A style that originated in African-American communities in the Deep South of the U.S.
Whether you like Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson, or that bluesy broad Etta James, there's now denying they're all some of the most famous blues musicians of all time. This list of blues singers, ranks the best blues music artists, singers, and musicians, and has been voted on and ranked by blues fans worldwide. Add your own list or vote on the top blues artist in history here. These best blues singers are known for their great voices and music that will stand the test of time.
Note that this ranking is for blues artists only - no best blues/blues rock bands here. Many of the greatest bluesmen, old blues singers, and female blues artists are sadly no longer with us, but their legacies live on, often in rock artists who sold millions more records with versions of classic blues songs written by these great blues legends.
Who are the greatest blues artists? These are best blues musicians the world has to offer, from the Mississippi Delta to the streets of Chicago, Detroit, and even London.
Muddy Waters grew up on Stovall Plantation near Clarksdale, Mississippi and by age seventeen was playing the guitar at parties, emulating local blues artists Son House and Robert Johnson. He was recorded by Alan Lomax there for the Library of Congress in 1941. In 1943, he headed to Chicago with the hope of becoming a full-time professional musician, eventually recording, in 1946, for first Columbia and then Aristocrat Records, a newly formed label run by brothers Leonard and Phil Chess.
In the early 1950s, Muddy and his band, Little Walter Jacobs on harmonica, Jimmy Rogers on guitar, Elgin Evans on drums and Otis Spann on piano, recorded a series of blues classics, some with bassist/songwriter Willie Dixon, including "Hoochie Coochie Man", "I Just Want to Make Love to You" and "I'm Ready". In 1958, Muddy headed to England, helping to lay the foundations of the subsequent blues boom there, and in 1960 performed at the Newport Jazz Festival, recorded and released as his first live album, At Newport 1960.
Muddy Waters at the opening of Peaches Records & Tapes in Rockville, Maryland (mid-1970s)
Birth name McKinley Morganfield
Born April 4, 1913
Issaquena County, Mississippi, United States
Died April 30, 1983 (aged 70)
Westmont, Illinois, United States
Genres Blues, Chicago blues, Delta blues
Occupation(s) Singer, songwriter, guitarist, bandleader
Instruments Vocals, guitar, harmonica
Years active 1941–1982
Labels Aristocrat, Chess, Testament
Rolling Stone ranked King No. 6 on its 2011 list of the 100 greatest guitarists of all time. King introduced a sophisticated style of soloing based on fluid string bending and shimmering vibrato that influenced many later electric blues guitarists. King was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987 and is considered one of the most influential blues musicians of all time, earning the nickname "The King of the Blues", and one of the "Three Kings of the Blues Guitar" along with Albert and Freddie. King was known for performing tirelessly throughout his musical career, appearing at more than 200 concerts per year on average into his 70s.In 1956, he reportedly appeared at 342 shows.
King died at the age of 89 in Las Vegas, Nevada on May 14, 2015 from complications of Alzheimer's disease along with congestive heart failure and diabetic complications
Birth name Riley B. King
Born September 16, 1925
Berclair, Mississippi, U.S.
Origin Memphis, Tennessee, U.S.
Died May 14, 2015 (aged 89)
Las Vegas, Nevada
Genres Blues, R&B, blues rock
Occupation(s) Singer, songwriter, musician, record producer, actor
Instruments Vocals, guitar
Years active 1948–2015
Labels Geffen/Interscope/Universal, Bullet, RPM, Crown, ABC, MCA, Reprise/Warner Bros., Virgin/EMI
Associated acts Bobby Bland, Eric Clapton, Joe Bonamassa
John Lee Hooker
(August 22, 1917 – June 21, 2001) was an American blues singer, songwriter and guitarist. He was born in Mississippi, the son of a sharecropper, and rose to prominence performing an electric guitar-style adaptation of Delta blues. Hooker often incorporated other elements, including talking blues and early North Mississippi Hill country blues. He developed his own driving-rhythm boogie style, distinct from the 1930s–1940s piano-derived boogie-woogie style. Some of his best known songs include "Boogie Chillen'" (1948), "Crawling King Snake" (1949), "Dimples" (1956), "Boom Boom" (1962), and "One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer" (1966) – the first being the most popular race record of 1949.
John Lee Hooker performing at the Long Beach Blues Festival, California, August 31, 1997
Born August 22, 1917
Coahoma County, Mississippi, United States
Died June 21, 2001 (aged 83)
Los Altos, California, United States
Instruments Guitar, vocals
Years active 1943–2001.
