Among standard vocal ranges, tenor is widely considered the highest for a male singer. Men who sing tenor often can reach one octave above the middle C without using their head voice (also known as falsetto).
In musical theater and opera, the story’s hero or main love interest is usually written for the leading tenor. Tenors can display a light, almost airy quality to flourish their songs with trills and other vocal tricks. Or they can have a heavy sound with a gravitas that still reaches the highest notes.
And to celebrate these amazing singers, below is our list of 28 of the greatest and most famous tenor singers of all time. Let’s get started.
1. Luciano Pavarotti
Quite simply, the most famous tenor in history is Luciano Pavarotti. He mixed a long career in the world’s most renowned opera houses with a hitmaker’s ability to perform pop music.
Fans called him the King of the High Cs because he could reach that high note an octave above idle C without the vocal strain that others display.
Pavarotti was a part of the Three Tenors with Jose Carreras and Placido Domingo. They sang the National Anthem at the 1990 World Cup final before embarking on a series of concerts in Los Angeles and elsewhere.
Among his dozens of recordings, Pavarotti became almost synonymous with the Italian aria “Nessun Dorma” (None Shall Sleep). The piece became his signature song and even attained pop status.
2. Andrea Bocelli
Born with congenital glaucoma, Andrea Bocelli became completely blind at the age of 12. This was not a hindrance for the iconic tenor, as he went on to become famous in both opera and popular music circles.
He has sold more than 75 million records since 1994, when he won the Sanremo Music Festival in Italy and signed a major recording contract. Five years later, Bocelli won the Grammy for Best New Artist.
One of his most popular songs is “The Prayer.” He recorded it as a duet with Celine Dion for the animated movie Quest for Camelot. It won a Golden Globe for Best Original Song and was nominated for an Academy Award in the same category.
Bocelli has since toured the world numerous times, singing opera classics and popular songs to audiences. In 2022, he collaborated with his children to create the album A Family Christmas.
3. Enrico Caruso
Before Luciano Pavarotti was born, the most recognizable tenor of all time was Enrico Caruso.
He gained his fame by becoming one of the first to embrace the new medium of audio recordings soon after Thomas Edison invented the phonograph. He made hundreds of recordings before his death.
Caruso was originally from Naples, Italy, and began singing professionally there. He was well-regarded for taking on the roles of Canio in Pagliacci and Duke in Rigoletto.
He spent his later years in New York City, where he sang many roles at the Metropolitan Opera and made records for the Victor Talking Machine Company.
4. Placido Domingo
Since he was 16, Placido Domingo has been considered by opera lovers to be one of the greatest in the world. He’s certainly also the busiest: Domingo began performing internationally in 1957 and has sung more than 150 operatic roles in the past 60-plus years.
In addition, Domingo sang several lead roles in operatic movies, where he displayed artistry in both singing and acting. More recently, he has conducted many operas and served both the Washington National Opera and Los Angeles Opera as their general director.
Domingo gained more international fame when he joined Luciano Pavarotti and Jose Carreras to sing the National Anthem for the 1990 World Cup Final. Known as the Three Tenors, they toured the world.
In 1996, he began to host an international singing competition, known as Operalia, for young performers. That competition has now been staged more than 25 times.
5. Jose Carreras
The youngest and vocally brightest of the Three Tenors, Jose Carreras began singing tenor at the age of 11 in his birthplace of Barcelona.
He has since performed approximately 70 tenor roles throughout the world. Although from Spain, Carreras is known for his well-regarded interpretations of Italian opera.
After a public bout with leukemia, Carreras returned to the stage to perform with Luciano Pavarotti and Placido Domingo for the World Cup Finals in 1990. Two years later, he was the music director of the 1992 Olympic Games in his hometown of Barcelona.
In the years since, Carreras has raised more than $70 million for leukemia awareness, treatment, and cure research through a foundation he set up in the mid-1990s.
6. Jussi Bjorling
Johan Jonatan Björling, popularly known as Jussi Björling, was born to sing. His parents were well-known singers in Sweden, which led to Björling being introduced to music at an early age.
Eventually, Björling grew up to become one of the world’s most eminent opera singers before World War II. By his 20th birthday, he had already debuted at the Royal Swedish Opera, where he eventually sang approximately 60 roles with the national opera company.
Björling’s talent took him all over the world. He headlined at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, the San Francisco Opera, and the Chicago Opera numerous times between 1938 and 1941.
After World War II, he returned to American opera houses to perform, and King Gustaf V of Sweden gave Björling the high honor of Royal Court Singer.
