10 Of The Greatest And Most Famous Musicians From Missouri

Written by Dan Farrant
Last updated

Missouri is known for more than just Mark Twain and Harry Truman. It is also the birthplace and home to some of the most well-known musicians in the world, from singers to songwriters to guitarists and more.

In this post, we’re going to look at the lives and careers of 10 of the greatest and most famous musicians from Missouri of all time. Let’s start!

1. Eminem

Marshall Bruce Mathers III, more popularly known as Eminem, is regarded as one of the greatest rappers and best-selling musicians of all time.

Born in 1972 in St. Joseph, Missouri, he began rapping at the age of 14. He would sneak out of Osborn High School to perform freestyle rap battles and attend open mic contests at the Hip-Hop Shop, located on West Mile 7. This became the inspiration for his semi-autobiographical drama-musical film 8 Mile.

In 1988, he started his career as MC Double M and established the band, New Jacks. He was promptly signed to F.B.T. Productions, and despite a commercial flop and a rocky start, his alter ego, Slim Shady, became successful.

The Slim Shady LP was published in 1999 and quickly became one of the most popular albums of the year, earning triple platinum.

In 2000, he released The Marshall Mathers LP, which set US records for the fastest-selling hip hop album and fastest-selling solo album.

Eminem continues to be extremely successful until today, releasing award-winning albums like Curtain Call: The Hits, Recovery, and The Marshalls Mathers LP. Some of his notable songs include “Real Slim Shady,” “Stan,” and “Lose Yourself.”

2. Chuck Berry

Known as the “Father of Rock and Roll,” Chuck Berry was born Charles Edward Anderson Berry in The Ville, St. Louis, in 1926.

Berry began studying music at an early age. He had his first public performance at Sumner High School in 1941. Throughout his adolescence, he pursued his musical passion by playing the blues, and by the early 1950s, he was performing with local bands all over St. Louis.

With the release of “Maybellene,” which sold over a million copies and reached #1 on Billboard’s Rhythm & Blues chart, his popularity skyrocketed. Berry had many hit recordings and a touring career by the end of the 1950s.

He continued to perform until the late 2010s, touring Europe in 2008 and releasing Chuck, his third studio album. Chuck was regarded by critics as a heartbreaking final statement as a pioneer in rock & roll.

Berry died in 2017, in his home outside Wentzville, Missouri.

3. Andrew VanWyngarden (MGMT)

Born in 1983 in Columbia, Missouri, Andrew VanWyngarden grew up surrounded by musicians. His father was a member of rock and party bands, while his great aunt sang opera and his grandfather played jazz trumpet.

After receiving his first electric guitar in seventh grade, VanWyngarden won a concert in Lausanne and formed the band Glitter Penis. 

Even though Glitter Penis did not perform live, VanWyngarden earned enough experience to join Accidental Mersh, a Memphis-based band that achieved local popularity and fame.

He then went on to establish indie rock band MGMT, which was praised for its trippy dance music and hipster-electroclash. MGMT was quickly nominated for a Grammy Award for Best New Artist, and their song, “Kids,” was also nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Pop Performance.

In 2008, VanWyngarden was ranked third on NME’s Cool List.

4. Coleman Hawkins

Nicknamed “Hawk,” Coleman Hawkins was a prominent jazz musician, who was born in Saint Joseph, Missouri, in 1904. He is also fondly called “Bean,” although the origins of that particular nickname are unclear.

Hawkins was a musical prodigy, being able to play the piano, cello, and saxophone by nine. By the time he reached 14, he was already performing in eastern Kansas.

He eventually established himself as one of the leading figures of the saxophone, and from 1934 until 1939, he toured Europe. After that, he led a jazz orchestra before focusing on recording small groups and releasing freelance recordings.

During the 1940s, Hawkins was a key figure in the development of bebop (also called “bop” or modern jazz), serving as the leader of the first bebop recording session.

Hawkins sadly passed away in 1969, leaving behind a legacy of swing and bebop music. Duke Ellington Meets Coleman Hawkins and Sonny Meets Hawk! were two of his final pieces, and his life was chronicled in the 1990 memoir “The Song of the Hawk.”

5. Josephine Baker

Born Freda Josephine McDonald in 1906 in St. Louis, Missouri, Josephine Baker was a multi-talented woman who sang, danced, acted, and even participated in civil rights advocacy.

When she was 13, she was recruited to perform at the Plantation Club in New York. After several auditions, she finally bagged a role in the chorus line of “Shuffle Along,” a 1921 Broadway revue.

Baker received her big break in France in 1925, rising to fame as an erotic dancer. She was dubbed the most sensational woman and the most successful American entertainer in France. “J’ai Deux Amours,” her most successful song, was then released in 1931.

Baker died in 1975, and her funeral drew over 20,000 visitors. She was posthumously awarded full French military honors, making her the first American-born woman to do so.

