18 Of The Greatest And Most Famous Musicians From Indiana

Written by Dan Farrant
Last updated

Indiana is known for a few things: basketball, corn, the Indy 500, and country music. The Hoosier State may not be the first to come to mind when you think of famous musicians. But did you know that it is the birthplace of some of the biggest names in music history?

That’s right. Indiana has produced some serious musical talent over the years. If you’re as interested as us to know 18 of the greatest and most famous musicians from Indiana, let’s dive in!

Related: Check out our list of popular musicians from America here.

1. Michael Jackson

The “King of Pop,” Michael Jackson, rose to incredible fame from humble roots. Born in Gary, Indiana in 1958, he began his musical career at age 5 when he joined the family band, the Jackson 5, with his siblings.

Though the Jackson 5 was successful, Michael ventured into a solo career. He also dabbled into songwriting and wrote “Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground)” and “Can You Feel It” for the group.

Over the next 30 years, he released some of the biggest albums of the 20th century. His Off the Wall album in 1979 was a commercial success, selling more than 20 million copies worldwide.

It contained some of his popular songs such as “She’s Out of My Life” and “Rock with You.” The popular hits “Thriller,” “Beat It” and “Billie Jean” also contributed to his success.

Jackson’s accomplishments cannot be overstated. He is one of the best-selling music artists in history, with sales between 400 million to one billion. As a solo artist, he had 13 #1 singles in the US.

Not only that. Jackson is one of the most-awarded artists with more than a hundred awards. These include 13 Grammy Awards, 26 American Music Awards, and 39 Guinness World Records. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997 as a member of the Jackson 5 and in 2001 as a solo artist.

2. Axl Rose (Guns N’ Roses)

In the world of hard rock, it’s hard to miss Axl Rose‘s name. Born William Bruce Rose, Jr., in Lafayette, Indiana, he rose to become one of the greatest musicians of all time.

However, it wasn’t smooth sailing before Rose achieved that distinction. Trouble followed him in his youth until he relocated to California. There, he legally changed his name to W. Axl Rose and formed the band, Hollywood Rose. He then joined L.A. Guns, a glam metal band.

Eventually, the two bands merged to become Guns N’ Roses, with Rose serving as the vocalist. They released their first album Appetite for Destruction in 1987, which went on to sell over 18 million records in the US. The commercial success made it the best-selling debut album in the US. It sold a total of 30 million copies worldwide.

The following years witnessed the success of the band. Some of their popular hits include “Sweet Child o’ Mine,” “It’s So Easy,” and “One in a Million.”

Guns N’ Roses have gone on to sell over 100 million records worldwide. The band is one of the best-selling bands in the history of music. In 2012, Rose was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of Guns N’ Roses. The band is still recording and touring to this day.

3. Janet Jackson

The Jackson family’s youngest child is Janet Jackson. She was born in Gary, Indiana, and rose to fame as a dancer, singer, producer, and actress.

With a career that shadowed all family members but Michael, she has always tried to keep her life private. But her hard-working spirit has led to chart-topping hits and a lifetime of success.

With popular songs such as “Rhythm Nation,” “Together Again,” and “All for You,” Jackson was established as an influential figure in the music industry.

Many came to know Jackson for her infectious music and sultry vocals. She loved to blend elements of pop, R&B, dance, and hip-hop into her songs.

With more than 100 million records sold, Jackson is one of the best-selling artists. She continues to make music to this day, proving that she is still a force in the music industry.

4. Adam Lambert

Also from the Hoosier State is the singer, songwriter, and actor Adam Lambert. He was born in 1982 in Indianapolis, Indiana. You’ll probably recognize him as a contestant on American Idol in 2009.

Although finishing as a finalist that season, Lambert has found plenty of success through his albums as well as by touring with the classic rock band, Queen. He was one of those artists who are not afraid to explore genres.

Lambert released his debut album, For Your Entertainment, in 2009. It produced two hit singles, “Whataya Want from Me” and “If I Had You.” More albums followed, including the commercially successful Trespassing in 2012.

His most recent album, High Drama, was published in 2023 and featured a collection of cover songs. It debuted at #5 on the UK Albums chart and #7 on Billboard’s Top Albums Sales.

