26 Of The Greatest And Most Famous Musicians From Mississippi

Written by Dan Farrant
Last updated

Mississippi has always had a sound of its own. From its climate to culture, the Magnolia State has been home to many globally influential musicians. From the blues of Robert Johnson to the country music of Conway Twitty, Mississippi has been a hotbed of musical talent for decades. In fact, so many famous musicians have called Mississippi home that it’s hard to know where to start.

In this post, we’re going to take a look at 26 of the greatest and most famous musicians from Mississippi and take a brief look at their lives and careers.

1. Otis Rush

Blues guitarist Otis Rush learned the blues in Philadelphia, Mississippi before moving to Chicago in 1948 to become one of the pioneers of the electric scene with his left-handed guitar work. 

His first hit, 1956’s “I Can’t Quit You Baby,” gave him recognition among the elite. It wasn’t until he cut records with Chess, Chicago’s elite record company, before moving into blues obscurity.

Rush had troubled decades to follow, but in 1994 he found a resurgence until his death in 2018 at the age of 83.

2. Jimmy Buffet

Country singer-songwriter Jimmy Buffet was born on Christmas Day of 1946 in Pascagoula, Mississippi.

Although his parents raised him to become an altar boy, once he discovered the guitar, plans changed completely.

He took a chance to Key West, Florida in the ’70s, where the town was filled with con men, smugglers, and the lot. Here Jimmy was bathed with crazy and unique stories of the people that lived there and that later became the inspiration for his songs.

In 1974, he had his first big hit with “Come Monday”, which reached the top 30 in the charts.

More than 50 years later and with 27 albums released, Buffet still goes on tour singing the stories he’s been around.

3. Conway Twitty

Another country singer-songwriter Conway Twitty was raised on country music, blues, and gospel in Friars Point, Mississippi.

He almost played professional baseball before being drafted to the army, and upon his return from Korea, his interests changed to music after hearing Elvis.

He moved to Memphis where he had hits such as “It’s Only Make Believe” and “Lonely Blue Boy.”

Twitty starred in films and maintained his popularity (including awards and accolades) through adult-themed country, pop, and rock and roll music until he died in 1993. 

4. Lester Young

Famous saxophone player Lester Young grew up in Woodville, Mississippi playing violin, trumpet, and drums in the family band by age 13. Eventually, he landed on the saxophone as a primary instrument. 

As a professional, he played in groups including Count Basie’s Big Band, yet refused to tour America’s southern states. Eventually, he was drafted into the Army. 

This experience led him towards mental health issues for the remainder of his life, though he continued playing through the 50s, with his most recognizable recording being 1956’s Jazz Giants.

5. Elvis Presley

​​By the time he was a teen, rock and roll legend Elvis Presley from Tupelo, Mississippi had moved to Memphis. There, he honed his talents and earned himself a recording contract. 

His success in rock, ballads, and gospel was immense, helping him stay on top of the charts from the time he began until his untimely death in 1977.

As rock music’s first “star,” Presley is remembered with hits such as “That’s All Right Mama,” “Hound Dog,” and “Return to Sender“; as well as his many films, and a legendary Las Vegas residency.

6. B.B. King

Born in the Mississippi delta a plantation near Itta Bena, Mississippi, B.B. King was one of the greatest blues guitarists of all time.

He left for Memphis to learn guitar and served as a radio DJ until recording his songs.

With hits such as “Three O’Clock Blues” and “Every Day I Have the Blues” King developed the sharp style that he’s known for today.

With his trusty guitar “Lucille” by his side, he dominated blues charts for the decades to come and collaborated with many big names such as Eric Clapton.

King toured up until he died in 2015, yet remains the face of blues music today. 

7. Britney Spears

A child wonder, Britney Spears of McComb, Mississippi was destined for greatness. She joined Disney’s The New Mickey Mouse Club at 11, and by 15 she had her first record deal. 

With hits like “…Baby One More Time” and “I’m a Slave 4 U,” Britney became the face of pop in the 2000s. 

In 2008, she was placed under conservatorship, yet had a successful Las Vegas Residency, appeared on The X Factor as a judge, and continued to release music. 

In 2021, her conservatorship ended, and since then, fans have been clamoring to see what’s next. 

8. Rick Ross

Rick Ross, born in Clarksdale, Mississippi, was inspired to rap when he heard Biggie Smalls’ music.

After adopting his stage name, Ross was discovered by Jay Z and released his debut, “Hustlin’,” shortly after. 

Since then, Ross has put out many hit albums and continues to be featured on tracks including “Aston Martin Music” and “Diced Pineapples.”

