17 Of The Greatest And Most Famous Musicians From Iowa

Written by Dan Farrant
Last updated

Iowa is known for its rolling cornfields and being the birthplace of sliced bread, but the Hawkeye state has also produced several talented and famous musicians. Surprising as it may seem, notable musicians from the pop, punk, and jazz scenes got their start in Iowa. 

Iowa is the hometown of many musicians who went on to become stars alone or as a part of well-known bands like Slipknot or Owl City.

In this post, we’re going to take a look at the lives and discography of 18 of the greatest and most famous musicians from Iowa. Let’s dive right in.

Related: Check out our post on the best American musicians here.

1. Adam Young (Owl City)

First, we have Adam Young who is the lead singer and founder of the electric dance music (EDM) band Owl City.

Young was born in 1986 in Ottumwa, Iowa and he has always been a proud member of the state.

In Owl City’s song “The Fifth of July,” Young sings about Ottumwa being his hometown. 

Young started to make music in his parent’s basement in Ottumwa after long shifts loading and unloading Coca Cola trucks.

When he uploaded his first songs to Myspace, he began to build a fanbase that would follow him to Owl City and beyond. 

2. Glenn Miller

Glenn Miller was a trombone player, composer, and bandleader in 1930s and ’40s America.

He was born in small-town Clarinda, Iowa which today only has a population of just over 5,000. He learned to play the horn as a child in Clarinda. 

Miller went on to inspire a generation of soldiers and others involved in World War II, and his music was celebrated and played long after his disappearance in 1944. 

Related: Our post on the best jazz trombone players.

3. Bix Beiderbecke

Bix Beiderbecke was a jazz musician and composer who played the cornet and the piano.

Beiderbecke was born in 1903 in Davenport, Iowa, where he taught himself the cornet by ear at a surprisingly early age. 

Beiderbecke was the first big-time white jazz soloist, and he worked alongside some of the top musicians in the world during his career.

Sadly, Beiderbecke died at age 28 in New York City, but Davenport Iowa continues to proudly celebrate his legacy. 

4. Corey Taylor (Slipknot)

Corey Taylor is an alternative and heavy metal musician. He’s the lead singer and lyricist of metal band Slipknot and the less well-known alternative rock band Stone Sour.

Taylor was born in Des Moines, the capital city of Iowa, and returns there to perform on tours.

Taylor referred to himself as the best singer in Des Moines when talking about joining his first band, Slipknot, and the album that defined Slipknot as a heavy metal band worth talking about was titled Iowa.

Over their career, slipknot have sold over 30 million records worldwide and won a Grammy for Best Metal Performance in 2006.

5. Andy Williams

Andy Williams is one of the most well-known singers of all time. Of his 43 recorded albums, 15 have been gold-certified, and three have been platinum-certified.

Williams was born in Wall Lake, Iowa a tiny town with a current population of about 755 people. 

Andy Williams began his career in the children’s choir in Wall Lake and went on to start a quartet with his 3 brothers that toured in Iowa, Chicago, and Cincinnati.

Williams would go on to have his show.

6. Charlie Haden

Charlie Haden was a celebrated American musician and bandleader known for playing the double bass.

Haden was born in 1937 in Shenandoah, Iowa a small town known for seeding and planting trees.

Haden is famous for changing the way the bass was played in jazz music. 

In Shenandoah, Haden’s family were all musically inclined and performed together on the radio, he joined them for the first time at the age of two.

Later in his career, Haden would become a music teacher as well. 

7. Art Farmer

Art Farmer was a jazz trumpet and flugelhorn player, and the combined instrument was the flumpet.

He was born in Council Bluffs, Iowa which is one of the most populated towns in the state. Farmer was born in 1928 and began playing the piano and tuba in elementary school. 

Farmer had a twin brother who was also a musician, and the two met various other stars while attending high school together.

Farmer died in October of 1999 in New York City. 

8. Joey Jordison (Slipknot)

Joey Jordison aka Nathan Jonas Jordison was born in Des Moines, Iowa, and is the co-founder of heavy metal band Slipknot with his bandmate and fellow Iowan Corey Taylor.

Jordison was the drummer for Slipknot and the guitarist for punk band Murderdolls which formed in 2010. 

