The following people are considered by Pantheon to be the top 10 most legendary British Musicians of all time. This list of famous British 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 British Musicians.
With an HPI of 80.02, John Lennon is the most famous British Musician. His biography has been translated into 129 different languages on wikipedia.
John Winston Ono Lennon (born John Winston Lennon; 9 October 1940 – 8 December 1980) was an English singer, songwriter, musician and peace activist who achieved worldwide fame as founder, co-songwriter, co-lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist of the Beatles. Lennon's work was characterised by the rebellious nature and acerbic wit of his music, writing and drawings, on film, and in interviews. His songwriting partnership with Paul McCartney remains the most successful in history.Born in Liverpool, Lennon became involved in the skiffle craze as a teenager. In 1956, he formed The Quarrymen, which evolved into the Beatles in 1960. Sometimes called "the smart Beatle", he was initially the group's de facto leader, a role gradually ceded to McCartney. Lennon soon expanded his work into other media by participating in numerous films, including How I Won the War, and authoring In His Own Write and A Spaniard in the Works, both collections of nonsense writings and line drawings. Starting with "All You Need Is Love", his songs were adopted as anthems by the anti-war movement and the larger counterculture of the 1960s. In 1969, he started the Plastic Ono Band with his second wife, the multimedia artist Yoko Ono, held the two-week-long anti-war demonstration Bed-ins for Peace, and left the Beatles to embark on a solo career. Between 1968 and 1972, Lennon and Ono collaborated on many works, including a trilogy of avant-garde albums, several more films, his solo debut John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, and the international top 10 singles "Give Peace a Chance", "Instant Karma!", "Imagine" and "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)". Moving to New York City in 1971, his criticism of the Vietnam War resulted in a three-year deportation attempt by the Nixon administration. Lennon and Ono separated from 1973 to 1975, during which time he produced Harry Nilsson's album Pussy Cats. He also had chart-topping collaborations with Elton John ("Whatever Gets You thru the Night") and David Bowie ("Fame"). Following a five-year hiatus, Lennon returned to music in 1980 with the Ono collaboration Double Fantasy. He was murdered by a Beatles fan, Mark David Chapman, three weeks after the album's release. As a performer, writer or co-writer, Lennon had 25 number-one singles in the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Double Fantasy, his best-selling album, won the 1981 Grammy Award for Album of the Year. In 1982, Lennon won the Brit Award for Outstanding Contribution to Music. In 2002, Lennon was voted eighth in a BBC history poll of the 100 Greatest Britons. Rolling Stone ranked him the fifth-greatest singer and 38th greatest artist of all time. He was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame (in 1997) and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (twice, as a member of the Beatles in 1988 and as a solo artist in 1994).
With an HPI of 75.78, Elton John is the 2nd most famous British Musician. His biography has been translated into 89 different languages.
Sir Elton Hercules John (born Reginald Kenneth Dwight; 25 March 1947) is a British singer, pianist and composer. Commonly nicknamed the "Rocket Man" after his 1972 hit single of the same name, John has led a commercially successful career as a solo artist since the 1970s, having released 31 albums since 1969. Collaborating with lyricist Bernie Taupin since 1967, John is acclaimed by critics and musicians, particularly for his work during the 1970s, and his lasting impact on the music industry. John's music and showmanship have had a significant impact on popular music. His songwriting partnership with Taupin is one of the most successful in history.John was raised in the Pinner suburb of London and learned to play piano at an early age, forming the blues band Bluesology in 1962. After leaving Bluesology in 1967 to embark on a solo career, John met Taupin after they both answered an advert for songwriters. For two years, they wrote songs for other artists, and John worked as a session musician for artists. John released his debut album Empty Sky in 1969, and a year later formed the Elton John Band and released his first hit single, "Your Song".John's critical success was at its peak in the 1970s, when he released a streak of chart-topping albums in the US and UK, which began with Honky Château (1972) and culminated with Blue Moves (1976). John continued his success in the 1980s and 1990s, having several hit singles and albums in both decades, and has continued to record new music since then. He has also had success in musical films and theatre, composing music for The Lion King, Aida and Billy Elliot the Musical. In 2018, John began his ongoing farewell tour Farewell Yellow Brick Road, which will conclude in 2023. His life and music career was dramatised in the 2019 biopic Rocketman. Outside of music, John is an HIV/AIDS charity fundraiser and