From crooners and songwriters to pioneers and alt-rock icons, the U.S. has been home to many great male singers through the decades.
In this guide, we look back at some of the most influential, skilled, notorious, and prolific singers to come out of the U.S.
Here are the best American male singers.
Elvis “The King” Presley rose to become the quintessential baritone finding widespread popularity in the 50s, 60s, and 70s. Presley is one of the most iconic figures in rock and roll and one of the all-time best-selling artists.
In the wake of his popularity, many others sprouted forth – Buddy Holly, Roy Orbison, Johny Cash, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, and the Everly Brothers, to name a few.
“Jailhouse Rock,” “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” “Hound Dog,” “All Shook Up,” and “Burning Love” are but a few classics from his impressive body of work.
The King’s legacy has been so influential that it has spawned innumerable copycats and impersonators, and the inevitable rumors that he is still somehow alive.
Michael “King of Pop” Jackson is a rare talent that lived up to the term “legendary.” Originally finding success as a youngster alongside his older brothers in Jackson 5, Jackson would begin his solo career a few short years later.
It would take time for Jackson to develop into the moonwalking cultural phenomenon that he ultimately became, but it seems as though he was destined for greatness, and with 1979’s Off the Wall, he would officially become a solo star.
1982’s Thriller would prove a colossal hit and would be more than enough to establish Jackson as a culturally significant figure. Of course, his career didn’t end there, as his contributions to music, dance, style, and culture would outlive his untimely death in June 2009.
Frank “Ol’ Blue Eyes” Sinatra is one of the most notable figures in entertainment in the mid-20th century. As one of the best-selling artists of all time, Sinatra took inspiration from the laid-back singing vibes of Bing Crosby and signed with Columbia Records in 1943.
His debut album, The Voice of Frank Sinatra, would not be released until 1946. This would not prove his ticket to fame, but he would ultimately find success after signing to Capitol Records.
Some of his most iconic hits include “Fly Me to the Moon,” “That’s Life,” “The Best is Yet to Come,” “My Way,” and of course, “New York, New York.”
While other male singers were trying to figure out how to imitate Robert Plant or the rising blonde frontman of Van Halen, David Lee Roth, Prince was busy carving out his own niche as an androgynous, flamboyant funk, R&B, and soul singer.
His third, fourth, and fifth albums, Dirty Mind, Controversy, and 1999 would bring his sound to the masses, and he would follow them up with the legendary exclamation point, Purple Rain.
Not much more needs to be said about his vast contributions to music, whether as an artist, songwriter, or producer. But it’s fair to say that the trail he blazed didn’t end at Purple Rain.
Besides being a capable singer with a wide range, Prince was a spectacular guitarist. But over the long haul, he grew adept at just about any instrument you could hand him – bass, keyboards, drums, etc.
Johnny “Man in Black” Cash would find his stride in the mid-1950s amid the growing rockabilly scene of Memphis, Tennessee.
His discography, which propelled him to become one of the best-selling artists of all time, is impressive enough. But Cash would also have the opportunity to cozy up next to Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, and Jerry Lee Lewis in an impromptu session (that was fortunately captured) with the supergroup, Million Dollar Quartet.
Cash would become known for songs like “Folsom Prison Blues,” “Ring of Fire,” and “I Walk the Line,” among many others.
It would not be too much of an exaggeration to say that most musicians growing up in the late 80s and early to mid-90s were influenced by Nirvana singer, guitarist, and songwriter Kurt Cobain in some way, shape, or form.
As one of the most influential figures in alternative rock and grunge history, Cobain is most frequently praised for his abilities as a songwriter. His voice isn’t exactly easy to imitate, either, though, especially when he goes into full growl. Singers like Puddle of Mudd’s Wes Scantlin have tried and failed.
Cobain’s career may have been cut short due to (alleged) suicide, but the impact he made on alternative music alone makes him deserving of a place in this guide.
Stevie Wonder is one of the most important figures in soul, R&B, pop, and funk. At 13, he became the youngest artist ever to reach the top of the charts. It’s almost as if he were pre-destined for success.
Wonder is still active today, but he will probably end up being remembered best for his contributions to music in the 70s, with Music of My Mind, Talking Book, Inversions, Fulfillingness’ First Finale, and Songs in the Key of Life.
Wonder is best known for tunes like “Superstition,” “Lately,” and “Isn’t She Lovely.”
Since the 1970s, Billy “Piano Man” Joel has maintained a successful solo career. But to call it “successful” is probably an understatement. Joel has had 33 songs of his own chart in the Top 40, and he is one of the best-selling artists across the world and in the top four in the United States.
Some of his most notable moments include “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me,” and “Tell Her About It.”
Ray Charles is easily one of the most successful and influential artists of all time. As a pioneer of soul music, Charles would draw from a range of influences – gospel, blues, jazz, R&B, and more. He also played a significant role in the integration of pop, R&B, and country music in the 1960s.
Billy Joel even called Ray Charles’ contribution to music more significant than Elvis’.