7. Beniamino Gigli
Italian singer Beniamino Gigli is probably the least well-known operatic tenor on our list because he failed to record his singing in the early 1900s when he was at his peak. Nevertheless, he was well-regarded by those in the know.
Between 1914 and 1920, Gigli debuted at Italian opera houses such as Las Scala, Palermo, Naples, and Rome. He performed internationally in far-flung places such as Buenos Aires, Argentina, and New York City.
Gigli acquired a degree of infamy in his later career after he recorded the anthem “Giovinezza” for Italian dictator Benito Mussolini during World War II.
After the end of the war, he continued to sing in concerts and operas throughout the world. He also appeared in a few dozen movies as an actor, like the 1936 Ave Maria and 1937 Mother Song.
8. Lawrence Brownlee
Next up, we have the modern operatic singer whose bel canto repertoire is well-known: Lawrence Brownlee. This Ohio native did not set out to sing in the opera, but after participating in young artist programs at opera houses, he was soon on his way to his career.
He went on to perform all over the US and Europe and received acclaim for his roles in Armida and I Puritani—the latter gained him a Seattle Opera’s Artist of the Year award in 2008.
Just as the male opera singers of old had their Three Tenors, Brownlee is also considered one of the Three Tenors of the current time, along with Javier Camarena and Juan Diego Flórez.
9. Juan Diego Flórez
Like Lawrence Brownlee, Juan Diego Flórez did not set out to be an operatic singer; in fact, he wanted to sing pop songs. However, along the course of his studies, his classic tenor voice emerged, which soon led him on the path to greatness.
Debuting at La Scala gained Flórez worldwide acclaim, particularly his performance of “Ah! mes amis” (notable for having nine high Cs), breaking the record of no encores in the house, which had been in place for 74 years.
Flórez’s work has earned him many honors, especially in his home country of Peru. He was knighted by the Order of the Sun of Peru, received the Order of Merit, and appeared on their 2-sol stamps.
10. Frankie Valli
It’s rare to have a Broadway musical written about your life and artistry, but Frankie Valli is one of a select few.
The musical Jersey Boys was conceived and produced around his time as the frontman of the Four Seasons vocal group. His ultra-high falsetto voice was an unmistakable part of the group and helped him enjoy success during several solo endeavors.
The Four Seasons had a string of #1 songs in the 1960s and 1970s. These include “Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Walk Like a Man,” and “December 1963 (Oh, What a Night).” As a solo artist, Valli’s most popular hits are “Can’t Take My Eye Off of You” and “Grease.”
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inducted Valli’s quartet in 1990, and the Vocal Group Hall of Fame enshrined them nine years later.
11. Jonathan Groff
One of the youngest performers on our list, Jonathan Groff, is a noted musical theater tenor whose breakout role came in the 2006 original production of Spring Awakening. Groff received a Tony nomination for Best Actor in a Musical for that role when he was just 21.
In addition, he is known for originating the role of King George III in Hamilton, for which he was nominated for his second Tony award. Groff appeared on the cast recording of Hamilton, which won a Grammy award.
Children may know Groff as the voice of Kristoff and Sven in the Frozen movies. Older readers might recall that he had a recurring tenor role on the television series Glee from 2009 to 2015.
12. Sam Cooke
American singer Sam Cooke is one tenor whose life and career were cut short due to violence. Before he was tragically killed by the manager of a Los Angeles motel, Cooke was widely regarded as the King of Soul thanks to his distinctive tenor range.
In a career that lasted less than a decade, he released several hit songs, including “Cupid,” “Chain Gang,” and “Twistin’ the Night Away.” In all, 29 Cooke songs reached the Billboard Top 40 charts.
Cooke was also well-known for his participation in the fight for civil rights alongside Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, and football player Jim Brown.
13. Mario Lanza
American singer and actor Mario Lanza was one of filmdom’s most known and respected tenors. He got his start as a performer at the age of 16 and appeared in several operas before signing a lucrative contract with MGM Studios.
His most notable film role was playing Enrico Caruso in The Great Caruso. The movie’s soundtrack provided Lanza with the opportunity to sell millions of records and get his hits on the radio.
Lanza died young, at only 38. This was attributed to his penchant for overeating and drinking alcohol. The role of Johnny Fontane in two Godfather movies was said to be based on the late tenor.
14. Freddie Mercury
Mercury’s magnificent tenor highlighted signature songs like “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “We Are the Champions,” “Under Pressure,” and “Crazy Little Thing Called Love.”
Born in Zanzibar, Mercury’s family fled that country’s revolution in 1964 and landed in Middlesex, England. After attending boarding school and studying music, he helped form Queen and became its lead singer.
