13 Of The Greatest And Most Famous Musicians from Minnesota

Written by Dan Farrant
Last updated

Minnesota is famous for many things, from its National Football Team the Vikings to its over 11,000 lakes that span the state. But did you know that there are a great number of musicians that hail from the North Star State? From Grammy award winners to artists with number one hits, Minnesota has a lot of musical talent that you might not know about.

In this post, we’re going to take a look at the lives and careers of 13 of the greatest and most famous musicians from Minnesota. Our list includes

1. Bob Dylan

Born in Duluth, Minnesota in 1941 Robert Allen Zimmerman more commonly known as Bob Dylan is a hugely popular singer-songwriter.

Both sets of Dylan’s grandparents were immigrants to the United States, and he spent his childhood in a small Jewish community.

At the age of six, Dylan caught polio. But as he recovered, he discovered his passion for music – more specifically, blues, country, and rock and roll. 

After high school, he moved to New York City to perform in cafes and clubs, where he eventually made record producer John Hammond and recorded his debut album. 

Over his 60 year career, he became one of the most successful artists of all time selling over 125 million records, winning 10 Grammy awards, and even a Golden Globe and Academy award.

2. Chad Smith (Red Hot Chili Peppers)

Next, we have drummer Chad Smith who was born in St. Paul, Minnesota – though he spent most of his childhood in the state of Michigan. 

During Smith’s school years, he ran away from home for a time. When he returned, his mother sent him to boarding school where he worked several odd jobs and played the drums for various bands. 

Smith eventually moved to Los Angeles, and his connection with the Red Hot Chili Peppers was a simple one. The band needed a new drummer to succeed DH Peligro, so Smith auditioned and they loved him. He’s been with the band ever since. 

Due to his widespread success, Smith has been in high demand, performing with the likes of The Dixie Chicks, Johnny Cash, Dick Van Dyke, Dave Navarro, and more. 

3. Prince

Almost everyone is familiar with Prince Rogers Nelson, known by his stage name as simply Prince. But did you know he was a Minnesota native? 

Prince was born into a musical family. His father was a pianist and a songwriter, and his mother was a jazz singer. So, it’s no surprise that the artist was interested in a wide variety of musical instruments at a young age.

After his parents split up, Prince ran away from home and moved in with the neighbors. He started a band in high school and was eventually signed to Warner Bros Records.

Prince’s career is sprinkled with hits and defined by success. Though his music often stirred up controversy with its graphic, sexual lyrics, he remained active and successful until his untimely death in 2016. 

4. Mod Sun

Mod Sun is an American rapper and singer who was born in Bloomington, Minnesota. His given name at birth was Derek Ryan Smith, but he later changed his name to Mod Sun – which is an acronym for movement on Dreams Stand Under None. 

The rapper, known for his funky hairstyles and many tattoos, received early music influence from the drummer of Sublime. The drummer lived next door to his father in California. 

Mod Sun started attending local pop-punk concerts and made connections with the musicians there.

He had a bit of a rough start, joining and subsequently leaving three bands before he started releasing his own mixtapes and, finally, an album in 2020. 

5. Judy Garland

Grand Rapids, native Judy Garland was born Frances Ethel Gumm and is best recognized for playing Dorothy in the classic movie “The Wizard of Oz.”

However, in addition to her career as an actress, Garland also made a name for herself in the music industry. 

Garland’s debut radio single aired when she was just 13. After nailing the part of Dorothy and demonstrating her singing talents in the movie, Garland went on to perform in several other musicals before earning a Tony Award in 1952. 

Unfortunately, Garland’s career was full of emotional trauma and drug use that ultimately led to her death at 47. 

6. The Andrews Sisters 

The Andrews Sisters were a popular swing trio during the 1940s. The group consisted of three sisters: LaVerne, Maxene, and Patricia. 

The sisters grew up singing in their trio in Minnesota. They won a talent contest in Minneapolis at a young age and toured vaudeville. 

It didn’t take long for their impressive harmonies to capture hearts, and soon they were touring military bases, recording with the likes of legendary jazz singer Bing Crosby, and appearing in films. 

Although the sisters experienced tumultuous times, including Patricia leaving the group to go solo, they enjoyed a successful career that included 46 top 10 hits and over 100 million units sold. 

