Despite the Wolverine State’s significant role in developing American soul and rock music, it remains in the cultural shadow of LA and New York. Michigan boasts ten members in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, entitling it to a place at the table when discussing modern music.
We’ve compiled a list of the greatest and most famous musicians from Michigan to shine some light on the state’s outsized musical influence.
Related: Read our post on famous American music artists here.
1. Stevie Wonder
Motown legend Stevie Wonder was born six weeks premature in Saginaw, MI.
Despite being blind from birth, Wonder was a preternatural musical talent, honing his skills in the Detroit area Whitestone Baptist Church.
Motown Records took an interest in Stevie Wonder and signed the singer at the age of 11.
After modest success throughout the 60s, Wonder would go on a prolific run of records in the 70s.
Two of these albums, Innervisions and Songs in the Key of Life, are considered among the best albums of all time.
2. Iggy Pop
Known as the Godfather of Punk, Iggy Pop was born in Muskegon, MI, to an affluent family.
Pop cut his teeth as a musician in Ann Arbor before moving to Chicago to hone his skills as a drummer.
Eventually, Pop returned to Detroit and formed The Stooges.
As a member of The Stooges and a solo artist, Pop embodied a punk rock ethos with his wild and often violent live performances.
Along with their Detroit peers MC5, The Stooges are considered the forebears of punk rock.
3. Sufjan Stevens
Detroit-born indie artist Sufjan Stevens didn’t start playing guitar until he joined several folk-influenced bands while attending Hope College in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula.
Before leaving Hope College for New York, Stevens would record his first solo record, A Sun Came.
Stevens would study literature in New York and work in children’s literature until his record Seven Swans increased his profile.
On the heels of Seven Swans’ success, Stevens would record the concept album Michigan, an ode to his home state.
4. Bob Seger
As a teenager from Ann Arbor Highschool, Bob Seger became a mainstay of the Detroit music scene in regionally successful garage rock bands.
As buzz began surrounding the young musician, Seger turned down an offer from Detroit’s legendary Motown Records and signed to Capitol Records.
After years of relatively little success, Seger would finally hit it big after releasing a live album with his backing band, The Silver Bullet Band.
The record, Live Bullet, was recorded at Detroit’s Cobo Hall and Seger would go on to sell millions of records worldwide.
5. Jack and Meg White (The White Stripes)
In the late 90s, as pop music dominated the cultural landscape, the White Stripes brought the sounds of the Detroit rock underground to the national stage.
Jacks and Meg quickly became a couple after meeting at a Detroit-area restaurant while in high school.
They were married before Meg had even begun learning to drum.
The White Stripes became stalwarts of Detroit’s rock and roll scene, eventually becoming full-fledged rock stars with their 2001 album White Blood Cells.
Their song “Seven Nation Army” is chanted in stadiums the world over.
6. Suzi Quatro
Suzi Quatro and her sisters contributed to the Detroit rock scene of the 60s with their all-female band The Pleasure Seekers.
By the end of the decade, Suzi Quatro would catch the eye of record producer Mickie Most, leaving the group in 1971 to pursue a solo career in the UK.
Quatro found success overseas with singles “Can the Can,” “48 Crash,” and “Devil Gate Drive.”
Her Motor City brand of glam-rock influenced a new generation of female rock stars, including the Runaways, Chrissie Hynde, and The Go-Go’s.
7. Smokey Robinson
Smokey Robinson began performing with the doo-wop group The Five Chimes while attending Detroit-area Northern High School.
During this time, Robinson wrote over 100 songs. These songs, and an audition by the band, convinced Berry Gordy to sign the group.
Renamed The Miracles, Robinson would sing lead on a string of hit singles.
He would also write some of the most iconic songs of the Motown era, including, “The Way You Do the Things You Do,” “My Girl,” and “My Guy.”
8. Donald Byrd
After a brief stint in the military, iconic jazz trumpeter Donald Byrd moved back to his native Michigan to study music at Wayne State University.
After graduating, Byrd moved to New York to pursue his master’s degree.
In New York, Byrd would join the Jazz Messengers – an illustrious gig in jazz circles.
Byrd would go on to spend as much time teaching as performing.
Though his albums Electric Byrd and Black Byrd are considered classics, his impact on music as a teacher is just as great.
9. Glenn Frey (The Eagles)
While attending Michigan’s Oakland Community College, future Eagles drummer Glenn Frey befriended Detroit musician Bob Seger.
Frey played on several Seger records and was asked to join Seger’s band.
Frey, only 19 at the time, was forbidden to do so by his mother.
Nonetheless, Seger encouraged Frey to pursue his songwriting.
By the end of the 60s, Frey moved to California where, as part of the Eagles, he would help define the folky sound of the Laurel Canyon scene with hits like “Take It Easy,” and “Hotel California.”
10. Anthony Kiedis (Red Hot Chili Peppers)
The child of divorce, Grand Rapids’ Anthony Kiedis moved in with his father in Hollywood at age 12.
Not long after, he would meet a teenager named Flea.
The two would become inseparable, getting into music, drugs, and trouble together.
Flea would even accompany Kiedis to Michigan to visit his mother.
By 1983, Kiedis and Flea had formed the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
The group fused funk, punk, and hip-hop while becoming one of the biggest rock bands of their era.
Madonna started her life taking piano and ballet lessons in the Detroit suburb of Pontiac.
Her ballet instructor inspired her to pursue dancing, and she received a dance scholarship to the University of Michigan.
Madonna would become the most famous female artist of the 80s and 90s.
Her work garnered an induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
In protest of fellow Michigan group The Stooges not receiving a nomination, Madonna asked the band to perform instead of her.
