18 Of The Greatest And Most Famous Rock And Pop Piano Players

Written by Dan Farrant
Last updated

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.

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 the reason, 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 18 of the most famous rock and pop piano players who 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 #1 albums and singles, topping charts everywhere.

Some of John’s most recognizable songs include “Bennie and the Jets” and “Your Song.” His life was also the subject of the biopic Rocketman and 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. He is 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, he 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 Jerry Lee Lewis by his other name — the Killer, and he sure does kill at the piano. He rose to fame during the 1950s and ’60s and is best known for pioneering rockabilly music, a sub-genre that blends rhythm and blues with country music.

Lewis is famous not only for his extraordinary musical talent but also for his flamboyant personality and controversial onstage antics. One of the most notorious incidents of his career took place during a concert where he was made to open for Chuck Berry.

Outraged at the perceived slight, Lewis responded by setting his piano on fire while he continued to play, reducing the instrument to ashes. This act of defiance and showmanship solidified his reputation as a “wild man” of rock and roll.

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, a decision that music lovers worldwide are grateful for.

Thanks to her influence, Joel went on to create timeless hits such as “Piano Man” and “New York State of Mind.” These songs have become staples in bars, homes, and movie soundtracks over the decades.

Joel’s career faced a significant challenge when he was involved in a motorcycle accident. Many feared that the incident would put an end to his music career, particularly his ability to play the piano. However, he proved them wrong by making a full recovery and continuing to perform live concerts.

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 styleWhether he was performing in front of a small crowd or a large audience, Richard brought an infectious energy that got everyone moving.

Even though he’s most well-known for his contributions to rock music, Little Richard’s influence extends far beyond this genre. His innovative style and groundbreaking compositions have had a profound impact on a wide range of musical 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.

While he is best known for his exceptional piano skills, Wonder’s musical talents extend far beyond this instrument. He is also highly proficient at playing the bass, drums, and harmonica, among other instruments.

Over the decades, Wonder has created a number of songs that have become an integral part of our cultural soundtrack. Some of his most iconic tracks include “Higher Ground” and “Superstition,” which continue to resonate with audiences to this day.

7. Steve Winwood

Rising to fame in 1963 as the keyboardist of the Spencer Davis Group, Steve Winwood is a well-known figure in blues, pop-rock, and blue-eyed soul music. In 1967, Winwood decided to depart from the group to form Traffic.

His solo career truly took off during the 1980s, when he established himself as one of the most popular keyboardists of that era. Winwood’s unique sound and exceptional talent brought a fresh perspective to the music scene, earning him a dedicated fan base.

His discography includes a number of hit singles that have stood the test of time. Some of his most recognizable tracks include “Higher Love”, “While You See a Chance”, and “Valerie”.

8. Paul McCartney

A founding member of the Beatles, Paul McCartney is best known for singing and playing guitar in the iconic 1960s rock group. However, he’s also an uncommonly good piano player with an exceptional ear and wild compositional talent.

Throughout his time with the Beatles, McCartney often took to the piano to contribute to some of the band’s most iconic songs. These include classics such as “Hey Jude,” “Come Together,” and “Let It Be.”

After the Beatles disbanded, McCartney formed the group Wings, where his piano playing became less prominent. His wife, Linda, took on the role of the lead keyboardist for the band. Despite this, McCartney’s influence as a pianist remained evident in the band’s music.

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, in Los Angeles.

There, famed musician Huey Lewis picked him up and recorded and produced much of his music. He eventually formed Bruce Hornsby and the Range, a group of different talents who topped the charts with their quintessential 1980s dance and electronic music.

Beyond his success with Bruce Hornsby and the Range, Hornsby also made a name for himself as a songwriter. He penned several chart-topping songs for other artists, including Huey Lewis’ hit song “Jacob’s Ladder.”

10. Carole King

Recognized as one of the most influential and successful musicians, songwriters, and pianists of all time, Carole King has left an incredible mark on the music industry.

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 #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 also written dozens of hit songs for other singers and pianists in addition to her own work as a solo artist.

11. Alicia Keys

Renowned for her soulful voice and exceptional piano skills, Alicia Keys is a celebrated figure in the pop, R&B, and soul music genres.

Keys began her musical journey at a young age, composing songs on piano and writing lyrics by 12. By 15, she was signed to Columbia Records, and it’s all history from there. 