Mercury was one of the first and most famous artists to contract acquired immuno-deficiency syndrome (AIDS), which was confirmed in 1987.
He ultimately died of complications from the disease in 1991 and has been posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll, Songwriters, and UK Music Halls of Fame.
15. Michael Jackson
Called the King of Pop for his enormous success as a singer, songwriter, dancer, and performer, Michael Jackson’s album Thriller is still the greatest-selling album of all time, with more than 50 million copies sold worldwide. In all, Jackson has sold more than 400 million records.
His tenor voice soars in original songs such as “Billie Jean,” “Beat It,” and the title track, whose 15-minute video was a sensation in the early days of MTV (Music Television).
Jackson was born in Gary, Indiana, and gained initial acclaim as the youngest member of the Jackson 5. Before his untimely death, he went on to win 15 Grammy awards, and 13 of his songs reached #1 on the American pop charts.
16. Marvin Gaye
Famed Motown singer and songwriter Marvin Gaye provided his tenor voice to classic pop hits “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” and “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You).”
He won two Grammys and is widely regarded as having performed one of the great renditions of the “Star-Spangled Banner” at the opening of the 1983 NBA All-Star Game.
Gaye was taken too soon when his father, Marvin Sr., fatally shot him during an argument in 1984. He was inducted into three music halls of fame and presented with the Grammy Lifetime Achievement after his untimely passing.
17. George Michael
Next up is a pop sensation from England. George Michael was a member of the successful group Wham! before he embarked on a long solo career.
His album Faith sold nearly 25 million copies and produced four hit singles: “Father Figure,” “One More Try,” “Monkey,” and the title track. Faith won the 1989 Grammy Award for Album of the Year.
Two years later, he teamed up with Elton John to create the international hit duet “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me.” His duet of “I Knew You Were Waiting” with Aretha Franklin was also a smash hit.
Michael raised millions of dollars for AIDS research. Sadly, he passed away of heart disease at age 53.
18. Luther Vandross
A rhythm and blues superstar with a mysterious, intimate, and soulful tenor voice, Luther Vandross used his pipes to express painful emotion. In fact, Mariah Carey called him incomparable when they recorded a cover of “Endless Love” in the mid-1990s.
Vandross was also well-known for providing the tenor vocals on other noted duets, such as “The Closer I Get to You” with Beyoncé and “The Best Things In Life Are Free” with Janet Jackson.
Vandross earned eight Grammy Awards, including Song of the Year for “Dance with My Father.” This he received just a little over a year before he passed away due to cardiac arrest.
19. Steve Perry
One of the most recognizable tenor voices in rock-and-roll history, Steve Perry was the lead singer of Journey from 1977 through 1987, where he sang a string of hit songs, including “Faithfully,” “Open Arms,” and “Lights.”
Perry was born in the small town of Hanford, California, to a Portuguese family. He kicked around Northern California for several years trying to start bands or sing in others before he landed with Journey.
During the next decade, Journey made eight albums, including Escape, which reached the top of the Billboard charts in 1981. They also provided the soundtrack for a Japanese movie entitled Dream After Dream.
Despite parting ways on less than amicable terms, Perry and his bandmates were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2017.
20. Art Garfunkel
The second half of the iconic American folk duet Simon & Garfunkel, Art Garfunkel is well-known for his extremely high vocal range and uncanny ability to create searing harmonies. Paul Simon might have written the music and lyrics, but it was Garfunkel who made them live.
The New York-based duo’s most influential song turned out to be “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” which allowed Garfunkel to display his tenor strength alone. In addition, he has performed in movies and on the Broadway stage.
Garfunkel earned eight Grammy awards during his long career and was an early inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
21. Smokey Robinson
William Robinson, more known as Smokey, founded two Motown groups: the Miracles and the Temptations.
His sweet tenor voice led to famous songs such as “My Girl” and “I Second That Emotion.” In the 1960s, Robinson produced more than 25 hit singles for his groups and other Motown artists.
Although he continued to perform as a member of the Temptations and as a solo artist, Robinson also worked as the vice president of Motown Records under famed boss Berry Gordy.
These duties made it difficult for him to devote as much time to singing. Still, he wrote and produced numerous hit songs over the years for various singers and groups.
In 1988, Robinson’s works earned him a spot in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, becoming one of the first inductees.
22. Robert Plant
Described by some as the Greatest Voice in Rock, Robert Plant was the lead singer of Led Zeppelin for the entirety of the band’s existence throughout the 1970s. That includes writing and singing the ultra-famous “Stairway to Heaven.”
