While the guitar is almost synonymous with rock and pop music, there’s no question that rock and pop music wouldn’t be the same without the piano. There’s something about the piano that just seems to capture the hearts of rock and pop fans. Maybe it’s the way the keys can be played to create so many different sounds, or maybe it’s the fact that a great piano player can evoke so much emotion in a song.
Whatever it is, some of the biggest names in rock and pop music have been pianists and in this article, we’re going to take a look at 15 famous rock and pop piano players that have made their mark on music with this amazing instrument.
1. Elton John
Indisputably one of the most famous piano players alive today, Elton John’s unique compositions blended elements of pop and rock that no one had seen before.
John’s family was quick to recognize his talents. He’d reportedly mastered the piano by age 3, playing complex pieces and making them look easy.
As he grew older, he revealed his compositional genius with several number one albums and singles, topping charts everywhere.
Some of Elton John’s most recognizable songs include “Bennie and the Jets” and “Your Song.” His life was also the subject of the biopic Rocketman, also the title of one of his famous songs.
2. Freddie Mercury
A legendary talent lost too soon, Freddie Mercury was the frontman of the British rock band Queen and widely recognized as one of the greatest singers and song composers of all time.
While Mercury is famous for playing piano in many of the band’s favorite songs, he wasn’t some piano guru or child prodigy. Instead, Freddie brought bravado, energy, and excellent songs to the table.
His ability to connect with crowds cemented him as one of the most famous pianists of the 20th century, regardless of his raw playing ability.
3. Jerry Lee Lewis
You might know this famous rock ‘n roll piano player by his other name, the Killer, and he sure does kill at the piano.
Jerry Lee Lewis is a rock and roll piano player who rose to fame during the 1950s and 60s best known for pioneering rockabilly music.
One of the wild man’s most infamous incidents occurred when he burned a piano “to the ground” while continuing to play, all because he was forced to open for the famed Chuck Berry.
4. Billy Joel
Born in the Bronx in 1949, Billy Joel didn’t have an infantile calling for the piano like some others on this list. His mother forced him to play, and we all thank her for it.
As a result, we got hits like “Piano Man” and “New York State of Mind,” both of which have been on repeat in bars, homes, and movies through the decades.
Joel was in a motorcycle crash that many feared would take away his ability to play, but he recovered and continues to play concerts to this day.
5. Little Richard
After learning to play piano in church, Little Richard, born in 1932 in Macon, Georgia, developed his own style of rock that would send shockwaves through the music community.
Richard is best remembered for his incredibly frenetic play style, infusing crowd-moving energy into every performance, big or small.
While he’s best remembered for his rock compositions, his music has influenced artists across a wide spectrum of genres, including rock, R&B, hip-hop, pop, and more.
6. Stevie Wonder
One of the most recognizable pop stars alive today, Stevie Wonder is a former child prodigy turned multi-platinum music legend.
Born blind, Wonder first learned to play piano in his church, soon learning a wide range of instruments on his own.
He’s best known for his extraordinary piano skills but is highly proficient at the bass, drums, and harmonica, among others.
Stevie Wonder has been writing the soundtrack to our lives for decades. Some of his most iconic songs include “Higher Ground” and “Superstition.”
7. Steve Winwood
Steve Winwood was a blues, pop-rock, and blue-eyed soul keyboardist who rose to fame in 1963 as the keyboardist of the Spencer Davis Group.
The band released several chart-topping songs, but Winwood decided to leave in 1967 to form the group Traffic.
Winwood’s solo career exploded in the 1980s, and he became one of the most popular keyboardists of the time.
You might recognize some of his hit singles like “Higher Love”, “While You See a Chance” and “Valerie.”
8. Paul McCartney
Paul McCartney, a founding member of the Beatles, is best known for singing and playing guitar in the iconic 60s rock group.
However, he’s also an uncommonly good piano player with an exceptional ear and wild compositional talent.
McCartney hopped on the piano for several of the Beatles’ most iconic songs, including “Hey Jude,” “Come Together,” and “Let It Be.”
In Wings, his group after the Beatles, McCartney rarely played piano as his wife was their lead keyboardist.
9. Bruce Hornsby
Born in Williamsburg, Virginia in 1954, Bruce Hornsby attended Berkeley Music School and pursued a career as a keyboardist with his brother, John Hornsby, in Los Angeles.
There, famed musician Huey Lewis picked him up, recording and producing much of his music. He eventually formed Bruce Hornsby and the Range, a group of different talents who topped charts with their quintessential 80s dance and electronic music.
He also wrote chart-topping songs for other artists, including Huey Lewis’ “Jacob’s Ladder.”
10. Carole King
Carole King is one of the most influential and successful musicians, songwriters, and pianists of all time.
She’s written or co-written 118 songs for Billboard’s Hot 100 throughout her career, and her solo album Tapestry was the record holder for the longest-running no. 1 album for a female artist for over 20 years.
Notably, King has been introduced to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice – once as a singer, the other time as a songwriter.
She’s written dozens of hit songs for other singers and pianists in addition to her own work as a solo artist.
11. Alicia Keys
Alicia Keys is a famous pop, R&B, and soul singer/pianist who currently serves as a judge on The Voice, a popular TV singing competition.
Keys got her start young, composing songs on piano and writing lyrics by 12. By 15, she was signed to Columbia Records, and it’s all history from there.
A few of Alicia Keys’ most famous songs for piano include “If I Ain’t Got You,” “Butterflyz,” and “Fallin’.”
12. John Legend
Born John Rogers Stevens in Springfield, Ohio, John Legend has proven himself to be quite the piano legend over the years.
He’s written and released several of the top-performing tracks of the last twenty years, including “All of Me” and “Ordinary People.”
After a few years of working in the industry and self-promoting his music, Legend achieved breakthrough success with his album Get Lifted in late 2004.
13. Vanessa Carlton
Vanessa Carlton is an American singer/songwriter/pianist from Pennsylvania. After her singing career initially stalled, producer Ron Fair recognized her talents and reworked her debut album.
Carlton’s debut single “A Thousand Miles” reached Billboard Top 5 in 2002 and was famously featured in the movie White Girls.
The song is a zeitgeist of the era, perfectly capturing the essence of what it meant to be living in the early 2000s.
14. Dr. John
Born Malcolm John Rebenneck Jr. in New Orleans, Dr. John was an accomplished pianist whose influence stretched across a variety of genres.
He’s best remembered for his funk compositions, which blended elements of jazz, soul, pop, and R&B, and a hefty influence of Voodoo.
His album, Dr. John’s Gumbo, is perhaps his most recognizable work, considered a cornerstone of the jazz and funk scene in New Orleans.
15. Barry Manilow
With a career that spans seven decades, it’s no wonder Barry Manilow is the final famous pop and rock piano player on our list.
He first achieved proper success when Bette Midler chose him to be her pianist at the Continental Baths in 1971.
Since then, he’s released numerous hit singles and albums, including 1975’s Tryin’ to Get the Feeling and “Copacabana.”