Like Chicago and New Orleans, Alabama has a rich musical history. From traditional folk through new age hip-hop, the culture and history of Alabama have weaved through mainstream music for quite some time.
So which musicians are from Alabama? In this article, we’ll look at some of the most famous musicians from Alabama, and learn a bit about each of them. Now, let’s look at the talent to come out of this southern state.
Related: Check out our list of famous American music artists here.
1. Nat King Cole
Nat “King” Cole learned gospel music by the age of four in Montgomery, and in his teens, he received formal piano lessons before finding jazz.
He quickly hit it big with hits like “The Christmas Song,” “Nature Boy,” and “Mona Lisa.”
During the height of his popularity, he was the first black variety show host in the United States and was featured in a number of films, such as Istanbul.
Cole passed away in 1965 after battling lung cancer, and since then, his music has lived through the charts and his daughter, Natalie Cole.
2. Jimmy Buffett
Originally from Mississippi, country and western musician Jimmy Buffet moved to the city of Mobile, Alabama, at a young age, and everyone in the state agrees that he’s a Bama boy.
Growing up, he learned the trombone and then took up the guitar when he went to college.
Jimmy Buffet moved to Nashville, where he recorded his first album, Down to Earth, in 1970. Since then, Buffet has gained a cult-like following due to songs about easy living and the beach, such as “Cheeseburger in Paradise” and “Margaritaville.”
Over the years, Buffet has branded his trademark sound with books, restaurants, and clothing brands, as well as a record label. He still releases new music and performs to massive crowds of his loyal fans.
3. Lionel Richie (The Commodores)
Originally from Tuskegee, Alabama, legendary singer Lionel Richie helped found the R&B group The Commodores.
They had hits throughout the 1970s, such as “Easy” and “Three Times a Lady.” Richie also found solo success with his number 1 single, “Truly.”
He shared his talent as well, penning songs for Kenny Rogers and Diana Ross, among others. Today he still writes, records, tours, and has even been a judge on American Idol.
4. Hank Williams
From Mount Olive, Alabama, singer-songwriter, and guitarist Hank Williams made his radio debut at 13 years old.
He soon found success with hits such as “Your Cheatin’ Heart” and “Hey, Good Lookin‘” by blending gospel, folk, country, and blues music.
Throughout his life, he suffered from spina bifida, which led him to substance abuse and a premature demise at only 29 years old.
Since then, his music has influenced countless, and he was inducted into the premier class of the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1961.
5. Dinah Washington
Dinah Washington was known for blending jazz and gospel into her music, which she picked up from her time in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and Chicago.
There she joined famous vibraphonist Lionel Hampton’s band before going solo with hits like “Am I Asking Too Much” and “Baby Get Lost.”
Washington successfully crossed into pop music with songs like “What a Diff’rence a Day Makes,” before passing away at only 39 years old.
6. Emmylou Harris
Country singer and guitarist Emmylou Harris blended folk and country music for a style all her own in her hometown of Birmingham.
She got her start performing with country musician Gram Parsons until his death. Harris then collaborated with greats such as Hank Williams and Bruce Springsteen before going solo with her 1995 release of cover songs.
She has also contributed music to films such as O Brother, Where Art Thou? starring George Clooney
Harris was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame before receiving the lifetime achievement award at the Grammys in 2018.
7. Jason Isbell (Drive-By Truckers)
American guitarist and singer Jason Isbell learned to play music from his grandfather and uncle in Green Hill, Alabama before working with FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals.
He joined the Drive-By Truckers in the early 2000s and released the first solo album in 2007 called Sirens of the Ditch.
He has since successfully crossed between Americana, rock, and country genres winning four Grammy awards and still performing music today.
8. Tammy Wynette
Although she was born in Mississippi, country singer Tammy Wynette moved to Red Bay when she was young, cementing her as a Bama girl.
Wynette discovered gospel at an early age but just when her dreams of stardom looked as if they might never happen, she was discovered.
She wrote many famous songs such as “Your Good Girl’s Gonna Go Bad” and “I Don’t Wanna Play House,” demonstrating a unique blend of independent female storytelling and voice.
Wynette acted, wrote, and was known as the “first lady of country music” even after her controversial death in 1998.
9. Big Mama Thornton
Blues singer Big Mama Thornton left home in Ariton at 14 to pursue singing.
She performed with Hot Harlem Revue before finding success as a solo performer. Her songs were popular but found a wider audience when songs like “Hound Dog” were later covered by Elvis Presley.
Thornton was not compensated well for her songs and fell into obscurity until the blues resurgence of the 1960s. Her work was once again acclaimed until she died in 1984.
10. Eddie Levert (The O’Jays)
Singer songwriter Eddie Levert began singing at church in Bessemer before founding the O’Jays as their lead singer.
The group had hits such as “Let Me Touch You” and “Lovin’ You.”
Levert had solo success as well and released hits with his son before rejoining the O’Jays. Currently, Levert’s YouTube channel is popular and he has received 4 Grammys nominations for his work.
11. Wilson Pickett
Soul singer Wilson Pickett grew up playing black gospel music in Prattville before redefining modern rhythm and blues in the 60s.
He was discovered as a solo talent after singing in The Falcons. His first hit was “In the Midnight Hour,” followed by “Mustang Sally” and “Funky Broadway.”
