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

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There are few things 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 style.

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. Aretha Franklin

The first female music artist inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Aretha Franklin was one of the most popular soul singers.

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 debut studio album Franklin came out in 1961. Franklin has sold over 75 million records and won an astonishing 18 Grammy Awards.

Some of her hit songs included “You Make Me Feel Like A Natural Woman,” “Respect,” and “Chain of Fools” and in 1994, she received the Lifetime Achievement Award

2. Elvis Presley

Called the King of Rock and Roll, Elvis Presley was born in Mississippi, where he spent most of his childhood.

His musical style incorporated gospel, country, and rock and roll, and since he began he has sold over 500 million records, making him the top-selling solo artist ever.

His self-titled debut album came out in 1956 and reached number one on the charts which included hit songs like “Blue Suede Shoes” and “Blue Moon.”

Other famous songs include “Jailhouse Rock,” “All Shook Up,” “Don’t Be Cruel,” “Suspicious Minds,” “Hound Dog,” and “Love Me Tender.:

Presley received the Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award in 1971 and joined the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986.

3. Whitney Houston

Pop singer Whitney Houston was born in Newark, New Jersey, and has sold over 200 million records.

Her career began when she signed to Arista Records at the age of 19 and soon 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.”

She joined the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Rhythm and Blues Music Hall of Fame.

4. Madonna

Born in Bay City, Michigan, Madonna was one of the top female singers of the 1980s and received the title of 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 and she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2008.

5. Bruce Springsteen

Born in Long Branch, New Jersey, Bruce Springsteen is commonly nicknamed The Boss. His rock and roll career began in the 1960s and culminated in the 1980s.

He released his debut studio album, Greetings from Asbury Park N.J., in 1973. It included the songs “Blinded by the Light” and “Spirit in the Night.”

The album, Born in the U.S.A., came out in 1984 and was his most successful album. In addition to the popular title track, the album also included the songs “My Hometown,” “Glory Days,” and “I’m on Fire.”

Springsteen has sold over 150 million albums and won 20 Grammy Awards. He also took his place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1999.

6. Stevie Wonder

Blind singer and keyboardist Stevie Wonder is from Saginaw, Michigan whose career started at the young age of 11, and by 13, he had a number one song, “Fingertips.”

Wonder’s music encompasses soul, gospel, blues, and jazz and has had 20 R&B number one songs and ten number-one pop songs. 

Hit songs include “I Just Called to Say I Love You,” “Superstition,” “Isn’t She Lovely,” and “Signed Sealed Delivered.”

Throughout his career Wonder has sold over 100 million records and won 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 Wonder.

7. Tina Turner

Known as the Queen of Rock and 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.”

She has won 12 Grammy Awards, including a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2018, and has sold over 100 million records worldwide.

8. Patsy Cline

Born in Winchester, Virginia, Patsy Cline was famous for her country and pop music.

Passionate about singing from childhood, she auditioned for the Grand Ole Opry at the age of 15. As a teenager, she sang in a variety of country music bands in her hometown.

Cline released three studio albums between 1957 and 1962 with some of her hit songs including “Walkin’ After Midnight,” “I Fall to Pieces,” “She’s Got You,” “Crazy,” and “Leavin’ on Your Mind.”

She 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.

9. Nat King Cole

Hailing from Montgomery, Alabama, Nat King Cole is one of the most popular jazz singers of all time.

His first hit song came out in 1940 called “Sweet Lorraine” with another popular song being his 1948 hit “Nature Boy.”

In 1951, Cole released one of the songs he’s most famous for “Unforgettable.” Forty years later, his daughter Natalie Cole did a duet with the original recording he made with the song winning three Grammy Awards, including Song of the Year in 1992.

Cole is also well known for “The Christmas Song,” released in 1953, and still played during the holidays today.

In 1990, Cole was posthumously awarded a Grammy for Lifetime Achievement, and he became part of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2000.