has been involved in the fight against AIDS since the late 1980s. He established the Elton John AIDS Foundation in 1992, which has raised over £300 million since its inception, and a year later he began hosting his annual Foundation Academy Awards Party, which has since become one of the biggest high-profile Oscar parties in the Hollywood film industry. John was the chairman and director of Watford F.C, from 1976 to 1987, and again from 1997 to 2002, and is an honorary life president of the club. From the late 1970s to the late 1980s, John developed a severe addiction problem to drugs and alcohol, but has been sober since 1990. He entered into a civil partnership with Canadian filmmaker David Furnish in 2005; they married after same-sex marriage became legal in England and Wales in 2014.John has sold over 300 million records worldwide, making him one of the best-selling artists of all time. He has more than fifty Top 40 hits in the UK Singles Chart and US Billboard Hot 100, including nine number ones in the UK and US, as well as seven consecutive number-one albums in the US. His tribute single "Candle in the Wind 1997", a rewritten version of his 1974 single in dedication to Princess Diana, sold over 33 million copies worldwide and is the best-selling chart single of all time. In 2021, John became the first solo artist with UK Top 10 singles across six decades.John has received numerous awards, including five Grammy Awards, five Brit Awards; including for Outstanding Contribution to Music; two Academy Awards, two Golden Globes, a Tony Award, a Laurence Olivier Award, a Disney Legend Award, and the Kennedy Center Honor. He was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1992 and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994, and is a fellow of The Ivors Academy. He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II for services to music and charitable services in 1998, and was appointed a member of the Order of the Companions of Honour by King Charles III (then Prince of Wales) in 2020.
With an HPI of 74.99, Paul McCartney is the 3rd most famous British Musician. His biography has been translated into 119 different languages.
Sir James Paul McCartney (born 18 June 1942) is an English singer, songwriter and musician who gained worldwide fame with the Beatles, for whom he played bass guitar and shared primary songwriting and lead vocal duties with John Lennon. One of the most successful composers and performers of all time, McCartney is known for his melodic approach to bass-playing, versatile and wide tenor vocal range, and musical eclecticism, exploring styles ranging from pre–rock and roll pop to classical and electronica. His songwriting partnership with Lennon remains the most successful in history.Born in Liverpool, McCartney taught himself piano, guitar and songwriting as a teenager, having been influenced by his father, a jazz player, and rock and roll performers such as Little Richard and Buddy Holly. He began his career when he joined Lennon's skiffle group, the Quarrymen, in 1957, which evolved into the Beatles in 1960. Sometimes called "the cute Beatle", McCartney later involved himself with the London avant-garde and spearheaded the incorporation of experimental aesthetics into the Beatles' studio productions. Starting with the 1967 album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, he gradually became the band's de facto leader, providing the creative impetus for most of their music and film projects. Many of his Beatles songs, including "And I Love Her", "Yesterday", "Eleanor Rigby", and "Blackbird", rank among the most covered songs in history. While primarily a bassist with the Beatles, in various songs he played a number of other instruments, including keyboards, guitars, and drums. After the Beatles disbanded, he debuted as a solo artist with the 1970 album McCartney and formed the band Wings with his first wife, Linda, and Denny Laine. Led by McCartney, Wings was one of the most successful bands of the 1970s, and he wrote or co-wrote their US or UK number-one hits "My Love", "Band on the Run", "Listen to What the Man Said", "Silly Love Songs", and "Mull of Kintyre". He resumed his solo career in 1980 and has toured as a solo artist since 1989. Without Wings, his UK or US number-one hits have included "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey" (with Linda), "Coming Up", "Pipes of Peace", "Ebony and Ivory" (with Stevie Wonder), and "Say Say Say" (with Michael Jackson). Beyond music, he has taken part in projects to promote international charities related to such subjects as animal rights, seal hunting, land mines, vegetarianism, poverty, and music education. McCartney has written or co-written a record 32 songs that have topped the Billboard Hot 100, and, as of 2009, had sales of 25.5 million RIAA-certified units in the US. His honours include two inductions into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (as a member of the Beatles in 1988 and as a solo artist in 1999), an Academy Award, a Primetime Emmy Award, 18 Grammy Awards, an appointment as a Member of the Order of the British Empire in 1965 and a knighthood in 1997 for services to music. As of 2020, he is one of the wealthiest musicians in the world, with an estimated fortune of £800 million.
