​​16 Of The Greatest And Most Famous Baritone Singers Of All Time

Written by Dan Farrant
Last updated

Whether you’re talking about popular or classical music, the voice range of the baritone has an unforgettable and distinctive sound. The baritone is a category of voice range that sits between the bass and tenor, and it typically blends the depth and power of the bass singer with the cutting brilliance of a tenor.

While it is important to realize that there are no exact cut-offs in the ranges of voice types, voice classifications are crucial when casting operas. So if you are curious and want to find out more, keep reading as we cover 16 of the greatest and most famous baritone singers of all time.

1. Elvis Presley

Undoubtedly one of the iconic and most popular musicians, Elvis Presley is someone who should need little to no introduction. Born in Mississippi in 1935, he would eventually earn the nickname King of Rock and Roll. 

Presley, however, was more than just a singer, and his influence as a cultural icon spread around the world. He holds a Guinness World Record for being the best-selling solo music artist, with over one billion records sold worldwide.

In terms of singing, Presley had a distinctive voice. He had a blend of the baritone and tenor range. From his first recordings in 1953 to his comeback in the 1970s, Presley gripped crowds with his captivating energy.

His flourishing career was unfortunately cut short in 1977 due to heart disease, but his legacy continues today. In fact, he was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2018.

2. Johnny Cash

American singer and songwriter Johnny Cash, born in Arkansas in 1932, has to be included in this list because of the unique depth and texture of his singing voice. 

Cash rose to fame in the mid-1950s, especially when he moved to Memphis in 1954. This move became the major turning point of his career, where he became famous for his superior songwriting skills and distinctive baritone voice.

Cash’s music explored darker themes that matched the sonority of his voice. These themes also synced up with the distinctive all-black outfits he would wear on stage, earning him the moniker the Man in Black. 

In his lengthy 49-year career, spanning from 1954 until his death in 2003, he went on to sell over 90 million records. Among his greatest hits are “I Walk the Line,” “Folsom Prison Blues,” and “Ring of Fire.” 

His contributions to the music industry remain significant up to this day, and in April 2019, a statue of Cash was erected in the National Statuary Hall to represent Arkansas’ modern history.

3. Christian Gerhaher

Born in Straubing in 1969, German baritone Christian Gerhaher began his musical studies with various German teachers and attended classes with the famous baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. 

While Gerhaher has taken on many huge roles in classic operas, he is particularly well-known as a singer of Lieder, which makes sense considering his studies with Dieskau. Coincidentally, his baritone remarkably resembles the voice of Dieskau.

In the span of his career, Gerhaher has recorded a huge range of chamber music repertoire, including classics from Schubert, Brahms, and Mahler. His recording of Schubert songs with pianist Gerold Huber even won the classical Gramophone award in 2006 in the category of vocal solos. 

Gerhaher also received an award in 2011 for his role in Wagner’s opera Tannhauser at the Royal Opera House. He is currently a professor at the Hochschule für Musik und Theater in Munich, Germany.

4. José Van Dam

Belgian bass-baritone singer José Van Dam was born in Brussels in 1940. He started his musical career early. By age 17, he was studying at the Royal Conservatory in Brussels where he studied with Belgian tenor Frederic Anspach.

Van Dam soon entered the professional world of opera after his graduation. By 1961, he was performing with the Paris Opera and made his debut in Gioacchino Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia. By 1967, he joined the Deutsche Oper Berlin, one of the leading opera companies.

Besides his famously beautiful and powerful tone quality in the opera repertoire, Van Dam was equally gifted in the chamber music repertoire, for which he won multiple awards.

In 1974, the city of Berlin awarded him with the title of a distinguished singer. Some of his most famous recordings included operas like Carmen, The Magic Flute, and Faust.

5. Titta Ruffo

The Italian baritone Titta Ruffo is a staple figure in the history of singing and opera. Born in Pisa in 1877, Ruffo studied vocal techniques throughout his childhood with many teachers, eventually ending up studying in Rome at Santa the Cecilia Conservatory.

By 1898, Ruffo was making his professional debut singing in Wagner’s Lohengrin. In the early 1900s, he came to America and sang with some of the major US opera companies, including the Metropolitan Opera in New York. 

Music critics and fellow singers alike described Ruffo’s voice as particularly special, and this earned him the nickname Voice of the Lion.

Another of Ruffo’s distinctions is that he was considered a freelancer in the opera industry — he chose not to have an exclusive contract with any single opera company.

6. Friedrich Schorr

Bass-baritone Friedrich Schorr was an Austrian-Hungarian opera singer well-known for his deeply powerful and consistently amazing operatic voice.

