16 Of The Most Famous Musicians From Tennessee You Should Know

Written by Dan Farrant
Last updated

Tennessee has one of the richest histories and cultures of all the states in the US. We know it for its rolling plains and its high mountains. The state has also 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. It is well-known for the Ryman and Grand Ole Opry and the incomparable country music scene. The state has produced world-class artists who have taken their Tennessee roots and spread them all over the world.

Without further ado, let’s look at 16 of the most famous musicians from Tennessee you should know. Have fun reading!

1. Tina Turner

People know her as the “Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll.” Legendary singer and songwriter Tina Turner was born in Brownsville, Tennessee in 1939.

Turner met Ike Turner in the late 50s and later joined his band as a backup vocalist. He was credited with giving her the name “Tina” and adding his last name. He also trademarked “Tina Turner” so he could replace her in case she left him.

Ike eventually created the Ike & Tina Turner Revue. She married Ike in 1962, but it was not to be a union made in heaven. Ike was abusive throughout their marriage.

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. Her hit single “What’s Love Got to Do with It” topped the Billboard Hot 100.

She released more songs and albums in the years to come. She also released memoirs, opened musicals about her life on Broadway, and won the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2018.

Turner passed away in May 2023 after battling illnesses. But the world will not forget the woman who will remain one of the greatest singers of all time.

2. Miley Cyrus

Just south of Nashville in Franklin, Miley Cyrus was born into a family that already knew fame. She was first known for her role as Hannah Montana in the Disney Channel series Hannah Montana.

Cyrus’ mix of country and pop rock styles came from an upbringing in her musical family. Her music often reflects her personal growth and evolving artistic expression.

After Hannah Montana, Cyrus pursued a singing career. She released several albums such as Breakout (2008) and Bangerz (2013). These marked her departure from her earlier sound and image. The Bangerz era showed a more provocative style for Cyrus, characterized by hits such as “Wrecking Ball” and “We Can’t Stop.”

She has continued to release albums and experiment with different sounds. These include her country-inspired album Younger Now (2017) and the more alternative and rock-influenced Plastic Hearts (2020).

What makes Cyrus stand out is her ability to reinvent herself and push boundaries. She has proven that she is a versatile artist and is a prominent figure in popular culture.

3. Justin Timberlake

Up next on our list is a musician born in Memphis, Tennessee. Justin Timberlake got his start on The All-New Mickey Mouse Club before joining the massively successful boy band, NSYNC.

The boy band had commercially successful hits such as “Tearin’ Up My Heart” and “I Want You Back.” NSYNC took a hiatus in 2002, during which Timberlake pursued a solo career.

Timberlake’s solo career was equally successful, with hits including “Cry Me a River,” “Rock Your Body,” and “SexyBack.” Many of his songs ranked high on several charts. He collaborated with some big names in the music industry, including Black Eyed Peas, Nelly Furtado, and Timbaland.

Timberlake was one of the world’s best-selling music artists. Throughout his career, he sold more than 32 million albums and 56 million singles. Add to the figures the 70 million records sold with NSYNC.

He was also the recipient of various awards, including 10 Grammy Awards, four Emmy Awards, and nine Billboard Music Awards. He was also inducted into the Memphis Music Hall of Fame in 2015. He and his NSYNC bandmates received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2018.

4. Kenny Chesney

Country music star Kenny Chesney was born in Knoxville and raised in Luttrell. He has enjoyed tremendous success in the country music industry, becoming one of the most successful artists.

Chesney became known for his laid-back sound and catchy melodies. His music often blends elements of country, rock, and pop, appealing to a wide audience. And his song lyrics touch upon themes of love, life, nostalgia, and the pursuit of happiness.

Throughout his career, Chesney has released many albums. Many of these have achieved commercial success and critical acclaim. Some of his most well-known songs include “When the Sun Goes Down,” and “Summertime.”

Chesney has received numerous accolades. These include multiple Academy of Country Music Awards and Country Music Association Awards. He has also been recognized as one of the top-selling country artists. No wonder there, as he has over 30 million albums sold worldwide.

With his hit songs, albums, and tours, Chesney has maintained his legendary status in modern country music to this day.

5. Aretha Franklin

The “Queen of Soul” Aretha Franklin is one of the most recognizable singers of all time. She was born in 1942 in Memphis, Tennessee.