A life-threatening health scare forced Ross to adjust his fast-paced lifestyle, but he continues to make music today.

9. Bo Diddley

Bo Diddley grew up playing violin in McComb, Mississippi until he heard the blues, and from that moment on his life was changed. 

After signing to legendary Chicago label, Chess Records, Bo released his debut “Bo Diddley.” The result was a new sound, not only blues but rock and R&B as well. 

Classic songs such as “Who Do You Love?” and “You Can’t Judge a Book by Its Cover” launched him to legendary status with his unique guitar sounds, storytelling vocals, and clean production. 

He especially found success with a British audience before his initial popularity declined during the British invasion, but Diddley continued to tour into the 80s. 

10. Hayley Williams (Paramore)

Hayley Williams grew up in Meridian, Mississippi playing music and writing lyrics before meeting her Paramore bandmates. 

In 2005, they released their debut album, All We Know Is Falling. The album showcased Williams’ present and emotive voice and launched them to success. 

Since then, Williams has collaborated with a variety of artists such as B.o.B. on the hit, “Airplanes,” and she continues to write, record, and tour with Paramore, as well as release solo albums. 

11. Muddy Waters

Singer and guitarist Muddy Waters was immersed in blues music during his time in Clarksdale, Mississippi.

By 13, he performed with his harmonica and guitar before relocating to Chicago. There, he recorded “I Can’t Be Satisfied” and “(I Feel Like) Goin’ Home.”

He found success shortly after as not only a solo musician but the leader of the Chess Records house band as well. 

Like other blues musicians of his time, Waters fell into obscurity during the British invasion but saw a career reemergence in the 70s until he died in 1983. 

12. Son House

Born in the hamlet of Lyon, north of Clarksdale, Mississippi Son House was originally a Baptist preacher at age 15.

But, despite becoming a legendary blues guitarist, House didn’t learn guitar until his 20s.

After playing the Delta blues scene, House spent time in prison for murder before meeting Charley Patton. 

The two recorded legendary songs such as “Dry Spell Blues” before House went out on his own for the Library of Congress recordings. 

Afterward, he disappeared until the 1960s when he had a resurgence in popularity. House relearned guitar then toured for the remainder of his life.

13. Tammy Wynette

Born in a rural county called Tremont, Mississippi in 1942, country singer Tammy Wynette was destined for greatness. 

Before turning 20 years old, she had already had more than 20 number one hit songs. “Stand By Your Man” and “I Don’t Want To Play House” catapulted her to stardom in the early 70’s.

Wynette died in 1998 with a well-earned nickname “The First Lady of Country”.

14. Sam Cooke

Soul singer Sam Cooke, hailing from Clarksdale, Mississippi, took to gospel music at an early age before pursuing it professionally in Chicago with his group, The Soul Stirrers.

With hits such as “Lovable,” they were able to reach listeners outside of the Gospel fanbase. 

Cooke split with the group and released “You Send Me.” This hit was followed by tunes like “(What A) Wonderful World” and the civil rights essential “A Change Is Gonna Come.” 

Unfortunately, Cooke died unexpectedly in 1964, but his body of work has cemented him as an R&B legend. 

15. Ike Turner (Kings of Rhythm)

Though shrouded in personal-life controversy, Ike Turner, born in Clarksdale, Mississippi, was a talent all his own on the guitar. 

Coming up with the Kings of Rhythm with hits like “Rocket 88,” it wasn’t until Ike went solo and hired Tina Turner that he found his highest level of success. 

Their revue saw hits like “I Idolize You” and “Poor Fool” on the charts, yet personal issues led to the group’s demise. 

After cleaning up his life, he attempted to revamp his career, and he played music until he died in 2007. 

16. Robert Johnson

As the legend goes, guitarist Robert Johnson grew up in a rural town called Hazlehurst, Mississippi where he sold his soul to the devil to be the best guitarist in the world. 

And that may have been true. With only a handful of recordings to his name, including “Cross Road Blues” and “Me and the Devil Blues,” it seems the story checks out and with the guitar chops to match. 

But before Johnson could leave a longer catalog, his life mysteriously ended at 27 years old. Yet, he left an influence that is visible to this day. 

17. Howlin’ Wolf

Howlin’ Wolf’s stature matched that of his sound: large. Learning guitar from his brother-in-law, Howlin’ Wolf, born near West Point, Mississippi, took a gritty style of Delta Blues to Chicago where he made records such as “Evil” and “Smokestack Lightnin’.” 

Howlin’ Wolf’s influence crossed over to England as well, as many of his songs were covered by British bands such as The Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin. 