With an HPI of 73.82, Brian May is the 4th most famous British Musician. His biography has been translated into 77 different languages.
Brian Harold May (born 19 July 1947) is an English guitarist, singer, songwriter, and astrophysicist, who achieved worldwide fame as the lead guitarist of the rock band Queen. May was a co-founder of Queen with lead singer Freddie Mercury and drummer Roger Taylor. His songwriting contributions helped Queen become among the most successful acts in music history. May previously performed with Taylor in the blues rock band Smile, which he had joined while he was at university. After Queen's formation in 1970, bass guitarist John Deacon joined to complete the line-up in 1971. They became one of the biggest rock bands in the world with the success of the album A Night at the Opera and its single "Bohemian Rhapsody". From the mid-1970s until the early 1990s, Queen played at some of the biggest venues in the world, including at Live Aid in 1985. As a member of Queen, May became regarded as a virtuoso musician. He was identified with a distinctive sound created through his layered guitar work, often using a home-built electric guitar called the Red Special. May wrote numerous hits for Queen, including "We Will Rock You", "I Want It All", "Fat Bottomed Girls", "Flash", "Hammer to Fall", "Save Me", "Who Wants to Live Forever", "Too Much Love Will Kill You", and "The Show Must Go On". Following the death of Mercury in 1991, aside from the 1992 tribute concert, the release of Made in Heaven (1995) and the 1997 tribute single to Mercury, "No-One but You (Only the Good Die Young)" (written by May), Queen were put on hiatus for several years but were eventually reconvened by May and Taylor for further performances featuring other vocalists. In 2005, a Planet Rock poll saw May voted the seventh-greatest guitarist of all time. He was ranked at No. 26 on Rolling Stone's list of the "100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time". In 2012, he was ranked the second-greatest guitarist in a Guitar World magazine readers poll. In 2001, May was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of Queen and in 2018 the band received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.May was appointed a CBE by Queen Elizabeth II in 2005 for "services to the music industry and for charity work". May earned a PhD degree in astrophysics from Imperial College London in 2007, and was Chancellor of Liverpool John Moores University from 2008 to 2013. He was a "science team collaborator" with NASA's New Horizons Pluto mission. He is also a co-founder of the awareness campaign Asteroid Day. Asteroid 52665 Brianmay was named after him. May is also an animal rights activist, campaigning against the hunting of foxes and the culling of badgers in the UK.
With an HPI of 72.71, Charlie Watts is the 5th most famous British Musician. His biography has been translated into 52 different languages.
Charles Robert Watts (2 June 1941 – 24 August 2021) was an English musician who achieved international fame as the drummer of the Rolling Stones from 1963 until his death in 2021. Originally trained as a graphic artist, Watts developed an interest in jazz at a young age and joined the band Blues Incorporated. He also started playing drums in London's rhythm and blues clubs, where he met future bandmates Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Brian Jones. In January 1963, he left Blues Incorporated and joined the Rolling Stones as drummer, while doubling as designer of their record sleeves and tour stages. Watts's first public appearance as a permanent member was in February 1963, and he remained with the group for 58 years. Nicknamed "The Wembley Whammer" by Jagger, Watts cited jazz as a major influence on his drumming style. At the time of Watts's death, Watts, Jagger and Richards were the only members of the band to have performed on every one of their studio albums. Aside from his career with the Rolling Stones, Watts toured with his own group, the Charlie Watts Quintet, and appeared in London at Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club with the Charlie Watts Tentet. In 1989, Watts was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In 2004, he was inducted into the UK Music Hall of Fame with the Rolling Stones. He is often regarded as one of the greatest drummers of all time.
