There arguably are hundreds of great musical artists active today, and thousands more who have come and gone over time. However, it takes something truly phenomenal to be defined as the greatest.
Considering how long humanity has held the means of recording music at all further complicates the situation. European composers certainly are heavyweights in the musical battlefield, but it doesn’t seem fair to compare the music of the last century or so to the music of three hundred years in the past.
Since the first time a human recorded sound in 1860, our music has grown, melded, warped, and evolved by flying leaps and bizarre bounds. In homage to our own creativity, here is a list (presented in alphabetical order) of fifteen of the greatest musicians of all time.
Fifteen of the Greatest Musicians of All Time
1. Aretha Franklin
Hailing from the bustling city of Detroit, Aretha Franklin, was a woman who demanded respect everywhere she went. Franklin’s origins in music come from her attendance in church where she sang regularly- a common thread with many other artists in American music.
During the 1950’s and 60’s when Franklin got serious about pursuing her musical career, the scene wasn’t exactly geared toward helping women of Black heritage. Radio thankfully is blind however, and Franklin’s impressive vocal skills beat down any social blocks preventing her from achieving success.
Over time, Franklin won numerous awards and accolades, and she has been dubbed the Queen of Soul by leaders in the industry. There is no doubt that Aretha’s presence in music in addition to her commitment to leading the way in social change and justice opened channels for other women and Black artists to find their own success in music.
In 1987 Franklin was the first woman inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and in 2019 she was posthumously awarded a Pulitzer Prize for her contribution to American music.
2. The Beatles
From humble beginnings in Liverpool, England comes the greatest storm of drums and guitars in the second half of the 20th century- The Beatles. This hodge-podge group of four odd fellows began as an exercise in artistry and a shared love of music. After a few attempts at bringing their sound together, the band solidified the names Lennon, McCartney, Harrison, and Starr into the pop-culture psyche for generations to come.
These men hit the scene as the sixth decade of the 1900’s was just getting its first wind, and music has never been the same since. The Beatles achieved the level of fame and fortune that most musical artists can only dream of, and they’ve been honored with countless achievements, including induction into the American Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988.
Their biggest hits continue to be popular choices for movie soundtracks and restaurant playlists, with their song “Yesterday” being one of the most covered songs in the world by other artists.
3. Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan is a hugely iconic American musician who many people know for his passionate folk songs which tend to lean into social themes and antiwar movements. His career began in the 1960’s when Dylan filtered his passion for life through his songwriting to release some of his greatest known works such as, “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “The Times They Are a-Changin’.”
Dylan continued to write songs continuously through the next sixty years, creating musical soundtracks, writing pieces for other artists, and touring. Not all of his albums reached the same critical acclaim as his initial releases from the 60’s. It is Dylan’s perseverance and commitment to creating work that could influence the world that made him a legend.
Over the course of his career, Dylan has been awarded multiple accolades including induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, a Pulitzer Prize, and a Nobel Prize in Literature for his impact on American song writing.
4. Chuck Berry
There are two golden records aboard two spacecraft named Voyager 1 and Voyager 2. Both of the spacecraft are farther from Earth than any human or human technology has ever been, and on both of these golden records is the song, “Johnny B. Goode” by Chuck Berry. Originating from St. Louis, Missouri, Berry showed musical interest at a young age.
Armed with a guitar and a taste for showmanship, Berry came on the stage around the middle of the century. From the 1950’s to the 1970’s, Chuck Berry’s electric stage presence and impressive riffs kept him front and center of the rock and roll scene.
Despite a few years spent in prison, Berry’s name was a fixed star in the constellations of musical artists in the beginning of Rock and Roll. In fact, Berry was in the first wave of musicians inducted into the American Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and is regularly credited with being the Father of Rock and Roll itself.
5. Daft Punk
Disco isn’t dead, and Daft Punk can prove it. From funky groovy beats to bumping bass lines, Daft Punk is a duo that revolutionized the techno scene. Their hidden faces and carefully selected costumes and helmets add to their aura, making them benefactors of dance and disco.
They pushed the limits of cool and were rewarded with platinum albums and no less than five Grammy awards for their fourth album, Random Access Memories. The two human beings beneath the helmets of the duo are Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter. They initially joined up in Paris, France during the early 90’s and together brought their disco-techno-funk-groove to center stage.
Preferring anonymity to the all consuming hype of famous life, Homem-Christo and Bangalter continue to maintain relatively low profiles even after platinum success. Though not as highly awarded as some of the other artists in this list, Daft Punk is credited by many in the industry as being vastly influential on dance and music history.
6. Dolly Parton
Queen of modern Country music, Dolly Parton is an iconic fixture in the history of the evolution of musical genres such as Country, Folk, and Americana. With a backstory more classically American than some fictional archetypes, Dolly remains America’s favorite rags to riches female singer from the mid 1900’s.