Among Keys’ most iconic piano-driven songs are “If I Ain’t Got You,” “Butterflyz,” and “Fallin’.” These tracks not only showcase her remarkable abilities as a pianist but also highlight her emotive songwriting and powerful vocals.

12. John Legend

Born John Rogers Stevens in Springfield, Ohio, John Legend has proven himself to be quite the piano legend over the years. 

Over the years, he has penned and released several top-performing tracks. Some of his most popular songs include “All of Me” and “Ordinary People,” which showcase his emotive vocals and adept piano playing.

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. This album not only catapulted him into the limelight but also established him as a formidable force in the music world.

13. Vanessa Carlton

Hailing from Pennsylvania, Vanessa Carlton has made a name for herself as an accomplished American singer, songwriter, and pianist. Despite initial challenges in her singing career, producer Ron Fair saw potential in her and helped rework her debut album, setting the stage for her breakthrough.

Carlton’s debut single, “A Thousand Miles,” skyrocketed to the Billboard Top 5 in 2002 and gained further popularity when it was featured in the movie “White Chicks.” This song not only marked Carlton’s arrival on the global music scene but also became synonymous with 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.

Best known for his funk compositions, Dr. John’s music was a distinctive blend of jazz, soul, pop, R&B, and a strong dose of Voodoo influence. This fusion of styles is a testament to his creativity and deep connection with his cultural roots.

Among his numerous works, Dr. John’s Gumbo stands out as perhaps his most iconic album. This masterpiece is widely regarded as a cornerstone of the jazz and funk scene in New Orleans, demonstrating Dr. John’s deep understanding of these musical styles.

15. Barry Manilow

An iconic figure in the music industry, Barry Manilow has enjoyed a prolific career spanning seven decades. His journey from being a relatively unknown artist to a household name in pop and rock music is truly inspiring.

Manilow’s big break came in 1971 when Bette Midler chose him to accompany her on the piano at the famous Continental Baths. This opportunity paved the way for his successful solo career.

In the years that followed, Manilow released a plethora of hit singles and albums that cemented his status as a top-selling artist. One of his most notable works is the 1975 album Tryin’ to Get the Feeling. His single “Copacabana” gained immense popularity and has since become one of his signature songs.

16. Ray Charles

Blind since childhood, Ray Charles didn’t let his disability deter him from becoming one of the greatest musicians of his time. His extraordinary talent on the piano, coupled with a soulful voice, made him a standout artist.

Charles pioneered a unique blend of diverse genres — jazz, blues, gospel, and country — creating a sound that was distinctive and fresh. His top hits, such as “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” “Georgia On My Mind,” and “Hit The Road Jack,” have proven to be timeless classics.

In addition to his successful music career, Charles broke numerous barriers as an African American artist during a time of segregation and racial discrimination. His triumphs opened doors for countless artists who followed in his footsteps.

17. Norah Jones

Emerging in the music scene in 2001, singer-songwriter and pianist Norah Jones quickly rose to international stardom. Her debut album, Come Away with Me, a year later captivated audiences worldwide.

Jones’s music is known for its soulful and soothing quality, with her piano skills adding a depth that makes her sound distinctive. Over the years, she has written, arranged, and produced her own music. Some of her most popular songs include the title track “Come Away with Me,” “Don’t Know Why,” and “Sunrise.”

Her musical prowess and popularity have led to her winning multiple Grammy Awards. She’s also made a significant impact on record sales, with more than 50 million records sold as of 2023.

18. Richard Wright

A self-taught musician, Richard Wright learned to play multiple instruments while recovering from a broken leg. He quickly developed a passion for jazz and classical piano and later became known for his role as co-founder and keyboardist of the band Pink Floyd.

His contributions to Pink Floyd were significant, with his organ, piano, and vocals featuring prominently on many of their albums. He also wrote several of their songs.

Among his notable works, “Astronomy Domine” stands out, where he not only played but also sang. As part of Pink Floyd, he contributed to iconic albums like The Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here.

Summing Up Our List Of Famous Rock and Pop Pianists

As you have read, the world of rock and pop music has been graced with some truly exceptional piano players. Their talent and creativity have given us unforgettable melodies and performances.

They’ve not only entertained us but have also inspired many future artists with their innovative styles. Their contributions continue to resonate, proving that great music is timeless and universal.

However, there are many more out there, and we might have missed some. Let us know so we can include them in our list!

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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.