The 20 Greatest Musicians of All Time
The world has been blessed with some incredibly talented musicians throughout the years. Choosing the top 20 among them can be challenging!
Of course, this is not a definitive list. It would be impossible to objectively come up with a list of the greatest musicians without having some sort of bias. So, don’t be upset if your favorite artist didn’t make the list!
- 1. The Beatles
- 2. Led Zeppelin
- 3. Elvis Presley
- 4. Prince
- 5. Michael Jackson
- 6. Queen
- 7. The Rolling Stones
- 8. Chuck Berry
- 9. Jimi Hendrix
- 10. Bob Marley
- 11. Tina Turner
- 12. Stevie Wonder
- 13. Pink Floyd
- 14. Guns N’ Roses
- 15. Elton John
- 16. Nirvana
- 17. James Brown
- 18. Jerry Lee Lewis
- 19. Bob Dylan
- 20. Ray Charles
1. The Beatles
This one is not surprising at all. The Beatles influenced countless music genres as their music styles changed over time. The band members also led successful solo careers. With their signature hairstyles and collarless jackets, The Beatles also influenced fashion, especially in the sixties.
During the first week of April 1964, The Beatles occupied the top five slots on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart. They also occupied the top two positions on both the albums chart and the British albums chart, along with the top spot on the British singles chart and the British EP chart.
In total, The Beatles have now sold more than one billion records globally, earning the title of the biggest-selling band of all time.
2. Led Zeppelin
The legendary rock and roll band Led Zeppelin is considered one of the greatest bands of all time. However, there is still a lot even the most dedicated fans do not know about the undisputed gods of ’70s rock.
Even though they have reunited only a handful of times, Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones, and John Bonham have stuck to their legacy and will always be remembered for their unforgettable music.
Robert Plant as the lead vocalist, Jimmy Page on guitar, John Paul Jones on bass guitar/keyboard, and John Henry Bonham on drums were masters in their instruments even before Led Zeppelin existed. Music helped them channel their emotions.
An interesting trait of Led Zeppelin which makes them stand out is that they would improvise a lot during live performances, making each song’s performance unique. Their version of “Communication Breakdown,” performed in LA in April 1970, is one such improvisation still loved by hundreds of thousands of fans worldwide.
3. Elvis Presley
Elvis Presley was the king of rock ‘n’ roll music and turned it into something much greater. He fused different music types and created the leading rock ‘n’ roll sound we know today—rockabilly. This music genre became widely popular and turned Elvis Presley from a nobody to a national sensation.
His music and stage presence are what made Presley so special. If you’ve seen his performances, you’ve probably already fallen in love with Presley’s dance moves. A large part of his songs are inspired by the Black artists he grew up listening to, and most of them are a mixture of Black gospel, blues, and country.
He also had 18 #1 singles in the US, and to date, over a billion Elvis Presley records have been sold worldwide.
Prince Rogers Nelson or more commonly known as just Prince was an American musician, singer-songwriter, and producer. He was born on June 7th, 1958, in Minnesota. Prince was known as a highly proficient multi-instrumentalist as well as a great vocalist.
He has sold over 100 million records worldwide and is ranked among the best-selling artist of all time. This is more than enough to justify his standing on this list. He was inducted into multiple Hall Of Fames, including the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the UK Music Hall of Fame, and the Rhythm And Blues Music Hall of Fame.
The man that brought the world so many iconic hits sadly passed away at the age of 57, leaving behind a legendary legacy that is an inspiration for so many people across the globe.
5. Michael Jackson
The late Micheal Jackson, also known as the King of Pop, had the largest impact on American popular music in the 20th century. His creativity led him to revolutionize the way music is produced and promoted.
Despite the fact he is called the “King of Pop,” we believe that Michael Jackson cannot be tied to a single music genre. He was a musical genius who experimented with every genre—from pop to rock, soul, funk, gospel, hip-hop, and even rap. Because of this, people from different backgrounds, cultures, races, and ages love and admire him to the core.
Michael Jackson won countless awards, including 13 Grammys. In addition, he was the first celebrity to have two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for the same category.
Although it’s been decades since Queen performed in their original line-up, they are still regarded as one of the greatest bands in the history of music. Their songs are anthemic, euphoric, and dramatic all at the same time, which is why even Gen Z can’t get enough of them.
With time, Queen’s music evolved, and through its evolution offered something new to everybody. Most people around the world only know Freddie Mercury as he was the lead vocalist and his elaborate performing techniques made the audience fall in love with him.
Completing the classic line-up, Roger Taylor was the drummer, Brian May was the guitarist, and John Deacon was the bass player. Queen’s diversity of sound can be attributed to the fact that every member wrote the songs. The band is enlisted into both the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
Their names are also attached to several other honors and awards, and they have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame as well. While Freddie may be gone, his bandmates Brian May and Roger Taylor have kept Queen going by performing with vocalists such as Paul Rodgers and, more recently, Adam Lambert.