Her career in Country music, along with her songwriting, humanitarian work, occasional film projects, and her influence on other women in music since her start way back in the 1960s has helped shift the way that people view females in the music industry. With over one hundred million record sales worldwide, Dolly’s success is undeniable.
After decades of topping the charts and working behind the scenes as well, Dolly recently has become a household name once again with powerhouse artists such as Kesha and Miley Cyrus collaborating, covering, and drawing inspiration from her. She has been awarded many accolades including Grammy and Emmy awards and induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1999.
7. Elton John
An absolute canon in modern music, Elton John is a singer-songwriter, pianist, and composer from England. Most easily known for his songs such as “Rocket Man” and “Tiny Dancer”, John’s actual contributions to the musical world are staggering.
He has composed musical scores for film and theater, collaborated with countless artists, and has record sales in the hundreds of millions. John is famously recognized for being one of the first men in popular music to be openly gay at the beginning of the 1990’s, proving that one’s sexuality has little impact on whether or not you can be a chart-topping musical prodigy.
John blends styles like an artist blends colors, fashioning melodies and beats fit for stages on Broadway and movie screens in Hollywood. In addition to his banging piano skills, Elton John is a standout figure in the fashion realm, regularly sporting sequined, feathered, and bejeweled outfits which brighten each path he walks.
8. Elvis Presley
The “King of Rock and Roll” himself, Elvis Presley absolutely makes the list of top fifteen greatest musicians of all time. Originally born in Tupelo, Mississippi, Elvis and his family moved to Memphis Tennessee when he was 13 years old, and that is where his music career began.
Presley’s musical talent stems from a childhood in church singing songs with the choir and learning to play his guitar by ear. He couldn’t read music, but Presley clearly had a natural talent beyond that of the average Joe. His voice echoed throughout America during a time when the people of that country were split in two based on skin color, and the faceless warble of Elvis’ voice over the radio helped bring about new national awareness.
Presley himself worked diligently to respect African Americans and honor their music, as it was because of many African American musical artists that inspired Elvis to pick up his guitar.
Elvis Presley invited expression and sensuality and diversity to the music space. His voice drew his audience into the song, and his charm, charisma, good looks, and musical genius launched him into orbit as the definitive Master of Music and King of Rock and Roll.
9. Janis Joplin
Born in Texas, Janis Joplin was a horse of a different color everywhere she went. She was a woman hell-bent on hitting it big, and that’s exactly what she did. Joplin’s wild heart led her through bars and karaoke joints from the deep South all the way out West to San Francisco where Joplin definitively found her people.
She began her journey to stardom singing unaccompanied in dive bars, capturing her audience’s attention with the raw power of her unique vocal sound. By the time she made it to the big stage, Joplin was known for her wailing melodies and uncontrollable charisma.
Joplin, like so many of her peers, left this world too soon. Joplin was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995, stamped forever into music history.
10. Jimi Hendrix
A contemporary to Joplin, Jimi Hendrix was another man with a guitar and almost nothing else other than the grit and perseverance to put his entire soul into his instrument. Hendrix entered the music scene after an early life of great personal pain and growth. He had served briefly in the army where he endured harsh treatment from his fellow enlisted service members.
Through it all, Hendrix maintained an almost obsessive bond with his guitar, and he played constantly. When he finally hit it big, his unique style and skill with his instrument launched him into musical notoriety. He created sounds that no one had ever heard before, and his stylistic choices placed him squarely at the center of the hippie music world.
Hendrix’s contribution to the evolution of music was his willingness to include electronic distortion into his sound. Never before had anyone used the new technology of amplifiers and electronic waves to dial in their music to generate a specific feel.
Hendrix paved the way for new artists and musicians to find their creative niche and own it. He received several awards during his short career, and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992.
11. Johnny Cash
In with the league of country legends such as Merle Haggard, Hank Williams, and Elvis himself, Johnny Cash (aka he Man in Black’) is as country as cornbread and black-eyed peas. Cash is the classic image of a man on a mission.
Born to humble origins in Arkansas, Johnny Cash went out on that long dusty road to fame with his voice, his guitar, and his old soul, and he influenced two genres of music along with scores of musicians.
He has been inducted into both the Country Music Hall of Fame as well as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. His music is soulful but edgy, spiritual yet relatable, and people all around the world know his name as well as his songs.
12. Lead Belly
Born in Louisiana way back in 1888 to the name of Huddie William Ledbetter, Lead Belly is a foundational rock of American music that many other artists have built their house on. He could be classified as being a blues and folk singer who performed most often with a twelve-string guitar.
A lot of his life was spent in jail, but it is a testament to his musical gift that representatives from the Library of Congress brought recording equipment to the prison to capture Lead Belly’s playing and singing for future generations to enjoy.
His most well-known songs include hymnal-like classics such as, “Midnight Special”, “Cotton Fields Back Home”, “Goodnight Irene”, and “Where Did You Sleep Last Night”. Lead Belly was inducted posthumously into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988, as well as the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame in 2008.