During his heyday, Plant was known for his charismatic and stylish performances. He had curly blond hair and often performed bare-chested. With Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones and Roger Daltrey of The Who, Plant helped create a sort of Three Tenors of Rock in the 1960s and 1970s.
Plant has enjoyed a long solo career in the years after Led Zeppelin’s breakup, with songs such as “Big Log” and “29 Palms.” He has also teamed with former bandmate Jimmy Page on occasion.
Probably best known as the frontman of the rock band The Police, English singer-songwriter and musician Sting also had quite a successful solo career on the side.
Most might recognize his tenor vocals in the hit singles “Shape of My Heart,” “Desert Rose,” and “Fields of Gold.” With the Police, “Roxanne” and “Every Breath You Take” are among fan favorites.
Sting’s over five-decade career has earned him a number of accolades, both as a solo artist and with the band. He was inducted into the Songwriters and Rock and Roll Halls of Fame and received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2000.
24. Phil Collins
Next up, we have another English singer-songwriter and musician. Like Sting, Phil Collins had his breakthrough with a band. For Collins, it was as lead vocalist and drummer for Genesis, who are best known for the songs “Invisible Touch” and “In Too Deep.”
Though he’s still with Genesis, Collins has also had a very successful solo career. His 1989 “Another Day in Paradise” earned him a Record of the Year Grammy. He’s also known for his work in Disney’s animated film Tarzan, receiving a Best Original Song Golden Globe Award for “You’ll Be in My Heart.”
Sadly, the iconic tenor announced his final performance with Genesis at the O2 Arena in March 2022, stating ill health has changed his voice and has made it difficult for him to play the drums.
25. Bruno Mars
These days, people know who Bruno Mars is. This three-octave tenor has been a pop icon dominating the airwaves since 2010, beginning with the single “Just the Way You Are.”
The song was a hit, climbing to #1 on charts all over the world, and earned the singer a Grammy award for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance. Soon, Mars was releasing chart-topping singles, some of which are “The Lazy Song,” “That’s What I Like,” and “When I Was Your Man.”
With sales of over 90 million in the US alone, Mars is considered one of the best-selling music artists of all time. In 2021, Billboard ranked him 3rd on their list of Top Artists of the 2010s, and the year after, he received his 6th Diamond certification, becoming the first male artist to do so.
26. Adam Lambert
This tenor has a voice with so much flexibility, range, and control that he placed second in the eighth season of American Idol. Adam Lambert wowed the audience—and judges—with “Mad World,” “If I Can’t Have You,” and “One” during the show, earning Simon Cowell’s standing ovation for the latter.
Following this, Lambert went on to release four studio albums, three of which were top-five on the Billboard 200. His most notable work, however, is his collaboration with Queen. Since 2011, Lambert has been fronting the band Queen + Adam Lambert and going on worldwide tours with them to this day.
27. Sam Smith
English singer-songwriter Sam Smith came into the music spotlight after being featured in Disclosure’s “Latch” in 2012. Two years later, they released their debut album, In the Lonely Hour, to critical success. Since then, there has been no turning back for Smith.
As a tenor, Smith’s vocal flexibility is notable. They are able to express low tones and go up too often feminine-like notes. Their latest hit single, “Unholy,” with Kim Petras, is a perfect example of this. The song gained them a Grammy award for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance.
To show for their amazing musical contribution, Smith has earned 25 BMI Awards and 5 Grammys, among so many other accolades. They even hold two Guinness World Records.
28. Chino Moreno
Lastly, from pop-rock singers, we’re going to move to alternative metal with rock band Deftone’s lead singer Chino Moreno. Known for his high vocals and distinct screams, Moreno has earned a spot on our list.
Moreno is one of the co-founders of Deftones, dubbed Radiohead of Metal, due to their experimental sound. From the late 1980s, they’ve been dropping songs that ranked on US and UK charts, like “Change (In the House of Flies)” and “My Own Summer (Shove It).”
Though Moreno hasn’t delved into a solo career, he has collaborated with other artists over the years, including post-metal band Isis, Dead Poetic, and Thirty Seconds to Mars. He also created the band’s Team Sleep and Crosses as side projects.
Summing Up Our List Of The Greatest Tenors
When you think of famous tenors, your thoughts might automatically conjure up images of theatrical operas sung by archetypes like Luciano Pavarotti.
Yet, as this list shows, the tenor range is not confined to the world of classical music. After all, many bands and popular acts employ tenors to sing their songs with the sort of gravitas necessary to deliver incredible music.
This list of 28 tenors showcases the variety of talented artists categorized as tenors. Some might be surprised, but their talent is without question.