Arizona has a rich culture and history all its own. Being removed from musical capitals and epicenters such as Chicago, New Orleans, and New York, the state has developed a mentality and musical approach unique to its location and produced many world-class acts that have gone on to change the globe with their boundaryless music.
Let’s take a look at some of these famous musicians from Arizona and find out a bit more about their history and the work they’ve produced in the name of The Grand Canyon State.
Related: Read our post on other great American musicians here.
1. Stevie Nicks (Fleetwood Mac)
To start the list, we have singer and songwriter Stevie Nicks who was born in Phoenix, Arizona in 1948.
But, before fame, Stevie Nicks’ raspy vocals had already paired up with future Fleetwood Mac member Lindsey Buckingham.
Nicks and Buckingham then both joined the band and helped them soar into the height of their powers with songs like “Gypsy” and “Rhiannon.”
After Fleetwood Mac, Nicks pursued a solo career and released songs like “Edge of Seventeen (Just Like the White Winged Dove).”
She eventually reunited with the group but has also collaborated with the likes of Tom Petty and Don Henley, among others.
Nicks was also the first woman to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame… Twice!
2. Charles Mingus
Jazz bassist, composer, arranger, and bandleader Charles Mingus was born in Nogales, Arizona in 1922.
Mingus was a bass prodigy and traveled in bands, including with Louis Armstrong and Lionel Hampton from a young age.
But, as well as being a virtuoso performer, Mingus was a prolific and one of the most important composers of the 20th century.
In the beginning, his work was traditional and heavily influenced by Duke Ellington. Towards the latter of his career, he leaned towards the avant-garde and rhythm and blues.
He found solo success with compositions such as “Haitian Fight Song” and “Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting.” In his solo work, he was also able to put his frustrations with racial injustice into his compositions.
Though Mingus was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease, he carried on playing for as long as he could until he died in 1979.
3. Chester Bennington (Linkin Park)
Best known as the lead singer of rock band Linkin Park, Chester Bennington hailed from Phoenix where he had a rough childhood.
Bennington retreated to poetry and singing until finding his place in the nu-metal band Linkin Park.
In 2000, the group, known for mixing rap and rock with emotional vocals, released their debut record, Hybrid Theory. The album included hits such as “In The End” and “Numb.”
But Bennington struggled with substance abuse throughout his career due to his issues as a youngster, which unfortunately followed him to his premature death 41.
4. Linda Ronstadt
Born in Tuscon in 1946, Linda Ronstadt started her career as a country-rock singer at ASU until her debut album, Hand Sown Home Grown. After that record, she began to find pop music.
Her solo career often focused on covering famous songs of the time, including the Rolling Stones’ “Tumbling Dice” and Elvis Costello’s “Alison,” and she eventually branched into new wave.
Rondstadt starred in stage performances on Broadway as well as films before retiring due to Parkinson’s disease. Since then she has had an HBO special focusing on a concert that she gave in 1980.
5. Jim Adkins (Jimmy Eat World)
Jim Adkins was born in Mesa, Arizona, where he learned guitar at an early age. In 1993, Adkins co-founded the popular rock band Jimmy Eat World.
They released their self-titled debut in 1994, where he co-sang lead and played guitar.
The band hit it big with their third album, Clarity, and since then have had one successful album after another.
Yet, Adkins struggled with drinking until finding sobriety in 2013. Since then, he has pursued a solo career as well as creating a podcast called Pass Through Frequencies, where he talks with other musicians.
6. Marty Robbins
Singer and songwriter Marty Robbins who was born in Glendale, Arizona, came from a musical family with his father being a harmonica player.
But it wasn’t until joining the Navy during World War ll that he began to learn the guitar. It was then that he began writing songs.
Upon leaving, he returned to music in Arizona and landed a record deal which lead to him releasing his debut single in 1952 called “Love Me or Leave Me Alone.”
Though it was when his single “I’ll Go On Alone” was number one that he hit it big, and he followed it with songs like “Knee Deep in the Blues.”
Robbins never stuck with just one genre and even dabbled in NASCAR racing. He continued to make music until he died in 1981 and has left a legacy all his own.
7. Michelle Branch
Singer and songwriter Michelle Branch was born in Sedona, Arizona in 1983. She found music early learning to sing at the young age of 3 and learning the guitar as a teenager.
She then released her first album, ‘Broken Branches‘ that her family helped her to independently release at only 17 years old. The following year she signed with Maverick Records and released ‘The Spirit Room‘.
In 2001, her first hit single, “Everywhere,” led to great success and collaboration with Carlos Santana on “The Game of Love.” She even started a country music side-project and is still releasing music.
8. Alice Cooper
Though not born in the state, Vincent Furnier (a.k.a Alice Cooper) brought darkness to rock and roll when he started with his first group, the Earwigs, in Arizona before hitting it big with the band Alice Cooper.