10. Prince

With his eclectic combination of soul, pop, jazz, funk, and rock. Prince is one of the most popular American singers of all time having sold over 150 million records.

Born to musical parents, he began writing music at the age of seven and signed his first record deal at 19. His debut album, For You, debuted in 1978.

Hit songs by Prince include “When Doves Cry,” “Little Red Corvette,” “Purple Rain,” “Kiss,” “Raspberry Beret,” “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. 

11. James Brown

Known as the Godfather of Soul, James Brown was born in Barnwell, South Carolina. 

Brown started as a gospel singer and later became known for his R&B, funk, and soul music.

His hit songs included “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 won the BET Lifetime Achievement Award.

12. Janis Joplin

Born in Port Arthur, Texas, Janis Joplin combined blues and rock and roll in her music.

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 one solo album before her shocking death at the age of 27. I Got Dem Ol’ Kozmic Blues Again Mama came out in 1969 and featured the songs “To Love Somebody,” “Little Girl Blue,” and her live Woodstock performance of “Piece of My Heart.”

13. Ray Charles

With his including a combination of R&B, gospel, country, pop, blues, and jazz, blind vocalist Ray Charles was born in Albany, Georgia.

In 1957, Charles released his debut self-titled album. Well-known for his hit “Georgia on My Mind,” he also sang “Hit the Road Jack,” “I Can’t Stop Lovin’ You,” “Seven Spanish Angels,” and “Shake Your Tailfeather.”

Charles was one of the first people inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986.

14. Bob Dylan

Singer and songwriter Bob Dylan was born in Duluth, Minnesota. His self-titled debut album came out in 1962 and his second album, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, included the hit song “Blowin’ in the Wind.”

Many of Dylan’s songs were a commentary on the state of politics and civil rights during the 1960s. Popular Dylan songs included “It Ain’t Me Babe,” “Mr. Tambourine Man,” “Like a Rolling Stone,” and “Lay Lady Lay.”

Dylan has won 11 Grammy awards between 1973 and 2007.

15. Michael Jackson

Born in Gary, Indiana, Michael Jackson is one of the best-selling music artists of all time. He has sold over 400 million records and is nicknamed the King of Pop.

His career began in childhood when he was a member of the pop band The Jackson 5 along with his four brothers. 

As a solo artist, one of his top albums was the 1982 album Thriller, which included the songs “Billie Jean,” “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’,” and “Beat It.”

Other Jackson hits included “Bad,” “Smooth Criminal,” “The Way You Make Me Feel,” “Black or White,” and “Rock With You.”

16. Johnny Cash

Famous male country singer, songwriter, and guitarist Johnny Cash was born in Kingsland, Arkansas.

Nicknamed The Man in Black for his choice of clothing and his demeanor, Cash has sold over 90 million records throughout his career.

A mix of country, rock and roll, blues, and gospel, his music explored themes of politics and social issues.

Popular Cash songs include “Get Rhythm,” “Folsom Prison Blues,” “Ring of Fire,” “I Walk the Line,” and a “A Boy Named Sue.”

17. Marvin Gaye

Nicknamed the Prince of Motown and well-known for his soul and R&B music, singer, songwriter, and musician Marvin Gaye was born in Washington, D.C.

Gaye had several hit songs, including Sexual Healing, I Heard it Through the Grapevine, Ain’t No Mountain High Enough, Let’s Get It On, How Sweet it is to be Loved by You, and Mercy Mercy Me.

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

18. Kurt Cobain

Singer, songwriter, and musician Kurt Cobain was born in Aberdeen, Washington. He was the lead vocalist and guitar player for the band Nirvana.

An extremely influential figure in the alternative rock and grunge scene in Seattle, Cobain’s death by suicide at the age of 27 shocked many fans.

Hit songs from Nirvana included Smells Like Teen Spirit, Come As You Are, All Apologies, and Heart-Shaped Box.

