28 Of The Greatest And Most Famous Rock Singers

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Rock music, or rock and roll, became popular during the ’50s and ’60s, and to date, it is still widely listened to by numerous fans who have fallen in love with the strong beat characteristic of this genre.

There are many rock and roll musicians—good, bad, and weird. And then there are the greats, and some are universally recognized as such. Great rock singers are recognized as the best of the best because of their voices, sometimes because of their performances, or both!

In this list, we will go over the careers of 28 of the greatest and most popular rock singers. Interested? Read on!

1. Robert Plant

First, we have the legend that is Robert Plant, who stands as one of the great gods of rock’s frontmen. Storming the charts with Led Zeppelin from 1968 to 1980, Plant’s distinctive tenor voice defined an era of hard rock.

Born in Staffordshire, England, Plant was introduced to American blues music at an early age. By his late teens, he was singing for the group Band of Joy. Yardbirds’ guitarist Jimmy Page took interest in him and, in 1968, hired Plant along with drummer John Bonham. Led Zeppelin was born soon after.

The band was legendary, but they split after Bonham’s death in 1980. Plant had an up-and-down solo career in the ’80s before exploring many musical styles with artists like Allison Kraus.

2. Freddie Mercury

Born on the island of Zanzibar just off the coast of Tanzania, Farrokh Bulsara—better known as Freddie Mercury—had an interest in music from an early age. He studied the piano as a child and had formed his first band by age 12.

After earning a degree in graphic design, he joined guitarist Brian May in a band that became Queen. This vehicle would propel the newly-christened Freddie Mercury to worldwide stardom.

It wasn’t just his voice that made Mercury one of the greats. He had a stage presence that mesmerized audiences, and Queen always put on great shows.

The band’s legendary set at Live Aid in 1985 was only six songs, but Mercury stole the show in front of a TV audience of nearly 2 billion people.

Sadly, he died of complications from AIDS in 1991 at age 45, leaving behind a huge body of work as one of the defining voices of rock and roll.

3. Steven Tyler

Though he was born Steven Victor Tallarico in New York, Steven Tyler grew up to lead Boston-based Aerosmith, one of rock’s biggest acts. Tyler is well-known for his vocal prowess, flamboyant clothing, and huge stage persona.

Aerosmith’s success began in the late ’70s. But their popularity began to wane in the early ’80s as Tyler suffered a terrible motorcycle accident and the effects of addiction.

After a stint in rehab, Tyler and the band enjoyed a huge resurgence in popularity, filling stadiums and selling over 150 million records.

They’ve had some huge hits too like “Dude (Looks Like A Lady),” “Janie’s Got A Gun,” and “Cryin’.” Tyler and company finally hit #1 on the charts with “I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing” in 1998.

4. Tina Turner

The captivating charisma and powerful vocals of Tina Turner took her from Nutbush, Tennessee, to stages of the world.

When she was a teen, she heard Ike Turner sing and was drawn to the sound. Ike married her soon after, and the pair formed the Ike and Tina Turner Revue in 1968.

For 16 years, the act scored hit after hit, but Turner finally left the band and her marriage to escape Ike’s abuse. Her solo career started out a little rocky, but 1984’s “Private Dancer” made her a superstar. She is retired today, having fought health issues like cancer and a stroke.

5. Prince

The prolific multi-instrumentalist Prince Rogers Nelson was born to musicians in Minneapolis, a city he never really left.

As a child, he discovered Jimi Hendrix and James Brown and landed a record deal while still in his teens. 

He wrote and recorded incessantly, often making every sound on his records. The commercial success of the semi-autobiographical film Purple Rain made him a household name.

He confounded fans for his entire life by following his musical passions wherever they led rather than trying to recreate old hits.

An accidental medication overdose killed the star in 2016, a terrible loss to the world.

6. Eddie Vedder

Arguably the face and voice of Seattle grunge music, Eddie Vedder was born in Illinois as Edward Louis Severson III. When his family moved to California, he began a musical career that would reach dizzying heights.

As grunge was becoming a musical movement, guitarists Stone Gossard and Mike McCready took the suggestion from Jack Irons, drummer for the Red Hot Chili Peppers at the time, for Vedder to be the singer for their new band Peal Jam.

Nearly instantly, the group gelled and was a huge hit. Vedder and company have fought against large corporations like TicketMaster and have remained a driving force in rock music.

7. Bono

Born Paul Hewson in Dublin, Ireland, Bono has turned a job as a rock singer into sweeping philanthropic efforts and an honorary knighthood.