12. Jason Newsted (Metallica)
Before Jason Newsted was a metalhead, he was the family farmhand in Battle Creek, MI.
When Newsted wasn’t working, he obsessed over the record collection of his older brother.
Newsted put down his guitar and began learning bass after hearing Kiss’ Gene Simmons on one of these records.
Newsted found himself stuck in Phoenix after his band Gangster broke up on their way to California.
Undeterred, Newsted would successfully audition to become the bassist of Metallica.
Newsted plays on their classic albums …And Justice for All and Metallica.
13. Kid Rock
Kid Rock developed an interest in hip-hop as a teenager and began performing in the Detroit area alongside Eminem.
By the late 80s, Kid Rock had released an album on Jive Records and was one of the biggest rappers in Detroit.
A decade later, Kid Rock would explode into the mainstream with his 1998 album Devil Without a Cause.
In a sign of his enduring popularity in the region, in 2015, he sold out Detroit’s DTE Energy Music Theatre ten straight nights.
14. Diana Ross
Dianna Ross formed The Primettes in Detroit in 1959.
The group gained popularity regionally and won a talent show, raising their profile.
The Primettes ad an audition with Berry Gordy, and in 1963 they would have their first of many hits with the song, “When the Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes.”
Diana Ross’ fame would eventually overshadow the Supremes.
In the 70s Ross went solo, finding success in the disco genre and later as a movie star.
In 2016, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
15. Alice Cooper
Originally named Vincent Furnier, shock-rocker Alice Cooper was born in Detroit to an evangelist father.
A childhood move relocated Furnier to Phoenix, after which the teenager made the short trek to California to make it as a musician.
After Alice Cooper found little success in The Golden State, Furnier moved the band to his native Detroit, where locals loved their over-the-top stage gimmicks.
Revitalized, the band would record their classics “No More Mr. Nice Guy,” “School’s Out,” and “I’m Eighteen.”
16. Jackie Wilson
As a teenager, Jackie Wilson performed with gospel singing groups in Highland Park, MI.
After dropping out of school at 15, Wilson began a failed amateur boxing career in Detroit.
Eventually, Wilson found his way back to music.
After fronting the r&b group the Dominoes, he would eventually go solo.
He scored his first hit in 1958 with “Lonely Teardrops.”
After a brief hiatus from the charts, Wilson returned with the soul classic “(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher.”
17. Bill Haley
Highland Park’s Bill Haley was the first rock and roll artist to hit the top of the Billboard charts with “Rock Around the Clock.”
Due to the song’s success and inclusion in the highly influential 1955 film Blackboard Jungle, Haley was the first to take rock and roll to the mainstream.
Though his family left the Detroit area for Pennsylvania during the Great Depression, Michigan is still proud to call Haley a native son for his influence on rock and roll.
18. Del Shannon
After serving time in the military, guitarist Del Shannon returned to his native Battle Creek, MI, and soon found a gig as rhythm guitarist for the Moonlight Ramblers.
Del Shannon would secure a record contract after an Ann Arbor DJ passed their demo to producers.
Using their keyboard player Max Crook’s synthesizer invention, the musitron, Del Shannon would record their iconic sounding hit single, “Runaway.”
19. Ray Parker Jr.
As a guitarist in Detroit in the late 60s, Parker impressed Motown musicians as part of the house band at the 20 Grand nightclub.
Here he would meet members of The Spinners, who would hire him as their touring guitarist.
Eventually, he began writing songs with Marvin Gaye, recording as a session musician, and becoming Stevie Wonder’s lead guitarist.
After joining Wonder’s band, Parker would leave Detroit.
He would go on to a successful 80s solo career that included the Billboard number-one single, “Ghostbusters.”
20. Ted Nugent
Born in Redford and raised in Detroit, Ted Nugent formed the Amboy Dukes while living in Chicago.
After modest success in the Windy City, Nugent moved back to Michigan and began recording solo work.
His first three albums, Ted Nugent, Free-for-All, and Catch Scratch Fever would all go platinum.
Nugent is known for his virtuosic guitar style and energetic live performances.
He is an outspoken opponent of drug use and a staunch gun-rights proponent.
21. Mary Wells
Wells began singing at Detroit area clubs in her teens, enticed by the success of The Miracles and Jackie Wilson.
Wells would meet Motown Records founder Berry Gordy at the 20 Grand nightclub.
Gordy signed Wells to Motown Records, where she would eventually top the charts with the Smokey Robison penned “My Guy.”
Wells would never again match the success of “My Guy,” but her early contributions to the Motown sound solidified her legacy as The Queen of Motown.
22. Mike Posner
Detroit native Mike Posner began his recording career while attending school at Duke University.
There Posner hooked up with fellow Detroit ex-pat Big Sean and produced his first mixtape.
Posner began attracting label interest through mixtapes and eventually hit the Billboard charts with his single “Cooler Than Me.”
Posner would reach international acclaim when the Norwegian producer SeeB remixed his song “I Took a Pill in Ibiza.”
23. D’arcy Wretzky (Smashing Pumpkins)
D’arcy Wretzky was born in South Haven, MI.
Surrounded by music as a child, Wretzky resolved at age 10 to pursue it professionally.
Upon graduating high school and after a failed move to France, she would settle in Chicago and join the Smashing Pumpkins.
Wretzky played bass on the Smashing Pumpkins classic run of albums, Gish, Siamese Dream, Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, and Adore.
She left the band in 1999.
The Final Word on Famous Musicans From Michigan
As the birthplace of Motown Records, proto-punk, and techno, Michigan is essential to modern music.
Whether you know it as Hitsville, USA, or Detroit Rock City, there is no denying the Great Lake State’s fingerprints are all over your record collection.