21 Of The Greatest And Most Famous Canadian Musicians

Written by Dan Farrant
Last updated

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 talents 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 21 of the greatest and most famous Canadian musicians. Let’s get started.

1. David Foster

If they ever hand out the award for the best musician of all time, that honor belongs to David Foster from Victoria, British Columbia. This multi-talented man is a composer, arranger, record producer, and music executive.

While we think of musicians as singers or instrumentalists, Foster is the king of classical, pop, rock, jazz, gospel, and R&B music. He began his career playing for legends such as Ronnie Hawkins, Chuck Berry, and Chicago. Perhaps he is most recognized for composing the score for the movie St. Elmo’s Fire.

With more than five decades in the industry, Foster has sold more than 500 million records. He has also amassed 16 Grammy Awards, 47 nominations, and a list of who’s who a mile long. His immense talent has touched the careers of hundreds of stars and megastars.

In addition, Foster produced hits for several big names in the music industry. We’re talking about Dolly Parton, Whitney Houston, Beyonce, Toni Braxton, Michael Jackson, Barbara Streisand, Bette Midler, Celine Dion, and many others.

2. Celine Dion

The music industry has never heard a voice as technically pitch-perfect and emotionally powerful as that of Celine Dion. Born in Charlemagne, Quebec, she is now one of the biggest global household names.

Dion represents pop, rock, R&B, gospel, and classical music. She rose to global fame with “My Heart Will Go On,” the theme song of the 1997 blockbuster film Titanic. This became her biggest hit, winning an Academy Award for Best Original Song.

With more than four decades in her career, Dion has sold over 200 to 250 million records worldwide. This makes her one of the best-selling music artists of all time and the best-selling Canadian recording artist.

And she has no shortage of accolades received as well. She won five Grammy Awards and Billboard named her “Queen of Adult Contemporary” due to having the most #1 adult contemporary songs.

3. Drake

Rapper and singer Drake, born Aubrey Drake Graham, first gained recognition in the Canadian teen audience television program, Degrassi. This provided the foundation for Drake’s other passion, music.

Following his stint on Degrassi, he went on to pursue a career in music. He would later be credited for popularizing singing in the rap genre.

Drake is known for his catalog of hits, including “God’s Plan,” “In My Feelings,” and “One Dance.” He recorded songs in various genres such as hip-hop, R&B, pop, pop rap, and trap. Aside from singing, he also plays multiple instruments.

His debut album, Thank Me Later, reached #1 on Billboard 200. His fourth album, Views, stayed on the 2016 charts for 13 weeks. In 2017, More Life set streaming records while What’s Next set chart records. Drake has sold over 170 million records worldwide.

4. Justin Bieber

Representing London, Ontario, and Canada’s contribution to the Teen Idol category is Justin Bieber. He is proof of how social media can propel you to global stardom. Bieber was discovered by talent manager Scooter Braun when he accidentally clicked on Bieber’s YouTube videos.

Bieber rose to fame after releasing his teen pop debut album, My World 2.0. It planted him firmly on the Billboard 200, being the youngest solo male in 47 years. The album’s lead single, “Baby,” is one of the highest-certified singles of all time in the US.

Bieber doesn’t lack awards and achievements as well. He’s won Grammys, Latin Grammys, Brit Awards, Billboard Awards, American Music Awards, MTV, and Teen Choice Awards (among others). Now in his late 20s, Bieber has sold over 150 million records on the international music scene.

5. Shania Twain

The “Queen of Country Pop” Eilleen Regina ‘Shania’ Twain was born into humble beginnings. In fact, she was already performing at age eight to help with the expenses at home. Her hustling from a young age paid off because now she is one of the most influential figures in the music industry.

Twain rose to superstardom after her second album, The Woman in Me, sold 20 million copies. It was followed by another successful album, Come on Over. This is the best-selling studio album by a female in any genre and a country music album selling 40 million copies.