Her legacy is recognized with astonishing performances in classics such as Un vent de folie and became an icon of the Jazz Age.

6. Nathaniel Rateliff

Denver local folk-pop hero Nathaniel Rateliff is a singer, songwriter, and guitarist who specializes in folk-rock, Americana, and blues-rock. Born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1978, Rateliff learned to play the drums and guitar as a teenager.

At 18, he moved to Denver, Colorado, and started the band Born in the Flood, which quickly became a local hit. In 2007, his band released their first full-length album If This Thing Should Spill.

Due to the band’s fast-growing fame, he was forced to turn down an offer from Roadrunner Records, but the band eventually split in 2010. Rateliff has performed solo and in group projects since then.

He’s had album hits including 2015’s Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats and Tearing at the Seams, which had its lead song “You Worry Me” hit #1 on the Adult Alternative Songs chart that same year.

7. Sara Evans

Sara Lynn Evans, better known as simply Sara Evans, was born in Booneville, Missouri, in 1971 into a family of musicians, where she started her singing career.

She began singing in her family’s band when she was still five years old, and by the age of 10, she had recorded her debut song, “I’m Going to Be the Only Female Fiddle Player in Charlie Daniels Band.”

However, it wasn’t until 1995 that she finally earned a contract with RCA Nashville and became famous. Three Chords and the Truth, her debut album, was critically acclaimed for its neotraditional country style when it was released in 1997.

In 1999, she had her first #1 hit on the Hot Country Songs chart with a single from her second album, both of which are titled “No Place That Far.” The album was quickly certified Gold.

She continued to see great success with all her albums, such as Born to Fly and Restless, which often had multiple singles seeing chart records.

Eventually launching her record label, Born to Fly Records, she has been releasing independent albums to this day. 

8. Pat Metheny

A jazz guitarist, composer, and the only musician to win Grammys in 10 separate categories, Patrick Metheny was born in Lee’s Summit, Missouri, in 1954 to a musical family.

Metheny began in jazz at 15, getting a scholarship to attend a one-week jazz camp and then earning a scholarship to the University of Miami.

He was hired as a teacher for the school’s electric guitar class after only a week of college before moving on to teach at Berklee College of Music.

Metheny soon founded the American jazz band Pat Methany Group in 1977. They released their first album of the same name the year after, but it was not until their second album, American Garage, that they saw critical success. The album debuted at #1 on Billboard’s jazz charts.

Since then, he has received multiple honors and nominations, including a Grammy nomination in 2021 for SIDE-EYE NYC, which was nominated for best jazz instrumental album.

9. Sheryl Crow

Singer-songwriter and actress Sheryl Crow was born in Kennett, Missouri, in 1962. However, as popular as she is now, she actually didn’t begin her music career until she was 25 years old.

Having a bachelor’s degree in education, majoring in music ed, Crow began as a music teacher in Fenton, Missouri. While she was teaching, Crow also sang in bands during her weekends off. This gave her the opportunity to meet Jay Oliver, a record producer.

She had humble beginnings as a commercial jingle singer, then as a backup singer for Michale Jackson and many other known artists such as Jimmy Buffet and Stevie Wonder.

She finally saw international success in 1994 with the release of her debut album Tuesday Music Club. By 1996, her songs had become radio hits and had received Grammy nominations.

By 1999, Crow won Best Rock Album at the Grammy for The Globe Sessions. She continued to release award-winning songs and albums, such as Detours, throughout the 2000s.

Crow has sold over 50 million albums globally and 16 million certificated albums in the United States.

Her finest hits include All I Wanna Do, Strong Enough, and Can’t Cry Anymore, and she was named the 5th Greatest Alternative Artist of All Time.

10. Michael McDonald

Known for his soulful music and distinctive voice, Michael McDonald was born in Ferguson, Missouri, in 1952, where he began his musical career as a songwriter, keyboardist, and record producer.

He played in local bands in high school until he relocated to Los Angeles in 1970 to pursue a career in music. He found his big break when he was recruited by the Doobie Brothers as a temporary replacement before being hired full-time when his work became extremely successful.

As his music career progressed, he sang successful hits like “What A Fool Believes” and “Minute by Minute” with this band. McDonald soon established a solo career after the Doobie Brothers disbanded, occasionally collaborating with other musicians.

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, he won the 27th Annual Grammy for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals and charted with the song “Sweet Freedom” on Billboard’s Hot 100.

Although he is not as prominent in the music industry as he was before the 2000s, he still performs solo and with others on shows like Late Night With Jimmy Fallon and American Idol.

Rounding Off Our List Of Missouri’s Famous Musicians

Missouri’s musicians have left their mark in a variety of musical genres and continue to do so. The Jazz Age, rock and roll, and rap’s ascent to stardom might not have happened if such artists had not existed.

Without a doubt, Missouri has produced a host of amazing and well-known musicians whose legacies will not be forgotten anytime soon.

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.