Famous North Carolina Musicians


North Carolina has given some great artists to more than one genre of music. The history of folk music, country, rock and roll, as well as jazz would not be the same without the people who were born or lived in the state. If you’ve ever wondered who the biggest stars of North Carolina music are, keep reading.

Country and rock and roll

What’s remarkable about Ronnie Milsap isn’t just his lack of sight. Above all, it’s amazing that he was able to rise from his humble beginnings in Robbinsville, North Carolina. Abandoned by his parents at birth, the last of his sight was lost after he was hit by a teacher. He attended a school for the blind, also in North Carolina, in the city of Raleigh.

Despite these hardships, his talent for the piano led him to become famous. His break came after his work in Atlanta, Georgia. He then went to Nashville in the 1970s and began his country music legend. As of today, he’s sold over 35 million albums.

Randy Travis also had a troubled childhood, often getting into trouble for stealing. His roots are in Marshville, North Carolina, where he began playing the guitar in his church group. His family was supportive of his music, and he became a success in the country genre after being mentored by Elizabeth Hatcher. She would later become his manager. For a short while, Travis retired from singing and writing and turned his hand to acting. After his return to the music industry, he switched to gospel.

Jazz legends

An artist whose life was cut tragically short, John Coltrane impacted jazz music more than any other contemporaneous artist during his 40 years on Earth. An acclaimed bassist, he collaborated with other musicians, such as Miles Davis. Others he partnered with included Thelonious Monk, who was also from North Carolina. Coltrane was born in the city of Hamlet there, and though he gigged in New York and got exposure in the big city, his North Carolina roots were no doubt influential in his body of music.

Nina Simone is probably the most well-known musician from North Carolina, where she was born in the small town of Tryon. She also played with other jazz artists of her time, but her art was boundless. It defied categorization and encompassed blues and folk music as well.

Due to her race and gender, Simone was not recognized for her prodigious piano talent in her lifetime. However, her music lives on in the hearts of many music fans. Her songs have often been used in soundtracks, advertisements, and other forms of media. Also, an accomplished jazz pianist, Mary Lou Williams had an output that ran into the hundreds. She wrote and recorded a huge body of work over the course of her decades in music. All of which is an impressive feat for a musician who taught herself to play the piano from a very young age. She passed away in Durham, North Carolina at the age of 71.

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