Her powerful and soulful voice, combined with her exceptional vocal range and versatility, made her a true vocal powerhouse. She drew inspiration from gospel, R&B, jazz, and rock, blending these genres to create her unique sound. Her music touched on various themes, including love, empowerment, and social issues.

Franklin’s career spanned several decades, beginning in the 1950s. She achieved numerous chart-topping hits and earned several accolades, including 18 Grammy Awards.

Some of her most famous songs include “Respect,” “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” and “I Say a Little Prayer.”

Franklin’s music has influenced countless artists and continues to inspire new generations. She remains an enduring and iconic figure in the history of soul and R&B music.

5. Dolly Parton

Who wouldn’t recognize the name, Dolly Parton? This singer-songwriter was born by the river in Pittman Center, Tennessee. She loved singing as a young 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. Her career beginnings were difficult with her first country single, “Dumb Blonde.” Her other songs did not chart or were ignored.

But her time came in the ’70s with her version of “Mule Skinner Blues.” More successful hits followed, including “Joshua,” “Coat of Many Colors,” “Jolene,” and “I Will Always Love You.” Some successful artists such as Olivia Newton-John and Linda Ronstadt recorded their own versions of Parton’s songs.

Aside from singing and songwriting, Parton can play various instruments. These include the guitar, dulcimer, fiddle, and piano, among others. In 1998, she was the wealthiest country music star, according to Nashville Business.

Her contributions to the music industry and her larger-than-life personality have made her a beloved and influential figure around the world. She continues to be an active artist and an inspiration to many.

7. Gregg Allman

If you know the rock band The Allman Brothers Band, then you are familiar with Gregg Allman. For the band, he was the vocalist and Hammond organist and wrote some of the successful hits of the band.

Born in Nashville in 1947, Allman and his brother Duane developed their love of music at a Jackie Wilson concert. Together they formed several bands throughout the years.

In 1969, The Allman Brothers Band was born. It was a struggle at first, but they found success in recording a live album. At this point, Allman was the main songwriter of the band. He penned songs such as “Whipping Post” and “Midnight Rider.”

After his brother’s death, Allman continued working with the band for a while. But he later found success pursuing solo work. He released solo albums that showcased his exceptional songwriting skills.

Though he struggled with substance abuse issues, he still managed to continue creating music. He attended the induction ceremony of his band into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995.

8. Duane Allman

Born in Nashville, Duane Allman was a rock guitar legend who was lost all too young. He was the co-founder and lead guitarist of the Southern rock band, The Allman Brothers Band. He was only 24 when he died in a motorcycle accident.

Allman and his brother, Gregg, formed The Allman Brothers Band in 1969. They gained a loyal following due to their unique blend of blues, rock, jazz, and country influences. His slide guitar playing provided the defining element of the band’s sound.

His talent as a musician was also highly sought after. In fact, he played the guitar for the songs of several artists such as Eric Clapton and Aretha Franklin. He joined Clapton to record Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs for the Derek and the Dominos album.

Despite his short life, Allman had significant contributions to music. Specifically, to the development of Southern rock and blues rock. He will always be remembered as one of the greatest guitarists of his time.

9. Bessie Smith

The American blues singer Bessie Smith was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Often referred to as the “Empress of the Blues,” she was one of the most popular and influential blues vocalists of the 1920s and 1930s.

Smith began her illustrious career in the early 1920s, recording for Columbia Records. Her recordings achieved commercial success and brought her widespread acclaim.

Some of her popular songs are “Downhearted Blues” and “St. Louis Blues.” These recordings showcased her exceptional vocal talent. Not only that. These also played a significant role in popularizing the blues genre.

Tragically, Smith died in a car accident in Mississippi. However, her contributions to the blues genre and her lasting impact on American music remain indelible.

10. Chet Atkins

Known as “Mr. Guitar,” Chet Atkins was a famous country guitarist born in Luttrell, Tennessee. He played fiddle before finding the guitar and performing all over Tennessee.

Atkins is one of the most influential guitarists in country music. Not only that, but he’s also an important figure in the development of the Nashville sound.

He made his first appearance at the Grand Ole Opry in 1946 as a member of a band. But it wasn’t until he recorded “Mr. Sandman” in 1954 that he received notoriety.

After that, he served as a session guitarist, writer, and producer in Nashville. He scored hits for popular singers such as Elvis Presley and put out his own hits.

Atkins was the recipient of certain awards throughout his career. He had multiple Grammy Awards under his belt. He was also inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1973.

Atkins continued to perform and record until his death in 2001. He left behind a rich musical legacy that continues to influence guitarists to this day.