7. The Rolling Stones
The Rolling Stones started as a blues cover band, but their talent, marketing, and sheer ambition led them to become one of the most inspiring rock bands of all time.
Aside from their unique physical appearance, they became known for blending rock and blues to create their signature sound. They were never afraid to be bold when it came to lyrics.
The popularity of their rebellious lyrics among college students quickly soared with their punk outlook. They did not limit themselves to just rock and blues but also explored a variety of genres, such as country, dance, and folk.
What’s even more interesting is that they are still very much a functioning rock ‘n’ roll unit that goes on tours and does concerts. So, if you haven’t had a chance to see them perform live before, it’s not too late!
8. Chuck Berry
Chuck Berry, also known as the founder of rock ‘n’ roll, is one of the very few musicians who notice their audience’s reaction and perform accordingly.
He wrote and sang his own songs while playing his signature electric guitar during the recordings. All his recordings have a satisfying consistency since he did not rely on outside sources for songs.
You might know Chuck Berry for his on-stage performances, but hundreds of thousands of people around the globe like him better as a lyricist. His ground-breaking lyrics are recorded by some of the top bands and singers in history, including The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.
In addition to being enlisted in the Rock ‘n’ Rock Hall of Fame, Chuck Berry also holds a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
9. Jimi Hendrix
In the history of electric guitars, only two periods are known—before Hendrix and after Hendrix.
As one of the most innovative electric guitarists in rock history, Jimi Hendrix displayed many astonishing guitar-playing techniques.
He also built his own studio with the latest equipment available and used to spend most of his time there perfecting his songs. Sadly, Jimi Hendrix only got the chance to record only a few albums before his death, and the world never got to know how his music would have evolved.
10. Bob Marley
Last but not least on our list is Bob Marley, who resonated with the masses by providing them with what they wanted to hear.
He often used his musical influence to shed light on the sufferings of the world. Some of such songs are “So Much Trouble in the World” and “Burnin’ and Lootin.”
He also globalized reggae, which grew out of the ska and rocksteady genres. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994, making him the first artist to emerge from a third-world country.
11. Tina Turner
Tina Turner was born Anna Mae Bullock on November 26, 1939, in Brownsville, Tennessee. Her parents were Zelma Priscilla (Williams) and Floyd Richard Bullock. Tina Turner means so much in the music world, from Rock n’ Roll to R&B and Soul, she is a legend.
In 1958 she joined ‘Kings of Rhythm’, led by Ike Turner. In 1960, now known as “Little Ann” and the “Karate Queen”, Tina began an affair with Ike. In 1962, they were married in Tijuana. In 1976 after years of mistreatment, Tina fled with a friend.
After that, Tina went on to have a big solo career that led to what we know today. Her career and music stretch far beyond just a regular music career. Her music and passion far outweigh her troubled past as she has become a legend in the industry.
12. Stevie Wonder
How can we not include Stevie Wonder on this list? Stevie was born on May 13, 1950.
Stevie is largely considered one of the most influential singers and musicians of all time. With classic songs including “Superstition”, “You Are The Sunshine Of My Life” and many more, Stevie has released many studio albums and many live albums. Stevie was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989.
It’s hard to put into words, to sum up his musical career, a legendary musician and artist that will never be forgotten.
He is still active as a singer and songwriter today. His most recent album ” A Time To Love” was released in 2005 and has been nominated for 3 Grammy awards as of now. We all know we will be getting at least another studio album from Stevie over the coming years.
13. Pink Floyd
Pink Floyd was formed in London in 1964. The band was composed of Syd Barrett (guitar, vocals), Nick Mason (drums), Roger Waters (bass, vocals), and Richard Wright (keyboards).
Pink Floyd’s achievements can be divided into two phases: Syd Barrett and post-Syd. The pre-Barrett era is that of psychedelic rock, experimental rock, and avant-garde music. The post-Barrett era is most notable for the release of concept albums such as ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’ and ‘The Wall’.
Pink Floyd has released thirteen studio albums, four live albums, and several compilations. They have sold over 200 million records worldwide and there are estimated to be more than 7 million fans in the United States alone.
Hands down, Pink Floyd is one of the most successful bands in history.
14. Guns N’ Roses
Guns N’ Roses is another legendary band that joins the ranks. The band was formed in 1985, and since then has released six studio albums.
The band has many notable achievements that are complemented by their amazing and memorable music that is still active to this day, and so is the band. As far as musical accomplishments, the band has won many awards and held many tours.
The most notable of all is the band’s best album, “Appetite for Destruction”, which sold over 30 million copies worldwide. Another impressive feat was that during their Appetite for Destruction Tour, they broke Pink Floyd’s record for being the highest-grossing tour of the 1990s, which is still standing today.
Guns N’ Roses is one of the most influential bands in music history. They were listed on VH1’s “100 Greatest Artists of Hard Rock” and ranked at 12th place on VH1’s “100 Greatest Artists of All Time”.
