The ability to identify or reproduce a given musical note without the use of an instrument is known as perfect pitch. It’s thought that this rare skill is possessed by only one in 10,000 people worldwide. Scientists believe that this ability may be linked to early brain development and genetic factors, but the cause still remains unknown.
This blog post will take a look at 15 famous musicians with perfect pitch and explore their lives and careers.
1. Yo-Yo Ma
Charismatic American cellist, Yo-Yo Ma, was born in Paris, France to Chinese parents in 1955.
His parents were musical and taught him how to sing and play the piano at a very young age and by four years old, he was considered a musical prodigy.
When he was seven, Ma’s family moved to New York City, and, by this time, he was playing the violin, viola, piano, and, of course, the cello.
As a child, he performed for presidents (Eisenhower and Kennedy) and made several appearances on popular television programs, including The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson.
2. Bing Crosby
Bing Crosby is a beloved American jazz singer who reached popularity in the 1930s and was active throughout his 40+ years career.
He starred in more than 70 movies and recorded over 1,600 songs although he is, perhaps, most famous for singing White Christmas.
He was considered a crooner with a rich, deep voice and he would influence thousands of singers, including Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Elvis Presley.
He also had perfect pitch and our favorite story about it comes from Hoagy Carmichael’s autobiography.
In it, Carmichael claims that Crosby fell asleep on a train and snored in perfect pitch with the train whistle.
3. Glenn Gould
Glenn Gould was a classical pianist that only lived to 50 years old and stopped performing live concerts when he was 31-years-old.
He was considered a musical genius from a young age and had developed perfect pitch by the age of three. It’s also said that he could read music before he could read words!
Gould was also known for his strange performances, for example, watch the YouTube clip above of him performing Bach and you’ll see his unique style.
He lived most of his life in Toronto, Canada but performed in the U.S. and internationally for several years before finding peace in the recording studio.
Gould has several albums that range from composers such as Bach, Beethoven, and Mozart, as well as modern composers like Schoenberg and Strauss.
4. Ella Fitzgerald
Famous female jazz singer, Ella Fitzgerald has many nomenclatures: First Lady of Song, Lady Ella, and Queen of Jazz to name a few.
She also had perfect pitch and it’s reported that her absolute pitch was so accurate that the band would tune to her!
Born in 1917 in Virginia, Fitzgerald was singing on the streets of Harlem by age fourteen.
She appeared at the Apollo Theater on Amateur Night at seventeen and by 1935 was performing regularly with bands and orchestras across the country.
Her top hits include “A-Tisket, A-Tasket” and “(If You Can’t Sing It) You’ll Have to Swing It.”
Fitzgerald’s career lasted nearly 60 years of performing and recording songs.
5. Charlie Puth
At four years old, Charlie Puth, acclaimed artist and musician, was showing off his ability to recognize any pitch.
In December 2019, he did it again on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.
In the interview with Fallon (above), Puth demonstrates his ability to match any note and how he got suspended from school because of it!
Since his debut album at 25-years-old, Charlie Puth has entertained millions of fans with his musical talents, but he first gained recognition through his viral videos on YouTube.
Born in New Jersey, Puth’s mother taught him the piano at a young age, and by the time he was ten years old, he was studying jazz, and recording and selling albums in his neighborhood.
Now he is collaborating with artists such as Meghan Trainor, Wiz Khalifa, and Lil Wayne with some of his top songs including “See You Again” and “One Call Away.”
6. Lorin Maazel
Another famous musician that had perfect pitch was conductor and musician Lorin Maazel.
He began conducting at a very young age and even conducted the University of Idaho Orchestra when he was only 8 years old.
Considered a child prodigy, he developed perfect pitch at a young age, taking lessons in piano and violin.
Throughout his career, Maazel recorded 300+ recordings of songs by Beethoven, Brahms, Schubert, and as well as films and operas. He died in 2014 at the age of 84.
Born in Kalamata in 1954, Greek composer Yanni is considered by some a musical master and is well known in the new age music scene.
