Certain states 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. The Pelican State has produced some of the most popular 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. Thus, 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. Read on!
Related: Check our list if you’re interested to know about the most famous musicians in the USA.
1. Louis Armstrong
One of the most famous musicians who hailed from Louisiana is Louis Armstrong. He was born in 1901 in New Orleans. He 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. The skills he cultivated in New Orleans helped him achieve international fame. Throughout his career, he recorded numerous hit songs. Arguably, the most famous is “What a Wonderful World.”
In addition, he led some jazz ensembles such as the Hot Five and Hot Seven bands. He also collaborated with other prominent jazz musicians.
Armstrong passed away in 1971, but his contributions to music earned him a permanent place in the pantheon of great musicians. His legacy lives on to this day and continues to inspire other musicians around the world.
2. Jelly Roll Morton
Our next musician was Jelly Roll Morton, born Ferdinand Joseph LaMothe. He is another titan in the history of jazz, standing on the same pedestal as Louis Armstrong. In fact, he is considered a key figure in the evolution of jazz music.
Being born into New Orleans’ Creole community in 1890 meant he was 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 tours throughout the US.
Morton became known for his innovative approach to composing and arranging. He also became popular for his intricate musical arrangements. Many believe that he was one of the first jazz musicians who notated music.
Some of Morton’s compositions include “Black Bottom Stomp,” “King Porter Stomp,” and “The Crave.”
Decades later and Morton’s contributions to jazz music made it what it is now. He was a significant figure who formalized and popularized this genre.
3. Wynton Marsalis
The New Orleans native Wynton Marsalis is a more modern figure in the history of jazz, but he’s no less distinguished. He is known as a jazz trumpeter, bandleader, and composer.
While at school, he studied classical music. At home, he studied jazz under his father’s tutelage. He began playing the trumpet at a young age and quickly gained recognition for his prodigious talent. Eventually, these seeds led Marsalis to become a world-famous jazz musician.
Marsalis’ popularity began in the early 1980s. He joined the “neoclassical” movement, which aimed to preserve the traditional styles of jazz.
Marsalis released successful albums throughout his career and worked with jazz and classical musicians. He also authored jazz compositions, including his oratorio Blood on the Fields. It won him the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 1997, making him the first jazz musician to do so.
For his contributions to music, Marsalis won numerous accolades. These include nine Grammy Awards.
4. Sidney Bechet
Another jazz icon from New Orleans, albeit a slightly less well-known one, is Sidney Bechet. Born in 1897, he was a jazz saxophonist, clarinetist, and composer.
Born to a Creole family, Bechet was one of five children, all of whom became musicians. He is distinguished as one of jazz’s first major soloists. He came to the scene around the same time as Louis Armstrong.
He had his career beginnings as a clarinetist for local bands in the early 1990s. In 1919, he discovered the soprano saxophone. This became his primary instrument and the one he is most closely associated with.
Bechet developed his skills in ensemble bands throughout New Orleans, even working alongside Louis Armstrong himself. He also collaborated with the jazz pianist Duke Ellington.
Some of Bechet’s well-known compositions include “Blue Horizon” and “Petite Fleur.” The latter became an international hit. His composition “Si Tu Vois Ma Mère” became popular after being featured in the film Midnight in Paris.
After relocating to France, Bechet found great success in the country. He passed away in 1959, leaving a legacy as a pioneering jazz musician.
5. Joseph “King” Oliver
Another highly influential person in jazz music is Joseph “King” Oliver. He was born in 1881 in Aben, Louisiana, and raised in New Orleans. The world of music knows him as an influential jazz cornetist and composer.
In his youth, he played the trombone and cornet throughout New Orleans, but especially in the red-light district of Storyville. He also became the mentor of Louis Armstrong. The latter played the second cornet in King Oliver and his Creole Jazz Band.
The band demonstrated and brought to a large audience a style called collective improvisation, also called Dixieland. This style is characterized by musicians playing improvised parts at the same time.
Throughout his career, Oliver crafted compositions and recordings. These include “Dippermouth Blues” and “Doctor Jazz.” These compositions featured his cornet playing and showcased the band’s improvisation.
Oliver’s accomplishments and contributions to jazz music are popular to this day. His skills definitely left a mark on the genre.
6. Fats Domino
From jazz, let’s head to rock and roll with one of the pioneers of the genre. Fats Domino was born Antoine Dominique Domino Jr. in 1928. He is a mainstay on any list of Louisiana music legends.
Domino made a name for himself as a pianist and singer-songwriter. He found success in rock and roll during the 1950s and 1960s. His music was characterized by a combination of rhythm and blues and boogie-woogie.
What made Domino different from other musicians was his charming style of singing and piano playing. It worked its magic on his listeners.
