Music is a universal language that touches hearts and minds through creativity, melody, lyrics, and emotion. Soulful voices and poignant lyrical phrases have the power to change our moods or explain the context of our lives.
Every generation has a set of musical heroes that made an impact on their lives with an album, a song, or a lyric. Singers are generally the iconic frontmen that we associate with a favorite band or song.
Whether you’re into soul, rock and roll, or pop, we’ve compiled a list of 25 of the most famous male singers that have touched millions of lives with their iconic music stylings.
1. Michael Jackson
The unequivocal King of Pop, Michael Jackson, is and the most decorated singer in history, with 13 Grammys and 40 Billboard Music Awards, to name a few.
The pop king was born in Indiana to a musical family that created the hit Motown group Jackson 5, with Jackson as the young frontman.
He launched his solo career in 1979 with the album Off the Wall, featuring the hit songs and music videos “Billie Jean,” “Thriller,” and “Beat It.”
He subsequently released five full albums that have sold over 400 million copies worldwide. His dance moves, singing style, and unparalleled creativity have influenced famous artists across genres, to say nothing of his worldwide fan base.
2. Freddie Mercury
Born Farrokh Bulsara in Zanzibar, Freddie Mercury is known around the world for his iconic voice as the frontman for the award-winning rock and roll band Queen. Mercury went to an English boarding school before moving permanently to England in 1964.
In 1970, he formed Queen and was the mastermind behind their most famous hits like “We Will Rock You,” “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and “We Are the Champions.” The latter two were voted greatest songs of all time in polls by Guinness World Records and Sony Ericsson and have been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
Mercury’s electric stage presence and unparalleled vocal range are his most memorable qualities. He was also a revolutionary artist for his role as an AIDS activist after he was diagnosed, eventually succumbing to the disease.
3. Mick Jagger
Many would probably know the British rock and roll bad boy and frontman of the English rock band the Rolling Stones. Mick Jagger dropped out of college in the early ’60s to form the Rolling Stones, starting a 60-year-long career that’s still active today.
The Rolling Stones started with rock and roll cover songs of famed American blues artists that brought them to the forefront of British and US rock scenes.
Over the next five decades, Jagger and his bandmate and lead guitarist Keith Richards co-wrote most of Rolling Stones’ hit songs like “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” and “Get Off of My Cloud.”
Jagger is an inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and achieved knighthood for his lifetime accomplishments and musical contributions despite his reputation as a countercultural rock star.
4. John Lennon
Our next greatest musician is John Lennon, who was the founder of the most famous boy band in history, the Beatles, which subsequently became the symbol of the antiwar counter-cultural movement during the late ’60s and ’70s.
He started the Beatles in his hometown of Liverpool in 1956 with bassist and singer Paul McCartney, creating the most universally known albums and pioneering the psychedelic rock genre.
The Beatles released 13 albums that all achieved either platinum or diamond status, winning the band the highest awards in the US and Britain.
Lennon left the Beatles after marrying Yoko Ono to embark on a solo career that was as iconic and revolutionary as that of the band. Rolling Stone considers Lennon to be among the top 5 greatest singers of all time.
5. Stevie Wonder
Born Stevland Hardaway Judkins, Stevie Wonder has been a blind musical prodigy since he was ten years old. He signed with the famous Detroit-based label Motown at 11 and garnered his first number-one hit on the Billboard charts at age 13.
To date, Wonder still holds the record for the youngest artist to hit number one on the Billboards. His stunning career holds yet another record for most Album of the Year Grammy Awards, not to mention over 20 more Grammys and inductions into the Rock and Roll, R&B, and Songwriters Hall of Fame.
His music encompasses many genres, from reggae to jazz, which accounts for his cross-cultural and cross-genre popularity with fans and artists alike.
Related: Did you know Stevie Wonder is a vegan? Check out our list of vegan singers here.
6. Elvis Presley
Known as the King of Rock and Roll, Elvis Presley is one of the most iconic music and sex figures of the ’50s and early ’60s.