7. Eddie Cochran

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member Eddie Cochran made a name for himself in his 21 short years of life.

Born Ray Edward Cochran in Albert Lea, Minnesota, Cochran spent his childhood in the North Star State. At 14, his family moved to California, and Cochran began playing the guitar.

He sang in a country-western duo until he began his solo career as a rock and roll artist in Nashville.

After becoming a successful songwriter, Cochran landed a recording contract and went on to star in films, record hits, and release a full album before his tragic death in 1960. 

8. Tammy Faye Bakker

Tamara Faye LaValley, better known by her married name Bakker, was born in International Falls, Minnesota in 1942.

Bakker was a multifaceted celebrity, famous for being a singer, author, evangelist, and television personality. 

Having been raised by a pastor, Bakker had a strong passion for religion. She and her husband Jim Bakker traveled together; he preached and she sang. But, she was well-known for her open mind, which often contrasted with traditional Christian views.

Despite a nasty public scandal involving Bakker’s first husband, she went on record several albums – most of which featured her work with the Praise the Lord Club – and wrote multiple books. 

9. Bernie Leadon (The Eagles)

Bernie Leadon, who was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, was one of the founding members of the rock band the Eagles.

Leadon’s long career began early when he met musicians Ed Douglas and Larry Murray and joined the local bluegrass band the Scottsville Squirrel Barkers.

Leadon continued pursuing bluegrass and country rock until he landed the last spot in the newly formed Eagles band. 

Leadon wrote, played several instruments, and offered harmony vocals to the Eagles for two albums before he famously left the band, saying he needed to improve his health and leave the drugs behind. 

He later came back to tour with the band in 2013 and appeared at the Grammys in a tribute to Glenn Frey. 

10. Liz Anderson

Next on the list is Liz Anderson who was born Elizabeth Jane Haaby in Pine Creek, Minnesota.

She came from humble beginnings, playing mandolin and singing in her local church. She was married at the young age of 16 to songwriter Casey Anderson. 

After leading an ordinary life as a secretary and raising a daughter, Anderson moved to California and began writing songs.

She quickly rose in fame, writing songs for the country music scene and major artists including Merle Haggard, Conway Twitty, and George Jones. 

It wasn’t long before her demo vocals caught the attention of producer Chet Atkins, and Anderson signed her first contract and began topping country charts. 

11. Skitch Henderson

Skitch Henderson, born Lyle Russell Cedric Henderson, was a pianist and composer. Although he was born in England in 1918 he moved to Minnesota in 1920 to live with his aunt. 

He later moved to Los Angeles where he landed a gig as an accompanist for an MGM promotional tour. The tour features none other than Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney. 

Henderson went on to play for Bob Hope’s radio program, served as musical director for a young Frank Sinatra, and joined the NBC Orchestra as musical director.

He was also a part of the original Tonight show before he founded the New York Pops Orchestra. 

12. Adam Young (Owl City)

Adam Randal Young is a native of Iowa, but he relocated to the state of Minnesota at a young age with his family.

Young led a pretty ordinary life, working for the Coca-Cola Company after graduating high school. But Young had a bigger dream and set up a recording studio in his parents’ basement where he began recording songs and uploading them to his Myspace account.

His account began to attract followers, and he released his first hit under the name Owl City in 2009 – “Fireflies.” 

Following the success of this single, Young signed with Universal Republic Records and released his first album of electronic, synth-pop music. 

13. Lizzo

And finally, Lizzo was born in Michigan as Melissa Vivian Jefferson, and she spent her early years in Texas.

However, she got her professional start in the state of Minnesota when she began her recording career in Minneapolis. 

This multi-talented artist is a rapper, singer, songwriter, and flutist; in fact, she often wows her packed stadium crowds when she pulls out her flute to show off her classically trained skills. 

Lizzo’s first solo album debuted in 2013, which eventually landed her an opening slot touring with Har Mar Superstar in the US and the UK. 

Although Lizzo continued working, she didn’t get her big break until 2017 when her hit song “Good as Hell” caught the world’s attention. 

Summing Up Our List Of Minnesotan Musicians

Minnesota is known for many things, including the residents’ unmistakable accents, but you probably never realized how many great artists called the state home. 

The musicians we talked about today are widespread and talented – and some of them are still active and thriving today.

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.