For some reason, the majority of the most famous American singers of all time seem to have been born between the 1930s and 1950s. It’s not exclusively so, but my list undoubtedly reflects this.
That’s not to say there haven’t been great American singers since, it’s just that the better-known ones were born in this generation. So, let’s take a look at my list of famous American singers, and you’ll see what I mean.
Top 10 Most Famous American Singers Of All Time
Elvis Presley was born in 1935 into a poor Mississippi family. At thirteen years old, he moved with his family to Memphis, Tennessee, and by the age of 20, he had already embarked on his professional career.
His style and music were groundbreaking in so many ways. With the guidance of his management team, he blended different musical styles that encompassed Rock, Blues, and Gospel, all with a more forceful and upbeat tempo.
He was also instrumental in appealing to people of all colors and creeds…
Many people thought that his music sounded like it came from the black community. When he was first played on the radio stations, many people assumed he was black. Even today, there are young Americans, who’ve never heard his music, and when they do, they are surprised to see that he was white. If you don’t believe me watch a few music reaction videos.
Elvis became the King of Rock and Roll. A title that is hard to argue with since, in the course of his career, he sold 500 million records. This makes him the biggest solo artist in history. Only The Beatles have sold more records.
Elvis, in his prime, was a force of nature…
His voice was impeccable, and his performances were magical. When we think of Elvis, most of us automatically think of him in the big sparkly suits playing in Los Vegas. It’s still hard to believe that by the time he hit his mid-30s, he was grossly overweight and munching down on opiates and sleeping tablets. He died in 1977 at the age of 42.
Thankfully, he left behind a body of exceptional music. The fan’s firm favorite from this extensive catalog is the 1960 hit, “It’s Now or Never.” My personal favorite is the Gospel and Country-based hit “In the Ghetto,” which was released in 1969.
B.B. King was one of the most influential Blues artists of all time. His contribution to music was immense. He was an all-around artist who was a songwriter, guitarist, and also an incredible singer. The total package was an absolute joy.
He was born in 1925 in Mississippi and spent his formative years learning the basics of his trade. At an early age, he moved to Chicago. Then, like many Blues players before him, he helped to shape the Chicago Blues, a new and exciting form of the Blues.
On the guitar, he was groundbreaking. He developed and perfected a staccato style of picking and heavenly string bending. However, more than anything, he will be best remembered for his beautiful vibrato skills that became his trademark.
So, what about his voice?
His vocal skills were right up there with his guitar playing. He was a great performer and could get an amazing tune out of his voice, even in his 80s. He was a natural tenor and had an emotive and expressive voice that could be powerful, soft, clear, or distorted as the occasion demanded.
It’s close to impossible to pick a song or album that best demonstrates his abilities, but I’m going to try. It’s fair to say that the song he’s most closely associated with is “The Thrill is Gone.” This came out in 1969 as a track on the album, Completely Well.
Although very well known and his most frequently live-played song, the writing credits went to Roy Hawkins together with Rick Darnell.
If you’ve never heard it, then you should. I’d also recommend listening to one of his live albums to get the true measure of the man. Sadly, at the age of 89, he passed away in 2015.
Axyl Rose is the frontman, founder, and undoubtedly the main driving force behind Guns N’ Roses. That might upset Slash, but he’ll just have to get over it.
For my money, Axyl Rose is the main man any day of the week. He helped form the band out of Los Angles in 1985. He’s been a constant member ever since, despite a few side projects, and still heads up this fantastic group.
Most people recognize him for his vocal abilities, which I’ll come onto shortly. However, what many people are not aware of is his high level of musical talent, specifically his piano prowess.
From an early age…
Axl was taught classical piano, and this foundation undoubtedly gave him the edge when writing songs and melodies. If you want to hear how good he is on the keys, take a listen to him on the long piano intro on “November Rain.” Some of the live videos of him playing are worth watching too.
When Axyl Rose formed the band, as well as being an accomplished musician, he’d already worked extensively on his voice. Coming from a very religious family, he’d been singing in church from the tender age of five.
