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 75.78, Leonard Cohen is the most famous Canadian Musician. His biography has been translated into 110 different languages on wikipedia.
Leonard Norman Cohen (September 21, 1934 – November 7, 2016) was a Canadian singer-songwriter, poet, and novelist. Themes commonly explored throughout his work include faith and mortality, isolation and depression, betrayal and redemption, social and political conflict, and sexual and romantic love, desire, regret, and loss. 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. 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 released on his seventh album, Various Positions (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 eleventh 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. His posthumous, fifteenth, and final studio album Thanks for the Dance, was released in November 2019. In 2023, Rolling Stone ranked him number 103 in their "200 Greatest Singers of All Time".
With an HPI of 68.31, Glenn Gould is the 2nd most famous Canadian Musician. His biography has been translated into 44 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, Scriabin, 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 64.41, Neil Young is the 3rd most famous Canadian Musician. His biography has been translated into 60 different languages.
Neil Percival Young (November 12, 1945) is a Canadian-American singer and songwriter. After embarking on a music career in Winnipeg in the 1960s, Young moved to Los Angeles, joining the folk-rock group Buffalo Springfield. Since the beginning of his solo career, often with backing by the band Crazy Horse, he has released critically acclaimed albums such as Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere (1969), After the Gold Rush (1970), Harvest (1972), On the Beach (1974), and Rust Never Sleeps (1979). He was also a part-time member of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, with whom he recorded the chart-topping 1970 album Déjà Vu. His guitar work, deeply personal lyrics and signature high tenor singing voice define his long career. Young 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.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), CSNY/Déjà Vu (2008), and Harvest Time (2022). He also contributed to the soundtracks of the films Philadelphia (1993) and Dead Man (1995). 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. 21 of his albums and singles have been certified Gold and Platinum in U.S. by RIAA certification. Young was awarded the Order of Manitoba in 2006 and was made an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2009.
With an HPI of 62.18, Joni Mitchell is the 4th most famous Canadian Musician. Her biography has been translated into 56 different languages.
Roberta Joan Anderson (born November 7, 1943), better known by her stage name Joni Mitchell, is a Canadian musician, producer, and painter. As one of the most influential singer-songwriters to emerge from the 1960s folk music circuit, Mitchell became known for her starkly personal lyrics and unconventional compositions which grew to incorporate pop and jazz elements. 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 and throughout western Canada, before moving on to the nightclubs of Toronto. 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". NPR ranked Blue number 1 on a 2017 list of Greatest Albums Made By Women.Mitchell began exploring more jazz-influenced ideas 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 that 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. Starting in the mid-1970s, she began working with noted jazz musicians including Jaco Pastorius, Tom Scott, 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.Mitchell produced or co-produced most of her albums and designed most of her own album covers, describing herself as a "painter derailed by circumstance". A critic of the music industry, she quit touring and released her 17th and last album of original songs in 2007. She would give occasional interviews and make appearances to speak on various causes over the next two decades, though the rupture of a brain aneurysm in 2015 led to a long period of recovery and therapy. A series of retrospective compilations were released over the time period, culminating in the Joni Mitchell Archives, a project to publish much of Joni's unreleased material from her long career. She returned to public appearances in 2021, accepting several awards in person, including a Kennedy Center Honor in 2021. She performed live for the first time in 9 years, with an unannounced appearance at the June 2022 Newport Folk Festival, and is scheduled to perform a headline show on June 10, 2023.
With an HPI of 59.10, Oscar Peterson is the 5th 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 jazz pianist and composer. Considered a virtuoso and one of the greatest jazz pianists of all time, Peterson released more than 200 recordings, won eight Grammy Awards, as well as a lifetime achievement award from the Recording Academy, and received numerous other awards and honours. He 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, "the King of inside swing". Peterson worked in duos with Sam Jones, Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen, Joe Pass, Irving Ashby, Count Basie, and Herbie Hancock. He considered the trio with Ray Brown and Herb Ellis "the most stimulating" and productive setting for public performances and studio recordings. In the early 1950s, he began performing with Brown and drummer Charlie Smith as the Oscar Peterson Trio. Shortly afterward Smith was replaced by guitarist Irving Ashby, who had been a member of the Nat King Cole Trio. Ashby, who was a swing guitarist, was soon replaced by Kessel. Their last recording, On the Town with the Oscar Peterson Trio, recorded live at the Town Tavern in Toronto, captured a remarkable degree of emotional as well as musical understanding among three players.Peterson won eight Grammy Awards during his lifetime between 1975 and 1997. He is considered among the best jazz pianists and jazz improvisers of the twentieth century.
With an HPI of 58.32, Avril Lavigne is the 6th most famous Canadian Musician. Her biography has been translated into 121 different languages.
Avril Ramona Lavigne ( AV-ril lə-VEEN; born September 27, 1984) is a Canadian singer and songwriter. At age 16, she 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 successful 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, as 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 next two 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. After releasing her sixth studio album, Head Above Water (2019), she returned to her punk roots with her seventh studio album, Love Sux (2022). Her accolades include eight Grammy Awards nominations.
With an HPI of 55.63, Loreena McKennitt is the 7th most famous Canadian Musician. Her biography has been translated into 38 different languages.
Loreena Isobel 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 55.48, David Foster is the 8th most famous Canadian Musician. His biography has been translated into 37 different languages.
David Walter Foster (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 music career spans more than five decades, mainly beginning in the early 1970s as a keyboardist for the pop group Skylark.
With an HPI of 54.75, Gil Evans is the 9th 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 51.79, Maynard Ferguson is the 10th most famous Canadian Musician. His biography has been translated into 30 different languages.
Walter Maynard Ferguson CM (May 4, 1928 – August 23, 2006) was a Canadian jazz trumpeter and bandleader. He came to prominence in Stan Kenton's orchestra before forming his own big band in 1957. He was noted for his bands, which often served as stepping stones for up-and-coming talent, his versatility on several instruments, and his ability to play in a high register.
Pantheon has 56 people classified as musicians born between 1842 and 1995. Of these 56, 40 (71.43%) 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 April 2022, 4 new musicians have been added to Pantheon including Kenny Wheeler, Isabelle Boulay, and Jessie Reyez.
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Which Musicians were alive at the same time? This visualization shows the lifespans of the 16 most globally memorable Musicians since 1700.