A self-taught musician, Yanni created his own shorthand for reading and writing music and he said in an interview: “I was fortunate to have perfect pitch, and imitating songs and creating my own music became a lot of fun for me.”
He primarily plays the piano or synthesizer in his concerts that also highlight choirs and orchestras and has since sold millions of records and toured around the world.
8. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Even though he didn’t have a long life, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart lived a profound and impactful one.
Born a musical genius, Mozart was an Austrian composer who wrote more than 600 works over his life and it’s thought that he also had perfect pitch as his father wrote that out that as a child out-of-tune sounds actually caused him pain.
His famous works include Requiem, The Magic Flute, Don Giovanni, and Symphony No. 40, also known as the Great G minor symphony.
9. Jimi Hendrix
Arguably one of the best guitarists in history, Jimi Hendrix also had perfect pitch with legend saying that when he was younger he couldn’t afford a tuner and used his natural talents to tune his guitar.
Hendrix was born in Seattle, Washington on November 27th, 1942, he was drawn to the guitar as a child and often carried a broom with him imitating the instrument.
But it wasn’t until he was 15 years old that he bought his first acoustic guitar for $5.
After leaving the Army in 1963, Hendrix formed a band and moved to Nashville, eventually moving to London in 1966 and playing with several bands, including Cream (and Eric Clapton).
Popular Hendrix songs include ‘All Along the Watchtower,’ ‘Foxey Lady,’ and ‘Voodoo Child.’
10. Pinchas Zukerman
Pinchas Zukerman is a legendary Israeli-American violinist and conductor that also happens to have perfect pitch.
Born in Tel Aviv in 1948 to Holocaust survivors, his parents started teaching him music when he was four years old.
As a youth, he learned to play the recorder, clarinet, and violin.
In the 1960s, Zukerman moved to the United States to attend the Juilliard School and by the 70s began conducting orchestras around the U.S. and Europe.
Zukerman has two Grammys and continues to play and conduct when possible.
11. Michael Tilson Thomas
In 1944, Tilson Thomas was born in Los Angeles, California hHe was a child prodigy with natural musical talents that his family recognized early.
Influenced by Stravinsky, Copland, and other popular conductors of the time, Tilson Thomas attended and performed in orchestras from a young age.
At 19 years old, he played in an orchestra conducted by Stravinsky and by his 30s, Tilson Thomas was conducting orchestras himself.
Throughout his career, Tilson Thomas has conducted orchestras from London to Los Angeles and continues to champion modern classic music.
12. Paul Shaffer
You may know him as David Letterman’s bandleader, but Paul Shaffer is an incredible musician with off-the-charts musical talents and absolute pitch.
Shaffer was born in Toronto, Canada and studied the piano as a child.
A trip to Las Vegas at 12-years old altered his life and put him on the track to become a performer.
Shaffer’s resume includes more than just the leader of the “Late Show with David Letterman.”
Since 1972 Shaffer has played with artists the likes of B.B. King, Blues Traveler, Cher, Chicago, Diana Ross, Jeff Healey, and Miles Davis.
He has also appeared in several films and voice-acted as Hermes in Disney’s “Hercules.”
13. Ludwig Van Beethoven
Andy lastly, one of the most famous German composers of all time, Ludwig Van Beethoven most likely had perfect pitch.
Although it’s not proven, he apparently said he could tell the difference between C# and Db major due to the fact that they had slight different emotional qualities.
It also makes sense that he had it due to the fact he was able to continue composing after we lost his hearing later in his career.
Even though Beethoven suffered from hearing loss and deafness in the 1810s, he created his most popular works during this time.
Summing up our List of Famous Musicians with Absolute Pitch
As you can see from the list of incredible musicians above, perfect pitch has almost certainly helped them to become better musicians.
But you definitely don’t need to have it to be a successful musician and some of those on the list above actually describe it as a curse as any time you hear a note out of tune it can become unbearably irritating.
Are there any other famous musicians you know of with perfect pitch? Let us know and we’ll add them to our list.