Additionally, from the age of 18, five years before Guns N’ Roses, he had regular vocal lessons from the legendary Ron Anderson.
How good was his voice?
Epic. It easily makes him one of the most famous American singers of all time. I was lucky enough to see Gun N’ Roses live in 1992, and quite frankly, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. His sheer power was scary, but more than anything else, his range was insane.
He has, or at least he did thirty years ago, a six-octave vocal range. That might not mean much to a lot of you, so let me put that into context.
He has a greater range than both Mariah Carey and Freddie Mercury. That means he currently has the greatest vocal range of any American recording artist.
Despite a dip in his vocal ability in the early 2000s…
He’s since bounced back and is sounding truly awesome again. In 2016, he stepped in for Brian Johnson during an AC/DC tour and did a great job. No easy task, given the high register for just about every song.
He’s since gone on to tour again with Gun N’ Roses and sounds as good as ever. I’m a big fan, and if you’re looking to listen to their best songs, I’d recommend listening to either, Use You Illusion I or Use Your Illusion II. Both were released in 1991 and on the same day.
Jim Morrison was the enigmatic lyricist and lead singer for The Doors. He was born in Florida but went to study film at UCLA after leaving school. It was during his time at university that he also pursued his love of writing and poetry.
After he graduated, rather than returning to Florida, he hung out around Venice beach in California. He subsequently lived what can be best described as a bohemian lifestyle.
It was during this time that he began to write even more poetry that would later be used as lyrics. That process began to take shape in 1965 after a series of chance meetings that led to the formation of The Doors.
He got off to a bit of a rocky start…
But we now consider Jim Morrison to be one of the most famous American singers of all time. He was initially very shy on stage and was not a natural performer. It’s well documented that when he first performed, it was frequently with his back to the audience.
He soon got over his shyness. The band’s pianist, Ray Manzarek, helped him to develop his voice as well as his onstage presence. The result was a unique and haunting vocal delivery that fitted perfectly with the band’s experimental and psychedelic sound.
And, boy, did that sound make an impact…
Some of their most influential music took the form of songs such as “Unknown Soldier.” This was taken from their 1968 album, Waiting for the Sun.
However, their best-known song is “Light My Fire,” which was an autobiographical account of their ever-increasing hedonistic lifestyle as superstars. It was released in 1967 from their debut album, The Doors.
Sadly, Jim Morrison got caught up in the hedonistic world he previously sang about and died at the age of 27 due to a drug and alcohol overdose. What a waste of one of the greatest American singers.
Jimi Hendrix was a Rock legend. He helped to pioneer and develop Psychedelic Rock as well as introduce a ton of experimental music to the world. If you ever take a poll to decide who was the best guitar player in the world, his name will inevitably come up within the top three.
He’s the Muhammad Ali of the guitar…
As well as being a musical innovator and a guitar genius, he also had a great voice. This is frequently overlooked as we’re typically too busy being dazzled by his guitar playing to notice. However, his mid-range baritone was a fantastic accompaniment to the type of music he was writing and recording.
Unfortunately, we can all be our hardest critics, and this was the case with Jimi Hendrix. Despite his undoubted talents, he always felt unsure of his voice and, on many occasions, commented that he hated it. What a shame.
I’m not sure that I could ever be the one to contradict him, but in this instance, I believe he’s wrong. In my opinion, Jimi was one of the most recognizable American singers ever. I think the best way to settle it is to take a listen to his music and decide for yourself.
He’s got a fantastic back catalog to choose from…
My favorites include “All Along the Watchtower.” It was released in 1968 from the Electric Ladyland album and was a Bob Dylan cover. I also like “Purple Haze,” which was their second single. Plus, “Voodoo Child,” also from Electric Ladyland.
Sadly, Jimi Hendrix died in 1970 due to a drug overdose. Another tragic waste of a young life.
Michael Jackson was born on August the 29th, 1958, and began singing, dancing, and performing three days later on the 1st of September. He was writing his own music and coordinating dance routines for the rest of the band before he turned twenty… days old!
