There are plenty of states that are important in the history of American music, such as New York, California, and Tennessee. But few are as chock-full of American musical history as the great state of Louisiana, which has produced some of the most important American musicians of all time.
Louisiana’s culture is one of profound mixing, blurring French, English, Spanish, indigenous, and West African styles–and music is no exception. That means that musicians from Louisiana bring together America’s foundational music so learning about Louisiana music is essential to understanding American culture.
In this post, we’re going to look at the lives and careers of 18 of the greatest and most famous musicians from Louisiana. Let’s start off with one of the greats, Louis Armstrong.
Related: The most famous musicians in the USA.
1. Louis Armstrong
There are plenty of famous musicians that have come out of Louisiana, but one of the most influential is jazz musician Louis Armstrong, also known as “Pops.”
Armstrong was born at the turn of the century in New Orleans and lived a tumultuous early life in various homes throughout the city.
In his teen years, he became adept in the cornet and trumpet, cultivating his skills in riverboats, honkey tonks, and the streets of Storyville.
In his early 20s, he moved to Chicago, but the skills he cultivated in the Big Easy helped him achieve international fame with hits such as “What A Wonderful World” and “We Have All The Time In The World.”
2. Jelly Roll Morton
Jelly Roll Morton, born Ferdinand Joseph LaMothe, is another titan in the history of jazz, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Louis Armstrong.
Morton claimed to have invented jazz, and while this claim has been subject to criticism, he’s certainly one of the genre’s first famous arrangers.
Morton was born into New Orleans’ Creole community in the late-1880s, placing him at the rich intersection of many of Louisiana’s cultures and subcultures.
He cultivated his talent as a piano player in houses of ill repute in the city, eventually going on tour throughout the U.S.
3. Wynton Marsalis
Wynton Marsalis is a more modern figure in the history of jazz, but he’s no less distinguished.
He was born and raised in the suburbs of New Orleans and attended a classical music school and studied under his father’s tutelage.
Eventually, these seeds led Marsalis–and his two brothers–to become world-famous jazz musicians.
In Wynton’s case, this has meant nearly a dozen Grammy awards, a Pulitzer Prize for music, and many more.
4. Sidney Bechet
Another jazz icon from New Orleans, albeit a slightly less well-known one, is Sidney Bechet.
Bechet is distinguished as one of jazz’s first major soloists, coming on the scene around the same time as Louis Armstrong.
Born in 1897 to a Creole family, Bechet was one of five children, all of whom became musicians–talk about family talent!
Bechet developed his skills in ensemble bands throughout New Orleans, even working alongside Louis Armstrong himself.
5. Joseph “King” Oliver
Taking a step back into the history of jazz, the next entry on our list is Joseph “King” Oliver, one of the founding fathers of jazz music.
Oliver was born in 1884 in Aben, Louisiana, just to the northwest of New Orleans. He played the trombone and cornet throughout New Orleans, but especially in the red light district of Storyville.
He made his stamp on jazz history when he became a teacher to Louis Armstrong in Chicago, shaping the very definition of the genre.
6. Fats Domino
Pivoting genres from jazz to rock and roll, Fats Domino is a mainstay on any list of Louisiana music legends.
Like others on this list, Domino, whose real name is Antoine Dominique Domino Jr., was born in 1928 to a Creole family in New Orleans.
Over the course of his life, Domino sold millions of records, most notably “The Fat Man,” one of, if not the first, single in the history of rock and roll.
In turn, his music was a major influence on Elvis Presley.
7. Harry Connick, Jr.
Although Harry Connick Jr. isn’t one of jazz’s founding institutions, he’s still a hugely influential musical artist; in fact, he’s one of the best-selling male artists in the United States.
Connick was born in New Orleans (his father, in fact, was the District Attorney of Orleans Parish), and began to play piano as a toddler.
He was playing in local jazz bands by the age of ten and went on to study jazz academically in New York.
Subsequently, he achieved fame by composing the soundtrack for When Harry Met Sally, releasing dozens of albums, acting in films like Independence Day, and TV shows like Will and Grace. He was even a judge on American Idol!
8. Dr. John
Another modern artist, Dr. John was a major artist who synthesized various New Orleans genres, including blues, jazz, funk, and R&B.
Dr. John was born Malcolm John Rebennack Jr. in New Orleans in 1941 and grew up in the Third Ward of New Orleans.
During this time, the soon-to-be Dr. John was exposed to classical jazz influences, which informed his famously flamboyant style that incorporated the aesthetics of voodoo, Mardis Gras, and medicine shows.
Over his career, he also released dozens of albums, won 6 Grammy awards, and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2011.
9. PJ Morton (Maroon 5)
Adam Levine is perhaps the most well-known member of Maroon 5, but all of those songs weren’t from a one-man-band!
PJ Morton, one of Maroon 5’s keyboardists, was born in New Orleans in 1981 and became exposed to music through his father, a famous pastor and gospel singer.