11. Caleb and Jared Followill (Kings of Leon)

Brothers Caleb and Jared Followill are members of Kings of Leon, a rock band they formed in 1999. Both of them were born in Memphis, Tennessee. Caleb is the lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist while Jared is the bass guitarist and backing vocalist.

Their other brother and bandmate Nathan was born in Oklahoma. But they all grew up playing music before uniting with their cousin Matthew to form Kings of Leon. Their music is alternative rock with influences from indie rock and garage rock.

Kings of Leon found success in the UK. But it wasn’t until their fourth album, Only By the Night, that they broke through in the US with singles such as “Use Somebody.”

The band achieved commercial success and won multiple Grammy Awards. To this day, they continue to create and perform music, exploring different musical styles while maintaining their distinct sound.

12. Isaiah Rashad

The next musician on our list is Isaiah Rashad, born in Chattanooga, Tennessee. He is an American rapper and songwriter. He is also one of the founders of The House, a hip-hop project.

Rashad originally planned to be a preacher in Chattanooga. However, his 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 album, The Sun’s Tirade, came in 2016. This contained the successful single, “Free Lunch.” The album solidified his status as an artist with a distinctive voice. It also reflected his growth as a musician.

Despite releasing just a few projects, his music has left a lasting impact on the hip-hop scene. He continues making music and fans eagerly anticipate his new projects.

13. Dustin Lynch

The American country music singer-songwriter Dustin Lynch was born in Tullahoma, Tennessee. He 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. This was followed by popular hits such as “Small Town Boy” and “Good Girl.”

Aside from creating music, Lynch also toured and performed at country music festivals. These tours showcased his charismatic stage presence.

Lynch’s music resolves around themes of love and relationships. His smooth vocals and modern sound stood out and contributed to his success as a musician.

With his catchy songs and performances, Lynch continues to make an impact in country music. He remains a prominent figure in the genre.

14. Taylor York (Paramore)

Our next musician is the lead and rhythm guitarist of the rock band Paramore. Taylor York was born and raised in Nashville, Tennessee.

York was exposed to music through his father, Peter, who was a guitarist. But he learned his passion for music from his brother, who taught him to play the guitar.

York joined Paramore in 2007 when the band’s founding guitarist left. His guitar skills helped shape the band’s music and reach its success. When two of the band’s members left, York began contributing as a songwriter. He was known for writing introspective lyrics.

Throughout the band’s career, they released successful albums including Brand New Eyes and After Laughter. Their music became popular, helping the band develop a dedicated fan base worldwide.

York’s contribution as a guitarist, songwriter, and producer helped to the success of the band. In a New York Times interview, York is called the “bedrock of Paramore.” And vocalist Williams credits York as the reason why Paramore still stands to this day.

15. Rosanne Cash

Daughter of the legendary Johnny Cash, Rosanne Cash was destined to be involved in music. She was born in Memphis and found her love of music came naturally.

As a young woman, she joined various tours with her father. Her roles ranged from launderer to singer before releasing her first self-titled solo album. In 1980, she released Right or Wrong, which featured the single, “No Memories Hangin’ Round.”

Success came to her after the release of her album Seven Year Ache. It featured several hit singles, including the title track and “My Baby Thinks He’s a Train.” The album marked her departure from the traditional country sound.

She released numerous critically acclaimed albums, including King’s Record Shop (1987) and Interiors (1990).

Cash was the recipient of numerous awards and accolades. She received multiple Grammy Awards and CMA Awards. She was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2015.

16. Kitty Wells

The famous female country singer Kitty Wells was born Ellen Muriel Deason in Nashville, Tennessee in 1919. This country music singer was dubbed the “Queen of Country Music” and was one of the pioneering female artists in the genre.

Wells sang and played guitar during childhood. She and her husband, along with his sister, toured as Johnnie Wright and the Harmony Girls. They changed the name to the Tennessee Hillbillies and played at the Grand Ole Opry several times.

It wasn’t until Wells recorded “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels” that she found success. This continued on and off in the decades that followed.

Wells was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1976. She also received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2012.

Summing Up Our List Of Musicians From Tennessee

Tennessee has a special place in the world of music. Particularly country music. 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. These personalities have taken the world by storm and brought us songs that lived on.

But whether you are from Tennessee or not, we can appreciate the songs that made these musicians popular. And it’s safe to assume that we can expect many more from them in the years to come.

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.