Top 10 Most Influential Musicians of All Time: Legends Who Shaped the Sound of Music

Top 10 Most Influential Musicians of All Time

A musician is a person who plays an instrument or sings. They are often part of a band or a group and perform in concerts. Some musicians write songs as well. Others are session musicians who play on many different albums for a variety of artists.

A swerving Southern rock band with a knack for riff-heavy melodies and a shrewd sense of humor.

Frank Sinatra

Frank Sinatra was one of the best-selling pop music figures of the 20th century. He helped define the swing era of the 1930s and 40s and continued to attract audiences through the rock era.

His swagger and sheer charisma made him a heartthrob for hordes of girls known as “bobby soxers,” prefiguring the screaming fans that later thronged to see Elvis and the Beatles. He also sailed the musical horizons, recording albums of gospel songs and novelty tracks.

Marvin Gaye

With a style that combines R&B, doo-wop and jazz, Marvin Gaye was a legend in his own right. His sultry voice touched listeners of all genres and his funk inspired artists like Robin Thicke.

Gaye’s magnum opus, What’s Going On, was a groundbreaking album that opened up many Black (and White) artists to new creative possibilities. His later work with Diana Ross, the 1975 duet collection Diana & Marvin, was also excellent.

Whitney Houston

Whitney Houston’s music and voice dominated, shaped and steered modern R&B, soul and pop. Artists like Rihanna, Beyonce and Mariah Carey cite her as an influence.

She is a legend and should be in the Hall of Fame. However, she is not a rock n’ roll artist so they would have trouble inducting her.

Her cousin Dionne Warwick was inducted in the same year as Whitney.

Yo-Yo Ma

A renowned cellist, Yo-Yo Ma performs on three instruments and has recorded more than 90 albums. He is a 19-time Grammy Award winner and has been awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

He has also made appearances on television and has been a guest on Sesame Street, The Simpsons, and Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. He has performed for presidents and is a United Nations Messenger of Peace.

Ma seeks to expand the classical repertoire, often performing lesser-known works and commissioning new ones. He has worked with artists ranging from Bobby McFerrin to the Kalahari Bushmen and leads the Silk Road Ensemble, which knits far-flung contemporary worlds together through music.

Richard Penniman

Richard Wayne Penniman, better known as Little Richard, was one of the architects of rock and roll. His flamboyant style and sexuality caused friction with his family, but he was determined to make it as a musician.

In 1951 he won a talent contest and recorded with RCA, but his songs did not gain any prominence. He moved to Specialty, where he connected with producer Robert Blackwell, who wanted him to compete with Ray Charles and B.B. King with blues tracks.


Madonna, who is the most successful female musician in modern history, has a career that spans over four decades. She has continually reinvented herself and pushed cultural boundaries with her music.

She talked openly about sex and desire at a time when the topic inspired mockery or condemnation. She championed her LGBT fans at a time when most pop stars ignored them.

Her fearlessness extended beyond music to film and she won critical acclaim for her role as Eva Perón in 1996’s Evita. Her style and influence continue to inspire countless artists today.

Elton John

The man who gave us “Your Song” and “Crocodile Rock” was born Reginald Dwight in 1947. He was a pianist who could absorb diverse pop and rock styles, using them to create propulsive orchestral anthems.

The first track from his pointy-named Blue Moves album is a bold overture, from trumpets to pianos to vocals, that deservingly scored a Grammy nomination. I omitted soundtrack efforts and B-sides from the ranking.

Billy Joel

Joel is a master pianist and songwriter who has sold more than 150 million albums. He’s also a member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

Piano Man, Streetlife Serenade, and Turnstiles are among his most popular albums. He’s never been a Captain Beefheart or Frank Zappa, but he’s crafted a large catalog of solid pop songs.

Stevie Wonder

Stevie Wonder’s music is iconic, touching the souls of many generations of listeners. He blends elements of R&B, funk, pop, and jazz to create timeless classics. He’s also known for his inventive use of chord progressions and harmonic variations.

In addition to his musical accomplishments, Stevie Wonder is an activist for social justice issues. He’s contributed to campaigns against racism, South African apartheid, AIDS, and nuclear power proliferation.

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