19. Jim Morrison

Born in Melbourne, Florida, Jim Morrison was the lead singer for the Doors, a rock band formed in 1965 that was named for an Aldous Huxley book.

The Doors’ eponymous debut album brought them success with the hit song Light My Fire. Other songs by the Doors included Hello, I Love You and People are Strange

Morrison died at the age of 27, though the cause of his death is disputed.

20. Reba McEntire

Nicknamed the Queen of Country, successful female country singer Reba McEntire was born in McAlester, Oklahoma.

She released her debut self-titled album in 1977, but it wasn’t until her tenth album, Whoever’s in New England, that she reached great success. The record included the hit song Little Rock.

The 1990s saw even more fame for McEntire with her album Rumor Has It, which featured the song Fancy

The album For My Broken Heart followed, which included the title track, Is There Life Out There, The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia, and The Greatest Man I Never Knew. Over her career, she has sold over 75 million records.

21. Frank Sinatra

A popular male jazz singer and actor, Frank Sinatra was born in Hoboken, New Jersey. His debut album The Voice of Frank Sinatra came out in 1946.

Sinatra’s hit songs My Way, The Way You Look Tonight, Fly Me to the Moon, Luck Be a Lady, and New York, New York.

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.

22. Eddie Vedder

Lead singer and guitarist of Pearl Jam, Eddie Vedder hails from Evanston, Illinois.

Pearl Jam was founded in 1990 in Seattle and became one of the top alternative rock bands of the 1990s.

Top hits from Pearl Jam include Better Man, Yellow Ledbetter, and Black. The song Jeremy won four MTV Video Music Awards in 1993, including Video of the Year.

Vedder has also released three solo albums, including Earthling in 2022.

23. Steven Tyler

Born in Manhattan, New York, Steven Tyler is best known as the lead singer for Aerosmith, the rock band formed in 1970.

Aerosmith released their self-titled debut album in 1973, followed by Toys in the Attic in 1975, which included the hit song Walk This Way.

In the 1980s the band’s hits included Dude Looks Like a Lady and Janie’s Got a Gun. Their 1993 album Get a Grip included popular songs Livin’ on the Edge, Crazy, and Cryin’.

Tyler has been performing with Aerosmith for over 50 years and they have sold 150 million albums. He was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2013.

In 2016 Tyler released his first solo album entitled We’re All Somebody from Somewhere.

24. Willie Nelson

Singer, songwriter, and guitarist, Willie Nelson was born in Abbott, Texas. His 1962 debut studio album And Then I Wrote included the song Funny How Time Slips Away.

In 1976 Nelson won the Grammy Award for Best Country Vocal Performance for his song Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain. He also won Grammy Awards for Best Country Song. In 1981 he won for On the Road Again and in 1983 he won for Always on My Mind.

Nelson has collaborated with several artists, including the hit Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Cowboys that 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 number one on the charts and he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1993.

25. Stevie Nicks

Singer and songwriter from Phoenix, Arizona, Stevie Nicks is best known for her role with the band Fleetwood Mac, which incorporates rock, pop, and blues in their music.

Nicks joined the band in 1975 with their album Rumours was the 1978 Grammy Award winner for Album of the Year.

Some of her hit songs by Fleetwood Mac include Landslide and Dreams and throughout their time together they sold over 120 million records.

As a solo artist, Nicks released her debut album, Bella Donna, in 1981, followed by The Wild Heart two years later. 

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

Summing Up Our List Of Great American Singers

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

Whether you enjoy blues, pop, country, or soul, you can find a few singers on the list above to fit your tastes.

But, this list doesn’t do any justice to the talent and creativity coming out of the US. Who did we miss off? Let us know and we’ll update this post with some of your favorites.

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Written by Dan Farrant
Dan Farrant, the founder of Hello Music Theory, has been teaching music for over 10 years helping 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. Since then he's been working to make music theory easy for over 1 million students in over 80 countries around the world.