Some of her hit songs include “You’re Still the One,” “That Don’t Impress Me Much,” and “Man! I Feel Like a Woman!” She sold more than 100 million records and is the best-selling female singer in country music history.

6. Bryan Adams

Having sold between 75 million and more than 100 million records worldwide makes Bryan Adams one of the best-selling music artists of all time. Born in Kingston, Ontario, Adams would make a name for himself as a musician, singer, songwriter, and record producer.

Adams has a massive fan base in rock, soft rock, pop rock, and arena genres. He became known for his raspy vocals and rock-infused style. Top hits like “Cuts Like a Knife,” “Summer of ’69,” and “Run to You” cemented his success.

His 1991 single “(Everything I Do) I Do It for You” put him on a trajectory of success. It reached #1 in 19 countries and remains one of the best-selling singles of all time.

7. Neil Young

Born in Toronto, Ontario, Neil Young had lived in many places in Canada before moving to Los Angeles to pursue music. His unique tenor voice ranks Young #7 on the list of most celebrated artists.

Young is recognized as one of the most influential songwriters and guitarists of his generation. His music career began in the 1960s with bands like Buffalo Springfield and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. However, his solo work was what established his reputation.

Young’s discography includes numerous critically acclaimed albums such as After the Gold Rush, Harvest, and Rust Never Sleeps. Some of his popular songs include “Heart of Gold” and “Old Man.”

Young was dubbed “Godfather of Grunge” for his distorted electric guitar playing. He also plays piano and harmonica on various albums. With 92 million records sold, Young is one of the best-selling music artists. He received Grammy and Juno Awards and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice.

8. Alanis Morissette

Singer-songwriter Alanis Morissette stormed the music scene with her mezzo-soprano voice. Born in Ottawa, she began her music career in the early 1990s with two moderately successful albums. Her music incorporates elements of alternative rock, post-grunge, indie pop, electronica, hard rock, and pop-rock.

Morissette’s international breakthrough came at the release of her 1995 album, Jagged Little Pill. It was a commercial success, selling 33 million copies. Rolling Stone included Jagged Little Pill in their Top 500 list of Greatest Albums in 2003 and 2020. The album also included her hit singles “You Oughta Know,” “Hand in My Pocket,” and “Ironic.”

Morissette still holds the record for most #1 hits on the Billboard Alternative Song Chart by any female soloist. As of this writing, she has sold over 85 million records worldwide.

9. Michael Bublé

Things might have turned out differently for Michael Bublé if fate had answered and turned him into a professional hockey star. He was born in Burnaby, British Columbia, and showed an interest in music from an early age.

Bublé credits Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” with awakening his singing abilities. He became known for his smooth, classic voice and his own interpretations of new and old pop standards.

Bublé began his music career with the release of his self-titled debut album in 2003. It included hits such as “Fever,” “Moondance,” and “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart.” He had his first Grammy Award at the release of his album Call Me Irresponsible, which topped the Billboard 200.

So far, Bublé has sold over 75 million records globally, making him one of the best-selling Canadian artists. Billboard also ranked him the third Top Canadian Artist of all time, behind Celine Dion and Shania Twain.

10. The Weeknd

Born Abel Makkonen Tesfaye, The Weeknd had his roots in Toronto, Ontario. Born to Ethiopian immigrants, he would be known as a highly awarded singer-songwriter and producer representing R&B, hip hop, pop, dance alternative, and new wave.

The Weeknd’s breakthrough came with the release of his album Kiss Land, and its follow-up, Beauty Behind the Madness. The latter produced the hit singles “Can’t Feel My Face” and “The Hills.” He also contributed to movie soundtracks, such as “Earned It” from Fifty Shades of Grey movie. It won him a Grammy Award for Best R&B Performance.

Although already a star, The Weeknd further cemented his place in music history when he headlined the Super Bowl LV halftime show in 2021. He was the first Canadian to do so.

Another highlight of his career is his song “Blinding Lights.” It broke numerous records, including being the longest-charting song in Billboard history.

