16 Of The Most Famous Musicians From Tennessee You Should Know

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Tennessee has one of the richest histories and cultures of all the states in the Union. From its rolling plains to its high mountains, the state has been a hub of integrations of people from all over the world, and the artistic offerings that accompany that. 

Tennessee has remained a thriving artistic hub, from Nashville’s The Ryman and Grand Ole Opry to its incomparable country music scene. The state has produced endless world-class artists, especially musicians, who have taken their Tennessee roots, and spread them all over the globe for fans to enjoy. 

Let’s look at some of these notable figures and learn more about their time in Tennessee.

1. Aretha Franklin

Gospel and soul singer Aretha Franklin is one of the most recognizable singers of the latter half of the 20th century.

Born in Memphis, Tennesse, she first recorded at only 14 years old before going on to make her pop and soul hits such as “Respect” and “Chain of Fools” with her success continuing through the ’70s,’80s, and ‘90s.

Franklin was praised as a symbol for Black America, and maintained the status as the “Queen of Soul” until her death in 2018 and beyond.

This was reflected in the release of the Jennifer Hudson film Respect.

2. Kenny Chesney

Country music star Kenny Chesney was born in Knoxville but raised in Luttrell, and he discovered a talent for music before leaving for college.

He received a guitar for Christmas around the same time and immediately took to bluegrass music.

He then recorded his debut album, which he self-sold 1000 copies of before landing the big record contract and releasing, In My Wildest Dreams, his major-label debut. 

With hits such as “Fall in Love” and “You Had Me From Hello,” as well as various releases, awards, films, and tours, Chesney has maintained his legendary status in modern country music to this day. 

3. Tina Turner

Legendary singer and songwriter Anna Mae Bullock more commonly known as Tina Turner was born in Nutbush, Tennessee in 1939.

She sang as a teen before joining Ike Turner’s tour as a backup vocalist before they started a relationship and later got married in 1962.

But, Tina began to outshine Ike on stage as they scored massive hits such as “A Fool in Love.” Following a tumultuous split from Ike, Tina was able to revamp her career in the 1980s with hits such as “What’s Love Got to Do with It,” which was the biggest song that year.

Since then, she’s released memoirs, opened musicals about her life on Broadway, and won the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Grammys.

4. Justin Timberlake

Another musician born in Memphis, Justin Timberlake got his start on The New Mickey Mouse Club before joining the massively successful boy band, *NSYNC. 

After hits like “Tearin’ Up My Heart” and “I Want You Back,” Timberlake pursued a solo career in 2002 with singles such as “Cry Me a River” and “Rock Your Body.”

Since then he has acted in numerous films, toured the globe, opened restaurants, and collaborated posthumously with Michael Jackson. Over his career, he’s sold over 88 million records around the world.

5. Dolly Parton

Born by the river in Pittman, Tennessee, singer, and songwriter Dolly Parton loved singing as a girl and was frequently featured on the local radio.

By the age of 13, Parton had appeared on television and was performing at the Grand Ole Opry. 

Beginning with her hit “Dumb Blonde” Parton launched to fame through the 70s with hits such as “Coat of Many Colors,” “Jolene,” and “I Will Always Love You.”

She also starred in a television show called Dolly, films such as Nine to Five, and opened a Dollywood theme park all before 1990. 

Since then, she has maintained popularity through her COVID-19 investments, a web series, and the new single “When Life Gets Good Again.”

6. Gregg Allman (Allman Brothers Band)

Born in Nashville in 1947, singer, songwriter, guitarist, and Hammond organist Gregg Allman rose to fame with his brother Duane in the Allman Brothers Band with hits such as “Whipping Post” and “Midnight Rider.”

The family was from Nashville, and the brothers developed their love of music at a Jackie Wilson concert. 

After his brother passed, Gregg later found success pursuing solo work as well with the album Brothers and Sisters, and the hit “Laid Back.” 

But Gregg struggled with substance issues and published an autobiography in 2012. Upon finishing his final album, he passed away in 2017 due to complications with liver cancer. 

7. Bessie Smith

Born in Chattanooga, legendary blues singer Bessie Smith began her illustrious career in 1912, singing alongside Ma Rainey until Smith got her own revue.

By the 1920s she was well known in the south with her record “Crazy Blues” selling over 100,000 copies. No mean feat at the time.

By 1930, her popularity waned yet she appeared in films, and released songs such as “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out.”

Before her death by a car accident in Mississippi, she was gearing up for a comeback at the legendary Carnegie Hall concert titled From Spirituals to Swing concert.

Since then, her music has been re-released several times, and her mark on the blues has been unforgettable. 

8. Miley Cyrus

Just south of Nashville in Franklin, Miley Cyrus was born into a family that already knew fame.

Cyrus’ mix of country, rock and pop styles came from an upbringing in her musical family.

Upon catching the acting bug, she was cast in the lead of Hannah Montana before pursuing a singing career.  She accrued hits such as “The Climb” and “Party in the U.S.A.”

