Kentucky People: Singers and Musicians

A Short Introduction

Singers and musicians with Kentucky ties have crossed all genres of the musical sphere, such as: Horace Arnold, jazz drummer from Wayland, Kentucky; Bob Atcher, country musician from Hardin County; Kenny Bishop, Southern Gospel singer/songwriter from Richmond, (Madison County), Kentucky; Hylo Brown, bluegrass and country singer from Johnson County; Blind Teddy Darby, blues singer and guitarist, from Henderson; Kevin Denny, country singer from Monticello, (Wayne County); Addie Graham, singer of the traditional folk and mountain music style; Jackie DeShannon, a rock 'n' roll singer/songwriter, born Sharon Lee Myers at Hazel, Kentucky in 1944; Buell Kazee, country and folk singer born in Magoffin County; Jimmy Raney, jazz guitarist, from Louisville; Boots Randolph, saxophonist, from Paducah; Billy Vaughn, from Glasgow, Kentucky, a singer, multi-instrumentalist, and one of the most successful orchestra leaders of all time; and Rusty York, Rockabilly Hall of Fame member born in Harlan County, Kentucky.

The Bluegrass State has also produced a number of current up-and-coming country music artists including: Rebecca Lynn Howard born in Salyersville, Kentucky; Shannon Lawson, from Taylorsville; Brice Long, born in Hopkinsville, Kentucky, a country music singer/songwriter and co-writer of the number one country single, "Nothing On But The Radio"; and Sarah Johns, born in Pollard, Kentucky. (Johns' single, "The One in the Middle", was released on April 30, 2007 and made Top 40 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs.)

Listed below, in alphabetical order by surname, are a number of accomplished musical artists with Kentucky roots:

David "Stringbean" Akeman, born in Jackson County, Kentucky in, 1915, was a country music banjo player and comedian. He played with Bill Monroe's band from 1943-45, was a regular on the Grand Ole Opry, and is remembered for his appearances on the hit TV show Hee Haw. He died November 10, 1973. Read the Wikipedia article for more information on the life of Stringbean Akeman.

Dick Burnett was born October 8, 1883 near Monticello, (Wayne County), Kentucky, and died January 23, 1977 in Somerset, (Pulaski County), Kentucky. Burnett was a folk songwriter and fiddle player. He wrote the traditional American folk song, "Man of Constant Sorrow", which was later recorded by Bob Dylan, Patty Loveless, Ralph Stanley, and many others, and featured in the movie O Brother Where Art Thou.

Sam Bush is a mandolin player and a pioneer in the newgrass style of bluegrass music. He appears on numerous country and bluegrass albums, including those of: Garth Brooks, Neil Diamond, Jerry Douglas, Steve Earle, Béla Fleck, Nanci Griffith, Emmylou Harris, Wynonna Judd, Alison Krauss, Lyle Lovett, Dolly Parton, John Prine, Linda Ronstadt, Ricky Skaggs, Shania Twain, Doc Watson, Don Williams, and Trisha Yearwood, among others. Bush was born in Bowling Green, (Warren County), Kentucky.

Bill Carlisle (1908-2003) was a country singer, songwriter and guitarist born in Wakefield, Kentucky. Bill and his older brother, Cliff, performed together on Kentucky radio in the 1920s. Bill Carlisle was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2002. Cliff Carlisle (1904-1983), in addition to singing country and blues, was a yodeler and a pioneer in the use of the Hawaiian steel guitar in country music.

Kentuckian, Jean Chapel was born Opal Jean Amburgey, May 6, 1925. She was a country singer and songwriter with over 400 songs to her credit. Her sister, Irene, performed under the stage name Martha Carson. Jean Chapel died in 1995.

Steven Curtis Chapman, born in Paducah, (McCracken County), Kentucky, in 1962, is a Contemporary Christian musician. To date, he has released more than 20 albums, has won five Grammy awards and more Gospel Music Association Awards than any other artist in history. Read the Wikipedia article for more information.

Rosemary Clooney was born May 23, 1928 in Maysville, (Mason County), Kentucky. She was a traditional jazz and pop singer and actress. Among her films, was the perennial favorite White Christmas, (1954), in which she starred, along with Bing Crosby, and Danny Kaye. She was the aunt of actor George Clooney, and the sister to former television personality Nick Clooney. She died June 29, 2002 in Beverly Hills, California, and is buried at Saint Patricks Cemetery in Maysville, Kentucky. Clooney was a member of the Inaugural 2002 Class of Inductees into the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame. Read her obituary on CNN.

