Ohio is known for a lot of things – football, corn, the invention of the traffic light. But one thing that often gets overlooked is its abundance of talented musicians. From classic rockers to modern pop stars, Ohio has produced some of the biggest names in music over multiple generations.
In this post, we’re going to take a look at 22 of the greatest and most famous musicians from Ohio, the Buckeye State. Let’s get started.
1. John Legend
Up first we have singer and pianist John Legend who grew up in Springfield, Ohio playing gospel until he got the opportunity to record Lauryn Hill’s “Everything Is Everything.”
He eventually moved to New York where he continued playing and recording until he was signed by Kanye West.
Legend then released his debut album, Get Lifted, in 2004 which went on to sell over half a million copies in the U.S alone.
Since then, Legend’s acclaims have lived up to his name. He has won every award known to man, helping him become the first black artist to score a Grammy, Tony, and Academy Award.
2. Art Tatum
Famous blind pianist Art Tatum was born partially without his sight in Toledo, Ohio, and taught himself to play piano before joining the Toledo School of Music.
His sound was virtuosic and leaned towards stride and swing piano that most ears were not ready for when he recorded his hit, “Tiger Rag.”
Though Tatum was involved in many ensembles, his solo career allowed him to rework songs like “Yesterdays” and “Begin the Beguine” in the style that he is known for today.
He was a huge inspiration for many pianists that came after him like Oscar Peterson, Bud Powell and Lennie Tristano.
3. Dean Martin
Famous for being a jazz crooner, singer Dean Martin grew up speaking Italian until he learned English in school in Steubenville, Ohio.
He quit school early to pursue boxing before working in clubs where he was discovered as an entertainer.
With his release of “Which Way Did My Heart Go?” as well as partnering with Jerry Lewis, Martin’s stardom took off.
Through a variety of films such as “My Friend Irma”, Martin pursued a solo musical career with hits like “That’s Amore.”
He joined the Rat Pack and sailed into American lore from that point, even beyond his death in 1995.
4. Doris Day
Singer Doris Day’s father was a music teacher and choir director where she was born in Evanston, Ohio.
She took dance lessons but was in an auto accident that ended that career.
She joined Bing Crosby’s band until she went solo with hits like “Sentimental Journey” and “My Dreams Are Getting Better All the Time.”
Doris pursued a film career with equal success with movies like Storm Warning and On Moonlight Bay.
She then turned to television in the latter part of her career until she died at 97 in 2019.
5. Anita Baker
Singer and songwriter Anita Baker caught on to jazz early in Toledo, Ohio when she heard famous female jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald.
She sang gospel until she released her debut album, The Songstress, in 1983. With hits like “Caught Up in the Rapture” and “Sweet Love,” Baker soared to stardom.
But at the height of her success, she took a hiatus to raise a family, returning to the industry to record in the early 2000s. She has been releasing music ever since.
6. Tracy Chapman
Guitarist and singer-songwriter Tracy Chapman played guitar as a kid in Cleveland, Ohio. In college, she started writing her songs and was quickly discovered.
She recorded her self-titled debut album which featured her big hit “Fast Car.” The single climbed the charts which she followed up with “Give Me One Reason.”
She continued to have a strong fanbase in the US as well as the UK for years to come, but she released less music over time, yet eventually performed a legendary rendition of Ben E. King’s “Stand by Me” on David Letterman.
7. Bobby Womack (The Valentinos)
Soul guitarist and singer Bobby Womack grew up in Cleveland, Ohio singing in a gospel group with his siblings.
They eventually changed their name to The Valentinos and recorded the hit “Lookin’ for a Love.”
He struggled to find solo success but wrote songs for the likes of Wilson Pickett, but eventually got one with “What Is This?”
His success continued on and off for years, including a collaboration with Damon Albarn’s band, The Gorillaz.
He died in 2014 at 70 years old as one of the most unsung artists in R&B history.
8. Bootsy Collins
Getting his start on guitar, Bootsy Collins, born in Cincinnati, Ohio, picked up the bass when he filled in for Catfish. He immediately took to the instrument.
He then played bass for George Clinton before releasing his own group’s debut, Stretchin’ Out in Bootsy’s Rubber Band.
With hits like “The Pinocchio Theory” and “Bootzilla,” Collins maintained popularity into the 21st century, as much of his music was sampled by younger artists.
9. Kid Cudi
Raised in Cleveland, Ohio, rapper Kid Cudi migrated to Brooklyn where he met producers and cut his debut, Day ‘n’ Nite EP.
He followed that up with a conceptual album titled Man on the Moon: The End of Day which signaled that he would not be following the normal path of a rapper.
He continues to release music (including a collaboration album with mentor Kanye West), as well as act in films and television.
10. Dave Grohl (Nirvana / Foo Fighters)
Growing up on rock and roll in Warren, Ohio, Dave Grohl was never destined to do anything else.
He drummed in successful local bands before relocating to Seattle where he joined legendary grunge band Nirvana.
During the success of their debut, Nevermind, Grohl began to write tunes that eventually became early Foo Fighters’ songs.
When Nirvana ended, Grohl switched from drums to guitar and lead vocals, and since 1995 Foo Fighters have had many albums, documentaries, and appearances.
Grohl continues to work on side projects as well in between his Foo Fighters duties.
11. Maynard James Keenan (Tool)
Singer and multi-instrumentalist Maynard James Keenan, originally from Ravenna, Ohio, left the US military to pursue the arts.
He played in several bands, such as Children of the Anachronistic Dynasty and Texans, before assembling Tool.