When an industry requires its participants to be larger than life, those who wish to succeed must meet the bill. Madonna is a figure who went above and beyond that call, hitting it big in the 0’s with her first album, the self-titled Madonna.
Madonna is most recognized for her musical diversity both vocally and instrumentally. She constantly reimagines her music and each album is an experiment in musical style and artistry. A feminist to the core, Madonna fiercely protects her work, demanding to be involved with every aspect of the production process.
This has fueled the success she has attained beyond her musical act. She is the founder of the company, Maverick which includes a record company that is one of the most successful in the industry. Madonna works extensively with children’s charities, encouraging women, girls, and young people all around the world to pursue education and artistic expression.
14. Michael Jackson
Michael Jackson was born to be an artist, and his initial venture into the musical space with his family band by the name of the Jackson 5 set him up for a lifelong career. Jackson is most notable for his unique dance style in tandem with his lyrical and musical genius.
While he never consistently played an instrument or wrote music, Jackson could compose songs by imitating each instrument’s part into a tape recorder, beatboxing for the rhythm and crafting original pieces all on his own.
His showmanship and expertise with his voice brought him to the forefront of the pop music world, and he eventually became one of the highest-selling artists of all time. Despite a controversial and sometimes chaotic personal life, Jackson managed to maintain his image as a musical leader and worked to overcome social barriers between Black and white American communities.
By the time his life ended, Jackson achieved an impressive discography, hundreds of millions of worldwide record sales, numerous collaborations and artistic projects, and was crowned the King of Pop along with being the most awarded musician in history.
15. Tom Waits
Armed with a voice that sounds like gravel and road rash, Waits is a powerhouse in the musical world, with his most notable work in the jazz and blues tradition. More of a singer-songwriter legend than a pop star icon, Waits’ impact on music is the undercurrent in an ocean surf- the rip tide if you will.
Tom Waits’ willingness to turn any tin can into an instrument and his ability to use megaphones to create a melody make him a mad scientist of sound. In addition to the insane genius of his musicality, Waits writes song lyrics that rip out your heart, throws it on a gritty patch of rocky ground, and stomps on it before leaving it with a fifth of gin and a half-smoked cigarette.
Waits’ unique sound and skill has gained him critical acclaim and a cult following with artists such as Sarah McLachlan and Hootie & the Blowfish covering his songs. He has been considered one of the greatest songwriters of all time by Rolling Stones magazine, and in 2011 he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
These fifteen musicians by no means represent the only voices in the scene who have had an impact. They simply are some of the people who have added to the collective music experience during the past century in such a way that the music world has changed due to their contributions.
Like rocks that make ripples when dropped into the ocean, these artists created tidal waves of their own making. Future generations will look back at these musicians for inspiration, and the creative wheel will keep rolling on.
MOST INFLUENTIAL MUSIC ARTIST OF ALL TIME
Music artists have influenced the lives of many people with their works. With music artists, music has been given life and feelings. People are able to appreciate more music because of music artists. People not just like music rather they love it.
Musicians play an important role in shaping our society. It is far beyond the soothing sound of music, the music hall, the beats, the lyrics and many more, it is the message that the music relay. Many distinguished artists have proven their talents worldwide. Though, who is the most influential music artist of all time?
The most influential artist of all time would probably be the The Beatles. The Beatles are one of the most influential music artist in the 20th century and the group are known for being one of the best in rock era and any other era. Not only that they are good music artists, they also wrote and compose their own songs.
Also known as the ‘Fab Fours’, the world renowned The Beatles consists of four members Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr. Some of their songs were Please Please Me, She Loves You, I Want To Hold Your Hand, and many more to mention. Even the current generation love the songs by the The Beatles.
Each of their albums improved every time they release a new one. The Beatles unquestionably influenced the life of teenagers, lovers, music lovers, oldies, and many more. During their time, they had numerous sales, produced albums, and composed many songs that are adored until now.
We are able to express ourselves and our feelings through music. Music raise our moods and inspire us to live our life to the fullest. With the help of music artists, we are able to enjoy music more as they give more life to it.
GREATEST MUSICIAN IN HISTORY
Musicians have contributed a great role for the society. Music has been part of everyone’s life. Some people’s day can not be completed without them listening to music.
Music brings joy to some people and some reminisce their past moments through music. Musicians even make music more beautiful. Musicians add feelings to the music. Who is the greatest musician in history?
The greatest musician in history would probably The Beatles. They are one of the most influential groups in 20th century. Many people in the past love songs from The Beatles. Not only that they are musicians, they also wrote and compose their own songs.
The Beatles was consist of four members. They are known for their pure talents and songs like Please Me (1963), She Loves You, I Want To Hold Your Hand, and many more.
Musicians doesn’t only mean being able to play music rather their it is their creativity influences other people’s lives.