17 Of The Most Famous Musicians From Virginia You Should Know

Last updated

World-class oysters and the rugged Appalachian mountains are just a couple of things that Virginia features. The land was also home to the Roanoke colony, the first colony that the English established in what would become the United States. As a result, Virginia has a deep history; its state capital Richmond served as the capital for the Confederacy in the Civil War and four of the first five presidents were born in Virginia. 

Virginia isn’t only for lovers; a host of talented musicians also come from the state. It is no surprise that the state so rich in history is the birthplace of numerous talented musicians.

1. Jason Mraz

The American songwriter, guitarist, and singer Jason Mraz was born in Mechanicsville, Virginia has enjoyed a large amount of success from even the early stages in his career.

His first album was a delightful mixture of folk-pop, jazz, and country, and featured the single “The Remedy (I Won’t Worry)” which went number one in multiple countries.

Mraz’s third studio album received multiple Grammy nominations including Best Male Pop Vocal Performance, a category he won in 2010. 

Mraz uses his platform and fame to champion several philanthropic causes raising awareness for climate change and child trafficking.

2. Wayne Newton

Known affectionately as Mr. Las Vegas despite being born in Norfolk, Virginia, vocalist, guitarist and pianist Wayne Newton swayed onto the music scene in the 1960s with the Newton Brothers.

Movie buffs might know Newton’s song “Danke Schoen” from cult classic film Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

Wayne Newton is known for his showmanship, unique voice, and charismatic personality. 

The multi-talented musician plays guitar, steel guitar, and piano and has starred in thousands of Las Vegas shows.

When not performing music, Newton dabbles in acting too having appeared in dozens of film and television productions.

3. Ella Fitzgerald

It takes a big voice to receive the title of the Queen of Jazz. Singer Ella Fitzgerald, hailing from Newport News, Va, had a larger-than-life voice that ranged an impressive three octaves.

Fitzgerald first burst onto the scene in the 30s at a Harlem theater, and she quickly took over the charts, co-writing “A-Tisket, A-Tasket.”

Her impressive career constantly transformed, and in the ’40s, Fitzgerald began incorporating scat singing in her performances. 

She is easily one of the greatest singers of all time and has left a huge mark on the jazz world.

4. Bruce Hornsby

With influences from folk-rock, jazz, and bluegrass music, singer and pianist Bruce Hornsby, born in Williamsburg, Virginia, is a powerhouse in the music world.

His song, “The Way it Is” is featured in 2Pac, Snoop Dogg, and Mase songs; the song is an ode to the Civil Rights Movement.

Hornsby is a talented pianist and vocalist who has performed with Grateful Dead and The Noisemakers.

He’s been nominated for multiple Grammy Awards and won Best Pop Instrumental Performance in 1994. 

5. Patsy Cline

Before her untimely death in a plane crash at age 30, Patsy Cline was considered one of the most influential vocalists of the 20th century.

Cline, from Winchester, VA, was best friends with fellow country music singer/songwriter Loretta Lynn, and the two southern belles made sweet music together. 

A childhood throat infection left Cline with a self-described booming voice. It was a smooth sound that was a contralto, the lowest vocal range of a female vocalist.

6. Timbaland

One of the hottest producers in the music industry, Timbaland has worked with artists like Justin Timberlake, Nelly Furtado, Jay-Z, and Drake.

Timbaland grew up in Norfolk, Virginia, and is a Grammy winner with nominations in genres such as hip hop, dance, and R&B. 

He’s famous for his lack of reliance on traditional instruments like the guitar, piano, or bass. Instead, Timbaland has a unique producing style characterized by swift-kick drum sounds.

One interesting fact is that his cousin is famous musician Pharrell Williams – music certainly runs in the family!

7. Pharrell Williams

Pharrell Williams from Virginia Beach, Virginia makes up one-half of the music-producing duo The Neptunes.

Pharrell works with the hottest artists in music, including Snoop Dogg, Jay-Z, and Britney Spears.

He has an impressive range of styles, which allowed him to serve as the composer for Universal Pictures megahit, Despicable Me. 

Pharell’s music has mainstream appeal; songs like Happy and Get Lucky were worldwide smash hits that also won Grammy awards.

The ability of Pharrell to produce critically acclaimed music that is also extremely popular makes him a uniquely talented artist.

8. D’Angelo

D’Angelo, a Richmond, Virginia native, is a smooth crooner with funk, soul, and R&B origins.

As the son of a Pentecostal preacher, D’Angelo grew up with the sounds of gospel playing a large part in his vocal development. 

His debut album Brown Sugar was revered across the industry, and fans were unsure if he could duplicate the magic.

