18 Of The Greatest And Most Famous Musicians From Indiana

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Shaped by hard-working Midwestern values, Indiana is known for a few things: basketball, corn, the Indy 500 and country music. While the Hoosier State may not be the first to come to mind when you think of famous musicians, it has produced some of the biggest names in music history.

From jazz icons like Wes Montgomery and James Moody to chart-topping country stars like Lady Antebellum and Darius Rucker, Indiana has produced some serious musical talent.

In this post, we’re going to take a look at the lives and careers of 18 of the greatest and most famous musicians from Indiana. Let’s get started.

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

1. Axl Rose (Guns N’ Roses)

Born William Bruce Rose, Jr., in Lafayette, Indiana in 1962, Rose got into his fair share of mischief.

Frequently in trouble with the police, he was threatened to be labeled as a career criminal, causing him to head off to California. There, he legally changed his name to W. Axl Rose.

Although he frequently played in garage bands in Lafayette with Izzy Stradlin, Rose didn’t form Guns N’ Roses or find fame until his stint in California.

They released their first album Appetite for Destruction in 1987 which went on to sell over 30 million records making it the best-selling debut album in the US of all time.

Guns N’ Roses have then gone on to sell over 100m records and they’re still recording and touring to this day.

2. Michael Jackson

Known as the “King of Pop,” Michael Jackson rose to incredible fame from humble roots.

Born in Gary, Indiana in 1958, Jackson began his musical career at age 5 when he joined the family band, the Jackson 5 with his siblings, Tito, Jermaine, and Jackie.

Putting aside his own musical aspirations to provide for his growing family, Jackson’s father pushed his sons to succeed.

After achieving huge success with hits such as “I Want You Back” and “ABC” Michael launched his solo career in 1971 and over the next 30 years released some of the biggest albums of the 20th century.

Hits such as “Thriller”, “Beat It” and “Billie Jean” all contributed to his success, and over his career, it’s thought he sold over an insane 400 million records.

3. Wes Montgomery

An influence on guitarists such as Jimi Hendrix and Pete Townsend, John Leslie “Wes” Montgomery became an internationally acclaimed guitarist who tragically died from a heart attack at 45.

Born in 1923 in Indianapolis, Indiana, Montgomery taught himself how to play and considered Indianapolis-based pianist Errol Grandy his mentor.

The most influential postwar guitarist of his time, Montgomery was known for using the flesh of his thumb instead of plastic or metal picks to give a smooth, warm sound to his improvised melodies.

4. Freddie Hubbard

Legendary jazz trumpeter Freddie Hubbard got his musical start in Indianapolis, Indiana, where he was born and raised.

Born during the Jazz Era in 1938, he learned several different instruments while in high school in Indianapolis and even formed his first jazz band.

Mentored by the principal trumpeter in the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, he established his career early and had no trouble finding gigs.

He eventually recorded his own albums and collaborated with other famous musicians throughout his career. 

5. J. J. Johnson

Composer, arranger, and groundbreaking trombone player for more than 40 years, history remembers J. J. Johnson as the most influential trombone player of his time.

Born in Indianapolis, Indiana in 1924, Johnson got his musical start in church, learning piano from the church organist.

Because the baritone saxophone in high school didn’t mimic the sound he loved, he took up the trombone at age 14.

After high school, he joined several bands throughout the Midwest, where he developed his famous improvised style.

6. Joshua Bell

A child prodigy, Joshua Bell’s mother remembers him stretching rubber bands across dresser drawers at a young age to plunk out tunes he heard her play on the piano.

Born in 1967 in Bloomington, Indiana, Bell took up the violin at age 4 and studied under the renowned Josef Gingold at Indiana University at just 14.

He made his debut in Carnegie Hall at only 17 years old.

Bell is considered the most prolific violinist of his era.

7. Hoagy Carmichael

Hoagy Carmichael began his life poor, born to an itinerant farmer in Bloomington, Indiana in 1899.

Carmichael credited his mother’s ragtime piano playing for his early musical inspiration.