Domino became popular for certain hit songs, such as “Blueberry Hill,” “Walking to New Orleans,” and “I’m Walkin’.” His debut single, “The Fat Man,” brought distinction to him as it was the first to sell more than a million copies. Not only that. It was also considered the first rock and roll single.
Domino’s influence was far-reaching. He helped break down racial barriers in the music industry. His success also influenced other musicians such as 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 had an early start in his musical career. Born and raised in New Orleans, he started playing piano at three. By five, he was already playing in public. And by ten, he was already recording!
Connick achieved fame by composing the soundtrack for the film When Harry Met Sally. The soundtrack’s performance won him the Grammy Award for Best Jazz Male Vocal Performance.
Since then, Connick released more than 30 albums. He also served as a judge on American Idol in 2010 and 2014-2016.
Truly, Connick has achieved more feats than any other jazz musician in the world. For one, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) included him in the top 60 best-selling male artists in the US. In addition, he was the only jazz artist to have more #1 albums in US jazz chart history.
In 2019, he had already sold more than 30 million records worldwide. He is also the recipient of three Grammy Awards and two Emmy Awards.
8. Dr. John
Another notable musician from New Orleans is Malcolm John Rebennack Jr. Thanks to his father, he was exposed early to the likes of jazz musicians Joseph “King” Oliver and Louis Armstrong. He was known for blending blues, jazz, and R&B.
He had his career beginnings as a musician and songwriter in the 1950s and 1960s. He co-wrote his first rock and roll song “Lights Out” and was a hit in the area. His success allowed him to collaborate with other artists such as Sonny & Cher and Frank Zappa.
In the late 1960s, he was known as Dr. John, the Night Tripper.” By then he was blending rhythm and blues with psychedelic rock.
Throughout his career, Dr. John released dozens of albums and compilations. He won six Grammy awards and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2011.
He continued working in the music scene until his death, leaving behind a legacy that still inspires and influences musicians today.
9. PJ Morton (Maroon 5)
You may know PJ Morton as the keyboardist of the pop-rock band Maroon 5. But did you know he has an impressive list of accomplishments beyond that? He is also a singer-songwriter and producer.
Morton was born in New Orleans in 1981 and became exposed to music through his musical family. Both of his parents are pastors and gospel singers.
Morton joined Maroon 5 in 2010 as a touring keyboardist. While he played for the band, he was also pursuing a solo career. In fact, he released several solo works that pay homage to New Orleans, including New Orleans and Gumbo. His music was characterized by heartfelt lyrics and soulful melodies.
Throughout Morton’s career, he has released various albums, whether as a solo artist or with the PJ Morton Band and with Maroon 5 as well. He won four Grammy Awards and received several nominations.
10. Louis Prima
The American singer, trumpeter, and songwriter Louis Prima is one of the most accomplished musicians in New Orleans’ history. His career spanned almost as many genres as came out of the beautiful melting-pot city.
Prima was exposed to the music of Louis Armstrong through music clubs that welcomed black Americans and Italian Americans. He began his music career by being a vocalist and a trumpet player. His success came in the ‘30s and ‘40s when he formed his own band.
What made him stand out was his being a charismatic and energetic performer. He was known to combine jazz, swing, and Dixieland. Some of his popular songs include “Sing, Sing, Sing,” “The Lady in Red,” and “Jump, Jive an’ Wail.”
His popularity declined for a while in the ‘70s, only to peak again in the ‘90s. You’ll recognize his voice as he played the orangutan King Louie in the original Disney film The Jungle Book.
Prima died in 1978, but he will always be known as a versatile entertainer and musician. He had 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. He was born in 1982 and raised in Hollygrove, New Orleans. Many consider him a successful hip-hop artist of his generation.
He was writing rap songs and making connections in the industry by the age of 10 but became an immensely popular artist in the late 1990s. He started by becoming the youngest member of the hip-hop group Hot Boys.
Although Carter had already put out albums, his breakthrough success came with the release of Tha Carter III in 2008. It was a massive commercial success, selling more than one million copies in the first week.
The album’s lead single, “Lollipop,” was his most successful at the time. The album won him four Grammy Awards, and this further added to his fame.
In 2012, Carter had 109 songs on the Billboard Hot 100, making him the first male artist to surpass Elvis Presley’s record. He’s one of the best-selling artists of all time, with over 120 million records sold worldwide.
12. Trace Adkins
Our next musician on the list is Trace Adkins, born in 1962 in Sarepta, Louisiana. He is known as a country music singer, songwriter, and actor. He became popular in the mid-1990s and was known for blending country sounds with rock and blues elements.
Many of Adkins’ songs revolve around themes of love, heartache, and life in general. Some of his popular hits include “(This Ain’t) No Thinkin’ Thing” and “I Left Something Turned on at Home.”
Aside from these successful songs, Adkins also released albums that were commercially successful and chart-topping. For his accomplishments, he had received Academy of Country Music (ACM) Awards, Grammy nominations, and Country Music Association (CMA) Awards.