He continued to record until he passed away in 1976. 

18. Jimmy Rogers

Jimmy Rogers of Ruleville, Mississippi started as a harmonica player before picking up the guitar to add his mark on Chicago blues scenes. 

Rogers played with Muddy Waters on songs like “That’s All Right” and “The World Is in a Tangle,” before going solo to cut “You’re the One.”

Rogers was one of the blues players who successfully migrated to rock but took a hiatus from music which he never recovered fully from. 

19. Big Joe Williams

Another student of the Delta blues, Big Joe Williams started playing in small Mississippi clubs near his hometown of Oktibbeha County, Mississippi before moving to Chicago to record with the biggest blues labels of the time. 

There, he recorded many standards such as “Baby Please Don’t Go,” “Crawlin’ King Snake,” and “Peach Orchard Mama.

Known for a rattling nine-string guitar style, Williams was influential to generations of players to come. 

20. Charley Pride

At only 14, Charley Pride of Sledge, Mississippi taught himself to play guitar by listening to the country records he heard on the radio. 

With his strong baritone, Pride became country music’s first black artist to break through to the mainstream, which he did during the Civil Rights Movement.

Pride also played semi-pro baseball before moving the Nashville to record his debut, “Just Between You and Me.”

After that, he had hits until 1984 such as “All I Have to Offer You (Is Me).” He continued releasing music until he died in 2020 from complications of Covid 19.

21. John Lee Hooker

Mississippi-native John Lee Hooker was born in Coahoma County near Clarksdale, Mississippi and learned guitar from his stepfather which took his crying sound to Detroit to record “Boogie Chillen.” 

He followed that hit up with “The Boogie Man” and “Hobo Blues,” and When his fame waned, British bands covered his music, helping him reemerge in popularity. 

Hooker capitalized on this success until his death in 2001, when he was solidified as a legend of the genre.

22. Mississippi John Hurt

Mississippi John Hurt, as his name suggests, was raised in Avalon, Mississippi, and learned guitar in his teens to escape harsh physical labor. 

His soft style allowed for his music to be enjoyed in intimate settings, or on recordings such as “Louis Collins,” “Avalon Blues,” and “Candy Man Blues.” 

Though these songs didn’t hit at the time, they paid his bills. It wasn’t until the 50s that his work was recognized and his career took off.

He then recorded new music up until his death. 

23. LeAnn Rimes

Making her record debut at only 13 years old with “Blue,” singer LeAnn Rimes, born in Jackson, Mississippi, properly crossed from country to pop without ever losing her audience.

With hits such as “How Do I Live” and “Can’t Fight the Moonlight,” Rimes demonstrated country stylings that dared for more.

Since then, Rimes has continued to record solo work, collaborated with artists such as Aloe Blacc, and acted on television.

24. Charlie Patton

The Delta blues’ first star, Charlie Patton who was born between Bolton and Edwards, Mississippi, made his mark playing plantation dances and juke joints.

Listeners came far and wide to hear his excessive stylings of a rough voice and percussive guitar playing. 

He was a performer as much as an artist, and by the time he had recorded his first songs, he’d already developed the status of legendary amongst his peers, bringing talents such as Willie Brown to play with him.

His body of work is only roughly 60 recorded tunes, which he completed before his death in 1934.

25. Faith Hill

Born Audrey Faith McGraw but better known as Faith Hill grew up in a musical family in Ridgeland, Mississippi, and was performing by 7.

At 19 she moved to Nashville and recorded her debut album, Take Me as I Am, which led her to become the first female country singer to top the charts in over 30 years.

Hill suffered from vocal cord injuries but overcame them and continued recording chart-topping songs such as “This Kiss” and “The Way You Love Me.” 

Since then, Hill has toured and recorded with her husband, Tim McGraw. 

26. Rufus Thomas

Starting as a radio DJ, Rufus Thomas, born in Cayce, Mississippi, began recording in 1941.

Seen as an entertainer rather than musician, Thomas hosted a talent show before his first hit, “Bear Cat,” was released. 

Thomas demonstrated humor which audiences responded to, and he began recording duets with his daughter, Carla. 

With hits such as “Do the Funky Chicken” and “The Breakdown,” Thomas’ music precluded funk, and when that genre blew up he was well-accepted in its elite until he died in 2001. 

Summing Up Our List of The Greatest Musicians From Mississippi

The Mississippi Delta has certainly given us a fair share of world-class musical acts, and there is no doubt that it will continue to produce more talent in the years to come.

We hope you enjoyed reading about these great musicians from Mississippi.

If we missed any of your favorites, let us know and we’ll be sure to add them in!

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.