From the age of just six years old…
He became an integral part of The Jackson 5 and then The Jacksons in 1975, following their name change. During this time, they had several hits, with their high-energy music characterized by superb harmonies and the classic Motown sound of the era.
My pick of the best music from this time was their first #1 from 1969, “I Want You Back.”
Michael Jackson continually improved his incredible vocal talent and performing abilities with The Jacksons before leaving to pursue a solo career in 1979. In the same year, he released his debut album, Off the Wall. It went to #1 and sold over 20 million copies. Gold stars and awards all around.
However, this was only a taste of what was to come…
In 1982 he released Thriller. It was a stunning album that went on to sell a staggering 70 million copies. That makes it the number-one best-selling album of all time.
In many ways, this was the start of the end for Michael Jackson. When he released Thriller, his appearance and general character appeared kind of normal, but things quickly began to spiral out of control.
His obsession with plastic surgery and changing his appearance began to grow…
By the time he released Bad in 1987, his face and personality seemed to be on a downward trajectory. His behavior became increasingly bizarre, as did his appearance. He became subject to a series of child abuse accusations, and his personal life was a shambles. Musically, things also went downhill, though his vocal abilities thankfully never deserted him.
In the latter part of his life, he followed the same path as Elvis. Namely munching on painkillers and sleeping tablets, but minus the cheeseburgers. He died in 2009 at the age of 50 after an accidental overdose of a ludicrous amount of sedatives.
Frank Sinatra was a light baritone and, surprisingly, given his vocal prowess, had a fairly limited range of just two octaves. Compared to Axl Rose and his crazy six-octave range, it was quite modest.
However, despite this, he had one of the best voices in American music and was undoubtedly one of the most famous American singers of all time.
He was born in 1915 and, by the 1940s, had already become one of the biggest entertainers in America. A title he held on to through most of the 50s and into the 60s. He focused on Jazz, Big Band, and Swing.
Eventually, he fell out of popularity…
The reason for that was that as the 60s came in, so did Rock and Roll. As a result, much of the kind of music that Frank Sinatra sang went out of fashion.
What many people may not know is that Sinatra also appeared in several movies. Not only that, but he also received a huge amount of critical acclaim.
In 1954, he was rewarded for his acting efforts in “From Here to Eternity” with an Academy Award and a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor. He’s also won a whole house full of music awards. I’m not going to list them all but let’s just say he’s won thirteen Grammys and leave it there.
What is a little surprising…
Given his long and highly successful career, he “only” sold 37 million albums. 27 million of these were sold in the US, showing his predominantly American fan base bias. And proving he is one of the most popular American singers ever.
Some of Frank Sinatra’s amazing vocal talents included his phrasing, together with his beautiful natural timbre, great control, and technique. All of these qualities combined made him a vocal giant.
I believe that two songs best showcased this vocal mastery…
They are “Strangers in the Night,” which was released in 1966. Plus, his biggest-selling and most famous song, “My Way,” released in 1969. Incidentally, “My Way” was written by Claude Francois with lyrics courtesy of Jacques Revaux, Paul Anka, and Gilles Thibaut.
Frank passed away in 1998 at the age of 82. A truly legendary American singer who will always be missed.
Bruce Springsteen is often viewed as the voice of the working man. His songs frequently cover everyday topics that affect blue-collar workers. He writes instantly relatable songs, which are evident through his phenomenal success.
He was born in 1949 and commenced his career in 1964 at just 15 years old. He’s still recording and performing almost 60 years later, and his efforts have been very much rewarded. He’s sold over 140 million albums, half in the US, which makes him one of the best-selling musicians of all time.
One thing I like about Bruce Springsteen…
Other than his relatable music, is his voice. It has a real, raw, and almost rough quality that perfectly conveys emotions of disappointment, anger, and sadness, as well as joy and happiness. It has a unique quality that is instantly recognizable and has served him well throughout his career.