Labels Modern, Vee-Jay, Chess, Savoy, Atlantic, Verve, Bluesway, Atco, King, Specialty, Impulse!, Point Blank,
Associated acts Canned Heat
Guy was ranked 30th in Rolling Stone magazine's 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time. His song "Stone Crazy" was ranked 78th in Rolling Stone's list of the 100 Greatest Guitar Songs of All Time.Clapton once described him as "the best guitar player alive".
Guy's autobiography, When I Left Home: My Story, was published in 2012.
Buddy Guy performing and interacting with the crowd
Birth name George Guy
Born July 30, 1936 (age 79)
Lettsworth, Louisiana, United States.
Genres Chicago blues, electric blues, Blues Rock
Occupation(s) Musician, songwriter
Instruments Guitar, vocals
Years active 1953–present
Labels RCA, Cobra, Chess, Delmark, Silvertone, MCA, Atlantic, MPS, Charly, Zomba Music Group, Jive, Vanguard, JSP Records, Rhino Records, Purple Pyramid, Flyright, AIM Recording Co., Alligator Records, Blues Ball Records
Associated acts Junior Wells
"STEVIE" RAY VAUGHAN
Born and raised in Dallas, Texas, Vaughan began playing guitar at the age of seven, inspired by his older brother Jimmie. In 1971 he dropped out of high school, and moved to Austin the following year. He played gigs with numerous bands, earning a spot in Marc Benno's band, the Nightcrawlers, and later with Denny Freeman in the Cobras, with whom he continued to work through late 1977. He then formed his own group, Triple Threat Revue, before renaming the band Double Trouble after hiring drummer Chris Layton and bassist Tommy Shannon. He gained fame after his performance at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1982, and in 1983 his debut studio album, Texas Flood, charted at number 38. The ten-song album was a commercially successful release that sold over half a million copies. After achieving sobriety in late 1986, he headlined concert tours with Jeff Beck in 1989 and Joe Cocker in 1990 before his death in a helicopter crash on August 27, 1990, at the age of 35.
Vaughan was inspired musically by American and British blues rock. He favored clean amplifiers with high volume and contributed to the popularity of vintage musical equipment. He often combined several different amplifiers together and used minimal effects pedals. Chris Gill of Guitar World commented: "Stevie Ray Vaughan's guitar tone was as dry as a San Antonio summer and as sparkling clean as a Dallas debutante, the product of the natural sound of amps with ample clean headroom. However, Vaughan occasionally used pedals to augment his sound, mainly to boost the signal, although he occasionally employed a rotating speaker cabinet and wah pedals for added textural flair."
Vaughan received several music awards during his lifetime and posthumously. In 1983, readers of Guitar Player voted him as Best New Talent and Best Electric Blues Guitar Player. In 1984, the Blues Foundation named him Entertainer of the Year and Blues Instrumentalist of the Year, and in 1987, Performance Magazine honored him with Rhythm and Blues Act of the Year. Earning six Grammy Awards and ten Austin Music Awards, he was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2000, and the Musicians Hall of Fame in 2014. Rolling Stone ranked Vaughan as the twelfth greatest guitarist of all time. In 2015, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Stevie Ray Vaughan performing on the television series Austin City Limits in 1989
Birth name Stephen Ray Vaughan
Born October 3, 1954
Dallas, Texas, U.S.
Died August 27, 1990 (aged 35)
East Troy, Wisconsin, US
Blues rock electric blues Texas blues
Musician singer songwriter record producer
Years active 1965–1990
Epic Legacy Sony
Marc Benno Denny Freeman Lou Ann Barton W. C. Clark Double Trouble David Bowie Albert King Lonnie Mack The Fabulous Thunderbirds Jeff Beck Jimmie Vaughan Joe Cocker
King stood taller than average, with sources reporting 6 ft 4 in (1.93 m) or 6 ft 7 in (2.01 m), and weighed a hefty 250 pounds (110 kg) and was known as "The Velvet Bulldozer" due to his smooth singing and large size.
