The following people are considered by Pantheon to be the top 10 most legendary Canadian Musicians of all time. This list of famous Canadian Musicians is sorted by HPI (Historical Popularity Index), a metric that aggregates information on a biography’s online popularity. Visit the rankings page to view the entire list of Canadian Musicians.
With an HPI of 82.10, Leonard Cohen is the most famous Canadian Musician. His biography has been translated into 108 different languages on wikipedia.
Leonard Norman Cohen (September 21, 1934 – November 7, 2016) was a Canadian singer-songwriter, poet and novelist. His work explored religion, politics, isolation, depression, sexuality, loss, death, and romantic relationships. He was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He was invested as a Companion of the Order of Canada, the nation's highest civilian honour. In 2011, he received one of the Prince of Asturias Awards for literature and the ninth Glenn Gould Prize. Cohen pursued a career as a poet and novelist during the 1950s and early 1960s, and did not begin a music career until 1967 at the age of 33. His first album, Songs of Leonard Cohen (1967), was followed by three more albums of folk music: Songs from a Room (1969), Songs of Love and Hate (1971) and New Skin for the Old Ceremony (1974). His 1977 record Death of a Ladies' Man, co-written and produced by Phil Spector, was a move away from Cohen's previous minimalist sound. In 1979, Cohen returned with the more traditional Recent Songs, which blended his acoustic style with jazz, East Asian, and Mediterranean influences. Cohen's most famous song, "Hallelujah," was first released on his studio album Various Positions in 1984. I'm Your Man in 1988 marked Cohen's turn to synthesized productions. In 1992, Cohen released its follow-up, The Future, which had dark lyrics and references to political and social unrest. Cohen returned to music in 2001 with the release of Ten New Songs, a major hit in Canada and Europe. His 11th album, Dear Heather, followed in 2004. In 2005, Cohen discovered that his manager had stolen most of his money and sold his publishing rights, prompting a return to touring to recoup his losses. Following a successful string of tours between 2008 and 2013, he released three albums in the final years of his life: Old Ideas (2012), Popular Problems (2014), and You Want It Darker (2016), the last of which was released three weeks before his death. A posthumous album, Thanks for the Dance, was released in November 2019, his fifteenth and final studio album.
With an HPI of 75.59, Glenn Gould is the 2nd most famous Canadian Musician. His biography has been translated into 43 different languages.
Glenn Herbert Gould (; né Gold; September 25, 1932 – October 4, 1982) was a Canadian classical pianist. He was one of the most famous and celebrated pianists of the 20th century, and was renowned as an interpreter of the keyboard works of Johann Sebastian Bach. Gould's playing was distinguished by remarkable technical proficiency and a capacity to articulate the contrapuntal texture of Bach's music. Gould rejected most of the standard Romantic piano literature by Chopin, Liszt, Rachmaninoff, and others, in favour of Bach and Beethoven mainly, along with some late-Romantic and modernist composers. Although his recordings were dominated by Bach and Beethoven, Gould's repertoire was diverse, including works by Mozart, Haydn, and Brahms; pre-Baroque composers such as Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck, William Byrd, and Orlando Gibbons; and 20th-century composers including Paul Hindemith, Arnold Schoenberg, and Richard Strauss. Gould was known for his eccentricities, from his unorthodox musical interpretations and mannerisms at the keyboard to aspects of his lifestyle and behaviour. He stopped giving concerts at age 31 to concentrate on studio recording and other projects. Gould was also a writer, broadcaster, composer and conductor. He was a prolific contributor to musical journals, in which he discussed music theory and outlined his musical philosophy. He performed on television and radio, and produced three musique concrète radio documentaries, the Solitude Trilogy, about isolated areas of Canada. Though known chiefly as a pianist, Gould capped off his musical career with a recording of Wagner's Siegfried Idyll as conductor.
With an HPI of 72.74, Neil Young is the 3rd most famous Canadian Musician. His biography has been translated into 59 different languages.
Neil Percival Young (born November 12, 1945) is a Canadian-American singer, musician and songwriter. After embarking on a music career in Winnipeg in the 1960s, Young moved to Los Angeles, joining Buffalo Springfield with Stephen Stills, Richie Furay and others. Since the beginning of his solo career with his backing band Crazy Horse, Young has released many critically acclaimed and important albums, such as Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, After the Gold Rush, Harvest, On the Beach and Rust Never Sleeps. He was a part-time member of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. Young has received several Grammy and Juno Awards. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inducted him twice: in 1995 as a solo artist and in 1997 as a member of Buffalo Springfield. In 2000, Rolling Stone named Young No. 34 on their list of the 100 greatest musical artists. According to Acclaimed Music, he is the seventh most celebrated artist in popular music history. His guitar work, deeply personal lyrics and signature high tenor singing voice define his long career. He also plays piano and harmonica on many albums, which frequently combine folk, rock, country and other musical genres. His often distorted electric guitar playing, especially with Crazy Horse, earned him the nickname "Godfather of Grunge" and led to his 1995 album Mirror Ball with Pearl Jam. More recently he has been backed by Promise of the Real. 21 of his albums and singles have been certified Gold and Platinum in U.S by RIAA certification.Young directed (or co-directed) films using the pseudonym "Bernard Shakey", including Journey Through the Past (1973), Rust Never Sleeps (1979), Human Highway (1982), Greendale (2003), and CSNY/Déjà Vu (2008). He also contributed to the soundtracks of the films Philadelphia (1993) and Dead Man (1995). Young has lived in California since the 1960s but retains Canadian citizenship. He was awarded the Order of Manitoba in 2006 and was made an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2009. He became a United States citizen, taking dual citizenship, in 2020.