With an HPI of 72.70, George Harrison is the 6th most famous British Musician. His biography has been translated into 102 different languages.
George Harrison (25 February 1943 – 29 November 2001) was an English musician and singer-songwriter who achieved international fame as the lead guitarist of the Beatles. Sometimes called "the quiet Beatle", Harrison embraced Indian culture and helped broaden the scope of popular music through his incorporation of Indian instrumentation and Hindu-aligned spirituality in the Beatles' work. Although the majority of the band's songs were written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney, most Beatles albums from 1965 onwards contained at least two Harrison compositions. His songs for the group include "Taxman", "Within You Without You", "While My Guitar Gently Weeps", "Here Comes the Sun" and "Something". Harrison's earliest musical influences included George Formby and Django Reinhardt; Carl Perkins, Chet Atkins and Chuck Berry were subsequent influences. By 1965, he had begun to lead the Beatles into folk rock through his interest in Bob Dylan and the Byrds, and towards Indian classical music through his use of Indian instruments, such as sitar, which he had become acquainted with on the set of the movie Help! On numerous Beatles songs he would play the sitar, starting with "Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)". Having initiated the band's embracing of Transcendental Meditation in 1967, he subsequently developed an association with the Hare Krishna movement. After the band's break-up in 1970, Harrison released the triple album All Things Must Pass, a critically acclaimed work that produced his most successful hit single, "My Sweet Lord", and introduced his signature sound as a solo artist, the slide guitar. He also organised the 1971 Concert for Bangladesh with Indian musician Ravi Shankar, a precursor to later benefit concerts such as Live Aid. In his role as a music and film producer, Harrison produced acts signed to the Beatles' Apple record label before founding Dark Horse Records in 1974; he co-founded HandMade Films in 1978, initially to produce the Monty Python troupe's comedy film The Life of Brian (1979). Harrison released several best-selling singles and albums as a solo performer. In 1988, he co-founded the platinum-selling supergroup the Traveling Wilburys. A prolific recording artist, he was featured as a guest guitarist on tracks by Badfinger, Ronnie Wood and Billy Preston, and collaborated on songs and music with Dylan, Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr and Tom Petty, among others. Rolling Stone magazine ranked him number 11 in their list of the "100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time". He is a two-time Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee – as a member of the Beatles in 1988, and posthumously for his solo career in 2004.Harrison's first marriage, to model Pattie Boyd in 1966, ended in divorce in 1977. The following year he married Olivia Arias, with whom he had a son, Dhani. Harrison died from lung cancer in 2001 at the age of 58, two years after surviving a knife attack by an intruder at his home, Friar Park. His remains were cremated, and the ashes were scattered according to Hindu tradition in a private ceremony in the Ganges and Yamuna rivers in India. He left an estate of almost £100 million.
With an HPI of 72.39, Ringo Starr is the 7th most famous British Musician. His biography has been translated into 96 different languages.