11. Anne Murray

The renowned Morna Anne Murray is a much-loved Canadian singer from Nova Scotia. In her more than 40 years in the music industry, she has sold over 55 million records worldwide.

Murray broke numerous records. She was the first Canadian female solo singer to reach #1 on the US charts with her iconic song “Snowbirds” in 1970.

In addition, she was the first Canadian to win CMA’s Album of the Year in 1984 for her album A Little Good News. Billboard also ranked her 10th in their lineup of 50 Biggest Adult Contemporary stars ever.

With these accomplishments and more, Murray has paved the way for other Canadian artists such as Shania Twain and Celine Dion.

Aside from “Snowbirds,” Murray released “Danny’s Song” and “You Needed Me.” She is the recipient of various awards such as Grammy Awards, American Music Awards, and Juno Awards.

12. Nelly Furtado

Hailing from Victoria, British Columbia is Canadian singer-songwriter and record producer Nelly Furtado. She is known for possessing a strong, soulful voice and an eclectic style that blends pop, R&B, and hip-hop.

Furtado broke into the music scene with her debut album Whoa, Nelly! It was a critical and commercial success and produced two hit singles, “I’m Like a Bird” and “Turn Off the Light.” The former a Grammy Award for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance.

Her subsequent albums, Folklore and Loose, highlight her versatility as an artist. Loose, in particular, was a commercial success and contained the hit songs “Promiscuous,” “Maneater,” and “Say It Right.”

Furtado has sold over 45 million records worldwide. As of this writing, she has released six studio albums, a live album, two compilation albums, and 32 singles.

13. Avril Lavigne

Our next Canadian musician is considered a significant figure in the development of pop-punk music. Avril Lavigne is also considered influential for paving the way for female-fronted punk-influenced pop music in the early 2000s.

Lavigne first became known for her hits “Losing Grip,” “Complicated” and “Sk8er Boi,” all of which came from her debut album, Let Go. She was a hit among young listeners who liked her “skater punk” persona with a rebellious attitude.

Since her career beginnings, Lavigne has released seven studio albums and 33 singles, selling over 40 million records worldwide. With this achievement, she became the third top-selling Canadian female artist in history.

14. Sarah McLachlan

Another Nova Scotia native on our list is Canadian singer-songwriter Sarah McLachlan. Her emotional ballads and mezzo-soprano vocal range made her a standout music artist.

McLachlan’s music spans various genres such as pop, rock, and folk. She broke into the music scene with her album Fumbling Towards Ecstasy in 1993. However, her follow-up album, Surfacing, catapulted her to international fame. It contained hits such as “Building a Mystery” and “Angel,” both of which became classics.

Her contributions to music earned her various awards such as Grammy and Juno Awards. She has since sold over 40 million records worldwide.

15. Leonard Cohen

Canadian Music Hall of Famer Leonard Cohen was born in Montreal, Quebec. He is known for his smokey voice and distinctive folk sound. He is also known for his melancholic songs dealing with love, loss, spirituality, and personal struggles.

Cohen began his career as a writer and poet. He 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. His debut album, Songs of Leonard Cohen, introduced his unique style to his audiences.

Some of his famous hits include “Suzanne,” “Bird on the Wire,” and “Hallelujah.” The latter has been covered by numerous artists over the years. In a career that spanned more than five decades, Cohen has sold 23 million records.

16. Shawn Mendes

Born in Pickering, Ontario, Shawn Mendes is one of the most popular Canadian artists. He had his career beginnings in 2013 when he posted his covers of songs on the platform Vine.

Mendes’ debut single, “Life of the Party,” came out in 2014, making him one of the youngest artists to debut in the Top 25 of the Billboard Hot 100. His debut album followed in 2015, which contained the hit single “Stitches.” The song peaked at #1 in the UK and the Top 10 in the US and Canada.

Mendes followed with more successful albums and singles in the following years. These helped cement his place in the pop music scene.