Adkins continues to make music and cement his spot in country music. There’s no stopping him from showing his love for the genre and for connecting with audiences worldwide.
13. Randy Jackson
You may know Randy Jackson best from American Idol. Did you know that he had a storied musical career before appearing on the show? He made a name for himself as a successful musician and record producer.
He was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, just outside of New Orleans. After graduating from the nearby Southern University, he became a professional session musician. In fact, he joined the rock band Journey as a session musician for the album Raised on Radio.
From there, he worked with various artists, including Aretha Franklin, the guitarist Steve Lukather, and the jazz saxophonist Kenny G. In addition, he worked on studio albums for Tracy Chapman, Bruce Springsteen, and Kimberley Locke.
But it was his stint as a talent judge on American Idol that Jackson gained more recognition. He was on the show from 2002 to 2013, spanning 12 seasons.
14. Buddy Guy
The blues guitarist and singer 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. Not only that, he also influenced guitarists including Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, and John Meyer.
Born George Guy in Lettsworth, Louisiana, he had his start playing in Baton Rouge. But his journey to fame and success was not smooth sailing. Despite showcasing an ability to create a captivating live experience for his audience, his record company refused to record his live shows.
Thanks to Eric Clapton, Guy’s breakthrough came in the late ‘80s. The latter signed with a new record company and recorded the album Damn Right, I’ve Got the Blues.
From there, he went on to record numerous solo albums and collaborations. He won eight Grammy awards and a Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2005, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
15. Jerry Lee Lewis
Next, we have Jerry Lee Lewis, a pianist, singer, and songwriter. He is nicknamed “the Killer” in reference to his energetic live performances.
Lewis was born in Ferriday, in northwest Louisiana, where he lived in poverty for much of his early life. But he went on to achieve stardom and became one of the pioneers of rock and roll and rockabilly.
His career took off in 1957, with hits such as “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” and “Great Balls of Fire.” The latter was his biggest hit, propelling him to international fame.
Over his career, which spans 70 years, he released dozens of albums. He had four Grammy Awards and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986. Rolling Stone ranked him 24th on their list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time.
Lewis’ achievements and influence on other musicians are immeasurable. His talent and success in the music industry remain an inspiration for generations of musicians and artists.
16. Tim McGraw
Country music icon Tim McGraw is another Louisiana legend. The star was born in Delhi, Louisiana, in 1967 and became one of the best-selling music artists of all time.
For much of his early life, McGraw pursued sports instead of music. An injury while with 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.
His music career officially began with the release of his self-titled debut album in 1993. Though it flopped, he found success in Not a Moment Too Soon, which was the best-selling country album of that year.
Since then, he released commercially successful albums. Some of his hit songs include “Don’t Take the Girl” and “Down on the Farm.”
Some of his accolades were three Grammy Awards, 14 ACM Awards, 11 CLA Awards, and 10 American Music Awards. Throughout his career, he has sold over 80 million records worldwide.
17. Terence Blanchard
The trumpeter and composer Terence Blanchard is carrying on the tradition of classical jazz musicians. He was born and raised in New Orleans, where he met future jazz icon Wynton Marsalis.
Blanchard began his music career with his self-titled debut album in the 1990s. It peaked at #3 on the Billboard jazz chart.
He was also known for his extensive collaboration with filmmaker Spike Lee, bringing his Louisiana-inspired jazz stylings all over the world. He worked on several of Lee’s films, including Jungle Fever, Malcolm X, Inside Man, and Da 5 Bloods. Aside from Lee, Blanchard also worked with directors Ron Shelton and Kasi Lemmons.
Blanchard’s exceptional skills landed him various awards. He won five Grammy Awards and numerous nominations. He was also the recipient of Golden Globe and Primetime Emmy Awards for his recordings for various films.
18. Phil Anselmo (Pantera)
A significant departure from other entries on this list is Phil Anselmo. He is a heavy metal musician who ranks in the annals of metal frontmen.
Philip Hansen Anselmo was born in New Orleans and attended schools across Louisiana and Texas. He 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.
Pantera released five albums, one live album, and one compilation album with Anselmo. Unfortunately, Pantera broke up due to tensions between members. Following the disbandment, Anselmo worked with his side projects, Superjoint Ritual and Down.
His other side projects include Arson Anthem, Christ Inversion, Southern Isolation, Viking Crown, Elbon, and many others. These projects showed Anselmo’s versatility as a vocalist.
Summing Up Our List of Musicians From Louisiana
As we’ve seen, Louisiana is one of the most musically rich states in the US. Since time immemorial, it has produced some of the biggest names in music history.
These talented musicians dabbled in different genres, particularly in jazz, but also in rock and roll, hip-hop, and metal. Because of these notable personalities, Louisiana will always have a special distinction among the states.