In May 2013, King was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Albert King at the Liri Blues fest., Italy, in 1989
Birth name Albert King Nelson
Born April 25, 1923
Indianola, Mississippi, United States
Died December 21, 1992 (aged 69)
Memphis, Tennessee, United States
Occupation(s) Songwriter, musician, producer
Instruments Guitar, drums, vocals
Years active 1949–1992
Labels Stax, Parrot, Utopia Records
Chester Arthur Burnett (June 10, 1910 – January 10, 1976), known as Howlin' Wolf, was an African-American Chicago blues singer, guitarist and harmonica player, from Mississippi. With a booming voice and looming physical presence, he is one of the best-known Chicago blues artists. Musician and critic Cub Koda noted, "no one could match Howlin' Wolf for the singular ability to rock the house down to the foundation while simultaneously scaring its patrons out of its wits"; producer Sam Phillips added "When I heard Howlin' Wolf, I said, 'This is for me. This is where the soul of man never dies'".Several of his songs, such as "Smokestack Lightnin'", "Back Door Man", "Killing Floor" and "Spoonful" have become blues and blues rock standards. In 2004, Rolling Stone magazine ranked him number 51 on its list of the "100 Greatest Artists of All Time"
Burnett performing in 1972
Birth name Chester Arthur Burnett
Born June 10, 1910
White Station, Mississippi
Died January 10, 1976 (aged 65)
Genres Chicago blues
Vocals guitar harmonica
Years active 1940s–1976
Chess Cadet MCA
Website Howlin' Wolf Foundation
It was only after the reissue of his recordings in 1961, on the LP King of the Delta Blues Singers, that his work reached a wider audience. Johnson is now recognized as a master of the blues, particularly of the Mississippi Delta blues style. He is credited by many rock musicians as an important influence; Eric Clapton has called Johnson "the most important blues singer that ever lived."Johnson was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as an early Influence in their first induction ceremony in 1986. In 2010, David Fricke ranked Johnson fifth in Rolling Stone′s list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time.
Birth name Robert Leroy Johnson
Born May 8, 1911
Died August 16, 1938 (aged 27)
Genres Delta blues
Occupation(s) Musician, singer, songwriter
Instruments Guitar, vocals, harmonica
Years active 1929 – 1938
Musicologist Robert "Mack" McCormick opined that Hopkins "is the embodiment of the jazz-and-poetry spirit, representing its ancient form in the single creator whose words and music are one act".
Birth name Sam John Hopkins
Born March 15, 1912
Centerville, Texas, United States
Died January 30, 1982 (aged 69)
Houston, Texas, United States
Genres Electric blues, country blues, Texas Blues
Occupation(s) Guitarist, singer-songwriter
Instruments Guitar, Piano, Organ
Years active 1946–1981
Labels Aladdin, Modern/RPM, Gold Star, Sittin' in With/Jax, Mercury, Decca, Herald, Folkways, World Pacific, Vee-Jay, Arhoolie, Bluesville, Tradition, Fire, Candid, Imperial, Prestige, Verve, Jewel
Elmore James (January 27, 1918 – May 24, 1963) was an American blues guitarist, singer, songwriter and band leader. He was known as King of the Slide Guitar, but he was also noted for his use of loud amplification and his stirring voice.
Birth name Elmore Brooks
Born January 27, 1918
Richland, Holmes County, Mississippi, U.S.
Died May 24, 1963 (aged 45)
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
Occupation(s) Musician, singer-songwriter
Instruments Guitar, vocals
Years active 1940s–1963
After years of hostility to secular music, as a preacher, and for a few years also as a church pastor, he turned to blues performance at the age of 25. He quickly developed a unique style by applying the rhythmic drive, vocal power and emotional intensity of his preaching to the newly learned idiom. In a short career interrupted by a spell in Parchman Farm penitentiary, he developed to the point that Charley Patton, the foremost blues artist of the Mississippi Delta region, invited him to share engagements, and to accompany him to a 1930 recording session for Paramount Records.
Issued at the start of The Great Depression, the records did not sell and did not lead to national recognition. Locally, Son remained popular, and in the 1930s, together with Patton's associate, Willie Brown, he was the leading musician of Coahoma County. There he was a formative influence on Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters. In 1941 and 1942, House and the members of his band were recorded by Alan Lomax and John W. Work for Library of Congress and Fisk University. The following year, he left the Delta for Rochester, New York, and gave up music.
In 1964, a group of young record collectors discovered House, whom they knew of from his records issued by Paramount and by the Library of Congress. With their encouragement, he relearned his style and repertoire and enjoyed a career as an entertainer to young white audiences in the coffee houses, folk festivals and concert tours of the American folk music revival billed as a "folk blues" singer. He recorded several albums, and some informally taped concerts have also been issued as albums. Son House died in 1988.
In addition to his early influence on Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters,
Birth name Edward James House, Jr.