His biggest single was “Born to Run,” which was released in 1975 from the same-titled album. His best-selling album was the fabulous, Born in the U.S.A. It went on to sell 30 million copies which makes it one of the best-selling albums ever.
I’m a big fan of his music and listen to and play it regularly. I like the above single and album a lot, but my favorite song is “Ghost of Tom Joad,” which was released in 1995. My favorite album, not surprisingly, is Ghost of Tom Joad.
Marvin Gaye was born in 1939 in Washington, D.C. He is best known for his incredible voice, which we will come to later. But, what many don’t know is how talented he was as a musician. That’s something we’re going to take a look at first.
He was a big part of the Motown community and was instrumental in helping to shape their sound. He was a singer-songwriter. Plus he also became a frequent session musician for other Motown artists. Such was his success and influence; he was known as the “Prince of Motown.”
As a musician, he wasn’t afraid to experiment and introduce new sounds to his playing. This can be best illustrated in the 1982 hit “Sexual Healing.” It contains a wonderful funky beat, seamlessly blended with 80s synthesizers, together with a Soul and Pop kind of vibe.
And his voice?
That was genuinely something else. He had a warm, rich voice that could melt butter from a thousand yards. He was a natural baritone but could easily switch up to a tenor. What’s more, he was also more than capable of singing in falsetto, and convincingly so.
His voice was suited to singing love songs. Many of his biggest hits contained lyrics with topics relating to affairs of the heart. His most famous and popular love songs were “Let’s Get it On,” “Sexual Healing,” and “I Want You.”
Marvin Gaye left this world at just 44 years of age in 1985. It felt like he was only just getting started.
Let’s finish the list with the Godfather of Soul. James Brown was born in 1933 in South Carolina. He was born into a poor family and, in the early days, had a few skirmishes with the law, which ultimately led to his incarceration at just 16.
During his time in prison…
He utilized his previous experience as a Gospel singer and formed a choir. Subsequently, he quickly became known as a human jukebox to his fellow inmates. His vocal prowess helped to secure his early release, upon which he continued with Gospel singing. However, a few years later, he commenced his professional music career, and he started to experiment with singing Blues, R&B, Funk, and, of course, Soul.
He found success and recognition with his debut release, “Please, Please, Please.” It came out in 1956 and made it to number six on the R&B chart. From this point, James Brown was on his way.
By the time the 60s came around…
James Brown had already established himself as not only a great American Soul singer but also as a dynamic performer and entertainer. There’s no doubt that James Brown had a unique style that generated big crowds and plenty of interest.
His approach to music and performing has been copied and admired by many since. Major stars like Prince and Michael Jackson cited him as an influence, and both followed in his footsteps.
James Brown had a powerful voice…
His delivery was a combination of Soul and Funk that went on to inspire future Hip Hop artists. His influence was huge. But, one skill he’ll forever be associated with was his ability to scream on the pitch, during songs, as part of his performance.
James Brown’s biggest hit was his 1965 single, “I Got You (I Feel Good).” However, most of you, including myself, will probably best remember him for the incredible 1966 song, which he penned with Betty Jean Newsome, “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World.”
He died in 2006 at the age of 73 and was performing right up until the end. They didn’t call him the hardest-working man in show business for nothing.
Want to Find More Amazing Songs and Singers?
Well, take a look at our detailed articles on the Best Classic Rock Songs, the Best R&B Songs of All Time, the Best Funk Songs of All Time, the Best Country Love Songs, and the Best Songs Of All Time for more incredible song selections.
Of course, you need to hear them. So, check out our in-depth reviews of the Best Headphones For Rock & Metal Music, the Best Headphones for Music, the Most Comfortable Headphones, the Best Wireless Bluetooth Headphones, and the Best Headphones Under $200 you can buy in 2023.
Most Famous American Singers Of All Time – Final Thoughts
So, there you have it. It was a lot of fun getting together a selection of some of the most famous American singers ever. This is, of course, all highly subjective, and the list is far from comprehensive.
Therefore, I apologize if I’ve made any glaring omissions, which I’m sure I will have. However, I hope you enjoyed the trip regardless.
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