Some of Charles’ most notable tracks include “Hit the Road Jack,” “Mess Around,” “Georgia on My Mind,” “Unchain My Heart,” and “I’ve Got A Woman,” among many others.
Jimi Hendrix was a better singer than he ever gave himself credit for. That still doesn’t mean he possessed the most spectacular voice ever heard. Rather, he was the voice of a generation, the voice of many a memorable music festival, and the voice of a man who wielded the guitar like no other until that point.
As a member of the so-called “27 Club,” Hendrix’ career was tragically cut short due to a drug overdose. But the influence he would have, especially on a new generation of guitarists, would prove nothing short of enduring.
For a trip down memory lane, check out “Hey Joe,” “Purple Haze,” “Foxey Lady,” “All Along the Watchtower,” and “Little Wing.”
Best known as the lead vocalist of The Doors, Jim Morrison is considered one of the greatest frontmen and singers in rock history, a feat he achieved in his altogether too short 27 years.
The Doors would be founded in 1965, initially finding very little success. Two years after inception, they would release “Light My Fire,” which became a chart-topping hit.
Morrison would record six studio albums with The Doors, all of which enjoyed commercial and critical success.
Tom Petty enjoyed widespread success as a solo artist, as a leader or member of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Mudcrutch, and even the supergroup, Traveling Wilburys, which included Roy Orbison, Bob Dylan, George Harrison, and Jeff Lynne.
Petty sang and wrote much as his peers did, mostly opting for a “less is more” philosophy. At first brush, he may not appear an impressive singer, but he has a very memorable voice.
You’ve heard him on countless hits, like “Free Fallin’,” “I Won’t Back Down,” “Don’t Do Me Like That,” and “Don’t Come Around Here No More,” among many others.
When it comes to 1970s acoustic folk music, it’s hard to think of a singer more prominent than John Denver. Getting his start in the late 1960s, Denver would become one of the best-selling performers by 1974, seemingly effortlessly.
He remained prolific during his 35-year run, releasing about 300 songs, with over 30 albums and singles of his being certified Gold and Platinum.
You will no doubt know him for “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” “Rocky Mountain High,” and “Sunshine on My Shoulders,” among others.
James “Godfather of Soul” Brown had an impressive 50-year run in music, heavily influencing the development of soul, R&B, and funk in the process.
His career wasn’t always on the “straight and narrow,” and was often marked by disputes with his band and dips in popularity. But with funk music, he found a mainstay and a new generation would begin to point to Brown as being one of their key influences, elevating his status in the process.
If you need a refresher, check out “I Got You (I Feel Good),” “Living in America,” and “Get Up Offa That Thing.”
Louis Armstrong is one of jazz's most influential trumpeters and vocalists. His rise to fame was not instantaneous but was marked by many small wins on the way up.
His career began in 1919, but it would not be until the 1950s that he would be recognized as a musical icon. What matters is that he got there.
His singing prowess is in no way in question. Armstrong was adept at improvising and scat singing, and his deep gravelly voice is instantly recognizable, even today.
Have a listen to “What a Wonderful World,” “Dream a Little Dream of Me,” and “When You’re Smiling.”
The man responsible for influencing Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, was no slouch either. Recording over 1,600 songs, and making over 70 feature films, Crosby rose to become a worldwide cultural icon.
Besides Sinatra, Crosby is said to have influenced Dean Martin, Perry Como, Elvis Presley, and even John Lennon, among others.
If in doubt, refer to “White Christmas,” “Swinging On A Star,” and “Winter Wonderland.”
Many would say Roy Orbison’s career ended altogether a little too early. But during his 35-year run, he left an indelible mark on music.
His passionate singing style caught the attention of many, and in a time when most singers relied on a “macho” image, his vulnerable and emotional approach to music stuck out like a sore thumb.
Orbison was also a member of the supergroup Traveling Wilburys.
Some of his most remembered works include “Oh, Pretty Woman,” “Only the Lonely,” and “Crying.”
Sam “King of Soul” Cooke is known as one of the all-time most influential soul artists. He is even credited with popularizing gospel music among the young. Due to tragic circumstances, his career only lasted eight years. But 49 of his singles ended up charting in the Top 40.
Cooke is known for hits like “You Send Me,” “Cupid,” “Chain Gang,” “A Change Is Gonna Come,” and “Another Saturday Night,” among others.
As with Jimi Hendrix, Chuck Berry may have been more of an axeman than a singer, but as a pioneer of rock and roll, there is no overestimating his importance in the history of music.
Berry influenced artists like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Beach Boys, and countless guitarists like Jimi Hendrix too.
You will know him for hits like “Johnny B. Goode,” “Roll Over Beethoven,” and “Maybellene.”
Neil Diamond, still alive and well, has had an impressive career in music. He’s one of the best-selling artists of all time, and he’s had 10 chart-topping singles, like “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers,” “Yesterday’s Songs,” and “Cracklin’ Rosie.” But let’s face facts – most people know him for “Sweet Caroline.”