Lambert became known for his strong stage presence and captivating fashion sense. He is openly gay and advocates LGBTQ+ rights. Many look up to him as an inspiration and for representing this group in the entertainment industry.

5. J.J. Johnson

Our next musician from Indianapolis, Indiana is the most influential trombone player of his time. History remembers J.J. Johnson as a composer, arranger, and groundbreaking trombone player for more than 40 years.

Johnson had his musical start in church and learned to play the piano. At 14, he took up the trombone because the baritone saxophone in high school didn’t mimic the sound he loved. After high school, he joined several bands throughout the Midwest, where he developed his famous improvised style.

Johnson played an important role in the development of bebop, a style of jazz that became popular in the 1940s. His virtuosity established the trombone as an important instrument in bebop.

As a composer and arranger, he wrote original compositions that include “Lament, Wee Dot,” and Enigma. “All of these became jazz standards.

Even in his old age, Johnson continued composing and arranging music and even wrote a book for jazz musicians. His death in 2001 at the age of 77 was a loss in the world of jazz. But Johnson’s accomplishments continue to inspire aspiring trombonists.

6. Joshua Bell

Born in 1967 in Bloomington, Indiana, Joshua Bell is a child prodigy considered the most prolific violinist of his era.

Bell’s mother remembers him stretching rubber bands across the handles of his dresser drawers at a young age to imitate the tunes he heard her play on the piano. He took up the violin at age four and studied under the renowned Josef Gingold.

At age 14, Bell played with the Philadelphia Orchestra, and at 17, he played at the Carnegie Hall with the St. Louis Symphony. At age 22, he began touring Russia with the American Russian Young Artists Orchestra.

From then on, Bell played with major orchestras and conductors and released recordings. He was also the recipient of a Grammy Award and critical acclaim. His albums feature classical works and crossover projects.

Bell is one of the most celebrated violinists of his time. His talent and dedication to music have brought him to many places, and they will continue to bring him acclaim.

7. Hoagy Carmichael

The American composer, singer, actor, and pianist Hoagy Carmichael was born to a poor family in Bloomington, Indiana in 1899. Despite that, he became one of the most influential people in popular music in the 20th century.

He started a band in college, during which Carmichael found his calling. He had also met the famed trumpeter Louis Armstrong, whom he would collaborate with later.

After getting his law degree at Indiana University, he pursued music. Performing jazz became his life and passion, eventually launching him to the silver screen.

He became one of the most successful songwriters of the 1930s. His career saw the advent of mass media, TV, and microphones for sound recordings. Many of his songs appeared on radio and TV and in motion pictures as well.

Some of his famous compositions include “Star Dust,” “Heart and Soul,” and “The Nearness of You.” Most of his compositions showcased a combination of jazz, pop, and blues elements. Carmichael’s music still lives on, and numerous artists recording his compositions prove this legacy.

8. Mick Mars (Mötley Crüe)

Up next, we have Mick Mars, the lead guitarist of the heavy metal band Mötley Crüe. He was born Robert Alan Deal in Terre Haute, Indiana in 1951.

When he was three, he watched country singer Skeeter Bond perform at a fair in the Midwest and knew at that moment he wanted to be a musician.

Inspired to pick up the guitar, Mars found his musical family when he dyed his hair jet black and put an ad in the paper offering his services. He was contacted by Tommy Lee and Nikki Sixx, and together they co-founded Mötley Crüe. He has been its lead guitarist ever since.

As the lead guitarist, Mars was credited with the development of the band’s sound. It was characterized by heavy guitar riffs and a combination of glam and hard rock elements.

Despite being inflicted with health issues, Mars continued performing with the band and contributed to its success.

9. Cole Porter

Composer and lyricist Cole Porter was born in Peru, Indiana in 1891 to the wealthiest family in town. He is an influential musician and contributor to American popular music.

Showing a knack for music early, Porter began violin and piano lessons while still in primary school. His first composition was published when he was 10.

While at Harvard Law School, he realized that he did not want to become a lawyer. His interest in music encouraged him to pursue songwriting and composing instead.

Porter became popular during the ‘20s, ‘30s, and ‘40s. Many of his songs became instant classics, such as “Night and Day,” I Get a Kick Out of You,” and “Begin the Beguine.”

Porter composed music throughout his life and received awards and honors. He received the Tony Award for Best Musical for Kiss Me, Kate in 1948.