Our singer lost his mother at the age of 14, after which he changed schools and met the woman he would marry and the guys with whom he’d form U2.

The band members called him Bono Vox, Latin for “good voice,” and he sure does have one. When he applied it to the band’s sixth album, The Joshua Tree, the band shot to worldwide fame and began hauling in the Grammys. 

U2 has more Grammys than any other band. In 2005, Bono was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with U2.

8. Paul McCartney

James Paul McCartney took his first breath in Liverpool, England, the first son of a cotton salesman and a nurse. He joined John Lennon to form arguably the greatest songwriting team in history. 

He joined Lennon in a skiffle band when he was 16, and the Beatles were on their way to being formed. The quartet became a huge force in the British Invasion, and when the group split in 1970, McCartney embarked on a very successful solo career and played with his band Wings.

He has never really slowed down and still records, writes, and performs to this day He also has five children, a knighthood, and the great respect of bass players around the world.

9. Steve Perry

Called the Voice by Jon Bon Jovi, Steve Perry grew up in California the son of two Portuguese immigrants. He discovered the voice of Sam Cooke at age ten and quickly decided on a life of music.

Perry finished high school but not college, dropping out to head for Los Angeles and the music business. There, he sang with a couple of bands before traveling to San Francisco and joining with a jazz-rock outfit called Journey.

By 1981, the band had broken big with “Don’t Stop Believing.” He stayed with the band, launching a brief solo career in 1984, before returning to Journey for a few years. Perry is now retired.

10. Sting

Gordon Matthew Sumner, known by most as Sting, was born in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in England to a milkman. He grew up to become an English teacher while pursuing music, finally forming the Police with drummer Stewart Copeland. 

By the time the band’s third album dropped—with Sting writing almost all the band’s songs—the Police were rock gods, though the interpersonal relationships in the band could be strained.

“Every Breath You Take” from the band’s final album stands as the most-played song in the history of radio.

They split in officially in 1986, though they’d gone on hiatus in 1983. Sting embarked on a solo career soon after that and has continued to produce hits and interesting collaborations.

Known for his bass playing and songwriting skills, the distinctive sound of his voice separates Sting from so many other rock singers.

11. Stevie Nicks

Stephanie Lynn Nicks, or Stevie Nicks, arrived in the world in Arizona as the granddaughter of a country musician. She performed with him from age 5, so music took hold of her early.

After bouncing around with a peripatetic family, Nicks attended a high school in California where she met guitarist Lindsey Buckingham. The two soon performed together.

They eventually caught the attention of the British band Fleetwood Mac. The pair joined, and the band took off nearly immediately. Nicks wrote “Dreams,” the band’s only #1 single. 

Nicks has also maintained an impressive solo career aside from the band. Between Fleetwood Mac and solo work, she has sold more than 140 million records. 

12. David Bowie

Born David Robert Jones in London, David Bowie had a long, varied, storied musical career. He was known for his theatrical presentations, donning various personas throughout his career, not just for live shows but for entire albums.

He studied theatre and dance in his youth, which he put to good use with his hugely successful 1972 glam rock album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. Throughout the ’70s and ’80s, Bowie was a towering musical figure and acted in several films like Labyrinth and The Prestige.

Bowie’s output slowed in the ’90s, during which time he married supermodel Iman. He never stopped writing and recording and released his final album, Outside, just two days before his death from liver cancer.

13. John Lennon

One of the best singers of all time, John Lennon had a tempestuous childhood growing up in Liverpool, England, but things to a great turn when, as a teenager, he met Paul McCartney, and the two eventually formed The Beatles.

McCartney and Lennon shared lead singing duties, and the differences in their voices played well off each other. They also constituted one of the world’s best songwriting duos.

Lennon left his first wife, Cynthia, for an avant-garde artist named Yoko Ono, who quickly became a divisive figure with the band and fans. Shortly thereafter, Lennon left The Beatles and embarked on a solo career with Ono. 

He was an activist for peace and was brash and opinionated, making him somewhat controversial. In 1980, he was murdered by a crazed fan in New York City. 

14. Janis Joplin

Known for her amazing mezzo-soprano vocals, Janis Joplin hailed from Port Arthur, Texas, and showed an interest in singing early. She sang in choirs as a kid, but Joplin headed west after a short stint at the University of Texas.

She put her raspy, bluesy voice to good use with the band Big Brother and the Holding Company, which didn’t make much of a splash until she started singing with them.