He proved that he had staying power as Voodoo, his second album, earned him a Grammy Award and a permanent place on the list of influential R&B singer/songwriters.

9. Hilary Hahn

Hilary Hahn started her career as a child prodigy, performing the violin unlike any others in her age group.

The classically trained violinist has performed at Vatican City and in the world-renowned New York Philharmonic orchestra.

Although she prefers to play Bach above all other musicians, Hahn also plays Beethoven, Stravinsky, and Brahms.

The talented musician from Lexington, Virginia is no longer a child, but she still plays classical music around the world and is one of the greatest violinists of her generation.

10. Chris Brown

Known for his singing as much as his dancing, singer Chris Brown, born in Tappahannock, Virginia, became an overnight sensation.

His first song, Run It, was an instant success, dominating airwaves.

Early in his career, Chris Brown drew comparisons to the King of Pop Michael Jackson; Brown paid homage to Jackson on multiple occasions. 

His impressive dancing skills set him far apart from peers in his demographic. Brown has released ten studio albums in his impressive career of nearly two decades. 

11. Wes Borland (Limp Bizkit)

When people think of Limp Bizkit, they think of loud beats, artistic metal, and intense, experimental sound.

The success of Limp Bizkit is due, in part, to the talents of bass player Wes Borland from Richmond, Virginia.

Borland has country music influences which are a far departure from the music of Limp Bizkit. Along with frontman Fred Durst, Borland popularized the genre of rap-rock.

He eventually left Limp Bizkit in 2000 to focus on creating music with his brother and their band Big Dumb Face.

After a short hiatus, Borland rejoined Limp Bizkit and performs with the group to this day. 

12. Roy Clark

It is perhaps no surprise that singer and guitarist Roy Clark was born to two musical parents in Meherrin, Virginia.

Clark learned from his parents and took their skills to the next level, becoming a world-renowned fiddle and banjo player.

Clark called himself a “hillbilly singer” and had lightning-fast guitar skills that often places him near the top of best guitar players lists.

Roy Clark has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Many modern famous guitarists credit Roy Clark as an inspiration.

13. Ruth Brown

Atlantic Records is known as “The House That Ruth Built,” thanks to the success that singer-songwriter Ruth Brown of Portsmouth, Virginia brought the emerging record label.

After releasing “Teardrops from My Eyes,” Brown became known as “Miss Rhythm.” She is a pioneer of R&B music; her songs dominated the charts in the fifties, and she later transitioned into acting.

Music runs in the family; her nephew is legendary hip hop MC Rakim.

14. Kali Uchis

Kali Uchis is a Colombian American singer, born in Alexandria, Virginia, who has already won a Grammy in her young career.

The singer takes Colombian influences and makes them her own, with music that is critically acclaimed and receives mainstream success.

Although Uchis is a celebrated singer, she has other musical talents, playing the saxophone and piano.

She frequently collaborates with Tyler the Creator and The Gorillaz, two distinct artists with loyal followings. 

15. Steve Earle

Steve Earle, from Hampton, Virginia, is a popular bass guitar player with folk and country inspirations.

His songs have been performed by the likes of Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson, to name a few. 

Earl’s songs draw inspiration from his upbringing, including a song about a coal miner tragedy that resulted in 29 deaths.

Earl advocated for numerous causes, like autism, after his young son’s diagnosis at age two. 

16. Missy Elliott

Missy Elliot from Portsmouth, Virginia is known for loud beats, wild fashion, and infectious music.

Although she is a celebrated performer of hip-hop music, Elliot is also a successful producer and songwriter. Along with lifelong friend Timbaland, Missy has produced hits for Aaliyah and SWV. 

She’s also the recipient of four Grammy awards, and she has received numerous other accolades – she’s truly a pioneer in her domain.

17. Gene Vincent

Gene Vincent was an enigmatic performer who donned all-black leather while cementing his name as a rock rebel.

Vincent, born in Norfolk, Virginia, is a rockabilly music pioneer whose song Be-Bop-a-Lula drew immediate comparisons to Elvis Presley.

His career was short but explosive and wildly successful as Vincent had an untimely death, passing away at only 36 years old, but his legacy still lives.

Summing Up Our List of The Greatest Musicians From Virginia

Virginia is home to the first English settlement of what would become the United States.

Since explorers stepped foot on the rocky beaches nearly five centuries ago, Virginia has continued to grow.

Federal government buildings, presidential homes, national cemeteries, and delicious food are just a few of the things that call the “Mother of all States” home.

The Mother of all States is also the birthplace of many musicians, all born and bred in the influential state.

Photo of author
Written by Dan Farrant
Dan Farrant, the founder of Hello Music Theory, has been teaching music for over 10 years helping 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.