Though Canada is a huge country, it’s often overshadowed by its southern neighbor the United States. But don’t let that fool you – Canada has a ton of talent to offer, especially in the music world.
Canada has produced a lot of incredible musicians over the years with many of them being household names. And in this post, we’re going to look at 15 of the greatest and most famous Canadian musicians. Let’s get started.
1. Joni Mitchell
Born Roberta Joan Macleod but better known as Joni Mitchell defies generations and music genres. Any artist who reaches people and influences the next generations is a legend.
Mitchell’s music base (folk-rock) is anchored in social, philosophical, gender, and life musings that resonate with fans and speak of her humble beginnings in Fort Macleod, AB.
One of Joni Mitchell’s biggest contributions is perhaps ‘Big Yellow Taxi’ with its environmental theme relevant 50 years later.
Rolling Stone Magazine called her ‘one of the greatest songwriters ever.’
2. Bryan Adams
A rock legend, Bryan Adams represents rock, soft rock, pop-rock, arena (anthem rock), and has a massive fan base in all genres.
This multi-talented guitarist, singer, songwriter progressed into record producer and photographer and has sold anywhere for 75 -100 million singles and records worldwide, making him one of the biggest selling artists of all time.
Adams traveled widely with his parents as a child and started playing guitar with a ‘fake’ Les Paul at 12 years.
Top hits like ‘Cuts Like a Knife, ‘Summer of 69’,’ and ‘Run to You‘ cemented his success.
‘Everything I Do’ put him on a trajectory of success and reached #1 in 19 countries, and remains one of the best-selling singles of all time.
3. Oscar Peterson
Born in Montreal into an immigrant family from the West Indies, O.P. Oscar Emmanuel Peterson is a name that transcends time.
As a jazz and classically trained pianist, Peterson showed an early interest and talent at the ripe age of 5 years old.
Peterson had a passion for the trumpet, but tuberculosis affected his lung capacity and focused on studying the piano. He practiced for 4-6 hours daily.
Today, 200 recordings of his exceptional talent exist. The Grammy Awards have honored him with seven awards and he is considered one of the greatest jazz pianists of the 20th century.
4. Justin Bieber
Representing London, ON, and Canada’s contribution to the Teen Idol category, Justin Bieber rose to fame after releasing his teen pop debut album, ‘My World.’
The album planted him firmly on the Billboard 200 (youngest solo male in 47 years), and ‘Baby’ is one of the highest certified singles of all time in the US.
Although he is still in his late 20s, Bieber has sold over 150 million records on the international music scene.
His awards and achievements are endless: Grammys, Latin Grammys, Brit Awards, Billboard Awards, American Music Awards, MTV, and Teen Choice Awards (among others).
5. Rufus Wainwright
Rufus Wainwright is an American (Rhinebeck, NY) born Canadian. Wainwright is famous for his unique Baroque, operatic pop, and indie-pop style.
Wainwright’s music is highly influenced by his interest in opera. At the age of 6 years, he showed a talent and interest in piano and started touring with his musical family (The McGarrigle Sisters and Family) at 13 years.
Wainwright received his first big break after his album ‘Poses‘ passed into the hands of DreamWorks executive Lenny Waronker.
Wainwright toured with Sean Lennon in 1998 and recorded nine albums, producing two operas and music for the theater.
6. Neil Young
Neil Young trespassed onto the Winnipeg, MA, music scene in Canada in the 60s. His unique tenor voice rank Young #7 on the list of most celebrated artists (Acclaimed Music).
Young has long-standing friendships with Joni Mitchell and band members in Crosby, Stills & Nash, and has collaborated with Pearl Jam. Crazy Horse (1968-present) has produced 12 studio albums and live albums.
Young & Crazy Horse represent rock, folk-rock, and country-rock, though Young is teasingly nicknamed the Godfather of Grunge. He was inducted twice into the R & R Hall of Fame.
Young has made California his home since the 60s and became a citizen in 2020 (dual citizenship) and married Daryl Hannah in 2018.
7. Shania Twain
Yes, Eilleen Regina ‘Shania’ Twain is Canadian. Born into humble beginnings, Twain rose to superstardom after her second album ‘The Woman in Me’ sold 20 million records.
With her universal appeal to both the country and pop fan base, Twain sold more than 100 million albums and is the best-selling female singer in country music history.
Twain’s third album, ‘Come on Over’, is the best-selling studio album by a female in any genre and country music album selling 40 million copies.
Twain has received 5 Grammy Awards and 2 World Music Awards and currently ranks as one of the best-selling artists of all time with over 100 million records sold worldwide.
But, private and health concerns slowed the career of ‘Queen of Country Pop.’
8. Celine Dion
Celine Dion represents pop, rock, R&B, gospel, and classical music and is admired worldwide. Ever since she burst onto the scene as a teen during the 80s, people exalted her talent.
The music industry has never heard a voice as technically pitch-perfect and emotionally powerful.
She is the best Canadian and French-language artist of all time. She performs mainly in English and French but can add six other languages to her impressive repertoire.