In 1968, Joplin left the band after just two years to pursue what would become an initially successful—but tragically short—solo career.

She released one solo album (and a second posthumously), but her heroin addiction put her on a rapid downhill slide. Joplin died of an accidental overdose in 1970.

15. Lenny Kravitz

Next up is Leonard Kravitz. He was born to an interracial couple in Brooklyn, and the family soon moved to California. His father was a TV producer, and his mother was a cast member of The Jeffersons. However, he was adamant about not using their connections to further his musical career.

Kravitz struck out on his own, living out of his car and performing under the name Romeo Blue in California before returning to New York, where he recorded his debut album Let Love Rule. As a gifted multi-instrumentalist and vocalist, he played and sang every note on the record. It was a hit in 1989.

He married and divorced actor Lisa Bonet, and the pair have one daughter, actress Zoe Kravitz.

16. Ann Wilson

Better known for singer-songwriter for the band Heart, Ann Wilson was born in San Diego to a musical family that traveled widely due to her father’s military career. She spent her childhood and teenage years feeling lonely, turning to singing to help her overcome her stutter. 

With her younger sister, a guitarist named Nancy, she joined a Seattle band called Heart. The group soon relocated to Canada, where they developed a sterling reputation thanks in large part to Wilson’s voice. 

The band broke up for a brief period in the ’90s but had more hits in the 2000s. Wilson last released a solo album in 2015.

17. Elvis Presley

King of Rock and Roll, Elvis Presley, was born in Mississippi to a poor family. He sang on the radio at age 10. Soon after, he began learning the guitar.

His family relocated to Memphis looking for a better life. Presley found it when he teamed up with Sam Phillips of Sun Records.

Throughout his career, Presley churned out hit after hit and acted in Hollywood films. Many critics credit Presley with making rock music internationally popular. He was perhaps the most famous person of the twentieth century and remains a cultural icon.

He died in Memphis due to complications related to drug addiction.

18. Mick Jagger

One of the most influential figures in rock history, Mick Jagger was born in Kent, England. He met guitarist Keith Richards as a child, and the two would later join a blues outfit called The Rolling Stones. Alongside The Beatles, the band stands as one of the two great pillars of rock music.

Jagger has had great success with the band and as a solo artist; he has also acted in a few films. Though his personal life has involved drug use and uproarious relationships, he’s become a great-grandfather at the age of 70.

Even after heart surgery, his voice and stage presence are legendary and instantly recognizable. He has won three Grammy’s, including a Lifetime Achievement Award, and, in 1989, was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

19. Layne Staley

Born in Washington state, Layne Staley became one of grunge rock’s most recognizable voices, though as a teenager, he was mostly a drummer.

Knocking around Seattle and playing in various outfits, Staley eventually met up with guitarist Jerry Cantrell. After some time, they formed Alice in Chains, one of the three big grunge bands (Nirvana and Pearl Jam being the other two).

The band’s popularity was slow to take off, and critics were nonplussed by the debut album. That changed in the early ’90s, and by the time of Staley’s heroin-related death, he was known as one of rock’s greatest voices.

20. Roger Daltrey

English singer-songwriter Roger Harry Daltrey went to the Acton County Grammar School for Boys in England, where he met two musicians named Pete Townshend and John Entwistle.

Though he built his first guitar out of a block of wood, Daltrey quickly became known as the singer, especially when he, Townshend, and Entwistle formed a skiffle band.

They soon added drummer Keith Moon and became The Who, an iconic rock act driven as much by Daltrey’s singular vocals as anything else. He’s also had success as a solo artist and an actor.

In 1990, Daltrey was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award along with The Who in 2001.

21. Jon Anderson

Lancashire, England, gave us Jon Anderson, who founded the highly influential prog-rock band Yes. The group was legendary for Rick Wakeman’s keyboard work, Chris Squire’s bass playing, and Anderson’s clear, high tenor voice. 

He would have an on-again, off-again relationship with the band but sang on the 1983 album 90125, the group’s biggest-selling recording. Anderson has also regularly pursued collaborations and solo projects.

With Yes, Anderson was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2017. Currently, he is active in the music industry touring theaters in the US. Anderson is also an accomplished painter.

22. Jim Morrison

One of rock’s more confounding figures, Jim Morrison started life in Florida as a navy kid. He developed poor relationships with his parents, eventually leaving for California in 1964 to attend college. Studying cinematography at UCLA, he met Ray Manzarek, and the two quickly formed The Doors.