With 20 million records sold, Mendes is one of the best-selling Canadian artists. His accolades include Juno Awards, American Music Awards, and nominations for Grammy Awards and a Brit Award.

17. Sebastian Bach

Canadian-American singer Sebastian Bach rose to fame as the frontman of the hard rock band Skidrow. Born Sebastian Philip Bierk, Bach was known for his powerful and wide-ranging voice.

Though Bach was born in the Bahamas, he was raised in Ontario, Canada. He knew from a young age that he would establish a career in music.

Which he did, beginning with the band Kid Wikkid. In 1987, he auditioned and became the lead vocalist of Skid Row. He stayed with the band until 1996, after which he established a solo career.

Bach enjoyed a successful solo career, releasing albums such as Kicking & Screaming and Give ‘Em Hell. Throughout his career with Skid Row and as a solo artist, he has sold more than 20 million records worldwide.

18. Joni Mitchell

Born in Fort Macleod, Alberta, Roberta Joan Mitchell is one of the most influential figures in popular music. Better known as Joni Mitchell, she is considered a legend for being able to reach people and influence other artists.

Mitchell’s music base (folk-rock) is anchored in social, philosophical, and life musings that speak of her humble beginnings. Her music is a unique blend of folk, pop, rock, and jazz.

In addition, she possesses a distinctive style, characterized by complex harmonies and poetic lyrics. Rolling Stone called her “one of the greatest songwriters ever.”

One of her biggest contributions is perhaps “Big Yellow Taxi” with its environmental theme still relevant 50 years later.

Throughout her career, she has received numerous awards and sold more than nine million records worldwide.

19. Oscar Peterson

Our next musician was born in Montreal to an immigrant family from the West Indies. Oscar Peterson established himself as a virtuoso jazz pianist and composer and is regarded as one of the greatest pianists in jazz history.

Peterson showed an aptitude for playing the piano from an early age. By the time he was nine, he was already trained in classical piano. He played so well that he impressed professional musicians. He continued training, even practicing four to six hours daily.

His hard work paid off for, at 14, he won the national music competition by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. After this win, he dropped out of school to become a professional pianist.

Today, 200 recordings of his exceptional talent exist. The Grammys have honored him with eight awards and he is considered one of the greatest jazz pianists of the 20th century.

20. Rufus Wainwright

Though born in New York, Rufus Wainwright spent most of his youth in Canada and gained dual US and Canadian citizenship. He is famous for his unique baroque, operatic pop, and indie-pop styles.

Wainwright’s music is highly influenced by his interest in opera. At the age of six, he showed a talent and interest in piano. At 13, he started touring with his musical family, The McGarrigle Sisters and Family.

Wainwright received his first big break after his album, Poses, impressed DreamWorks executive Lenny Waronker.

Throughout his career, he recorded 11 studio albums, six live albums, three compilations, and numerous individual tracks. These records showcased his wide-ranging talents. Arguably his most popular song is “Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk.”

21. K.D. Lang

Last but not least is Kathryn Dawn Lang, a Canadian pop and country singer-songwriter. Better known as k.d. lang, she was born in Edmonton, Alberta.

Lang began her music career in the 1980s by performing in Edmonton. She gained recognition for her tribute performances to Patsy Cline, a country singer that she admired. Lang had her own take on country music. This, combined with her distinctive style, made her a standout figure in the industry.

Lang eventually became known for her powerful voice, love of country music, and an androgynous style. Some of her popular songs include “Crying,” “Constant Craving,” and “I’m Down to My Last Cigarette.”

She is a recipient of the Juno Awards, which are the Canadian equivalent of the Grammy Awards. She has also sold more than six million records worldwide.

Summing Up Our List Of Musicians From Canada

As you can see, there is no shortage of talent in the music industry north of the American border. These musicians represent various genres and possess styles that are uniquely their own.

Canada has many more gifted musicians that we might have missed. If you have suggestions on which ones we should include, then we’d love to hear from you!

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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.