John Conlee of Versailles, (Woodford County), Kentucky, is a country music singer, whose hits include "Rose Colored Glasses," "Lady Lay Down," "Back Side of Thirty," "Busted," and others. See his official Web site for more information.

Bluegrass banjo player, J.D. Crowe, was born August 27, 1937 in Lexington, Kentucky. In the 1970s, his band, New South, featured, Jerry Douglas, Tony Rice, Ricky Skaggs and Bobby Slone, all of whom are considered top rate musicians. Crowe remains a popular attraction at regional bluegrass festivals. He was inducted into the International Bluegrass Hall of Fame in 2003. Visit his official Web site for information on his current schedule and extensive discography.

Billy Ray Cyrus is a country/pop singer and songwriter from Kentucky, who for years was best known for his hit single "Achy Breaky Heart". Now to the younger generation, he is known as the father of Hannah Montana, (Miley Cyrus). In 2007 he released the album "Home at Last". For more information on Billy Ray Cyrus, visit his official Web site.

Kentuckian, Mary Frances Penick was a country music singer, who performed under the stage name Skeeter Davis. She was one of the first female country vocalist stars, and her influence on country queens, Dolly Parton and Tammy Wynette has been documented. See the Wikipedia article for more information.

Isaac Donald Everly was born in 1937, in Brownie, (Muhlenberg County), Kentucky. Phillip Everly, was born in 1939, in Chicago, Illinois. The Everly Brothers, Don and Phil, have had a string of Top 40 hits and were among the first 10 artists inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986. In 1997, they were awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2001, they were inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2004. The brothers have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and in 2004, Rolling Stone Magazine ranked the Everly Brothers #33 on their list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time. The brothers are members of the 2002 (Inaugural) Induction Class of the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame and Museum. Read the Wikipedia article for more information on the Everly Brothers.

Country music pioneer, and Hall of Fame member Red Foley, was born in Blue Lick, Kentucky. Foley is a member of the 2002 (Inaugural) Induction Class of the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame and Museum. Read his biography on the Country Music Hall of Fame Web site.

Country singer, Crystal Gayle, was born Brenda Gail Webb in 1951 in Paintsville, (Johnson County), Kentucky, the younger sister of Loretta Lynn. Gayle's numerous musical hits include the Grammy Award winner, "Don't It Make My Brown Eyes Blue." Gayle was inducted into the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame in 2008. For more information visit her official Web site.

Steve Gorman was born in Muskegon, Michigan in 1965 and moved to Hopkinsville, Kentucky from Severna Park, Maryland in 1975, where he went on to attend Western Kentucky University. He is best known as the drummer for the rock band, The Black Crowes.

Country music singer and songwriter, Tom T. Hall, was born and raised in Olive Hill, Kentucky. He has written numerous number one hits. On February 12, 2008, Hall was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame and was part of the 2002 (Inaugural) Induction Class into the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame and Museum. See the Wikipedia article for his extensive list of songs.

Lionel Hampton at the White House with President George W. Bush. (Public domain photo of the U.S. government.)

Jazz great, Lionel Hampton, (pictured at left with President George W. Bush in 2001), was born in Louisville, (Jefferson County), Kentucky in 1908, but considered Birmingham, Alabama to be home. He was known as a vibraphone virtuoso, percussionist, and bandleader. Hampton, who died in 2002 received a multitude of awards and honors over his long career, including being inducted into the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame in 2006. Read the Wikipedia article for more information.

Floyd "Salty" Holmes, born in 1910 in Glasgow, Kentucky, was a country musician and an early Hollywood star in westerns. Holmes played the harmonica, the jug, and the guitar, but is best remembered for his "talking harp".

Grandpa Jones was born Louis Marshall Jones October 20, 1913 in Niagara, Kentucky. He was a banjo player, a country and gospel music singer, and a cast member of the long-running TV show, Hee Haw. He died in 1998.

Naomi Judd, born Diana Ellen Judd on January 11, 1946 in Ashland, Kentucky, was the mother in the mother/daughter country duo, The Judds. Her daughter, Wynonna, (see below), continues to wrack up solo country hits and her daughter, Ashley Judd, is a film and stage actress, and a well-known University of Kentucky Wildcats basketball fan.