Born March 21, 1902
Lyon, Mississippi, United States.
Died October 19, 1988 (aged 86)
Detroit, Michigan, United States
Genres Delta blues
Years active 1930–1974
Labels Paramount, Columbia
Aaron Thibeaux "T-Bone" Walker (May 28, 1910 – March 16, 1975) was a critically acclaimed American blues guitarist, singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, who was an influential pioneer and innovator of the jump blues and electric blues sound. In 2011, Rolling Stone magazine ranked him at number 67 on their list of "The 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time"
Birth name Aaron Thibeaux Walker
Also known as Oak Cliff T-Bone
Born May 28, 1910
Linden, Texas, U.S.
Died March 16, 1975 (aged 64)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Genres Blues, Texas blues, Chicago blues, jump blues, West Coast blues
Occupation(s) Musician, composer, bandleader
Instruments Guitar, vocals, piano, banjo, ukulele, violin, mandolin
Years active 1928–1975
Labels Atlantic, Black & Blue, Black & White, Blues Way Records, Brunswick, Capitol, Charly, Columbia, Duke, Imperial, Modern, Polydor, Reprise
"Sonny Boy" Williamson
He first recorded with Elmore James on "Dust My Broom" and some of his popular songs include "Don't Start Me Talkin'", Help Me", "Checkin' Up on My Baby", and "Bring It On Home". He toured Europe with the American Folk Blues Festival and recorded with English rock musicians, including the Yardbirds, the Animals, and Jimmy Page. "Help Me" became a blues standard and many blues and rock artists have recorded his songs.
Birth name Alex or Aleck Ford (later known as Aleck Miller)
Also known as
"Rice" Miller Little Boy Blue Little Willie "Sonny Boy" Williamson
Born December 5, 1912 (uncertain)
Tallahatchie County, Mississippi, United States
Died May 24, 1965 (aged ca. 53)
Helena, Arkansas, United States
Occupation(s) Musician, songwriter, arranger, bandleader
Instruments Singing, blues harmonica
Years active Mid 1930s–1965
Marion Walter Jacobs (May 1, 1930 – February 15, 1968), known as Little Walter, was an American blues musician, singer, and songwriter, whose revolutionary approach to the harmonica earned him comparisons to seminal virtuosos Django Reinhardt, Charlie Parker and Jimi Hendrix, for innovation and impact on succeeding generations. His virtuosity and musical innovations fundamentally altered many listeners' expectations of what was possible on blues harmonica. Little Walter was inducted to The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2008 in the "sideman" category making him the only artist inducted specifically as a harmonica player.
Birth name Marion Walter Jacobs
Born May 1, 1930
Marksville, Louisiana, United States
Origin Chicago, Illinois, United States
Died February 15, 1968 (aged 37)
Chicago, Illinois, United States
Genres Blues, Chicago blues, rhythm and blues
Instruments Harmonica, vocals, guitar
Years active 1945–1968
Labels Chess, Ora-Nelle, Parkway, Regal, Chance, Tempo-Tone, Checker
Associated acts Muddy Waters, Jimmy Rogers
Dixon's songs have been recorded by countless musicians in many genres as well as by various ensembles in which he participated. A short list of his most famous compositions includes "Hoochie Coochie Man",I Just Want to Make Love to You", "Little Red Rooster", "My Babe", "Spoonful", and "You Can't Judge a Book by the Cover". These tunes were written during the peak of Chess Records, 1950–1965, and performed by Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Little Walter, and Bo Diddley; they influenced a worldwide generation of musicians.
Dixon also was an important link between the blues and rock and roll, working with Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley in the late 1950s. His songs were covered by some of the biggest artists of more recent times, such as Bob Dylan, Cream, Jeff Beck, the Doors, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones and Steppenwolf.
Birth name William James Dixon
Born July 1, 1915
Vicksburg, Mississippi, U.S.
Died January 29, 1992 (aged 76)
Burbank, California, U.S.