Sir Richard Starkey (born 7 July 1940), known professionally as Ringo Starr, is an English musician, singer, songwriter and actor who achieved international fame as the drummer for the Beatles. Starr occasionally sang lead vocals with the group, usually for one song on each album, including "Yellow Submarine" and "With a Little Help from My Friends". He also wrote and sang the Beatles songs "Don't Pass Me By" and "Octopus's Garden", and is credited as a co-writer of four others. Starr was afflicted by life-threatening illnesses during childhood, with periods of prolonged hospitalisation. He briefly held a position with British Rail before securing an apprenticeship as a machinist at a Liverpool school equipment manufacturer. Soon afterwards, Starr became interested in the UK skiffle craze and developed a fervent admiration for the genre. In 1957, he co-founded his first band, the Eddie Clayton Skiffle Group, which earned several prestigious local bookings before the fad succumbed to American rock and roll around early 1958. When the Beatles formed in 1960, Starr was a member of another Liverpool group, Rory Storm and the Hurricanes. After achieving moderate success in the UK and Hamburg, he quit the Hurricanes when he was asked to join the Beatles in August 1962, replacing Pete Best. In addition to the Beatles' films, Starr has acted in numerous others. After the band's break-up in 1970, he released several successful singles including the US top-ten hit "It Don't Come Easy", and number ones "Photograph" and "You're Sixteen". His most successful UK single was "Back Off Boogaloo", which peaked at number two. He achieved commercial and critical success with his 1973 album Ringo, which was a top-ten release in both the UK and the US. Starr has featured in numerous documentaries, hosted television shows, narrated the first two series of the children's television program Thomas & Friends and portrayed "Mr. Conductor" during the first season of the PBS children's television series Shining Time Station. Since 1989, he has toured with thirteen variations of Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band. Starr's playing style, which emphasised feel over technical virtuosity, influenced many drummers to reconsider their playing from a compositional perspective. He also influenced various modern drumming techniques, such as the matched grip, tuning the drums lower, and using muffling devices on tonal rings. In his opinion, his finest recorded performance was on the Beatles' "Rain". In 1999, he was inducted into the Modern Drummer Hall of Fame. In 2011, Rolling Stone readers named him the fifth-greatest drummer of all time. He was inducted twice into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, as a Beatle in 1988 and as a solo artist in 2015, and appointed a Knight Bachelor in the 2018 New Year Honours for services to music. In 2020, he was cited as the wealthiest drummer in the world, with a net worth of $350 million.
With an HPI of 72.18, Mark Knopfler is the 8th most famous British Musician. His biography has been translated into 52 different languages.
Mark Freuder Knopfler (born 12 August 1949) is a British singer-songwriter, guitarist, and record producer. Born in Scotland and raised in England, he was the lead guitarist, singer and songwriter of the rock band Dire Straits. He pursued a solo career after the band first dissolved in 1988. Dire Straits reunited in 1990, but dissolved again in 1995. He is now an independent solo artist. Knopfler was born in Glasgow, Scotland, and raised in Blyth, near Newcastle in England, from the age of seven. After graduating from the University of Leeds and working for three years as a college lecturer, Knopfler co-founded Dire Straits with his younger brother, David Knopfler. The band recorded six albums, including Brothers in Arms (1985), one of the best-selling albums in history. After they disbanded in 1995, Knopfler began a solo career, and has produced nine solo albums. He has composed and produced film scores for nine films, including Local Hero (1983), Cal (1984), The Princess Bride (1987), Wag the Dog (1997) and Altamira (2016). He has produced albums for Tina Turner, Bob Dylan, and Randy Newman. Described by Classic Rock as a virtuoso, Knopfler is a fingerstyle guitarist and was ranked 27th on Rolling Stone's list of the "100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time". As of 2009, he and Dire Straits had sold more than 120 million records. A four-time Grammy Award winner, Knopfler is the recipient of the Edison Award, the Steiger Award and the Ivor Novello Award, as well as holding three honorary doctorate degrees in music from universities in the United Kingdom. Knopfler was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of Dire Straits in 2018.
With an HPI of 71.94, Eric Clapton is the 9th most famous British Musician. His biography has been translated into 84 different languages.