Born Christina Claire Ciminella, in Ashland, Kentucky, in 1964, Wynonna Judd, (pictured at right at the Pentagon in 2006), or just “Wynonna” on stage, is an icon of country music. She has recorded a long list of number one hits and has won numerous awards, including multiple Grammy awards. Her birth place is featured on the Kentucky Country Music Highway. Visit her official Web site for more information.

US Army (public domain) photo of Wynonna Judd performing for US soldiers at the Pentagon in May 2006.

Nick Lachey was born Nicholas Scott Lachey, on November 9, 1973 in Harlan County, Kentucky. He is a pop singer and actor who rose to fame in the late-1990s as a writer and lead-vocalist of the boy-band, 98 Degrees. He also starred in the hit MTV reality television series Newlyweds: Nick and Jessica with his then-wife, fellow pop singer Jessica Simpson, from 2003-2005.

Kentuckian, Brian Littrell is a singer, best known as a member of the Backstreet Boys. He is also a contemporary Christian recording artist, and released a solo album, Welcome Home (You), in 2006. Visit his Web site for more information. Littrell’s cousin, Kevin Richardson, also a Kentuckian, is another former member of the Backstreet Boys.

Patty Loveless was born Patty Lee Ramey on January 4, 1957 in Pikeville, (Pike County), Kentucky, and grew up in Elkhorn City and Louisville. She is a well-known country music singer, who has won numerous awards in the music industry and has compiled an extensive discography. Her birthplace is featured on the Kentucky Country Music Highway. Visit her web site for more information.

Public domain photo of Loretta Lynn in concert.

The Coal Miner's Daughter, Loretta Lynn, was born Loretta Webb April 14, 1934 in Johnson County, Kentucky and grew up in the now famous "Butcher Holler". Lynn, (pictured at left performing), is one of the leading country female vocalists of all time. She has written over 160 songs and released 70 albums. She has had seventeen number one albums and twenty-seven number one singles on the country charts. Lynn has won dozens of awards from many different institutions, including four Grammy Awards, seven American Music Awards, eight Broadcast Music Incorporated awards, and ten Academy of Country Music awards.

In 1972, Loretta Lynn was the first woman named "Entertainer of the Year" by the Country Music Association, and is one of five women to have received CMA's highest award. She was named "Artist of the Decade" for the 1970s by the Academy of Country Music. Lynn was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1988 and the Country Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 1999. She was also the recipient of Kennedy Center Honors in 2003. Lynn is ranked 65th on VH1's 100 Greatest Women of Rock & Roll and has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. She is also a member of the 2002 (Inaugural) Induction Class of the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame and Museum. Visit her official Web site for more information.

Country music singer/songwriter, Mila Mason was born in 1963 in Dawson Springs, Kentucky. Visit her official Web site for more information.

Soul jazz piano player and vocalist, Les McCann was born in Lexington, (Fayette County), Kentucky in 1935. Read the Wikipedia article for more information.

Bill Monroe, fondly known as "The Father of Bluegrass Music", was born in Rosine, Kentucky on September 13, 1911. In the 1930s, Monroe began his career singing and playing music with his brothers Birch and Charlie. In 1939, he formed his own band, the Blue Grass Boys, and became a Grand Ole Opry regular. He remained a member of the Grand Ole Opry until his death in 1996. From a Wikipedia article: "More than 150 musicians played in the Blue Grass Boys over the years. Many later became stars in their own right, including Mac Wiseman, Clyde Moody, Sonny Osborne, Don Reno, David "Stringbean" Akeman, Del McCoury, Vassar Clements, Buck Trent, Peter Rowan, Byron Berline, Kenny Baker, Carter Stanley, Doug Green, and Randall Franks." Monroe is a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame, the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame; and the recipient of a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1993 and the National Medal of Arts award in 1995. Read the complete Wikipedia article for more information.

Eddie Montgomery, born in Danville, (Boyle County), Kentucky and Troy Gentry born in Lexington, (Fayette County), Kentucky, make up the country music duo Montgomery Gentry. The two Kentuckians won the 2000 CMA Vocal Duo of the Year. (Eddie is the brother of John Michael Montgomery, another Kentucky singer/musician listed below. Read the Wikipedia article for more information.

John Michael Montgomery, a Danville, (Boyle County), Kentucky native is a highly popular country music singer/songwriter. Visit his official Web site for more information.

