10 Of The Greatest And Most Famous Musicians From Nebraska

Written by Dan Farrant

When you hear “Nebraska,” you’ll probably think first of the Reuben sandwich, agricultural lands, and its vast rivers. Many would be surprised to associate the state with some famous musicians.

But did you know that the Cornhusker State is actually the birthplace of some pretty big names in music?

From pop bands to individuals voicing Disney characters… Nebraska has produced some talented and successful artists. In this post, we’re going to take a look at 10 of the greatest and most famous musicians from Nebraska. Let’s get started.

1. James Valentine

Up first, we have the lead guitarist of the pop band Maroon 5, James Valentine. He was born in 1978 in Lincoln, Nebraska.

His music career started with a foray into the piano before moving to drums and settling on the guitar. He was a local fixture in local Lincoln bands at the time, including Kid Quarkstar, Montag, Mondello, and Happy Dog.

He joined the band Kara’s Flowers in Los Angeles sometime after 2000. The band went on to call itself Maroon 5 and sold over 135 million records, and became one of the best-selling pop music artists of all time.

2. Buddy Miles

Next, we have Omaha native Buddy Miles. He was a multi-instrumentalist and composer known for his solo work and as Jimi Hendrix’s drummer!

He picked up a knack for music early in his life. He learned how to play the drums at nine years old and developed enough skills to join his father’s jazz band called the Bebops at age 12.

He also played for Omaha local groups such as Ruby & the Romantics, the Delfonics, and Wilson Pickett.

He adapted to many different musical styles throughout the rest of his long career, including blues, soul, funk, and rock. He is known worldwide and has ten songs that made the Billboard 200.

3. Matthew Sweet

Rock solo artist Mathew Sweet was born in Lincoln, Nebraska, in 1964. Like James Valentine, he also attended Southeast High School in Lincoln.

He spent his teens playing bass guitar. After graduating, he traveled to Athens, Georgia, and found his break in the 1980s rock scene.

He is known as one of his generation’s most unique lead guitarists, with an incendiary style that is unmatched in his genre. He married and settled back down in Omaha, Nebraska, in 2013, where he resides today.

Sweet still produces albums to this day. He has 15 studio albums under his belt, including his most recent, Catspaw.

4. Conor Oberst

Our next musician on our list is Conor Mullen Oberst. He is an indie singer and songwriter born in Omaha, Nebraska.

Oberst spent his youth writing and releasing music. With the help of his older brothers, he was able to release his first solo album at only 13 years old! This seems to set the stage for Oberst, who was named the Best Songwriter of 2008 by Rolling Stone.

He attended the University of Nebraska after his time at Omaha public schooling before he dropped out to go on tour.

Oberst is best known for Bright Eyes, an indie rock band he founded. It would release ten albums that won many awards from publications and found itself on many top 200 yearly album lists.

5. Elliott Smith

Indie singer and songwriter Elliot Smith was born to the name Steven Paul Smith on August 1969 in Omaha, Nebraska.

Born an only child, his parents divorced when he was six months old. With his mother, they had to move to Texas and eventually to Portland, Oregon, when he was still young.

He started his first band in high school in Portland called Stranger than Fiction. Since then, he has seen immense success under the name Elliot Smith. He had over ten songs making billboard charts and several of his songs being top 10 hits.

He has played various instruments throughout his career, including guitar, piano, bass, drums, vocals, and the cello.

6. Pigeon John

We’ve got another musician who hailed from Omaha, Nebraska. Underground hip-hop rapper Pigeon John was born John Kenneth Dunkin on November 30, 1972.

He was born to mix-raced parents and felt out of place due to the color of his skin. This problem persisted even after he moved to Inglewood, California, to start his music career in the early 90s.

From then on, John was involved in many projects. He and his friend B-Twice founded the hip-hop group Brainwash Projects. They also joined L.A. Symphony, a hip-hop group from California.

John also continued recording songs and releasing albums. Some of his songs even ended up in commercials for food and a smartphone.

7. Ruth Etting

Born in David City, Nebraska, on November 23, 1896, Ruth Etting was a vocalist and actress during the 1920s and 1930s.

She left Nebraska at the age of 16 to attend art school in Chicago. While there, she found employment singing and dancing in a nightclub. Etting realized she loved singing more and gave up her art classes.

She found a break recording for radio and film and attended popular shows, and found immense popularity from her voice.

She was given the title “America’s Sweetheart of Song.” Some of the songs that launched her to popularity were “Ten Cents a Dance” and “Love Me or Leave Me.” In addition, she has a Hollywood star on Hollywood Boulevard and has recordings in the Grammy Hall of Fame.

8. Emily Kinney

You’ll probably recognize Emily Kinney as Beth in the hit TV series The Walking Dead. But not many know that aside from being an actress, she is also a singer-songwriter. In fact, she sang with co-actress Lauren Cohan in “Parting Glass,” a song included in The Walking Dead: Original Soundtrack – Vol. 1.

Kinney was born in Wayne, Nebraska. She didn’t stay in Nebraska long as her family moved around a lot when she was younger. She first began her singing career following the connections she made during her time as an actress on shows like The Flash and The Walking Dead.

Since 2011 she has released an EP and several studio albums that allowed her to go on tour and perform shows.

9. Bill Lee

Singer Bill Lee was born in Johnson, Nebraska, on August 21, 1916. He moved at a young age and spent most of his time growing up in Des Moines, Iowa.

He served in the United States Navy during World War 2 and found himself in Hollywood after being discharged. Here he started his career singing for radio and television commercials.

He is best known for voicing the songs in many Disney films. For one, he sang as Bert and Mr. Banks in the Disneyland album of Mary Poppins. He was also the singing voice of Goofy and Melvin the moose in Disney theme parks.

10. Erik Turner

For the last musician on our list, we have rhythm guitarist Erik Turner, born March 31, 1964, in Omaha, Nebraska. He learned a variety of instruments, from guitar to piano, and has been both a songwriter and a vocalist throughout his career.

He is best known for his role in the 80s glam metal band Warrant. The band was formed in California and was successful between 1989 to 1996 after signing with Columbia Records.

With Warrant, he was with them for ten studio albums. Some of their popular songs include “Heaven” and “Sometimes She Cries.” Turner also produced a solo album called Demos for Diehards in 1998.

Summing Up Our List Of Famous Nebraskan Musicians

Nebraska, like all other states, has a different music scene. One that had an enormous influence in many genres and periods in the United States.

One factor is the fact that Nebraska has a thriving music scene. Go to the Nebraska State Fair or check out various clubs and bars, and you’ll find musicians of different genres.

Thus, it’s not surprising that this state would give birth to some of the greatest musicians of our time. And trust us that there are other talented musicians from Nebraska aside from the ones we presented on our list.

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.