Eric Patrick Clapton (born 30 March 1945) is an English rock and blues guitarist, singer, and songwriter. He is regarded as one of the most successful and influential guitarists in rock music. Clapton ranked second in Rolling Stone's list of the "100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time" and fourth in Gibson's "Top 50 Guitarists of All Time". He was also named number five in Time magazine's list of "The 10 Best Electric Guitar Players" in 2009.Born in Ripley, Clapton taught himself guitar as a teenager, having been influenced by blues performers. After playing in a number of different local bands, Clapton joined the Yardbirds in 1963, replacing founding guitarist Top Topham. Dissatisfied with the change of the Yardbirds sound from blues rock to a more radio-friendly pop rock sound, Clapton left in 1965 to play with John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers. On leaving Mayall in 1966, after one album, he formed the power trio Cream with drummer Ginger Baker and bassist Jack Bruce, in which Clapton played sustained blues improvisations and "arty, blues-based psychedelic pop". After Cream broke up in November 1968, he formed the blues rock band Blind Faith with Baker, Steve Winwood, and Ric Grech, recording one album and performing on one tour before they broke up. Clapton embarked on a solo career in 1970. Alongside his solo career, he also performed with Delaney & Bonnie and Derek and the Dominos, with whom he recorded "Layla", one of his signature songs. He continued to record a number of successful solo albums and songs over the next several decades, including a 1974 cover of Bob Marley's "I Shot the Sheriff" (which helped reggae reach a mass market), the country-infused Slowhand album (1977) and the pop rock of 1986's August. Following the death of his son Conor in 1991, Clapton's grief was expressed in the song "Tears in Heaven", which appeared on his Unplugged album, and in 1996 he had another top-40 hit with the R&B crossover "Change the World". In 1998, he released the Grammy award-winning "My Father's Eyes". Since 1999, he has recorded a number of traditional blues and blues rock albums and hosted the periodic Crossroads Guitar Festival. His most recent studio album is Happy Xmas (2018). Clapton has received 18 Grammy Awards as well as the Brit Award for Outstanding Contribution to Music. In 2004, he was awarded a CBE for services to music. He has received four Ivor Novello Awards from the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors, including the Lifetime Achievement Award. He is the only three-time inductee to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: once as a solo artist and separately as a member of the Yardbirds and of Cream. In his solo career, Clapton has sold more than 280 million records worldwide, making him one of the best-selling musicians of all time. In 1998, Clapton, a recovering alcoholic and drug addict, founded the Crossroads Centre on Antigua, a medical facility for recovering substance abusers.
With an HPI of 71.75, Keith Richards is the 10th most famous British Musician. His biography has been translated into 62 different languages.
Keith Richards (born 18 December 1943), often referred to during the 1960s and 1970s as "Keith Richard", is an English musician and songwriter who has achieved international fame as the co-founder, guitarist, secondary vocalist, and co-principal songwriter of the Rolling Stones. His songwriting partnership with Mick Jagger is one of the most successful in history. His career spans over six decades, and his guitar playing style has been a trademark of the Rolling Stones throughout the band's career. Richards gained press notoriety for his romantic involvements and illicit drug use, and he was often portrayed as a countercultural figure. Richards was born in and grew up in Dartford, Kent. He studied at the Dartford Technical School and Sidcup Art College. After graduating, Richards befriended Jagger, Bill Wyman, Charlie Watts, and Brian Jones and joined the Rolling Stones. As a member of the Rolling Stones, Richards is the only member, aside from Jagger, to sing lead on some Stones songs. Richards typically sings lead on at least one song a concert, including "Happy", "Before They Make Me Run", and "Connection". Outside of his career with the Rolling Stones, Richards has also played with his own side-project, The X-Pensive Winos. He also appeared in three Pirates of the Caribbean films as Captain Teague, father of Jack Sparrow, whose look and characterisation was inspired by Richards himself. In 1989, Richards was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and in 2004 into the UK Music Hall of Fame with the Rolling Stones. Rolling Stone magazine ranked him fourth on its list of 100 best guitarists in 2011. The magazine lists fourteen songs that Richards wrote with the Rolling Stones' lead vocalist Jagger on its "500 Greatest Songs of All Time" list.
Pantheon has 486 people classified as musicians born between 1563 and 2002. Of these 486, 370 (76.13%) of them are still alive today. The most famous living musicians include Elton John, Paul McCartney, and Brian May. The most famous deceased musicians include John Lennon, Charlie Watts, and George Harrison. As of April 2022, 38 new musicians have been added to Pantheon including Hilton Valentine, Elton Dean, and Jon Hiseman.
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Which Musicians were alive at the same time? This visualization shows the lifespans of the 25 most globally memorable Musicians since 1700.