Truly, Porter left a permanent mark for his contributions to music and the musical theatre. His songs continued to be recorded by various artists, keeping his memories and his legacy alive.

10. David Lee Roth (Van Halen)

Up next is David Lee Roth, born in 1954 in Bloomington, Indiana. He is an American rock singer more popularly known as the lead vocalist of the hard rock band Van Halen.

Roth joined the band in 1974, and it quickly gained popularity thanks to the wild performances and a combination of hard rock and heavy metal. Roth himself was instrumental to the success, with his stage persona and vocal style a hit among their audiences. He would do high kicks and jumps, and always interact with the audience.

Some of Van Halen’s successful songs include “Why Can’t This Be Love,” “When It’s Love,” and “Jump.”

Roth was the vocalist for Van Halen from 1974 to 1985, in 1996, and from 2006 to 2020. It didn’t stop him from pursuing a solo career. Going solo was proof of his versatility as a musician.

11. Babyface

The American singer, songwriter, and record producer Babyface was born Kenneth Brian Edmonds in Indianapolis. He may have grown up as a shy kid but he turned out as a 12-time Grammy-award-winning artist.

Babyface rose to popularity during the late 1980s and early 1990s. The funk performer Bootsy Collins was credited with calling him “Babyface” because he looked youthful.

Throughout his career, Babyface wrote, co-wrote, and produced hits for many artists. He collaborated with Whitney Houston, Boyz II Men, and Mariah Carey, among others.

In 1989, Babyface and Antonio “L.A.” Reid founded LaFace Records, which handled artists including Usher and Toni Braxton. The partnership gave birth to successful hits such as Pebbles’ “Girlfriend” and Whispers’ “Rock Steady.”

Not surprisingly, Babyface was the recipient of various awards. Aside from Grammy Awards, he received the Golden Plate Award from the American Academy of Achievement. He also won the BMI Pop Songwriter of the Year seven times.

12. Steve Wariner

The famed guitarist Steve Wariner was just one of five people to be named “Certified Guitar Player” by the guitarist Chet Atkins. He was born in 1954 in Noblesville, Indiana, and found his love of guitar at an early age.

Wariner played guitar proficiently by age nine and played in his dad’s country band by the time he was 10.

While playing in an Indianapolis club at the age of 17, Dottie West discovered his talent. She launched his career which encompassed singing, songwriting, and performing on the Grand Ole Opry stage.

Wariner’s career took off in the ‘70s. His successful country hits include “The Weekend,” “Small Town Girl,” and “Lynda.” He also worked with some big names in the music industry such as Chet Atkins himself, Garth Brooks, and Clint Black.

Many would recognize Wariner’s distinctive voice, and his penchant for traditional country, pop-country, and contemporary country music styles.

Aside from singing and playing guitar, Wariner was an accomplished songwriter. He penned songs for other singers such as Keith Urban, Garth Brooks, and Clint Black.

13. Rich Mullins

With numerous albums and multiple Christian contemporary hits, Rich Mullins is a true Hoosier star. He was born in Richmond, Indiana in 1955 and passed away in 1997.

He taught himself piano at the age of four and wrote numerous songs while driving the tractor on the family farm.

Amy Grant noticed his talent while he worked with the group Zion, which kicked off his award-winning career.

In more than 10 years of his career, Mullins released songs that showed his spirituality and beliefs. Some of these songs include “Awesome God,” “Sing Your Praise to the Lord,” and “Creed.”

Unfortunately, Mullins’s death cut short his promising career. He was the recipient of four GMA Dove Awards granted posthumously. He also received numerous nominations for his songs and albums.

14. Freddie Hubbard

Legendary jazz trumpeter Freddie Hubbard got his musical start in Indianapolis, Indiana. He became one of the most influential persons in the world of jazz in the ‘60s and ‘70s.

Hubbard learned to play several different instruments while in high school. He even formed his first jazz band, the Jazz Contemporaries.

Hubbard established his career early and had no trouble finding gigs. He worked with some big names in jazz music including Sonny Rollins, Philly Joe Jones, and Slide Hampton.

In addition, Hubbard joined the Jazz Messengers, which served as a training ground for him. While with the group, Hubbard shaped the hard bop style.