With an HPI of 71.08, Oscar Peterson is the 4th most famous Canadian Musician. His biography has been translated into 46 different languages.
Oscar Emmanuel Peterson, (August 15, 1925 – December 23, 2007) was a Canadian virtuoso jazz pianist and composer. He released over 200 recordings, won seven Grammy Awards, as well as a lifetime achievement award from the Recording Academy, and received numerous other awards and honours. He is considered one of history's great jazz pianists and played thousands of concerts worldwide in a career lasting more than 60 years. He was called the "Maharaja of the keyboard" by Duke Ellington, simply "O.P." by his friends, and informally in the jazz community as "the King of inside swing".
With an HPI of 69.63, Joni Mitchell is the 5th most famous Canadian Musician. Her biography has been translated into 55 different languages.
Roberta Joan "Joni" Mitchell (née Anderson; born November 7, 1943) is a Canadian-American singer-songwriter. Drawing from folk, pop, rock, classical, and jazz, Mitchell's songs often reflect on social and philosophical ideals as well as her feelings about romance, womanhood, disillusionment and joy. She has received many accolades, including ten Grammy Awards and induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997. Rolling Stone called her "one of the greatest songwriters ever", and AllMusic has stated, "When the dust settles, Joni Mitchell may stand as the most important and influential female recording artist of the late 20th century".Mitchell began singing in small nightclubs in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, and throughout western Canada, before moving on to the nightclubs of Toronto, Ontario. She moved to the United States and began touring in 1965. Some of her original songs ("Urge for Going", "Chelsea Morning", "Both Sides, Now", "The Circle Game") were recorded by other folk singers, allowing her to sign with Reprise Records and record her debut album, Song to a Seagull, in 1968. Settling in Southern California, Mitchell helped define an era and a generation with popular songs like "Big Yellow Taxi" and "Woodstock". Her 1971 album Blue is often cited as one of the best albums of all time; it was rated the 30th best album ever made in Rolling Stone's 2003 list of the "500 Greatest Albums of All Time", rising to number 3 in the 2020 edition. In 2000, The New York Times chose Blue as one of the 25 albums that represented "turning points and pinnacles in 20th-century popular music". In 2017, NPR ranked Blue number 1 on a list of Greatest Albums Made By Women.Mitchell switched labels and began exploring more jazz-influenced melodic ideas, by way of lush pop textures, on 1974's Court and Spark, which featured the radio hits "Help Me" and "Free Man in Paris" and became her best-selling album. Mitchell's vocal range began to shift from mezzo-soprano to more of a wide-ranging contralto around 1975. Her distinctive piano and open-tuned guitar compositions also grew more harmonically and rhythmically complex as she melded jazz with rock and roll, R&B, classical music and non-Western beats. In the late 1970s, she began working with noted jazz musicians including Jaco Pastorius, Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, and Pat Metheny as well as Charles Mingus, who asked her to collaborate on his final recordings. She later turned to pop and electronic music and engaged in political protest. She was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 44th Annual Grammy Awards in 2002 and became a Kennedy Center Honoree in 2021.Mitchell produced or co-produced most of her albums. A critic of the music industry, she quit touring and released her 17th and last album of original songs in 2007. Mitchell has designed most of her own album covers, describing herself as a "painter derailed by circumstance".
With an HPI of 68.30, Avril Lavigne is the 6th most famous Canadian Musician. Her biography has been translated into 119 different languages.
Avril Ramona Lavigne ( AV-ril lə-VEEN; born September 27, 1984) is a Canadian singer, songwriter and actress. She has released seven studio albums and has received several accolades and nominations, including eight Grammy Award nominations. At age 16, Lavigne signed a two-album recording contract with Arista Records. Her debut studio album, Let Go (2002), is the best-selling album of the 21st century by a Canadian artist. It yielded the singles "Complicated" and "Sk8er Boi", which emphasized a skate punk persona and earned her the title "Pop Punk Queen" from music publications. She is considered a key musician in the development of pop punk music, since she paved the way for female-driven, punk-influenced pop music in the early 2000s. Her second studio album, Under My Skin (2004), became Lavigne's first album to reach the top of the Billboard 200 chart in the United States, going on to sell 10 million copies worldwide. Lavigne's third studio album, The Best Damn Thing (2007), reached number one in seven countries worldwide and saw the international success of its lead single "Girlfriend", which became her first single to reach the top of the Billboard Hot 100 in the United States. Her fourth and fifth studio albums, Goodbye Lullaby (2011) and Avril Lavigne (2013), saw continued commercial success and were both certified gold in Canada, the United States, and other territories. Lavigne released her sixth studio album, Head Above Water in 2019. She returned to her punk roots with her seventh studio album, Love Sux (2022).Alongside her music career, Lavigne voiced an animated character in the film Over the Hedge (2006), and made her screen acting debut in Fast Food Nation (2006).