He started a jazz band in college, and after watching another jazz band perform in Indianapolis, Carmichael found his calling.

Although he studied law, performing jazz became his life and passion, eventually launching him to the silver screen.

8. Mick Mars (Mötley Crüe)

Born Robert Alan Deal in Terre Haute, Indiana in 1951, Mick Mars 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.

Contacted by Tommy Lee and Nikki Sixx, Mars co-founded the rock band Mötley Crüe and has been its lead guitarist ever since.

9. Cole Porter

Composer and lyricist Cole Porter was born in Peru, Indiana in 1891 to the wealthiest family in town.

Showing a knack for music early, Porter began violin and piano lessons while still in primary school and published his first composition at age ten.

The grandson of a millionaire speculator, Porter’s privileged upbringing laid a foundation for him to create the poised and elegant style of music for which he became so prominently known.

10. David Lee Roth (Van Halen)

Inspired by jazz artists such as Ray Charles, David Lee Roth enjoyed his childhood in Bloomington, Indiana, where he was born in 1954.

Encouraged by his mother to embrace the arts, Roth spent his childhood playing outside in cattle and corn country and attending museums and musicals in his free time.

He eventually moved to California to study music theory.

There, he met Eddy and Alex Van Halen and joined their band, eventually becoming Van Halen.

11. Babyface

Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds may have grown up as a shy kid on the north side of Indianapolis, but he has blown up as an 11-time Grammy-award-winning singer.

Singing in his brother’s music group in sixth grade for a school mixer, Babyface got hooked on performing.

Born in 1959, Babyface practiced and performed constantly and never participated in the party scene.

He wanted bigger things and challenged himself to be among the greatest, which paid off with over three decades of stardom and 17 miles of interstate highway in Indiana named after him.

12. Steve Wariner

Just one of five people to be named “Certified Guitar Player” by Chet Atkins, Steve Wariner found his love of guitar at an early age.

Born on Christmas Day in Noblesville, Indiana in 1954, Wariner played guitar proficiently by age 9 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 and launched his Nashville-centered career in singing, award-winning songwriting, and performing on the Grand Ole Opry stage. 

13. Rich Mullins

With ten albums and multiple Christian contemporary hits, Rich Mullins is a true Hoosier star.

He was born in Richmond, Indiana in 1955.

Close to his Quaker mother, Mullins described his dad as raised in Appalachia, which he admits to being a polite way of calling him a hillbilly.

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.

14. Adam Lambert

Born in Indianapolis, Indiana in 1982, Adam Lambert hit the stage early, starring in local musicals as a child and dreaming of becoming an entertainer early on.

Loving the stage, he took voice lessons and continued performing locally until his time on the eighth season of American Idol.

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.

15. Janet Jackson

The youngest child in the musically talented Jackson family, Janet Jackson has sold more than 100 million records.

Born in Gary, Indiana in 1966, Jackson quickly rose to fame as a dancer, singer, producer, and actress.

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

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 Crothers was born in 1901, he taught himself drums and guitar, and always had a natural talent for singing.

Performing in Midwestern bars and speakeasies, he took the nickname “Scatman” to represent his unique scat-style of singing and continued to entertain during his lifelong prolific acting career.

17. John Mellencamp

John Mellencamp’s music appeals to many because it speaks to and cheers for the underdog – a role he knew well.

In Seymour, Indiana, the small Midwest town where Mellencamp was born in 1951, 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.

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.

Born and raised in Lafayette, Indiana, Izzy enjoyed his small-town life.

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

Playing in garage bands with Axl Rose, his true fame erupted as the first guitarist for the rock band Guns N’ Roses.

Summing Up Our list Of Great Musicians From Indiana

From chart-topping pop stars and country singers to jazz influencers and rockers, Indiana has raised several influential musical artists who have enjoyed immense fame and influenced many of today’s successful artists.

It just goes to show that there’s more than corn in the Hoosier state!

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Written by Dan Farrant
Dan Farrant, the founder of Hello Music Theory, has been teaching music for over 10 years helping 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. Since then he's been working to make music theory easy for over 1 million students in over 80 countries around the world.