Dion’s Taking Chances World Tour remains one of the highest-grossing concert tours, and at the time of writing, she is in the top 20 best-selling music artists of all time with over 200 million sales.
9. Michael Bublé
Things might have turned out differently for Michael Bublé if fate had answered and turned him into a professional hockey star.
Singing from an early age, Bublé credits Bing Crosby’s ‘White Christmas’ with an awakening to his singing abilities.
Representing swing, jazz, traditional pop, and easy listening styles, Bublé is a household name and transcends music barriers.
Albums released in 2005, ‘It’s Time’ and ‘Call me Irresponsible’ in 2007, launched Bublé onto the international music scene. His suave, crooning voice has made him a favorite for many generations. He has a growing Grammy and Juno Awards collection and attributes his grandfather to his success.
10. David Foster
If they ever hand out the award for the best musician of all times, that honor belongs to David Foster from Victoria, BC.
While we think of musicians as singers or instrumentalists, Foster is the king of classical, pop, rock, jazz, gospel, and R&B music. His career began playing for legends Ronnie Hawkins, Chuck Berry, and Chicago.
His portfolio holds 16 Grammy Awards, 47 nominations, and a list of who’s who a mile long.
Perhaps most recognized for the theme song ‘St. Elmo’s Fire‘, Foster’s talent, however, has touched the careers of hundreds of stars and megastars.
Foster produced hits for Dolly Parton, Whitney Houston, Beyonce, Toni Braxton, Diana Krall, Michael Jackson, Barbara Streisand, Bette Midler, Celine Dion, etc.
Canadian fans first met Aubrey ‘Drake’ Graham on a Canadian teen audience television program, Degrassi, which provided a foundation to Graham’s other passion, which is music.
Struggling in Toronto, Drake eventually set recording records in Hip Hop, R&B, pop, pop rap, and trap. As well as singing he plays multiple instruments including the drums, guitar, and piano.
His debut ‘Thank Me Later’ made #1 on Billboard 200, and his 4th album, ‘Views,’ stayed on the 2016 charts for 13 weeks. In 2017, ‘More Life’ set streaming records while What’s Next set chart records.
Graham has sold over 170 million records and is a Canadian tourist attraction in Toronto and an avid NBA Raptor supporter.
12. Leonard Cohen
Leonard Cohen is synonymous for his smokey voice and poet lyrics in the folk and soft rock genre, often exploring religious, political, and personal struggle themes.
Starting his career as a writer and poet, Cohen arrived on the music scene in 1967 to establish himself as an iconic figure on the world stage.
Cohen exhibited a passion for literature so prevalent in his music. Since then, the music industry has showered Cohen with many accolades, including the 9th Glenn Gould Prize.
While Cohen’s career had a sound footing (collaboration with legendary producer Phil Spector), many discovered a new respect for his genius when K.D. Lang performed ‘Hallelujah’ at the 2010 opening ceremony for the Vancouver Olympics.
13. Alanis Morissette
Alanis Morissette stormed the music scene with her mezzo-soprano voice and the release of her 1995 alt-rock album ‘Jagged Little Pill,’ which sold 33 million copies.
Morissette was born in Ottawa, Canada’s capital, and earned her stripes with moderate success with two previous dance-pop albums.
Rolling Stone Magazine hailed ‘Jagged Little Pill’ in their top 500 list of Greatest Albums in 2003 and 2020.
Morissette still holds the record for most #1 hits on Billboard Alternative Song Chart by any female soloist and has sold over 75 million records.
She represents alternative rock, post-grunge, indie pop, electronica, hard rock, pop-rock, and early forays into dance-pop.
14. Anne Murray
Morna ‘Anne’ Murray is a much-loved Canadian singer from Nova Scotia on Canada’s east coast. She was the first Canadian female singer to reach #1 on US charts with her iconic song, ‘Snowbirds’ in 1970.
The CMAA bestowed her with ‘Album of the Year’ in 1984 as the first Canadian to win the award.
Murray was initially inclined to become a Physical Education teacher, but the music bug firmly planted at a young age made her into a star. She studied piano and singing.
Murray’s career spans over 40 years, and Billboard named her 10th in their lineup of 50 Biggest Adult Contemporary stars ever.
15. The Weeknd
Although already a star, Abel Makkonen Tesfaye better known by his stage name The Weeknd, became a household name after the LV Superbowl halftime show in 2021.
Born to Ethiopian immigrants in Toronto, Tesfaye is a highly awarded singer-songwriter and producer representing R&B, hip hop, pop, dance alternative, and new wave.
‘Earned It‘ was the soundtrack for 50 Shades of Grey earned a Grammy Award and Academy Award nomination.
In 2015, ‘Beauty Behind The Madness‘ became #1 on Billboard 200 and is one of the best-selling albums of that year.
Another highlight of his career is that his song “Blinding Lights” is the longest-charting song in Billboard history.
Summing Up Our List Of Great Canadian Musicians
Canada has many more gifted musicians that should be added to this list. There is no shortage of talent in the music industry north of the American border.
We haven’t even discussed the world-class bands and their members.