He grew up in the musical town of Memphis, being one of the first major artists to record at the now-famous Sun Studios that launched the careers of Johnny Cash and Roy Orbison.
Presley revolutionized the music industry by integrating the racial divide of genres. He acted as a musical diplomat of sorts by popularizing black blues music with white audiences while adding his own rock and roll spin.
His good looks and hypersexualized dance moves made him the sex icon of a generation. Presley remains the best-selling artist in history, selling over 500 million copies of his numerous hit albums worldwide.
7. Frank Sinatra
Born to Italian immigrants, Frank Sinatra epitomizes the American Dream, rising to the height of stardom both as an actor and a singer. His musical started in the early ’40s with popular releases spanning the swing, jazz, and big band genres.
Ol’ Blue Eyes, as he was fondly known, was known to have recorded over 1,000 recordings. He recorded albums and acted in hit films simultaneously throughout the ’40s, ’50s, and ’60s, winning an Academy Award followed by 11 Grammys.
He was also a member of the Las Vegas artist dream team Rat Pack, along with big names like Nat King Cole and Jimmy Van Heusen.
On top of his Grammys and lifetime achievements, Sinatra received the Congressional Medal of Honor.
8. Kurt Cobain
The icon of a generation, Kurt Cobain was the lead singer and songwriter for the revolutionary band Nirvana. He grew up playing music from a young age, forming Nirvana straight out of high school.
His emotive lyrics, anti-mainstream philosophy, and soulfully raspy voice, created the genre of grunge rock.
Cobain’s song “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is the unofficial anthem of Generation X. Though his career was unfortunately short-lived, the three albums he recorded continue to be the most impactful of the ’90s.
Cobain has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and is high up on Rolling Stone’s list of the greatest singers of all time.
Related: Find out about other musicians who died at 27 here.
9. Otis Redding
Born Otis Ray Redding Jr., Otis Redding spent most of his short life performing. He began working as a musician in high school, performing with various famous African American artists and bands before recording his own albums.
His iconic voice and original R&B and soul music crossed the racial barrier during a highly heated time for race relations in the South. Redding first gained popularity in Europe before his performance at the Monterrey Music Festival popularized him as the King of Soul.
His most famous song, “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay,” was recorded a day before his untimely death in a plane crash.
10. Bob Dylan
One of the leading rock music figures, Bob Dylan, is as much a poet as he is a singer and songwriter, his repertoire of songs earning him a Nobel Prize in literature, among countless other music awards.
Dylan began his career in the early ’60s as a folk singer, covering Southern folk songs. He released his breakthrough album, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, in 1963.
His subsequent album, The Times They Are a-Changin’, became the anthem for the ’60s civil rights movement. Dylan also revolutionized folk music by using an electric guitar as opposed to an acoustic one.
In addition to the Nobel Prize, he’s won the Presidential Medal of Freedom, a Pulitzer honor, and 10 Grammys. As of 2021, he’s still actively writing and recording music.
11. David Bowie
Deemed the greatest rock star ever by Rolling Stone, David Bowie was a musician and actor with a unique alter-ego and style that continues to endear him to every generation. Bowie’s androgynous persona and alternative rock styling set him apart from any other band in Britain and beyond.
His first hit song was “Space Oddity,” but his universal fame came with his androgynous alter-ego Ziggy Stardust and the 1972 concept album from which they were born. He continued to release hit albums throughout the ’80s, ’90s, and 2000s, recording his final album, Blackstar, two days before his death.
He was posthumously awarded Best Rock Performance, Best Alternative Music Album, Best Rock Song, Best Engineered Album (Non-Classical), and Best Recording Package in the 2017 Grammy Awards.
Born Prince Rogers Nelson, Prince was a beloved American songwriter, singer, musician, and stage character that crossed musical and sexual barriers throughout his career. Known for his mid-song falsetto screams and androgynous costumes, Prince’s musical range mirrored his pitch.
His music never fit into one single genre, incorporating various musical stylings harmoniously into every song. His wildly successful career began at age 19, continuing to expand with each album during the ’80s. His most influential album, Purple Rain, was one of the longest-lived top Billboard hits in history.
