If you’re a true blue music lover, you’d know that the blues paved the way for the birth of various genres such as jazz, soul, and R&B. It literally was the foundation where a lot of other beautiful music was built. So who are the Best blues musicians of all time?
Some of the best blues musicians include BB King, T-Bone Walker, Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson, Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Etta James, John Mayall, and Sister Rosetta Tharpe.
But those are just a few of the better-known artists!
Since its birth around the 1860s, the blues has continuously evolved. The genre has produced some of the most influential and passionate musicians of all time.
In this article, we will cover 33 of the most famous and distinguished blues artists throughout the years.
Best Blues Musicians of All Time
Muddy Waters recording at Chess Records, Chicago, circa 1952. pic.twitter.com/8xqeJJ2a1u
— Prolix Music (@prolixmusic_) July 6, 2022
1. Muddy Waters
McKinley Morganfield, more famously knowns as Muddy Waters, taught himself how to play harmonica as a child. He also took guitar lessons at 17.
His deep voice and sharp intonation are basically what blues is made of.
Some of his famous songs are “Mannish Boy”, “Got My Mojo Working”, and “I’m Your Hoochie Coochie Man”.
His legacy influenced some of the best in the industry, such as Eric Clapton and the Rolling Stones—so much so that the band was named after Waters’ single “Rollin’ Stone”.
2. Eric Clapton
A more modern British blues singer and guitarist is Eric Clapton, who rose to fame during his time with a band called Cream in 1966.
Clapton eventually went on to pursue a successful career and eventually became a household name all over the world.
He’s considered one of the most legendary living guitarists, with “Wonderful Tonight” as his best-selling single to date, although he is best known for the song “Layla” during his time.
One of Clapton’s biggest musical influences is David Bowie, and a recent article I wrote talks about just how great of a guitarist he was!
3. Robert Johnson
Robert Johnson spent his earlier life as a traveling musician until he was scouted by H.C. Speir in 1936.
He proceeded to record his songs which easily became the biggest hits at that time. His most popular song is “Sweet Home Chicago”.
The legendary blues singer started touring in 1937 but unfortunately passed the year after at 27 years old.
King of the Delta Blues Singers, a compilation album of his works, was released in 1961 and became a highly influential LP.
4. Jimi Hendrix
Jimi Hendrix, initially called Johnny Allen Hendrix and James Marshall Hendrix, had an early interest in music and taught himself to play only by ear.
In 1958, he acquired his first guitar and soon joined his first band.
He relocated to London in 1967, adopted the name Jimi Hendrix, and started the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Their debut album, Are You Experienced?, was a success and remains to be among the greatest rock albums ever.
Regrettably, Hendrix passed away at the age of 27 in 1970 from a suspected drug overdose.
5. B.B. King
Riley B. King, a singer and a guitarist who goes by the stage name B.B. King, took a journey to Memphis when he was 22 to begin his musical career.
After he chose the name B.B. King as a catchy radio monicker in 1948, his career blossomed. King began touring nationally in the mid-50s and became more famous over the next 10 years.
In 1984, the Blues Hall of Fame inducted him, and three years later, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Stevie Ray Vaughan performing at the After Hours Club in Austin, Texas on September 25, 1977 pic.twitter.com/ETVWCYC2SR
— Jimbo Loko (@jimbo_loko) July 9, 2022
6. Stevie Ray Vaughan
Stevie Ray Vaughn began playing the guitar in 1961. Vaughn quit school at the age of 17 to concentrate on his music.
In 1970, he started his first blues band called the Blackbird.
A decade after, Vaughn was performing live in Texas clubs with a band named Double Trouble and quickly garnered popularity.
The band’s two albums, Texas Flood and Can’t Stand the Weather, became such huge hits at the time. In 1990, Vaughn died in a fatal helicopter crash.
7. Albert King
In the 1950s, Albert Nelson moved to Gary, Indiana, where he played drums for Jimmy Reed, a popular blues performer at that time.
In 1953, he relocated to St. Louis, Missouri, and began recording for two record labels. His hit songs were “Don’t Throw Your Love On Me So Strong” and “That’s What The Blues Is All About.”
Alber’s fame reached its peak by the mid-60s and maintained it throughout the remainder of his life. He had a heart attack in 1992 and passed away.
8. John Lee Hooker
John Lee Hooker grew up learning about music under his stepfather’s influence.
He moved to Detroit in his early 20s and had two day jobs followed by music gigs at night.
He was later on scouted by Bernard Besman, a producer for Sensation Records. Hooker would go on to have a long, successful career as a blues musician, releasing his most successful album at 72.
He was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1997.