Kentuckians, and bluegrass musicians, Bobby and Sonny Osborne, a.k.a. The Osborne Brothers were perennial favorites at bluegrass festivals throughout their career and still garner a substantial fan base. Sonny retired in 2005, but Bobby continues to perform with his band Rocky Top X-press. The brothers were inducted into the International Bluegrass Hall of Fame in 1994.

Joan Osborne was born in 1962 in the Anchorage, Kentucky. She is a singer/songwriter and produces music across various genres, including blues, country, folk, and rock. Visit her official Web site for more information.

Jody Payne was born James L. Payne in Garrard County, Kentucky in 1936. This country singer/musician was a longtime guitarist in Willie Nelson's band. He has also played with Charlie Monroe and Merle Haggard.

Internationally known gospel singer/songwriter/musician, Dottie Rambo, was born Joyce Reba Lutrell in Madisonville, Kentucky on March 2, 1934. Rambo has written hundreds of songs. Read the Wikipedia article or visit her official Web site for more information.

The "Mother of Folk", Jean Ritchie was born December 8, 1922 in Perry County, Kentucky. Visit her official Web site for more information on this traditional folk singer and Appalachian dulcimer player.

Troy Seals, born in 1938 at Big Hill, Kentucky is a singer, songwriter, and guitarist and a member of the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. His songs have been recorded by artists such as Elvis Presley, Randy Travis, and Hank Williams, Jr., among others. See the Wikipedia article for more information.

Country/bluegrass singer, musician, producer, and composer, Ricky Skaggs, (pictured at right), was born July 18, 1954, in Lawrence County, Kentucky. Primarily a mandolin player, he is also accomplished on the banjo, fiddle, and guitar. In 1970 he joined Ralph Stanley's bluegrass band, The Clinch Mountain Boys, and later played with Emmylou Harris’ group for several years, before striking out on his own. See the Wikipedia article for a list of the many awards, (including numerous Grammy and CMA awards), and extensive discograpy of this mainstay of country music. Skaggs's birth place is featured on the Kentucky Country Music Highway.

Larry Stewart, lead singer of the country/pop group Restless Heart, was born in Paducah, (McCracken County), Kentucky in 1959. In 1993, Stewart left the band in pursuit of a solo career, recording four solo albums before reuniting with Restless Heart in 2002. Visit the band's official Web site for more information on this Kentuckian.

Louisville native, Mary Travers, is a member of the folk group Peter, Paul and Mary, one of the most successful folk music singing groups of the 1960s.

Ricky Skaggs performing. Photo compliments of Skaggs Family Records. Used with permission.
Photo used with permission of Skaggs Family Records.

Merle Travis, (1917-1983) was a country and western singer, songwriter, and musician born in Rosewood, Kentucky. Although he wrote a number of well-known songs, he is best known today for "Travis picking", a style of guitar picking named for him. Travis was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1970 and elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1977. See the Wikipedia article for more information.

Sandy Hook, Kentucky native, Keith Whitley, (1954-1989) was a country music singer whose biggest hits included "Don't Close Your Eyes", "Miami, My Amy" and others. Whitley, along with Ricky Skaggs, joined Ralph Stanley's band as a teenager. Whitley also played with J.D. Crowe and the New South in the mid-1970s. He died of alcohol poisoning at age 33.

Dwight Yoakam was born in Pikeville, (Pike County), Kentucky in 1956 and grew up in Columbus, Ohio. Yoakam is a country music singer, songwriter, and actor. Active since the early 1980s, he has recorded more than twenty albums and compilations, producing numerous hits. Visit his Web site for more information. His birth place is featured on the Kentucky Country Music Highway.

Bands With Kentucky Origins

Just as individual performers with Kentucky roots cross all genres of music, so do Kentucky bands, from the southern rock of Black Stone Cherry, to the alternative rap of Nappy Roots, to the Southern Gospel of The Crabb Family, to the country/rock of the Kentucky Headhunters.

Arguably, one of the best known bands with Kentucky origins, is the group Exile. This pop/rock band traces its roots to Richmond, (Madison County), Kentucky. The original members were Buzz Cornelison, Ronnie "Mac" Davenport, Ronnie Hall, J.P. Pennington, Paul Smith, and Jimmy Stokley. Their best remembered hit in the pop/rock genre is "Kiss You All Over", (1978). Since that time, the band has gone through several changes in members and has produced a number of country music hits. Visit their Web site for more information.