11 Of The Greatest And Most Famous Musicians From South Carolina Of All Time

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South Carolina is knowns for its many different tourist spots, yet what most people don’t know is that it has also produced various types of musicians. Many singers were born there, while others met fellow musicians in college and formed noteworthy bands.

Whether you like jazz, funk, rock, or country, there’s a South Carolinian musician to listen to. Let’s dive into our list of most famous musicians from South Carolina!

1. James Brown

Born in Barnwell, South Carolina, James Brown is easily the most famous American musician to come from the state.

His career lasted over 50 years, earning him the nickname “Godfather Of Soul.” Despite the genre of “soul” in that moniker, he was one of the first 10 musicians ever inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Brown is best known for singles like “Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag” and “I Got You (I Feel Good)”, but he also scored hits with several ballads. Remembered for both his funk and his social commentary, Brown lives on in modern music.

2. Eartha Kitt

Born in St. Matthews, South Carolina, Eartha Kitt was just 16 when she joined the Katherine Dunham Company. The organization was the first African-American dance company and also included singers and musicians.

With her unique voice, Kitt started releasing singles that became huge hits. Most notable of all her songs is “Santa Baby,” which soared to the top of the charts in 1953.

Because of her extensive travels in Europe, Kitt learned many languages and could fluently sing in 11 by the end of her career.

Kitt was also always eager to explore more of show business, so she acted in films and TV shows throughout the ‘50s and ‘60s. From the ‘80s to the early 2000s, Kitt starred on Broadway, proving she had endless talents.

3. Dizzy Gillespie

Born John Birks Gillespie in Cheraw, South Carolina, Dizzy Gillespie was one of the greatest jazz trumpeters in American history. He also worked as a bandleader, composer, and singer.

Gillespie’s father was a bandleader and instruments were always available in the home, so Gillespie taught himself piano, trombone, and trumpet before he was 12.

Though he composed music, he most often improvised in live shows and even on recordings. Gillespie’s lighthearted personality and fun musical style helped make bebop, a new style of jazz, popular in the 1940s.

Gillespie’s reach goes far beyond South Carolina as he influenced later musicians like Miles Davis, Fats Navarro, Chuck Mangione, and more.

4. Chubby Checker

Ernest Evans, more popularly known by his stage name Chubby Checker, was born in Spring Gully, South Carolina.

As a teen, he entertained friends by singing the radio hits in the style of the original singers. This inspired his boss to get him a private recording session with famous TV personality Dick Clark. Clark’s wife was the one who gave him the nickname Chubby Checker.

Though Checker has a great rock and roll voice, he’s best known for his dance moves. In 1960, he covered “The Twist” and introduced a new dance to go with it.

He later covered other songs and made up dances for the music; he even wrote lyrics to go with songs that were previously instrumentals.

5. Edwin McCain

The “I’ll Be” singer Edwin McCain was born in Charleston, South Carolina, and attended the College of Charleston before leaving to make music. McCain is a singer-songwriter who plays both electric and acoustic guitar.

Though most people know the name Edwin McCain, the musician doesn’t perform alone. His permanent backing band is the Edwin McCain Band. 

He independently released two albums before signing with Atlantic Records to record four more. Films and TV shows feature many of McCain’s hits, like “Solitude” and “I Could Not Ask For More.”

After leaving Atlantic Records, McCain went back to his roots and released an acoustic album and live DVD. 

6. Darius Rucker

Lead vocalist of Hootie and the Blowfish, Darius Rucker was born in Charleston, South Carolina where his dad performed in a gospel band at church.

That helped Rucker realize his dream of being a singer. He met three musicians at the University of South Carolina and they started playing as a cover band.

In 1989, that group changed their name to Hootie and the Blowfish and went on to record six albums and tour the world.

Rucker has gone on to also have a solo career. In 2002, he released an R&B album, then recorded five country albums between 2008 and 2017.

7. Toy Caldwell

Best known as the lead guitarist of The Marshall Tucker Band, Toy Caldwell was born in Spartanburg, South Carolina, and started playing guitar when he was a kid.

After serving in the Marine Corps, Caldwell turned his focus to music. The Marshall Tucker Band took elements of jazz, blues, and country to start the Southern rock genre.

Caldwell played steel guitar in the band, too, and other musicians played saxophone and flute to help them sound unlike anyone else on the rock scene at the time. Caldwell was also the songwriter behind most of the band’s songs.

8. Lee Brice

Country singer Lee Brice was born in Sumter, South Carolina, and grew up playing piano and guitar.

He wrote his own songs to sing in talent shows, winning several during his high school years. He also played football at Clemson University until an injury sidelined him and he turned to music.

Brice started writing songs for well-known country musicians like Garth Brooks and Jason Aldean. His first album came out in 2007 but didn’t get much attention, so he kept writing for others.

By 2009, his popularity had grown and he recorded several top 10 hits, such as “Drinking Class,” “That Don’t Sound Like You,” and “Love Like Crazy,” the last song hailed as the top country song in 2010.

9. Hank Garland

Born in Cowpens, South Carolina, Hank Garland started playing guitar and singing on the radio when he was only 12.

By the time he reached 16, he had moved to Nashville to record music. His biggest hit is “Sugarfoot Rag,” which sold over a million copies. Though he was famous on his own, Garland was a studio musician for artists like Elvis Presley, Patsy Cline, Roy Orbison, and more.

Garland experimented with country, rock and roll, and jazz until 1961 when a car accident put him in a coma. While he recovered, he wasn’t able to play music since then.

10. Toro y Moi

Chazwick Bradley Bundick, more known as his stage name Toro y Moi, was born in Columbia, South Carolina, and formed an indie rock band in high school.

After college, he worked as a graphic designer before signing with Carpark Records and releasing an album under the name Toro y Moi. His first album used digital sampling, but the second used live instruments.

People have classified Toro y Moi as chillwave, space disco, boogie, R&B, and indie rock. Though he releases studio albums, the artist often drops free mixtapes for fans to download.

11. John Berry

Country musician John Berry was born in Aiken, South Carolina. He listened to gospel songs and several singer-songwriters as a child, then started playing guitar when he was 12.

After a motorcycle accident badly injured his legs, he sat on a stool and played guitar incessantly. Once his legs healed, Berry started performing live as a solo artist and independently released six albums.

Despite many persistent health problems, Berry still records albums and performs charity concerts up to this day.

Wrapping Up Our List Of South Carolinian Musicians

South Carolina is a major tourist destination, with Myrtle Beach bringing in more than 19 million vacationers annually. But the state also produced many musicians that made a huge impact on the music industry.

If we missed someone from our list, let us know and we’ll add them!

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Written by Dan Farrant
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. Since then, he's been working to make music theory easy for over 1 million students in over 80 countries around the world.