Alice Cooper’s third album brought them success with the hit single “Eighteen.”
They developed a theatrical live show and released their biggest album, School’s Out, which saw the band break through to the mainstream before disbanding.
Furnier officially changed his name to Alice Cooper and went solo.
Cooper saw ups and downs over the next few decades in popularity but remained releasing music into the 2010s and even dabbled in movie appearances like Waynes World.
Related: Our list of great musicians from Michigan.
9. Jordin Sparks
Singer and songwriter Jordin Sparks was born in Phoenix, Arizona in 1989. She got her first big break by becoming the youngest ever winner of American Idol in 2007 at the age of only 17!
But, prior to that win, she had already performed alongside Alice Cooper, toured with Michael W. Smith, and won Coca-Cola’s Rising Star award.
Her debut EP in 2003, called For Now, pre-dated two awards at the 2004 Gospel Music Association Academy, placing second in Music in the Rockies, and an appearance on America’s Most Talented Kids.
Her debut single, “This Is My Now,” came out when American Idol ended, and since then she has continued releasing music and acting on television.
10. Roger Clyne (The Refreshments)
Born in Tempe, Arizona, singer, songwriter, and guitarist Roger Clyne hit it big as frontman of the post-grunge band, The Refreshments.
Throughout the 90s they put out music with hits such as ‘Banditos‘, ‘Down Together‘ and ‘Wanted‘.
The Refreshments were indie darlings until calling it quits in 1998.
Clyne returned to Tempe where he started Roger Clyne & The Peacemakers and played with several other fellow 90s musicians.
In 2013, Clyne reunited with The Refreshments and has played festivals on and off ever since.
11. Dierks Bentley
County music singer Dierks Bentley was born in Phoenix, Arizona in 1975. He came from a non-musical family but found a love for music through records before connecting with fellow musicians in the Phoenix bluegrass scene.
His self-titled debut, Dierks Bentley, came out in 2003. And with hits like “Free and Easy (Down the Road I Go)” and “Drunk on a Plane,” Dierks was able to display his country-rock-pop and humorous stylings.
Bentley has won numerous awards since, and also plays in Hot Country Knights, his love-letter side project to 90s country music.
12. Lewis Nash
Jazz drummer Lewis Nash was born in Phoenix but left Arizona for New York to play jazz with the greats.
At 23, he joined Betty Carter’s band but is best known for his role in the Tommy Flanagan Trio.
Nash is one of the most prolific side musicians in jazz having played on over 400 recordings with some of the biggest names in jazz like Kenny Barron, Kenny Burrell, Ron Carter, Dizzy Gillespie, and many many more.
He has also played with greats such as Sonny Rollins, and also formed his group, the Lewis Nash Ensemble.
13. Lalo Guerrero
Born in Tuscon, Arizona in 1916, guitarist and singer Lalo Guerrero learned the guitar from his mother, and by 17 he had left for Los Angeles.
There he assembled a band and recorded popular songs such as “Marihuana Boogie” and “Vamos a Bailar.”
Guerrero was featured in Hollywood films as well, and led his orchestra into the pop mainstream with songs like “The Ballad of Pancho Sanchez.”
Guerrero created music until he died in 2005 and is considered “The father of Chicano music.”
14. Jessi Colter
Country singer and pianist Mirriam Johnson, a.k.a Jessi Colter was born in Phoenix, Arizona in 1943. She came from a Pentecostal family and grew up playing piano at church at the young age of 11.
In 1961, she went left to tour with her then-husband, guitarist Duane Eddy. The couple wrote songs together for the likes of Don Gibson and Nancy Sinatra.
After splitting from Eddy, Colter returned to Arizona where she met country music artist Waylon Jennings.
He would help her find success, as well as serve as a collaborator (as well as husband) to her for years to come including her 1970 debut, A Country Star Is Born.
In the 80s, Colter lost popularity but maintained a loyal fan base. She released The Psalms in 2017.
15. Dom Flemons
Old-time music, blues, and country musician Dom Flemons was born in Phoenix, Arizona in 1982.
He started playing guitar and harmonica early in his teens. This led him to busking around the Flagstaff area until he met the players who would go on to co-found his band, The Carolina Chocolate Drops.
The Drops released several albums, including Dona Got a Ramblin’ Mind. Flemons pursued a solo career while still in the Drops.
His debut album, Dance Tunes Ballads & Blues, led him to leave the Drops in 2012. He has continued writing, recording, and collaborating ever since.
Summing Up Our List Of Great Musicians From Arizona
It’s overwhelming to read this distinguished list too quickly.
With so much talent that has come out of Arizona over the years, it’s hard to believe that there won’t be many more special acts to come.
And like many other locations, Arizona puts its spin on things from history to culture, and from this list, it’s easy to see how.