He joined Maroon 5 in 2010, but he has released several solo works that pay homage to New Orleans, including New Orleans and Gumbo.
10. Louis Prima
Louis Prima is one of the most accomplished musicians in New Orleans history, spanning almost as many genres as came out of the beautiful melting pot city.
Born Louis Leo Prima to a Sicilian-American family in New Orleans, Prima was exposed to the music of Louis Armstrong through music clubs that were welcome to both Black Americans and Italian Americans.
If you don’t know the name, you’ll almost certainly know his voice as he played the orangutan King Louie in the original Disney film the Jungle Book. Some of his other hits included “Pennies From Heaven” and “Just A Gigalo.”
He made his mark on genres including R&B, rock and roll, swing, boogie-woogie, Italian folk, and, of course, jazz.
11. Lil Wayne
The first entry on this list from the hip hop/rap genre is Dwayne Michael Carter Jr., known professionally as Lil Wayne who was born in 1982 and raised in Hollygrove, New Orleans.
He was writing rap songs and making connections in the industry by the age of ten, but became an immensely popular artist in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
In this time, he became the first male artist to break Elvis Presley’s record for most Billboard Hot 100 singles with an incredible 109 songs.
He’s one of the best-selling artists of all time with over 120 million records sold worldwide.
12. Trace Adkins
Moving out of New Orleans and into northern Louisiana, we find the next entry on our list, Trace Adkins.
Adkins, whose singles have appeared on Billboard’s country music charts over 20 times, was born and raised in the extremely small town of Sarepta, Louisiana, just south of Arkansas.
In addition to his prolific country music career, Adkins has appeared in television shows like Hollywood Squares and The All Star Celebrity Apprentice.
13. Randy Jackson (Journey)
You may know Randy Jackson best from American Idol, but he had a storied musical career before appearing on the show.
He was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, just outside of New Orleans, and after graduating from the nearby Southern University, he became a professional session musician.
From there, he’s worked on studio albums for Jon Bon Jovi, Bob Dylan, George Michael, Imogen Heap, been a talent judge on American Idol, as well as being featured on many film soundtracks, and more.
14. Buddy Guy
Buddy Guy ranks as one of the greatest guitarists of all time, and for good reason. His song “Stone Crazy” is legendary in the music world, and he influenced guitarists including Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Keith Richards, and more.
Originally from Lettsworth, Louisiana, near the Alabama border, Guy got his start playing in Baton Rouge.
From there, he went on to record 18 studio albums, won eight Grammy awards as well as a Lifetime Achievement Award.
15. Jerry Lee Lewis
Jerry Lee Lewis is nicknamed “the Killer” for his wild reputation, and though he’s borne his share of scandals, he’s ranked alongside rock and roll hits like Elvis, Roy Orbison, and Johnny Cash.
Lewis was born in Ferriday, in northwest Louisiana, where he lived in poverty for much of his early life.
After a tumultuous tenure at a Christian college in Texas, Lewis launched his career and quickly became a legend.
Over his career that spans 70 years, he’s released dozens of albums, won four Grammy Awards and been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Some of his number one hits include “To Make Love Sweeter for You” and “Me and Bobby McGee“.
16. Tim McGraw
Country music icon Tim McGraw is another Louisiana legend. The star was born in Delhi, Louisiana, in the north of the state
For much of his early life, McGraw pursued sports instead of music, but an injury during his time on the baseball team at Northeast Louisiana University pushed him to pursue music in Nashville.
Considering the quality of hits like “Just to See You Smile” and “Live Like You Were Dying,” we’re certainly glad for it.
Over his career so far he’s released 16 studio albums and more recently has taken to acting having starred in The Blind Side and The Shack
17. Terence Blanchard
Terence Blanchard is carrying on the tradition of classical jazz musicians, but with a pop culture flair.
The trumpeter and composer was born and raised in New Orleans, where he met future New Orleans jazz icon Wynton Marsalis and studied at a prestigious music academy.
In his career proper, Blanchard has become famous for his collaborations with filmmaker Spike Lee, bringing his Louisiana-inspired jazz stylings all over the world.
As well, he’s played with legends like drummer Art Blakey and pianist Cedar Walton, recorded the scores for over 35 films, two of which were nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Score, won 5 Grammy Awards, and even written 2 operas!
18. Phil Anselmo (Pantera)
A significant departure from other entries on this list, Phil Anselmo is a heavy metal musician who ranks in the annals of metal frontmen.
Born in New Orleans and growing up in schools across Louisiana and Texas, Anselmo became involved in music not through classical training but through friendships.
At age 19, Anselmo became the frontman for Pantera and secured his place in rock and roll history.
Summing Up Our List of Great Musicians From Louisiana
As we’ve seen, Louisiana is one of the most musically rich states in the union, producing expert musicians of all genres–particularly in jazz, but also in rock and roll, hip hop, and metal.
Let us know if we’ve missed any of Louisiana’s finest musicians!