Born in Oradea in 1888, he would later study in Vienna with the distinguished Austrian baritone and teacher Adolf Robinson. By 1912, Schorr made his professional debut in Austrian opera, and over the next 10 years, he sang in other major opera productions around the world.

Some of his acclaimed appearances included his performance at the Covent Garden in London, at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, and the Bayreuth Festival in Germany.

Schorr was especially famous for his smooth legato singing, notably in roles such as Wotan and Hans Sachs in Wagner’s operas. He eventually moved to America in 1931 where he regularly sang with the Metropolitan Opera.

7. Bing Crosby

Moving away from the classical and operatic repertoire and on to famous male jazz singers, Bing Crosby was a famous actor and singer of popular music.

Born in Washington in 1903, Crosby would eventually take a job in his teens at a local auditorium that enabled him to see some of the most popular acts of that time.

After many smaller musical performances in vocal groups and bands, Crosby eventually made a solo debut in a national radio broadcast in 1931. Afterward, he became nationally famous as a multimedia star, making at least 70 films and well over 1,000 songs.

Crosby had a long five-decade career, beginning in 1922 until his death in 1977. On the 30th anniversary of his passing, Crosby’s family launched a website to commemorate his legacy, not just to music, but also to the TV and broadcasting industry.

8. Pavel Lisitsian

Soviet-born baritone Pavel Lisitsian was born in 1911 in the Russian city of Vladikavkaz. He worked in fields unrelated to music, such as welding and diamond drilling, before he began his music career. He, however, received some basic music training in his church choir.

By 1930, he moved to Leningrad to study the cello and would eventually be admitted to the Leningrad Conservatory as a vocalist. He began his professional vocal career in Leningrad but would spend most of his career singing as a soloist at Moscow’s famous ​​Bolshoi Opera.

Among his most notable performances were Bizet’s Carmen, Prokofiev’s War and Peace, Verdi’s Traviata and Aida, and Tchaikovsky’s Mazepa, The Queen of Spades, Iolanta, and Evgenie Onegin.

Because of Soviet politics, however, his international touring was hampered, which also limited his fame. However, Lisitian is now known as having one of the most beautiful baritone voices of the 20th century and is dubbed as People’s Artist of the USSR.

9. Tito Gobbi

An internationally famous Italian baritone, Tito Gobbi was born in northern Italy in 1913. Like many famous singers, he pursued a career outside of music when someone discovered his talent for singing.

By 1932, Gobbi moved to Rome to study music under the tutelage of Italian operatic tenor Giulio Crimi. In 1935, he made his professional debut in Bellini’s La sonnambula

After the Second World War, Gobbi’s career took off outside of Italy, and he sang with opera companies in San Francisco, Chicago, New York, and London. He performed almost 100 roles throughout his career.

Besides his singing, people also greatly appreciated Gobbi for his superb acting. Among his famous performances included his roles in Iago (Otello) and Falstaff. He was also an accomplished stage director, and his most notable work was Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra

10. Frank Sinatra

The famous American singer and actor Frank Sinatra probably needs no introduction. Born in New Jersey in 1915, Sinatra became one of the top-selling musicians of all time, selling over 150 million records worldwide throughout his 60-year career.

Undoubtedly, it was his unique baritone voice quality that helped propel him to fame — a deep yet delicate vocal sound. Some of his top songs include “Come Fly With Me,” “Fly Me to the Moon,” “New York, New York,” and “My Way.”

He also forged a successful film career, debuting as an uncredited singing role in Las Vegas Nights. Sinatra went on to star in over 58 films over the years, including Ocean’s 11, Guys and Dolls, and From Here to Eternity.

Sinatra lived until the ripe age of 82 and is referred to as one of the greatest singers of the 20th century, alongside other baritones such as Bing Crosby and Elvis Presley.

11. Nat King Cole

Born in Alabama in 1919, Nat King Cole was an all-around talented artist, equally gifted as a singer, pianist, and actor. He recorded countless hit songs, such as “Unforgettable,” “L-O-V-E,” and “The Christmas Song.”

Cole was known for having a pure and clean baritone voice, especially in the genre of jazz. He also had a remarkably accurate sense of pitch. Over his three-decade career, he sold over 50 million records.

Outside of music, he acted both in films and on Broadway, starring in over 22 roles. He was also groundbreaking for being the first African-American man to host a TV series in America called The Nat King Cole Show, which aired from 1956 to 1957.

Shortly before his death in February 1965, his last album, L-O-V-E, was released and ranked #4 on the Billboard Albums chart. Years after, there were several posthumous releases of his songs, including a tribute album containing a re-record of his hit song “Unforgettable,” which won seven Grammy awards.