He also made a movie out of Purple Rain that won an Academy Award for Best Soundtrack. His multi-genre stardom saw 39 album releases, earning him entry into every Hall of Fame, from R&B to Rock and Roll.
13. James Brown
Our next iconic musician, James Brown, is known as the Godfather of Soul, but he should really be called the Father of Funk as he invented the funk genre in his stunning 50-plus-year career.
Brown started as a gospel singer in Georgia, joining the R&B band Famous Flames during the mid-50s, where he first gained notoriety.
His pinnacle of success came with his mid-60s album Live at the Apollo, a soulful and electrifying recording that demonstrated both his musicianship and showmanship. In the 1970s, Brown came out with the first funk sounds in history, a genre that we all know and love today.
He continued to perform iconic high-energy shows to sold-out audiences till his death in 2006. In 2013, he was posthumously inducted as an artist into the Rhythm & Blues Music Hall of Fame, then as a songwriter in 2017.
14. Bob Marley
The pioneer of reggae music who also brought the genre to the rest of the world is Bob Marley. Born in Jamaica, Marley formed the Wailers with famed reggae stars Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer, recording 12 albums during the mid-60s and early ’70s.
He moved to London, where he began recording solo in the mid-70s, gaining world renown after superstar Eric Clapton covered his song “I Shot the Sheriff.”
He subsequently released “No Woman No Cry,” a song that marked the beginning of his international stardom and universal discovery of reggae music.
His posthumous album Legend is the best-selling reggae album of all time, garnering him a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and Rolling Stone’s designation as number 11 on the list of 100 Greatest Artists of All Time.
Related: Read about other famous reggae singers here.
15. Johnny Cash
One of the world’s renowned artists whose music and stage persona garnered stardom from the mainstream and convicts alike is Johnny Cash. He grew up in a poor cotton farm family in Arkansas, escaping poverty through army service before settling down in Memphis.
Cash recorded his hit song “Folsom Prison Blues” at Sun Records, launching his career as one of the best-selling artists of all time.
He’s also one of the only artists to be as popular with rock fans as he is with country and soul fans, becoming an inductee in all three genres’ Hall of Fames.
His most famous recordings, Live at San Quentin and Live at Folsom Prison, were considered controversial not just because he recorded live from prison but also because he refused to go electric, as was the trend.
16. Ray Charles
This musician is one of the most influential black composers, songwriters, and singers in American history, credited with helping to invent soul music. Ray Charle’s musical career started at age 15 when he began playing piano for different bands in Florida nightclubs.
His breakthrough as a solo performer and composer came with his recordings at Atlantic Records during the ’50s. His hit song “I’ve Got a Woman” pioneered soul music by combining southern gospel tunes with blues and jazz.
Throughout his career, Charles has won 18 Grammys with a Lifetime Achievement Award (1987). He’s also listed as #2 in Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Singers of All Time.
17. Sam Cooke
Another pioneer of soul, Sam Cooke, is known today as the King of Soul for his angelic and emotional voice that has become synonymous with the genre. Cooke began as a gospel singer, recording multiple gospel albums with the Soul Stirrers during the early ’50s.
His prolific solo career started in 1957 when he released original songs that laid the foundation for soul music. Between 1957 and his tragic death in a Los Angeles hotel in 1964, Cooke released 29 hit singles that all topped US Billboards.
18. Tom Petty
American musician and singer-songwriter Tom Petty grew up in Florida with dreams of becoming a musician from a young age. He formed Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers with former members of his first band Mudcrutch in 1976.
While they were initially more popular in England than in the US with their first release, “American Girl,” it ended up being praised as one of the greatest songs in history by Rolling Stone.
Petty recorded hit albums with the Heartbreakers during the late ’70s to mid-80s before joining the superstar band the Traveling Wilburys alongside Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Roy Orbison, and Jeff Lynne.
His success with both bands extended to a subsequent solo career, in which he released three albums before his untimely death in 2017.