Pickett endured waves of musical styles over the decades and continued performing and in 1991, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
12. Percy Sledge
From Leighton, Alabama, Percy Sledge’s tearful style is best known in “When a Man Loves a Woman.”
He recorded at Muscle Shoals where he fine-tuned his country/soul sound.
He had follow-up hits “Warm and Tender Love” and “It Tears Me Up,” and saw a massive resurgence in popularity in the late 80s due to movie soundtracks using the ballad.
Sledge won awards and toured endlessly until the 90s. He died in 2015 in Baton Rouge.
13. Sun Ra
Born in Birmingham, Alabama, Sun Ra was a free jazz musician and composer who adopted theatrics to accompany his band’s sound.
Ra claimed that he was from the planet Saturn but hailed from Birmingham where he learned piano before moving to Chicago to participate in big band jazz.
He formed his Arkestra, who utilized bop and unique instrumentations to create a signature evolving and innovative sound all his own.
Ra passed away in 1993 as an essential figure in avant-garde music.
14. Eddie Kendricks (The Temptations)
Originally from Union Springs, in 1961, Eddie Kendrick co-founded The Temptations and they were quickly signed to Motown.
There, they released hits including “My Girl” and “Just My Imagination” throughout the 60s before Kendricks left to pursue a solo career.
Solo hits such as “Keep on Truckin‘” and “Boogie Down” helped Kendricks continue performing through the 80s.
He died in 1992 of lung cancer but his legacy lives on as one of the essential voices of the 60s soul.
15. Brittany Howard (Alabama Shakes)
From forming bands in high school in Athens, Alabama to becoming one of the most recognizable voices in music today, Brittany Howard channels classic soul and new-age nuance.
As the lead singer of Alabama Shakes, she quickly soared to stardom, pursuing artistic endeavors wherever she could with her side projects and solo career.
Howard has won many awards and released a remix LP of her solo debut, Jaime.
16. Jimmy Hall (Wet Willie)
Jimmy Hall grew up playing gospel with his family in Birmingham.
He was a lead singer, sax, and harmonica player in the band Wet Willie where he found success with songs like “Keep On Smilin’.”
Hall then went solo and was able to recapture success with tunes such as “I’m Happy That Love Has Found You.”
His work has been covered by many artists and he’s toured with Jeff Beck. He is still writing and recording music to this day.
17. Chuck Leavell (The Allman Brothers Band)
Leavell played in his first studio session in high school when he moved from Birmingham to Muscle Shoals where he spent two years.
After leaving, he toured and joined the Allman Brothers Band in 1972, contributing to hits such as “Ramblin’ Man” and “Jessica.” He remained with them until their breakup.
Since then he has formed Sea Level, released solo music, written books, and toured extensively.
18. Tommy Shaw (Styx)
Tommy Shaw began playing guitar at an early age in Montgomery, and by the time he had joined Styx, he was a well-versed professional.
With hits like “Renegade” and “Blue Collar Man (Long Nights),” Styx continued to have great success with Shaw through the time he left to pursue a solo career.
Shaw also was instrumental in forming the supergroup Damn Yankees, and eventually rejoined Styx in the 90s.
19. Jim Nabors
Jim Nabors was originally from Sylacauga, Alabama.
Getting his start in television, Nabors moonlighted as a cabaret singer until he landed a spot on the Andy Griffith Show. There, he received a spin-off series of his own as the character, Gomer Pyle.
Nabors was able to display his singing talents on variety shows, leading him to a recording career.
“The Impossible Dream” was one of his most memorable songs and was originally featured on his show. After Gomer Pyle, Nabors hosted a variety show and held concerts.
20. Jamey Johnson
A former marine, guitarist, and singer Jamey Johnson came up through the Nashville country-western scene all the way from Enterprise, Alabama.
Originally from a musical family, this talent naturally led to a debut album in 2006 with singles such as “In Color.”
Since then, he has released solo music such as “South Alabama Christmas” and collaborations with names well-known artists like George Strait.
21. Clarence Carter
Clarence Carter was born blind in Montgomery and was pulled towards music from an early age. He was a self-taught guitarist and formed Clarence & Calvin, with fellow blind classmate Calvin Scott.
The group released “I Wanna Dance But I Don’t Know How” but did not garner attention until Clarence left to start a solo career after an auto accident. He gained notoriety with singles such as “Looking for a Fox” and “Patches.”
Since then, he struggled to find the same success but toured the southern US into the 21st century.
22. Eddie Floyd
Originally from Montgomery, Eddie Floyd was another alumuni of The Falcons who had the hit, “You’re So Fine,” where he sang lead before Wilson Pickett joined.
When the Falcons broke up, Floyd went solo and co-founded a label to write and produce music.
He moved to Stax records as promotion director, writer, and director, where he worked with Pickett again and even earned a hit single for himself with “Knock on Wood.” He had a string of other singles afterward as well.
He fell into obscurity after that until the 80s when he performed at the President’s inaugural ball, and toured with the Blues Brothers band.
Summing Up Our List Of Great Musicians From Alabama
After reading this list, it’s easy to see the amount of talent that has come out of the state of Alabama over the years and makes you wonder what’s really in their water to get so many soulful individuals out of a single place.
Nevertheless, the state’s culture and tradition live on with the body of work that these artists have left us; music of a certain feeling that can only be captured because of the place they called home: Alabama.