Characterized by Morrison’s powerful baritone voices and dark, psychedelic lyrics, The Doors came to represent all that the hippie movement was, whether people loved or hated it.

He drank, used drugs, and womanized while writing poetry. All of it was controversial. Some hated his poems and lyrics, and some dismissed his hedonism as harmless rock-and-roll behavior. He died in Paris in 1971 of an apparent drug overdose.

23. Don Henley

A Texas boy Don Henley was born to a farmer and teacher. As a kid, he loved country music and played drums in several local bands in his youth.

He toured with Linda Ronstadt, and that experience introduced him to Glenn Fry. In 1971, the two formed The Eagles, one of the biggest-selling rock acts ever. 

The band halted playing its country-rock music in the early 1980s, and Henley’s solo career built to great success, though it took some time. He has styled himself as a kind of troubadour-with-a-conscience, championing many philanthropic causes.

The Eagles reunited in the 1990s and continued the band’s—and Henley’s—success and popularity. 

24. Rod Stewart

Born and raised in London, Rod Stewart could have taken the athletic route in life, as he was a gifted football player as a youth. Like many singers in his generation, he was early drawn to skiffle music and discovered by early rock legend Long John Baldry. 

He used his distinctive, raspy voice in The Jeff Beck Group and a band called Faces with Rolling Stones’ guitarist Ron Wood. These two groups had a significant influence on the burgeoning punk rock genre.

Stewart made progress as a solo artist as well, and as he grew older, he began singing music closer to pop and has sold more than 130 million albums worldwide.

25. Brittany Howard

As a bi-racial child in her birthplace of Athens, Alabama, Brittany Howard took solace in music and poetry, especially after the tragic death of her teenage sister.

While living at her family home in a junkyard and going to high school, she met Zac Cockrell, a bass player, and formed Alabama Shakes. Her throaty roar and keen songwriting abilities propelled the band to dizzying heights rather quickly.

Howard also writes for and plays with Thunderbitch and Bermuda Triangle in addition to her solo career. Her star continues to rise as more and more recognize her as a musician and performer.

26. Kurt Cobain

One of the greatest guitarist of all time, Kurt Cobain was born in Aberdeen, Washington, and was a handful as a child, especially after his parents divorced when he was seven. He was a poor student but was strongly drawn to artistic pursuits. 

Cobain and bassist Krist Novoselic formed Nirvana in the late-1980s, and after recording a demo, the band landed a deal with an independent label.

Following the modest success, Cobain hired Dave Grohl as the band’s permanent drummer. They recorded “Nevermind” and became rock gods.

He married rocker Courtney Love, but after battling addictions and mental and physical illness, he committed suicide in Seattle, leaving behind a daughter and a musical legacy.

27. Kay Hanley

Growing up near Boston—literally across the street from Mark and Donnie Wahlberg—Kay Hanley sang in a new wave band as a teenager and quickly made a name for herself behind the microphone. 

She formed Letters to Cleo with other Boston-area musicians in 1989. Within a few years, they had a loyal local following and landed a song on the soundtrack of Melrose Place, a prime-time soap. The band also appeared in 10 Things I Hate About You.

Hanley has pursued solo work, written and sung for television and movie projects, including Josie and the Pussycats. One reviewer described her vocal style as “honey ‘n’ blowtorch” due to the power she can bring to a line but then can also drop dulcet tones as well.

28. Corey Glover

And finally, Brooklyn native Corey Glover appeared in Oliver Stone’s Platoon, but before that, he had formed a band with gifted guitarist Vernon Reid in the mid-eighties.

As African-American musicians playing hard rock, the band Living Colour left record labels at a loss as to what to do with a stereotype-shattering group. It didn’t matter. Glover and company’s debut album, Vivid, was a smashing success and earned a Grammy.

Glover continues using his strong voice, complete with insanely high notes, on solo work, a national tour of Jesus Christ Superstar, and occasionally reuniting with Living Colour. 

Summing Up Our List Of The Greatest Rock Singers

That wraps up our list of rock singers, we hope you enjoyed it. However, this list just scratches the surface as there are many more talented music artists not included.

Still, these names rank high on the list of powerful singers who’ve found fame with their talents.

Who do you think we missed off? Let us know!

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Written by Laura Macmillan
Laura has over 12 years experience teaching both classical and jazz saxophone and clarinet. She now resides in California where she works as a session and live performer.