9. Buddy Guy
At the age of 7, Buddy Guy built a makeshift guitar using wood, two strings, and hairpins.
When he was 21, he traveled to Chicago and teamed up with other legendary musicians like Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters.
Since then, he has continued to have a famous career. He received the Kennedy Center Honor in 2012 in recognition of his contribution to American culture. The same year, he also released a memoir that went on to become a huge success.
10. T-Bone Walker
Born in a musical household in Dallas, T-Bone Walker was already being paid to perform at 16.
In 1992, he started recording under different bands, but it was the year 1942 that defined his career when he recorded with Freddie Slack’s Big Band. One of his biggest hits was “Call It Stormy Monday”.
Walker is the first blues artist to record with an electric guitar and was ranked 67 on Rolling Stone Magazine’s “The 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time”.
— Blues Radio (@All_Blues_Radio) July 8, 2022
11. Bessie Smith
Bessie Smith is one of the oldest performers on the list, having been born all the way back in 1894.
She was known as the “Empress of the Blues”, and she recorded with Okeh Records, Document Records, and Columbia Records. Her finest tunes are “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out” and “Devil’s Gonna Get You”.
She lived her career enjoying profound success through her enamoring stage presence and incredible voice.
12. Sonny Boy Williamson
Sonny Boy Williamson was an American blues singer and a self-taught harmonica player.
In the 1920s, he traveled through Arkansas and Tennessee to play on the streets, at parties, and in bars. In 1934, he moved to Chicago and started recording 3 years later. His work was well-received due to his unique style.
Williamson foreshadowed the post-World War II electric blues and even performed with Muddy Waters. He was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1980.
13. Johnny Winter
Johnny Winter and his brother Edgar, both born with albinism, grew up playing music. Winter initially played the clarinet, followed by a ukulele, and then finally, a guitar.
At 15, he won a talent contest and scored a recording. He then recorded music with varying labels until he signed with Columbia in 1969. He released a self-titled debut LP which gained immense traction.
He would spend his musical career with multiple Grammy nominations and a Grammy Award for his Best Blues Album for Step Back in 2015.
14. Willie Dixon
Willie Dixon started his music career singing in a gospel quartet in Chicago while he was also doing amateur boxing.
In 1939, he started playing the double bass and teamed up with the Big Three Trio. When the group disbanded, he worked as a house bassist and arranger for Chess Records. His upbeat style prefigured the 50s Chicago blues.
Some of his best works are “I’m Ready” for Muddy Waters and “Back Door Man” for Howlin’ Wolf.
15. Rory Gallagher
Irish blues-rock guitarist Rory Gallagher is best known for his work with the band Taste in the late 1960s and then for his solo work in the 1970s to 1980s. His albums have sold more than thirty million copies worldwide.
It was his works in Taste’s second album, On The Boards, that led to his prominent recognition and, eventually, his solo career.
Although he has both, his playing tends to favor technique over pure feel.
— Peter Parcek (@peterparcek) June 30, 2022
16. Howlin’ Wolf
As a young child, Chester Arthur Burnett was given the name Howlin’ Wolf because of his wild personality and big build.
At the age of 18, he picked up the guitar and began playing live in Ruleville, Mississippi, at house parties and nightclubs. After serving in the military, he started his first band in 1948.
He was a well-recognized Chicago blues singer, guitarist, and harmonica player. His famous songs are “Wang Dang Doodle” and “Back Door Man.”
17. Etta James
At the early age of five, Jamesetta Hawkins began taking vocal lessons and quickly became the lead singer of her church choir.
At 16, she was discovered by musician John Otis in 1954. The same year, she made her first single. She quickly signed with Modern Records, starting a run of successful singles that lasted into the second half of the 1950s.
Her career would remain successful through an album called Matriarch of the Blues in the 21st century.
18. Bonnie Raitt
Bonnie Raitt was an American blues singer, songwriter, and guitarist. Her musically-inclined parents were her major influence.
She started recording in the 1970s, but it was until 1990 that she reached great success, winning four Grammy Awards for her 1989 album Nick of Time.
Raitt spent the rest of her career touring while remaining politically active.
19. John Mayall
John Mayall was a British singer, organist, pianist, and guitarist.
Ever since he started his career, he has always been a popular performer, even influencing the British blues movement in the 1960s. He also went on to influence the world of rock music.
Garnering popularity in the United States, he relocated to Los Angeles in the late 1960s, where he continued creating music. Some of his greatest works are Stories, A Special Life, and Nobody Told Me.
20. Jeff Beck
Jeff Beck is an English blues and rock guitarist who is regarded as one of the greatest in the history of rock music.