Genres Blues, rock and roll, Chicago blues, jump blues, rhythm and blues, gospel
Occupation(s) Musician, songwriter, arranger, record producer, boxer
Instruments Vocals, double bass, guitar
Years active 1939–92
Labels Chess, Cobra, Columbia, Bluesville, Checker, Verve, MCA, Legacy, Columbia, Yambo
Associated acts Big Three Trio, Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Little Walter, Lowell Fulson, Sonny Boy Williamson, Chuck Berry, Otis Rush, Buddy Guy, Magic Sam, Junior Wells, Otis Spann
Born in Seattle, Washington, Hendrix began playing guitar at the age of 15. In 1961, he enlisted in the US Army and trained as a paratrooper in the 101st Airborne Division; he was granted an honorable discharge the following year. Soon afterward, he moved to Clarksville, Tennessee, and began playing gigs on the chitlin' circuit, earning a place in the Isley Brothers' backing band and later with Little Richard, with whom he continued to work through mid-1965. He then played with Curtis Knight and the Squires before moving to England in late 1966 after being discovered by Linda Keith, who in turn interested bassist Chas Chandler of the Animals in becoming his first manager. Within months, Hendrix had earned three UK top ten hits with the Jimi Hendrix Experience: "Hey Joe", "Purple Haze", and "The Wind Cries Mary". He achieved fame in the US after his performance at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967, and in 1968 his third and final studio album, Electric Ladyland, reached number one in the US; it was Hendrix's most commercially successful release and his first and only number one album. The world's highest-paid performer, he headlined the Woodstock Festival in 1969 and the Isle of Wight Festival in 1970 before his accidental death from barbiturate-related asphyxia on September 18, 1970, at the age of 27.
Hendrix was inspired musically by American rock and roll and electric blues. He favored overdriven amplifiers with high volume and gain, and was instrumental in utilizing the previously undesirable sounds caused by guitar amplifier feedback. He helped to popularize the use of a wah-wah pedal in mainstream rock, and was the first artist to use stereophonic phasing effects in music recordings. Holly George-Warren of Rolling Stone commented: "Hendrix pioneered the use of the instrument as an electronic sound source. Players before him had experimented with feedback and distortion, but Hendrix turned those effects and others into a controlled, fluid vocabulary every bit as personal as the blues with which he began."
Hendrix was the recipient of several music awards during his lifetime and posthumously. In 1967, readers of Melody Maker voted him the Pop Musician of the Year, and in 1968, Rolling Stone declared him the Performer of the Year. Disc and Music Echo honored him with the World Top Musician of 1969 and in 1970, Guitar Player named him the Rock Guitarist of the Year. The Jimi Hendrix Experience was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992 and the UK Music Hall of Fame in 2005. Rolling Stone ranked the band's three studio albums, Are You Experienced, Axis: Bold as Love, and Electric Ladyland, among the 100 greatest albums of all time, and they ranked Hendrix as the greatest guitarist and the sixth greatest artist of all time.
Birth name Johnny Allen Hendrix
Born November 27, 1942
Seattle, Washington, U.S.
Died September 18, 1970 (aged 27)
Kensington, London, England, UK
Psychedelic rock hard rock blues rhythm and blues
Guitarist singer songwriter producer
Years active 1963–1970
Track Barclay Polydor Reprise Capitol MCA Sony Legacy
Jimmy James and the Blue Flames the Jimi Hendrix Experience Band of Gypsys
In the mid-1960s, Clapton left the Yardbirds to play blues with John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers. Immediately after leaving Mayall, Clapton formed the power trio Cream with drummer Ginger Baker and bassist Jack Bruce, in which Clapton played sustained blues improvisations and "arty, blues-based psychedelic pop". Furthermore, he formed blues rock band Blind Faith with Baker, Steve Winwood, and Ric Grech. For most of the 1970s, Clapton's output bore the influence of the mellow style of JJ Cale and the reggae of Bob Marley. His version of Marley's "I Shot the Sheriff" helped reggae reach a mass market.Two of his most popular recordings were "Layla", recorded with Derek and the Dominos; and Robert Johnson's "Crossroads", recorded with Cream. Following the death of his son Conor in 1991, Clapton's grief was expressed in the song "Tears in Heaven", which featured in his Unplugged album.
Clapton has been the recipient of 18 Grammy Awards, and the Brit Award for Outstanding Contribution to Music. In 2004, he was awarded a CBE at Buckingham Palace for services to music. In 1998, Clapton, a recovering alcoholic and drug addict, founded the Crossroads Centre on Antigua, a medical facility for recovering substance abusers.
Also known as Slowhand
Born 30 March 1945 (age 70)
Ripley, Surrey, England
Guitarist singer songwriter record producer
Years active 1962–present
Surfdog Warner Bros. Reprise Polydor RSO Atco Apple
The Yardbirds John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers Cream Blind Faith Delaney & Bonnie and Friends Derek and the Dominos JJ Cale B.B. King