His success might be one of the most impressive things about him. His story is primarily one of passion and obsession – diligently working on music everywhere he goes.
Little Richard has also been called the “Architect of Rock and Roll.” Like many of his peers, Richard garnered attention for his showmanship and energetic onstage presence.
Richard’s contributions to rock and roll have not been overlooked, and many of his contemporaries also recorded covers of his works – Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis, and others. But he also impacted soul, funk, rock, hip-hop, R&B, and more.
Have a listen to “Tutti Frutti,” “Long Tall Sally,” “All Around the World,” “Good Golly Miss Molly,” and “Slippin’ And Slidin’.”
Dean “The King of Cool” Martin became one of the most popular entertainers of his time. As an in-demand Las Vegas act and member of the Rat Pack, Martin’s notoriety quickly grew with time.
In 1965, Martin transitioned to TV, becoming the host of The Dean Martin Show, where he got to showcase his singing and comedic talents.
Check out “Everybody Loves Somebody,” “You’re Nobody till Somebody Loves You,” and “That’s Amore.”
Nat King Cole
Singer and jazz pianist Nat King Cole got his start in the 1930s and would go on to have a career spanning nearly three decades. He recorded more than 100 songs during his career, and he did it all even while facing severe racial discrimination.
Some of his most celebrated works include “Unforgettable,” “Let There Be Love,” “Mona Lisa,” “Stardust,” “Embraceable You,” and “For Sentimental Reasons.”
Buddy Holly was a pioneer of the 1950s rock and roll movement. After opening for Elvis Presley in 1955, Holly knew that he wanted to make music his career.
Holly would go on to record, tour, and make TV appearances. He would have no doubt gone on to record many more songs and fulfill many more tours if not for the fact that he was killed in a plane crash, which also took the lives of Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper.
In his short 22 years, Holly influenced the likes of Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Elvis Costello, The Beatles, and The Rolling Stones, among many others.
Otis “King of Soul” Redding is yet another singer who had a massive impact on pop, soul, and R&B during his short 26 years on earth.
Redding got his start working in various bands and appearing in talent shows. An impromptu appearance on a recording session led to a record contract, and eventually his first single and first album.
Redding was unfortunately killed in a plane crash, but his “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” became a massive posthumous hit. If you’d like to dig a bit, also see “These Arms of Mine,” “Try a Little Tenderness,” and “Respect.”
Best known as the lead singer of Boston hard rock band Aerosmith, Steven “Demon of Screamin’” Tyler has a voice unlike any other. Rolling Stone named him one of the top 100 greatest singers, and when you study his accomplishments, it’s not hard to understand why.
A string of hit singles in the 1970s helped him and the band rise to prominence – “Sweet Emotion,” “Dream On,” and the immortal “Walk This Way.” His career has been somewhat turbulent, though, with drug addiction and tensions among band members making repeat appearances.
Although not as well-known, Tyler has done quite a bit of work as a solo artist and even released his debut solo album in 2016.
As the lead vocalist and co-founder of Metallica, James “The King of Downpicking” Hetfield has practically become the voice of heavy metal. If that wasn’t enough, Hetfield consistently ranks as one of the best rhythm guitarists of the genre.
It has often been said that a band is only as strong as its weakest link, but in the case of Metallica, Hetfield is probably the strongest link, demonstrating prowess as a singer, songwriter, and guitar player.
Some of Metallica’s greatest works include “One,” “Seek & Destroy,” “Nothing Else Matters,” “Sad But True,” and of course, “Enter Sandman.”
When you think “singer,” you don’t necessarily think Bob Dylan. But Dylan emerged at a time when the world needed someone like him to interpret the world around them.
Most agree that he is one of the greatest songwriters of all time, and it’s hard to imagine what the musical landscape would have become without him.
Dylan’s career has spanned over 60 years and the 1960s are largely considered his heyday, with songs like “The Times They Are a-Changin’” and “Blowin’ in the Wind.”
Marvin “Prince of Motown” Gaye was instrumental in shaping the Motown sound, first as a session drummer, and then as a solo artist.
Songs that are representative of his Motown years include “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” “Ain’t That Peculiar,” and “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You).”
His later songs would prove foundational to the development of neo-soul, quiet storm, and other R&B subgenres.
Gaye was unfortunately shot and killed by his father at 44, but his contributions to music were still significant.
Bruce “The Boss” Springsteen got his start in the 60s and is still active in music today. His musical catalog spans over 20 studio albums, and he is known as the creator of the heartland rock genre.
Springsteen did not immediately hit it out of the park with his first couple of releases but eventually connected with an audience with 1975’s Born to Run.
Another solid move on his part was 1984’s Born in the U.S.A., which is his biggest album ever, and one of the best-selling releases across the board.
Highly decorated and commercially explosive, you can’t talk about America’s best male singers without talking about The Boss.
Top American Male Singers, Final Thoughts
Who is your favorite singer? Is there anyone we missed? What American singers do you think have had the greatest impact on culture and music?
We hope you enjoyed this read. We trust that you’ll take some time to learn more about the singers mentioned here.