Since then she has continued acting, performing, and recording, including collaborations with her godmother, Dolly Parton, among others. 

9. Chet Atkins

Known as “Mr Guitar”, famous country guitarist Chet Atkins was born in Luttrell, Tennesee where he began playing fiddle before finding the guitar and performing all over Tennessee.

He made his first appearance at the Grand Ole Opry and recorded his debut record, Bullet, in 1946. But it wasn’t until he recorded “Mr. Sandman” that he received notoriety. 

After that, he served as session guitarist, writer, and producer in Nashville, scoring hits for Elvis Presley, and putting out his own hits. He slowly migrated towards jazz music.

Adkins died in 2001 in Nashville but left a mark on the music industry, to say the least. 

10. Caleb and Jared Followill (Kings of Leon)

Originally born in different cities, brothers Caleb and Jared Followill of Kings of Leon consider Nashville where they were born and raised to be their home.

Their other bandmate (and brother) Nathan was born in Oklahoma but they all grew up playing music together before uniting with their cousin Matthew to form Kings of Leon.

They found success in the UK, but it wasn’t until their third album, Because of the Times, that the southern rock band broke through in the US with singles such as “Sex on Fire” and “Use Somebody.” 

Since then, they have released several albums, DVDs, received Grammys, and even put out the first NFT album.

11. Duane Allman (Allman Brothers Band)

Brother of Gregg and born in Nashville, Duane Allman was a rock guitar legend who was lost all too young. 

Initiating a quick but lasting legacy with the Allman Brothers Band on songs such as “Ramblin Man” and “Statesboro Blues,” he also joined Eric Clapton to record Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs for the Derek and the Dominos album.

His guitar playing could be heard on hits such as “Layla” and “Bell Bottom Blues.” 

The guitar virtuoso was remembered in 2013 in a 7-disk box set collection that came out including his session work. 

12. Isaiah Rashad

Originally planning to be a preacher in his birth-town of Chattanooga, Isaiah Rashad’s whole outlook changed upon hearing OutKast’s ATLiens album.

From that point, he began making hip hop music until his big break in 2013 when he signed with Top Dawg Entertainment.

His debut effort, Cilvia Demo, brought him success. Since then, he has collaborated with many well-known talents such as SZA and Kendrick Lamar.

He also gained prominence as part of the XXL Freshmen list and continues releasing music today. 

13. Kitty Wells

Born Muriel Ellen Deason, famous female country singer Kitty Wells was born in Nashville, Tennessee in 1919.

Wells sang and played guitar during childhood until she joined Johnnie Wright & the Harmony Girls with her sister. They changed the name to the Tennessee Hillbillies and played the Grand Ole Opry several times.

They landed a contract, but it wasn’t until Wells recorded “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels” that she found success. This continued on and off for the decades to follow. 

Wells was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, continued touring with her husband Johnny, and received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Grammys before she passed away in 2012.

14. Rosanne Cash

Daughter of the legendary Johnny Cash, Rosanne Cash was destined to be involved in music. 

She was born in Nashville and found her love of music came naturally.

As a young woman, she joined various tours with her father. Her roles ranging from launderer to singer before releasing her first self-titled solo album, which featured the single, “No Memories Hangin’ Round.” 

Cash traveled extensively and released music at her own speed and on her own terms until she was diagnosed with Chiari malformation. Upon completing treatment, she continued recording and performing. 

15. Dustin Lynch

Born in Tullahoma, Tennesee, country singer, and guitarist Dustin Lynch grew up on 90s country music such as Garth Brooks and Clint Black, and when he was old enough, he moved to Nashville to follow in their footsteps. 

His debut single, “Cowboys and Angels,” came out in 2012 and was followed by hits like “She Cranks My Tractor,” “Seein’ Red,” and “Small Town Boy.”

Lynch has released another full-length follow-up since then as well as singles. He also collaborated with MacKenzie Porter. 

16. Taylor York (Paramore)

Known for being the lead and rhythm guitarist for rock band Paramore, Taylor York was born in Nashville, Tennesee in 1989.

He was exposed to music through his father, Peter York, who was a guitarist as well as Chairman and CEO at Capitol Christina Music Group. But, he learned his passion for music from his brother, who taught him to play the guitar.

Alongside the Farro brothers (Josh and Zac) and Hayley Williams, the four created Paramore.

Upon releasing their debut album, All We Know Is Falling, hits such as “Conspiracy” and “O Star” began to make waves in pop rock and punk.

Since Paramore’s success, York has continued as a songwriter, producer, and guitarist.

Summing Up Our List Of Great Musicians From Tennessee

After reading through this list, it’s easy to see how many great talents Tennessee has produced.

With such a defined and rich culture and history of its own, it’s easy to see why. 

From Nashville to the Appalachians, the state has plenty to give, and we can expect to see so many more great talents come out of the Volunteer State in the years to come.

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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.