15. Elton John
Elton John is another great to join the list. Elton John was born in 1947 and has been a staple of the music industry for decades. He has brought the world amazing music and songs that are still popular to this day.
With so many years of music under his belt, Elton John is one of the wealthiest musicians in the world while also one of the most memorable in history.
His musical repertoire comprises many studio albums, several live albums, and numerous compilations. Elton’s collaboration with songwriter Bernie Taupin has produced several hit songs including Tiny Dancer, Rocket Man, Candle in the Wind, Bennie and the Jets, and Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.
Elton John isn’t just a musician though. He is also an excellent charitable giver and works with several charities. A great musician to be remembered for sure!
Nirvana was formed in 1987 in Washington, USA, and disbanded in 1994 after the tragic death of their frontman Kurt Cobain. It was undoubtedly Kurt Cobain who made the band what they were, but this would never have been possible without Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic also.
The band played a huge role in the development of grunge music and became one of the most famous rock bands at that time, with critics naming them ‘The Beatles of the 90s’. Nirvana is considered to be one of the best-selling bands of all time and was ranked by Rolling Stone Magazine as the number-one grunge band of all time.
I think almost anyone knows who Nirvana is and that’s largely the reason why they made this list. An influential and memorable band that will go down in history as one of the most popular ones.
17. James Brown
James Brown is another household name in music. James was born in Barnwell, South Carolina on May 3, 1933. He believed that blues music got him through some tough days. He started as a gospel singer and went on to accomplish so much in music.
James is most known for his music but also for “The James Brown Dance” that we see today which also helped him be inducted into the rock and roll hall of fame.
On December 23, 2004, James Brown passed away but his music will never die. James was not only a singer he also played many instruments which include the bass, piano, drums, alto saxophone, trombone, trumpet, and organ.
He’s had his fair share of hits in his career including many singles on the top 100 billboard hits. James Brown is ranked number 8 among the greatest musicians of all time.
18. Jerry Lee Lewis
If you know who Jerry Lee Lewis is then you probably understand why he made the list. Jerry Lee Lewis was an incredibly electrifying individual that revolutionized rock n’ roll with his amazing piano skills and trademark performances.
Lewis was born in 1935 and first emerged into the public eye as a country music pianist. His first single was released in 1955 and was called “Crazy Arms”. The song made it to number six on the Country charts but Jerry Lee Lewis soon switched over to rock n’ roll after meeting with Elvis Presley.
Lewis’s piano playing style was like no other. Jerry Lee Lewis made sure he would be able to get the best possible sound out of his piano by stuffing cloth inside the piano to make it louder.
His trademark performances usually consisted of Jerry Lee Lewis being at the piano, playing it while he was standing up. Most memorable for Great Balls Of Fire, he is already in the history books.
19. Bob Dylan
If there is one musician who inspired everyone—from teenagers to the most influential bands of all time—it’s Bob Dylan.
Bob Dylan is more than just a singer. He is a songwriter, author, and artist. Also, let’s not forget that it was Bob Dylan who freed The Beatles from the conventions of pop songs, making them transcend multiple genres and reinvent the way music is made.
To date, he has received numerous awards. Among his most significant achievements, it includes receiving the 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature for his poetic use of song lyrics.
20. Ray Charles
To top off this list is the ever-amazing Ray Charles.
Ray was born in Albany, GA on September 23rd, 1930. Growing up with blindness in both eyes didn’t stop him from pursuing a path of music and entertainment. In 1944 he joined the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind, where he received training as a classical pianist.
He taught himself to play by feeling his way around the keyboard by practicing relentlessly. Going on to accomplish great things in music, Ray Charles became one of the most important musicians in American music history.
He has been awarded 18 Grammy Awards which just goes to show the greatness of his music. It’s no wonder Ray is in the top 10 greatest artists of all time. His music is still popular today and will continue to be for a long time!
It’s hard to single out 20 of the greatest musicians and bands of all time. There are so many great musicians and bands throughout history that forever changed the industry and music in general. This list holds some of the pioneers in the game that will forever be remembered.
Some of these artists and bands had such an influence on music, it’s hard to imagine where music would be today without them. There are plenty of great musicians that didn’t make the list but these 20 artists and bands truly stand out among the rest.
Led Zeppelin – Image (Also on top-middle of featured image) by: Montage by SabrebdThis file also contains one or more files hosted on Wikimedia Commons. The licensing of these files are the following: File:Jimmy Page with Robert Plant 2 – Led Zeppelin – 1977.jpg: Jim Summaria (CC BY-SA 3.0) File:John Bonham 1975.jpg: Dina Regine (CC BY-SA 2.0) File:JohnPaulJones1980-2.jpg: Klaus Hiltscher (CC BY-SA 2.0), CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Queen – Image by: Images by Eddie, Thomas Steffan, Compadre Edua’h and Carl Lender. Compilation by KPFC based on the idea of Fronteira., CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Pink Floyd – Image by: Dave Bushe – https://www.flickr.com/people/davebushe/, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons