with another member, Lindsay Buckingham, and her unique style quickly established her as an integral part of the band.

The band was known for hits such as “Landslide,” “Dreams,” and Rhiannon,” which Nicks wrote. Their 1975 album, Rumours, won a Grammy Award for Album of the Year in 1978. Throughout their time together, Fleetwood Mac sold over 120 million records.

As a solo artist, Nicks released her debut album, Bella Donna, in 1981, which topped the Billboard 200 chart. Her second solo album, The Wild Heart, came out two years later and went double platinum.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has inducted her twice, first with Fleetwood Mac and again as a solo artist.

Related: Up next is our post on the most popular female singers.

10. Stevie Wonder

Blind singer and keyboardist Stevie Wonder was born Stevland Hardaway Morris in Saginaw, Michigan. He was a child prodigy whose career started at the young age of 11, and by 13, he had a #1 song, “Fingertips.”

Wonder’s music encompasses soul, gospel, blues, and jazz. Some of his most notable songs include “Superstition,” “Isn’t She Lovely,” and “Signed, Sealed, Delivered (I’m Yours).”

Throughout his career, Wonder has had 20 R&B #1 songs and 10 #1 pop songs. He is one of the best-selling music artists with global record sales of over 100 million.

Wonder also received various accolades, with 25 Grammy Awards, more than any other solo artist. Both the Rhythm and Blues Music Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame have inducted him.

11. Tina Turner

Known as the “Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll,” Tina Turner was born in Brownsville, Tennessee. She began her career singing with Ike Turner, and together they made numerous hits.

Turner’s music incorporates R&B, soul, pop, and rock and roll. As a solo artist, her most successful album was 1984’s Private Dancer. It included the smash hit “What’s Love Got to Do with It.” Another of Turner’s most popular songs is her cover of the Creedence Clearwater Revival song “Proud Mary.”

Turner won 12 Grammy Awards, including a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2018, and has sold over 100 million records worldwide. Sadly, she passed away in May 2023, but she left a legacy as a trailblazer in rock and roll.

12. Prince

The “Purple Rain” hitmaker Prince is one of the most famous American singers of all time, having sold over 100 million records. Born Prince Rogers Nelson in Minnesota, he became known for his flamboyant stage presence and wide vocal range.

With his eclectic combination of soul, pop, jazz, funk, and rock, Prince showcased that he was a versatile and innovative artist. Born to musical parents, he began writing music at seven and signed his first record deal at 19. His debut album, For You, debuted in 1978.

Some of his hit songs include “When Doves Cry,” “Little Red Corvette,” “Kiss,” “Raspberry Beret,” and “Let’s Go Crazy.”

In 1993, he changed his name to a symbol, but in 2000, he went back to using the name Prince.

In 2004, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, followed by the UK Music Hall of Fame two years later.

13. Jim Morrison

The Florida-born singer-songwriter and poet Jim Morrison was the lead singer for the Doors. The band was formed in 1965, whose psychedelic rock sound was groundbreaking during its time.

Morrison established himself as a significant figure in the world of rock music. With him as the frontman, the band released hit singles including “Light My Fire,” “Riders on the Storm,” and “People are Strange.”

The Doors sold more than 100 million records worldwide, establishing itself as one of the best-selling bands of all time.

Sadly, Morrison died at the age of 27. His death affected the band and it eventually split in 1973. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inducted Morrison and his bandmates in 1993.

14. Reba McEntire

The renowned American country music singer and actress Reba McEntire was born in McAlester, Oklahoma. Nicknamed “the Queen of Country,” she established herself as a major player in the country music scene since the late 1070s.

Her debut self-titled album came out in 1977. But it wasn’t until her ninth album, Whoever’s in New England, that she reached great success. The record included the #1 title track.

The 1990s saw even more fame for McEntire with her album Rumor Has It, which featured the songs, “Fancy” and “You Lie.” The latter became one of her signature songs. Throughout her career, McEntire has sold over 90 million records.

15. Johnny Cash

The talented country singer, songwriter, and guitarist Johnny Cash was born in Kingsland, Arkansas. Many would remember him as the “Man in Black” for his choice of clothing.

His music was a mix of country, rock and roll, blues, and gospel and explored themes of politics and social issues. He was known for possessing a deep, bass-baritone voice that you can hear from songs such as “Get Rhythm,” “Folsom Prison Blues,” “Ring of Fire,” “I Walk the Line,” and “A Boy Named Sue.”

With a career that spanned decades, Cash would go on to become one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century. He has sold over 90 million records throughout his career. He had also received numerous Grammy Awards and was inducted into the Country Music, Rock and Roll, and Gospel Music Halls of Fame.

16. Eddie Vedder

Many would recognize the singer, songwriter, and musician Eddie Vedder as the lead singer and guitarist of the rock band Pearl Jam. Vedder was born in Evanston, Illinois.

Pearl Jam was formed in 1990 in Seattle and became one of the top alternative rock bands of the 1990s. With his baritone vocals behind their hit songs including “Alive”, “Even Flow”, and “Jeremy,” he became one of the defining voices of the era.

Throughout its career, Pearl Jam sold more than 85 million records. The band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2017.

17. Aretha Franklin

The first female music artist inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was Aretha Franklin. Dubbed the “Queen of Soul,” she was one of the most iconic American singers of her time.

Born in Memphis, Tennessee, she began singing in church as a young child and released a gospel album when she was just 14 years old. Her powerful voice and emotive performances secured her her first record deal at age 18.

In a career that spanned almost six decades, Franklin achieved commercial success. Some of her hit songs include “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” “Respect,” and “Chain of Fools.”

Franklin won an astonishing 18 Grammy Awards. In 1994, she received the Lifetime Achievement Award. With over 75 million records sold worldwide, she remains one of the best-selling music artists.

18. Kurt Cobain

The late 1980s witnessed Nirvana gaining mainstream success. This rock band was fronted by the American singer, songwriter, and musician Kurt Cobain.

Cobain was born in Aberdeen, Washington. He is credited with popularizing the grunge genre of alternative rock.

Nirvana first found success in 1991 with the release of their second album, Nevermind. With 30 million copies sold worldwide, it became one of the best-selling albums ever. Its lead single, “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” is one of the best-selling singles of all time.

Cobain has become such an extremely influential figure that his death at 27 shocked many fans. However, his influence on music and culture remains significant.

19. James Brown

To be called “the Hardest-Working Man in Show Business”, the “Godfather of Soul”, or “Soul Brother No. 1,” tells you a lot about James Brown. This singer, songwriter, dancer, and bandleader is an influential figure in 20th-century popular music.

Born in Barnwell, South Carolina, Brown started as a gospel singer and later became known for his R&B, funk, and soul music. With more than 50 years in music, Brown is credited for influencing the development of several music genres.

His hit songs include “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag,” “I Got You (I Feel Good),” “Get Up Offa That Thing,” and “Say It Loud I’m Black and I’m Proud.” In 1986, Brown was one of the first people inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In 2003, he received the BET Lifetime Achievement Award.

20. Nat King Cole

Hailing from Montgomery, Alabama, Nat King Cole is another hugely popular American singer and jazz pianist. He first gained prominence as a jazz pianist before being known for his soft baritone voice.

Throughout his career, Cole released songs that have since become classics. Some of these include “Mona Lisa, “The Christmas Song,” and “Sweet Lorraine.” His 1951 single, “Unforgettable,” is one of the songs he’s most famous for. It was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.

Forty years later, his daughter Natalie Cole did a duet with the original recording he made. The remixed version won three Grammy Awards, including Song of the Year in 1992.

Cole sold more than 50 million records and was awarded the Grammy for Lifetime Achievement Award posthumously.

21. Ray Charles

Though he was blind, he was called “The Genius.” We’re talking about the American singer, songwriter, and pianist Ray Charles. He was born in Albany, Georgia, and became known as a pioneer of soul music.

His music blends R&B, gospel, country, pop, blues, and jazz. This combination creates a unique sound.

Charles’ music career began in the 1940s and achieved fame in the 1950s. Some of his popular hits include “Georgia on My Mind,” “Hit the Road Jack,” and “I Can’t Stop Lovin’ You.”

Aside from influencing the development of soul music, Charles was also known for crossing over into other genres, for instance from R&B to pop to country.

In 1986, Charles was one of the first people inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. With more than 50 million records sold worldwide, he definitely deserves to be on this list.

22. Willie Nelson

One of the most influential artists in country music is singer, songwriter, and guitarist Willie Nelson. He was considered a significant figure of the progressive and outlaw country subgenres in the 1960s.

In 1975, Nelson won the Grammy Award for Best Country Vocal Performance for his song “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain.” He also won a Grammy Award for Best Country Song. In 1981, he won a Grammy for “On the Road Again,” and in 1983 as well for “Always on My Mind.”

Nelson has also collaborated with several big artists in the industry. One notable collaboration is the hit “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys,” which he sang with fellow country music star Waylon Jennings. He also sang with Toby Keith in “Beer for My Horses” and with Ray Charles in “Seven Spanish Angels.”

Nelson has had 25 of his songs reach #1 on the charts, and he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1993.

23. Janis Joplin

Among the top female rock stars of all time is the singer-songwriter Janis Joplin, born in Port Arthur, Texas. She stood out for her powerful, raspy vocals and electric stage presence.

Jopin’s music can be described as a fusion of blues and rock and roll. Her career started as the lead vocalist of Big Brother and the Holding Company, a San Francisco rock band. She went on to achieve fame as a solo artist with over 18 million albums sold.

As one of the most popular singers of the sixties, she played at the famous Woodstock festival in 1969.

She only released two solo albums before her shocking death at the age of 27. Her debut album, I Got Dem Ol’ Kozmic Blues Again Mama! featured the songs “To Love Somebody,” “Little Girl Blue,” and her live Woodstock performance of “Piece of My Heart.”

24. Patsy Cline

Famous for her country and pop music, American singer Patsy Cline is considered one of the influential vocalists of the 20th century. Born in Winchester, Virginia, Cline’s career began in the early 1950s.

Even from a young age, Cline showed a passion for singing. As a teenager, she sang in a variety of country music bands in her hometown. And when she was 15, she auditioned for the Grand Ole Opry.

Cline released three studio albums between 1957 and 1962, with some of her hit songs including “Walkin’ After Midnight,” “I Fall to Pieces,” and “She’s Got You.” Throughout her career, she sold more than 15 million records.

Cline was the first female artist inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1973. She was posthumously awarded a Grammy for Lifetime Achievement in 1995.

25. Marvin Gaye

Though he had a very short-lived career, the R&B and soul singer, songwriter, and musician Marvin Gaye left a lasting mark in the music industry. He was born in Washington, D.C., and died when he was 44.

Gaye was dubbed the “Prince of Motown” and “Prince of Soul” for his successes in music. He had several hit songs, including “Sexual Healing,” “I Heard it Through the Grapevine,” “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” and “Let’s Get It On.”

He was awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame after his death.

Summing Up Our List Of Great American Singers

That wraps up our article for now. We hope you’ve enjoyed our compilation of the greatest singers to come out of the United States.

Whatever genre you prefer, we guarantee you can find some singers on the list above to fit your taste.

But, this list doesn’t do justice to the talent and creativity of American music artists. Who did we miss? Let us know and we’ll update this post with some of your favorites.

Photo of author

Dan Farrant, the founder of Hello Music Theory, has been teaching music for over 15 years, helping hundreds of thousands of students unlock the joy of music. He graduated from The Royal Academy of Music in 2012 and then launched Hello Music Theory in 2014. He plays the guitar, piano, bass guitar and double bass and loves teaching music theory.