Some of the famous albums Hubbard recorded are Open Sesame (1960), Hub-Tones (1962), and Red Clay (1970). From these albums, one can see how Hubbard blended hard bop, modal jazz, and fusion elements.

More than a decade after his death, Hubbard remains an inspiration for musicians. By listening to his compositions, musicians can learn jazz history and how playing the trumpet as a solo instrument evolved.

15. Wes Montgomery

One of the most influential persons in the history of jazz guitar is Wes Montgomery. He was born John Leslie Montgomery in 1923 in Indianapolis and became known for his distinctive playing style and use of block chords.

Growing up in a musical family certainly had its advantages. Montgomery knew how to play the guitar from an early age. He was mostly self-taught, spending day and night learning how to play the six-string guitar.

Montgomery rose to prominence in the late 1950s. He initially played in local bands where he gained valuable experience and further developed his skills and style.

Some of his successful albums include The Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery and Full House. He became known for using the flesh of his thumb instead of plastic or metal picks to give a smooth, warm sound to his improvised melodies.

Unfortunately, Montgomery died from a heart attack when he was just 45. However, he left a lasting legacy in the world of jazz music.

16. Scatman Crothers

Born Benjamin Sherman Crothers, Scatman Crothers grew up in a hard-working family that knew how to hustle – and how to play music. In Terre Haute, Indiana, where he was born in 1901, he taught himself drums and guitar, and always had a natural talent for singing.

He performed in Midwestern bars and speakeasies, during which he took the nickname “Scatman.” It represented his unique scat style of singing.

He began his music career by being a drummer and pianist and as a singer later on. Some of his singles include “Ah’m a Nigger Man,” Television Blues,” and “Blue-Eyed Sally.”

Aside from being a musician, Crothers was known for his roles in several films. He made his debut in Meet Me at the Fair. Did you know that he also lent his voice to the character of Jazz in the original Transformers animated series? Not only that. He lent his voice to The Aristocrats and The Fox and the Hound.

Crothers will always be remembered as a versatile performer. He left behind a legacy that many entertainers and performers find inspiring.

17. John Mellencamp

Some people are destined for greatness, such as the singer-songwriter John Mellencamp. In Seymour, Indiana where he was born, the wealthy families considered farmers like the Mellencamps to be lower-class citizens. One of the first in Indiana to receive a life-saving surgery for spina bifida, Mellencamp beat the odds even as a baby.

As a musician watching younger rockers enjoy fame, Mellencamp used the grit he learned as a farmer’s son to fight his way to the top of the charts when he was nearly 30.

He gained popularity with hits such as “Hurts So Good,” “Lonely Ol’ Night,” and “Small Town.” He won a Grammy Award and was nominated for 13 categories. Throughout his career, he sold more than 60 million albums worldwide.

Mellencamp’s music appeals to many because it speaks to and cheers for the underdog – a role he knew well. This reflects in his songwriting, with themes exploring the human condition.

18. Izzy Stradlin (Guns N’ Roses)

Born in 1962 as Jeffrey Dean Isbell, Izzy Stradlin comes from the same hometown as former bandmate Axl Rose. He was born and raised in Lafayette, Indiana, and enjoyed his small-town life.

Stradlin was influenced by his uncle, a drummer in a jazz band. He first picked up the drums and then began playing guitar, for which he became famous.

In 1985, Stradlin co-founded Guns N’ Roses. He played the rhythm guitar and was the primary songwriter. With these roles, he had a huge contribution to the sound and songwriting style of the band. Some of the hits he wrote or co-wrote include “Sweet Child o’ Mine,” “Patience,” and “Paradise City.”

The band released four albums with Stradlin between 1987 and 1991, after which he left and established a solo career. The albums and songs he released were bluesier compared to the ones he played while with the band.

Stradlin has kept a low profile since. But he will always be known for his accomplishments both with Guns N’ Roses and as a solo artist.

Summing Up Our list Of Musicians From Indiana

Our list above just goes to show that there’s more to the Hoosier state than corn! It has produced some of the biggest names in the music industry, from Michael Jackson to Adam Lambert.

These artists are a representation of the rich and diversified music in Indiana. And it shows the influence these musicians have over the present generation of artists in the world of music.

We hope you liked our compilation today. While some of the artists are long gone, may their music find a place in your heart. After all, music knows no bound and can be enjoyed by everyone.

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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.