12. Sherrill Milnes

American baritone Sherrill Milnes was born in Illinois in 1935. He has been naturally gifted in music since he was a child, showing a keen interest in singing and playing several instruments, including the piano, clarinet, violin, viola, and tuba. 

He would eventually attend Drake University and Northwestern University, and he made his first professional performance in 1960 with the Boston Opera Company.

By 1965, Milnes was regularly performing with the Metropolitan Opera in New York City, and he became especially famous for the roles he had in Verdi operas.

Through the 1970s and 1980s, Milnes was one of the most internationally famous opera baritones. He made his final performance in March 1997 after 32 long years in the music industry, playing as Amonasro in Verdi’s Aida.

He has done over 650 performances before retiring from the opera scene. Milnes currently works as a Voice professor at his alma mater, Northwestern University.

13. Bryn Terfel

Born as Bryn Terfel Jones in 1965, Bryn Terfel is a Welsh bass-baritone opera singer, known for his roles in Mozart operas, particularly as Don Giovanni, Figaro, and Leporello.

To avoid confusion with Delme Bryn-Jones, another Welsh baritone, he decided to use Bryn Terfel as his stage name.

Terfel has been interested in music his entire life. He won several singing competitions in his youth, and he would eventually move to London to study music at Guildhall School of Music and Drama under the mentorship of German vocal teacher Rudolf Piernay.

In 1990, Terfel made his debut with the Welsh National Opera, singing in Mozart’s “Cosi Fan Tutte,” and by 1992, he had a well-established international career.

Outside of operatic roles, he also excels in concert performances, most significantly in the Stephen Sondheim musical Sweeney Todd. In the 2017 New Year Honors, Terfel was made a Knight Bachelor for his services to the music industry.

14. Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau

The German baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau was one of the most famous performers of Lieder, otherwise known as Aart Song. Born in Berlin in 1925, Dieskau sang throughout his childhood but did not take formal lessons until he was 16 years old.

During World War 2, he was captured in Italy and spent two years in POW camps. During that time, he would sing Lieder to homesick German soldiers. 

By 1947, his career was in full swing as he began taking on big opera roles, including his role as the principal baritone of Berlin’s municipal opera. He debuted his musical career as a Badenweiler singer, and among his most memorable performances was singing Brahms’s “Ein Deutsches Requiem” without previously rehearsing.

During the length of his 65-year career, Dieskau recorded a diverse set of repertoire. Although he took on many big opera roles, he was probably most well-known for his smaller-scale chamber performances. His performances in Franz Schubert’s Lieder, particularly “Winterreise,” are among the most famous interpretations of that great repertoire.

Dieskau retired from his opera career in 1978 and from the concert hall on New Year’s Day in 1993. He passed away in 2012 at the ripe age of 86.

15. ​​Gerald Finley

Canadian baritone Gerald Finley was born in Montreal in 1960, and he has established himself as one of the top opera singers in today’s classical music world.

After beginning his musical studies in Canada, Finley went on to study at the Royal College of Music in London during the 1980s.

His career slowly grew with bigger roles from that point, and by 1998, he made his debut performance with the Metropolitan Opera in New York City as Papageno in Mozart’s The Magic Flute

In more recent years, Finley has shown the world that aside from his great interpretations of the classics, he is equally gifted at performing contemporary operas, such as Doctor Atomic by John Adams and Fantastic Mr. Fox by Tobias Picker.

He is still active in the music industry up to this day, and his most recent performance was his role as Bluebeard in Barok’s Bluebeard’s Castle in 2020 during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

16. Tom Jones

We can’t have a list of baritone singers without Tom Jones, whose real name is Sir Thomas John Woodward. He started singing at local pubs and weddings, catching the attention of many with his unique voice.

In the mid-1960s, Jones shot to fame with his breakthrough hit, “It’s Not Unusual.” This upbeat song reached #1 in the UK and broke into the top 10 in the US.

Jones’s career spans over five decades, during which he has released numerous albums and singles across various genres, from pop and rock to country and dance. Some of his other notable songs include “What’s New Pussycat?” “Green, Green Grass of Home,” and “Delilah,” all of which were big hits in the 1960s.

Despite his age (now 83), Jones continues to perform and record new music, proving his enduring talent and passion for music. His baritone voice remains as powerful as ever!

Summing Up Our List Of Great Baritone Singers

That ends our list, and we hope you now have a much deeper appreciation of the range of genres and sound qualities of some of the most well-known baritone singers from history. 

Whether you are listening to the powerful sonority of a baritone opera singer like José Van Dam or the smooth and chilled-out tone of Frank Sinatra, the baritone voice range remains one of the most enjoyable tone qualities in music!

Do you have other favorites that we weren’t able to include in our list? Let us know and we’ll add them!

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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.