Tool released Undertow in 1993, their debut album. It was met with praise as Keenan had dark lyrical stylings that appealed to many fans.
Keenan has continued to release albums with Tool, as well as with his side-project, A Perfect Circle.
12. Roy Rogers (The Sons of the Pioneers)
Singer and guitarist Roy Rogers grew up in a musical household in Cincinnati, Ohio. He learned guitar and mandolin and eventually formed the group, The Sons of the Pioneers.
While pursuing music, Rogers acted in films such as Under Western Stars.
His big musical break came in 1938 with “Hi-Yo Silver” which he followed up with hits such as “Home in Oklahoma” and “Candy Kisses.”
Rogers was known for keeping the cowboy image alive through the 90s until he died in 1998.
13. Ronald and Ernie Isley (The Isley Brothers)
Growing up in a musical family in Cincinnati, Ohio, Ronald and Ernie Isley – better known as the Isley Brothers – moved in and out of musical groups with each other for decades.
The Isleys guided themselves through many genres and styles from R&B to funk, with hits like “This Old Heart of Mine (Is Weak for You)” and “It’s Your Thing.”
The group continued making albums well into the 2000s, and Ronald also released solo albums in the 2010s.
14. Gerald Levert
As a child of O’Jays singer Eddie Lavert, Gerald Levert, born in Canton, Ohio, was exposed to the music industry from an early age.
As a writer, arranger, producer, and performer, he found success with his brother in the group, LeVert.
They had hits such as “Casanova,” and in 1991 Gerald released a solo debut called Private Line. Though his solo work didn’t have much appeal at first, he slowly accrued hits such as “I Swear.”
His success continued until 2006 when he accidentally died at 40 years old after taking the wrong combination of prescription drugs.
15. Marilyn Manson
Rock and metal artist, Marilyn Manson, hailing from Canton, Ohio, started as a music journalist before starting his group, called Marilyn Manson and the Scary Kids.
They released their debut album and built a reputation for their on-stage antics.
They went on to record late-90s hits such as “The Dope Show” and “The Beautiful People,” though their popularity declined afterward.
Manson dabbled in painting and acting while still releasing albums, but allegations of criminal activity led to the current demise of his career.
16. Andy Biersack (Andy Black; Andy Six)
Andy Biersack, born in Cincinnati, Ohio, was influenced by an elementary school teacher to follow his passion for music and he never looked back.
Moving to LA during high school, Biersack formed Black Veil Brides. They released their debut album, We Stitch These Wounds, but Bierstack also began a solo career under the moniker, Andy Black.
Biersack also acts and has written a graphic novel titled “Ghosts of Ohio.”
17. Joe Lovano
Born in Cleveland, Ohio, jazz musician Joe Lovano grew up surrounded by music and followed in the footsteps of his father who was also a saxophone player.
Attending Berklee School of Music, Lovano honed his skills, but after college ended, he toured in groups, including his schoolmate John Scofield’s quartet.
But it was in 1985 that Lovano recorded his debut as a bandleader. Titled Tones, Shapes & Colors, the album led to many more live and studio recordings for Lovano in the years to follow.
18. John Scofield
John Scofield of Dayton, Ohio picked up the guitar in high school and earned himself a place at the Berklee College of Music in Boston.
After college, Scofield recorded with jazz musicians Gerry Mulligan and Chet Baker before starting his group.
But even with his successful solo project, Scofield still toured with legends such as Miles Davis, who preferred his progressive and distorted guitar sound in a changing jazz scene.
Since then, his sound has become more traditional, with a swath of albums that range to this day.
19. Michael Feinstein
Singer and pianist Michael Feinstein of Columbus, Ohio grew up in a musical family but moved to LA to network with the music business in his late teens.
There, he worked with George Gershwin’s catalog and by 1985 he released Pure Gershwin, his debut album.
Since then, he has continued performing as a cabaret entertainer, published American songbooks, and recorded new music including a 2008 tribute to Sinatra.
20. Al Jardine (The Beach Boys)
Al Jardine moved from Lima, Ohio to California where he met his future bandmates in high school. They would go on to form The Beach Boys.
The group became one of the biggest bands in the world with hits like “Surfin‘” and “Then I Kissed Her.”
Jardine wrote many of the Beach Boys songs as well, especially after Brian Wilson left the group.
He maintained professionalism through the years and even formed a solo act which he still performs with to this day.
21. Johnny Paycheck
Johnny Paycheck learned to play music at an early age in Greenfield, Ohio. He ran away from home at 15 but eventually ended up in Nashville.
There, he recorded his big vocals on hits such as “Take This Job and Shove It,” “She’s All I Got,” and “Someone to Give My Love To.”
After his initial success, Paycheck struggled with alcohol abuse but released hit records for years to come until his personal issues led him to prison. After his release, he played again, but never found the success he had in the 70s.
He passed away in 2003.
22. Mamie Smith
In her teens, Mamie Smith from Cincinnati, Ohio toured as a dancer with Tutt-Whitney’s Smart Set Company until she found singing to suit her better.
She demonstrated her demanding voice in clubs and early recordings, which launched her to stardom.
Though not a strict blues performer, she was best known for her recordings such as “Crazy Blues” and appeared in films like Paradise in Harlem.
Summing Up Our List of the Greatest Musicians From Ohio
Like many great states, Ohio has produced many world-class talents. Most of them are even household names to this day.
It’s hard to imagine that we won’t see so many other great singers come out of Ohio in the years to come. We better stay listening.