19. B. B. King
Born Riley B King, B. B. King is one of the most famous blues musicians and guitarists of the 20th century. He grew up on a cotton plantation in Mississippi, learning the musical traditions of Delta Blues.
His live performance career is one of the longest in history, and along with “King of the Blues,” he was also known as the hardest-working man in show business.
King is one of the most decorated musicians, receiving awards from Grammys, the Library of Congress, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and countless honorary doctorates. He’ll forever be lauded for bringing blues into the limelight of American musical genres.
20. Billy Joel
World-famous soft-rock and pop-rock singer Billy Joel is a New York native. He grew up in the Bronx and dropped out of high school to become a musician.
His first hit album that spawned his nickname was Piano Man, released in 1973, which started his long streak of hit albums and singles during the mid-70s, ’80s, ’90s, and 2000s.
Joel has received over 20 Grammy nominations and five Grammy Awards. His Grammy Award-winning album, 52nd Street, was also ranked in Rolling Stone’s Greatest Songs of All Time.
21. Michael Stipe
Born John Michael Stipe in Georgia, Michael Stipe is the lead singer and songwriter of the hit alternative rock band R.E.M. He formed the band during college with his friend Peter Buck, who was a clerk at Stipe’s local record shop.
R.E.M. is one of the most influential bands of the ’80s and ’90s, in large part due to Stipe’s unique voice and complex lyrics. Along with an award-winning career with R.E.M., Stipe is also a film producer and progressive activist for causes such as AIDS and gay rights.
22. Van Morrison
Born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, as George Ivan Morrison, Van Morrison is a famous singer, songwriter, and multi-instrument musician. He started his music career as a teen playing various instruments in Irish showbands.
Morrison grew up playing multiple instruments, forming a popular Irish band in the 1960s before going solo with his hit single “Brown Eyed Girl,” which topped #10 on the US charts. Initially, his embarking on a solo career was rocky until his critically acclaimed album Astral Weeks (1970).
Throughout his career, Morrison’s music encompassed jazz, rock, folk, Celtic, and blues genres, winning him two Grammy Awards and a knighthood.
Born Michael Eugene Archer, D’Angelo is responsible for reviving the soul movement in the ’90s and early 2000s. He was a self-taught pianist and won multiple competitions at the Apollo Theater in Harlem when he was 18.
He worked with a hip-hop group before launching his solo career with the hit album Brown Sugar in 1995, followed by the Billboard-topping album Voodoo in 2000.
His 2014 album, Black Messiah, is critically acclaimed, becoming #5 on the US Billboard 200. In 2018, he contributed “Unshaken” to the soundtrack of the best-selling game Red Dead Redemption II.
24. Justin Timberlake
Lauded as the best performing solo artist in modern mainstream music history, Justin Timberlake has been a pop star sensation since he was 11 years old. He started as a child actor on the Mickey Mouse Club, rising to musical stardom with the boy band NSYNC during the late ’90s.
He broke off from the bad to record his first album in 2002, Justified, which won two Grammy Awards. He recorded another hit album before embarking on an acting career, starring in films like The Social Network and Friends with Benefits.
He has since released three more albums, won 10 Grammys, Billboard awards, MTV music video awards, and many more.
25. John Legend
Born John Roger Stephens, John Legend has had a monumental career as a musician, producer, singer, and actor. He started his career during the ’90s as a pianist and collaborator for neo-soul artists like Lauryn Hill, Alicia Keys, and rapper Jay Z.
He started a solo career in 2004 with guest appearances from Lauryn Hill. His debut album, Get Lifted, garnered instant acclaim, winning two Grammy Awards for best album and Best R&B Album.
He has since won 12 Grammys and is one of the few artists to have won an Emmy, Oscar, Tony, and Grammy.
Summing Up Our List Of The Greatest Male Singers
Over the history of music, there have been hundreds of amazing artists that have revolutionized the industry, culture, and artistry of this universally loved art form.
Our list of male singers encompasses artists from various generations and genres who have changed music for the better and touched hearts, minds, and ears worldwide.