His fast and complex style has inspired the growth of the heavy metal and jazz-rock genres.
In 1965, Beck replaced Eric Clapton as the band Yardbirds’ lead guitarist. Then he started the Jeff Beck Group the following year and produced Truth and Beck-Ola.
He then joined different bands until he went on a solo career.
“I don’t care what language you speak,” blues guitar powerhouse Freddie King would announce from the stage, usually midway through a devastating number. “Everybody understands the #blues!”
Freddie King 1974 by Art Meripol pic.twitter.com/AHSUbLRDOW
— Don’s Tunes (@DonsTunes) May 13, 2021
21. Freddie King
At a very young age, Freddie King’s mother and uncle taught him how to play the guitar.
His great influence was the Chicago blues scene’s music when he was a teen. His family relocated to the Windy City in 1950, and he soon began frequenting neighborhood blues bars.
He joined Federal Records in 1960 and saw some success. As he continued to record songs, Freddie finally found unparalleled success in 1961 with I Love the Woman.
22. Joe Bonamassa
Joe Bonamassa is a contemporary blues-rock flagbearer who has created a huge deal of musical work.
With 13 completed studio albums, a number of live CDs and DVDs, and collaborations with Beth Hart and Black Country Communion, Bonamassa has undoubtedly produced incredible music.
Bonamassa is regarded as one of the best blues guitarists in the world today, keeping the exquisite genre very much alive.
23. Blind Lemon Jefferson
Born blind, Lemon Jefferson turned to music and dance during his teenage years and went on to become a popular American blues singer, songwriter, and guitarist.
He performed in the streets and at parties in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Virginia until he went to Chicago in the 1920s.
He recorded under the Paramount label from 1926 to 1929, and some of his best blues songs are “Black Snake Moan” and “Matchbox Blues”.
Jefferson isn’t the only blind musician to influence the world of music. I’ve discussed this in the recent article I wrote.
24. Janis Joplin
The most prominent white female blues vocalist of the 1960s, Janis Joplin, was an American singer who wowed wider audiences with her fierce musical style.
Joplin dropped out of school in 1963 to perform in Texas clubs. In 1966, she became the lead vocalist for Big Brother. The early recording of the band, Cheap Thrills, became number one.
She went on to join a couple of groups until she died from a heroin overdose in 1970.
25. Little Walter
Little Walter, born Marion Walter Jacobs, was an American singer and a harmonica improviser.
At age 12, he was already playing on New Orleans street corners and clubs. He moved to Chicago in 1946 and began recording the year after.
He then played in Muddy Waters’ blues band for four years. In 1952, Walter’s harmonica solo “Juke” gained plausible attention, and he went on to go on tour with his own bands until alcoholism took over his career in the 1960s.
— PPMnow (@patties_ron) February 11, 2022
26. Robert Cray
Robert Cray is a contemporary American blues guitarist and singer whose band won five Grammy Awards.
His early musical experience started in high school when he joined a band. At 20, he formed his own band, but it was in the late 1970s that he formed the Robert Cray band, which plays up to today.
Cray was able to play with some of the great blues artists such as Muddy Waters, John Lee hooker, and The Rolling Stones. Today, his band continues to tour across countries.
27. John Mayer
John Mayer is an American singer, songwriter, and guitarist who rose to unimaginable fame. His signature soft rock style earned him multiple Grammy Awards.
Mayer started playing the guitar in his teenage years and began playing in local clubs. He released his debut EP, Inside Wants Out, in 1999. He then went on to record with multiple labels.
His most timeless and famous tunes are “No Such Thing” and “Your Body Is a Wonderland”. Today, he continues to tour and record studio albums.
28. Billie Holiday
Eleanora Fagan, professionally known as Billie Holiday, knew she wanted to be a singer as early on. She began performing at jazz clubs in New York around 1929.
At 18, she worked with producer John Hammond which sped up her career.
Together with pianist Teddy Wilson, she produced some great hits. In 1958, she received a record deal with Columbia Records, but she died the following year at 44.
She received 4 posthumous Grammy awards.
29. Ma Rainey
Born in 1886, Gertrude “Ma” Rainey was a notable blues musician and recording artist who was referred to as the “Mother of the Blues.”
Her nickname was derived from marrying his musical partner, “Pa” Rainey. They toured together before forming their group called the Assassinators of the Blues.
From her first recording in 1923, she created over 100 recordings within five years. Her famous hits are “Soon This Morning” and “Bo-Weevil Blues”.
30. Sister Rosetta Tharpe
Sister Rosetta Tharpe, an American singer, composer, and guitarist, achieved her greatest prominence as a gospel singer in the 1930s and 1940s.