Jordison met Taylor in 1995 and helped form what would eventually be Slipknot.

He performed with and was a member of several other bands before his tragic death in July 2021. 

9. Tommy Bolin

Tommy Bolin was a guitarist from Sioux City, Iowa. He also wrote songs for his solo projects and played with blues-rock bands Deep Purple, Zephyr, and The James Gang.

Bolin was born in Sioux City in 1951, and before age 13 he was playing with local Iowan bands.

While playing with A Patch of Blue, Bolin was inducted into the Iowa Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1969. 

Related: Read more about other American guitar players here.

10. William Elliott Whitmore

William Elliott Whitmore is a native Iowan musician from Lee County, Iowa.

Whitmore sings blues, country, and folk music, often inspired by his childhood and current life on his family’s 160-acre farm.

He graduated from Central Lee Highschool in Iowa and has never permanently left. 

Whitmore has released 10 albums and recently formed the band Middle Western with fellow Iowan musicians David Zollo, Stephen Howard, Stevie Doyle, and Brian Cooper. 

11. Julia Michaels

Julia Michaels is a well-known pop, EDM, and R&B artist, born in Davenport, Iowa.

As a songwriter, Michaels entered the industry writing lyrics for other artists but released her first solo project in 2017.

She has toured with big-name bands and solo artists like Maroon Five.  Michaels can write, sing and play the piano and guitar.

She started singing at age 12 and has written hits for various stars like Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez. 

12. Nate Ruess

Nate Ruess is the frontman, and lead singer for the pop band Fun, who shot to fame in 2012 after their singles “We Are Young” and “Some Nights” exploded onto the charts.

Ruess was born in Iowa City, Iowa, and references his upbringing in a song called “The Gambler.”

Reuss’s first musical endeavor was the band, The Format, which broke up in 2008, and while Fun is on hiatus he has released various solo projects. 

13. Brian Bell (Weezer)

Brian Bell was born in Iowa City, Iowa in 1968. He is a singer, songwriter, guitarist, and keyboardist and has predominantly recorded with the rock band, Weezer.

Bell has also worked with bands Carnival Art and The Relationship. 

Bell has recorded 15 albums with Weezer and is considered a founding member of the band though he didn’t join them until 1994.

Bell’s interest in music began after his parents took him to see Elvis Presley. 

14. Greg Brown

Singer, guitarist, and harmonica player Greg Brown is a folk musician from Fairfield, Iowa, a quaint small town with about 10,000 people in total.

Brown describes the region he grew up in as hill country, and his Iowan roots heavily influence his songwriting and musical style.

Over his career so far, he has released 24 albums and frequently works with other native Iowan musicians Bo Ramsey and Iris Dement.

Brown’s work has been Grammy-nominated twice. 

15. Tionne Watkins (TLC)

Tionne Watkins aka T-Boz is a singer-songwriter from Des Moines, Iowa.

Watkins was a member of the famous and talented R&B group TLC and won four Grammy awards while with the band.

Watkins is also an actress, an author, and a radio personality. 

Her solo projects since the ending of TLC in 1995 have been well received, but since 2016 her focus has predominantly been on raising a family.

16. Maddie Poppe

Maddie Poppe is a folk singer from Clarksville, Iowa who shot to fame after winning the 16th season of the musical reality show American Idol.

But despite her talent as a singer, she’s a multi-talented musician also playing the guitar, piano, and ukulele which gave her an edge during the show’s fierce competition. 

Poppe went to Clarksville High School and Hawkeye Community College and began her musical career performing at talent shows and fairs in Allison, Iowa. 

17. Emily West


Emily West aka Emily Marie Nemmers is a country singer from Waterloo, Iowa.

West’s parents helped begin her musical career by taking her to a producer in West Union, Iowa where she would record her first songs.

West was runner-up in the 9th season of America’s Got Talent.

Her Iowan roots influence her music today, and she’s had several successful country songs chart on the Billboard 100 country list. 

Summing Up Our List of Great Musicians From Iowa

We hope you’ve enjoyed this list of famous musicians from Iowa who have become stars in and out of their home state.

We’ll keep adding to this list as we find new musicians, so if there are any notable musicians from Iowa we’ve forgotten, please let us know!

Photo of author

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.