With an HPI of 65.50, Gil Evans is the 7th most famous Canadian Musician. His biography has been translated into 25 different languages.
Ian Ernest Gilmore Evans (né Green; May 13, 1912 – March 20, 1988) was a Canadian–American jazz pianist, arranger, composer and bandleader. He is widely recognized as one of the greatest orchestrators in jazz, playing an important role in the development of cool jazz, modal jazz, free jazz, and jazz fusion. He is best known for his acclaimed collaborations with Miles Davis.
With an HPI of 65.14, Loreena McKennitt is the 8th most famous Canadian Musician. Her biography has been translated into 35 different languages.
Loreena Isabel Irene McKennitt, (born February 17, 1957) is a Canadian singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and composer who writes, records and performs world music with Celtic and Middle Eastern influences. McKennitt is known for her refined and clear soprano vocals. She has sold more than 14 million records worldwide.
With an HPI of 64.73, David Foster is the 9th most famous Canadian Musician. His biography has been translated into 36 different languages.
David Walter Foster OC, OBC (born November 1, 1949) is a Canadian musician, composer, arranger, record producer and music executive who chaired Verve Records from 2012 to 2016. He has won 16 Grammy Awards from 47 nominations. His career in the music industry has spanned more than five decades, mainly beginning as a keyboardist for the pop group Skylark, in the early 1970s.
With an HPI of 62.98, Neil Peart is the 10th most famous Canadian Musician. His biography has been translated into 30 different languages.
Neil Ellwood Peart OC (; September 12, 1952 – January 7, 2020) was a Canadian musician, songwriter, and author, best known as the drummer and primary lyricist of the rock band Rush. Peart earned numerous awards for his musical performances, including an induction into the Modern Drummer Readers Poll Hall of Fame in 1983, making him the youngest person ever so honoured. Known to fans by the nickname 'The Professor', his drumming was renowned for its technical proficiency and his live performances for their exacting nature and stamina. Peart was born in Hamilton, Ontario, and grew up in Port Dalhousie (now part of St. Catharines). During adolescence, he floated between regional bands in pursuit of a career as a full-time drummer. After a discouraging stint in England, Peart returned home to concentrate on music where he joined Rush, a Toronto band, in mid-1974, six years after its formation. Together they released nineteen studio albums, with ten exceeding a million copies sold in the United States. Billboard ranks the band third for the "most consecutive gold or platinum albums by a rock band".Early in his career, Peart's performance style was deeply rooted in hard rock. He drew most of his inspiration from drummers such as Keith Moon, Ginger Baker, and John Bonham, players who were at the forefront of the British hard rock scene. As time passed, he began to emulate jazz and big band musicians Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich. In 1994, Peart became a friend and pupil of jazz instructor Freddie Gruber. It was during this time that Peart revamped his playing style by incorporating jazz and swing components.In addition to serving as Rush's primary lyricist, Peart published several memoirs about his travels. His lyrics for Rush addressed universal themes and diverse subjects including science fiction, fantasy, and philosophy, as well as secular, humanitarian, and libertarian themes. Peart wrote a total of seven nonfiction books focused on his travels and personal stories. He also coauthored with Kevin J. Anderson three steampunk fantasy novels based on Rush's final album, Clockwork Angels. The two also wrote a dark fantasy novella, Drumbeats, inspired by Peart's travels in Africa. On December 7, 2015, Peart announced his retirement from touring in an interview with Drumhead Magazine. In January 2018, bandmate Alex Lifeson confirmed that Rush had disbanded also due to Peart's health issues. During his last years Peart lived in Santa Monica, California, with his wife, Carrie Nuttall, and daughter. After a three and a half year illness, Peart died of glioblastoma on January 7, 2020, at age 67.
Pantheon has 51 people classified as musicians born between 1842 and 1988. Of these 51, 36 (70.59%) of them are still alive today. The most famous living musicians include Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, and Avril Lavigne. The most famous deceased musicians include Leonard Cohen, Glenn Gould, and Oscar Peterson. As of October 2020, 4 new musicians have been added to Pantheon including Angela Hewitt, Bruce Fairbairn, and Michael Brook.
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Which Musicians were alive at the same time? This visualization shows the lifespans of the 15 most globally memorable Musicians since 1700.