The main reason for Tharpe’s fame as a guitarist was her ability to play “like a man”.
She was a pioneer in fusing gospel with blues and rock ‘n’ roll, having an impact on artists like Little Richard and Elvis Presley.
Her best-known hymns are “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” “My Journey To The Sky”, and “Jericho”.
On this date in 1925 Blues guitar innovator Lonnie Johnson makes his first recording putting down “Mr. Johnson’s Blues” in a session for OKeh Records RIP 🕊️ pic.twitter.com/uKZ83a07sK
— Raylene – Undercover Indie ® (@UndercoverIndi) November 4, 2021
31. Lonnie Johnson
Lonnie Johnson was one of the very first blues and jazz guitarists. He was a violinist in his father’s string band. He also performed as a guitarist in New Orleans in the early 20th century.
In 1917, he toured with a musical revue. Johnson later played on vaudeville tours before he started recording.
His recording career produced about 500 recordings for about 40 years. While he played for different platforms, he also did nonmusical work during hard times.
32. Big Mama Thornton
Big Mama Thornton began her career as a singer in her father’s congregation.
When Thornton was only 14 years old, her mother passed away, and shortly after, she left home to pursue a music career.
Her debut single, Hound Dog, which was released in 1953, spent over 2 months at the top of the R&B charts. It sold two million copies throughout the US.
She continued to record albums until her health began to regress around 1979.
33. Big Bill Broonzy
Big Bill Broonzy, born William Lee Conley Broonzy, was an American blues singer and guitarist who represented a legacy of itinerant folk blues.
In 1920, he moved to Chicago and successfully made a recording debut to African American blues singers 6 years later.
Later on, he began singing as well and easily became the best-selling blues performer by 1940.
He continued making music until he had a lung operation in 1957 that affected his voice. He succumbed to cancer a year later.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is considered the best blues songs ever?
It’s definitely impossible to choose just one, but there are several songs whose influence was pivotal to the development of music throughout the years.
On the list are:
- BB King’s “The Thrill Is Gone”
- Robert Johnson’s “Crossroads”
- John Lee Hooker’s “Boogie Children”
- Howlin’ Wolf’s “Evil,” Muddy Waters’ “Got My Mojo Working”
- Albert King’s “Born Under a Bad Sign”
- Big Bill Broonzy’s “Get Back”
- Big Mama Thornton’s “Hound Dog”
- Bessie Smith’s “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out”
- Jimi Hendrix’s “Voodoo Chile”
- Willie Dixon’s “The Seventh Son”
- Muddy Waters’ “I Just Want to Make Love to You”
Colorized picture of the blues legend Robert Johnson. pic.twitter.com/XcqNtbgUoG
— WE HAVE NO FRIENDS/B.A.M.N (@CLG98264897) July 13, 2022
Who was the greatest blues singer of all time?
The musician Robert Johnson is well renowned for being one of the finest blues performers of all time. This reputation was mostly established after his untimely death at the age of 27.
In the 1960s, more than 2 decades after his passing, a reissue of his work was released and sold millions of copies worldwide, only proving that his talent truly stands the test of time.
Despite the brief nature of his career, he was able to record 29 influential blues songs. Other famous blues artists such as Muddy Waters, Eric Clapton, and The Rolling Stones recorded his songs as well.
Speaking of the Stones, you might want to read the recent article I wrote about Mick Taylor’s controversial exit from the band. Taylor was definitely the best guitarist to ever play with the Stones. But why did he leave? Is he still friends with Mick and Keith?
Just click that link to read it on my site.
Who wrote the most blues songs?
Willie Dixon, who is widely renowned for his unparalleled songwriting skills, was able to write or co-write more than 500 songs. His songs were recorded by several of the best blues artists of his time, such as Howlin’ Wolf, Little Walter, and Muddy Waters.
His works include Muddy Waters’ “Hoochie Coochie Man,” Howlin’ Wolf’s “Three Hundred Pounds of Joy,” and Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Bring It On Home.”
Some of his composed songs were also recorded by popular rock groups like the Rolling Stones, Cream, and Led Zeppelin.
His creations were also interpreted by various musicians in different musical genres.
And that’s it—our list of the best blues artists of all time has come to an end. The renowned blues artists listed above are truly the best of the best in the music industry. Whether past or present, the influence these musicians gave the world is far greater than we could ever imagine.
Each of these superstars has cultivated the road to bringing the blues to where it is today. Despite the roots of blues tracing back long ago, people of today are still able to enjoy its beauty, thanks to these incredible musicians.