Guitars may rule the world of pop and rock, but some of the most popular artists in these genres are also piano players. Moreover, before guitars came along, pianos were at the center of rock music and still dominate pop. Here’s a quick list of the six most famous pianists in rock and pop music.
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1. Elton John
By the age of 3, this British legend had already mastered the piano.1 He was supported by his grandmother from a young age. She sponsored his piano lessons and helped him get a scholarship at the Royal Academy of Music in London. His solo career took off after “Your Song,” released in 1970 on his second studio album, made it to the Billboard Top 10 in 1970. Since then, John has won several Grammys, Brits, and Oscars.2 He has also been knighted by the Queen of England for his achievements in the music industry.
2. Stevie Wonder
Stevie Wonder is a multi-instrumentalist who had mastered music by the time he was 8 years old.3 He started learning the piano at his church and learned how to play other instruments such as the piano, harmonica, drums, and bass on his own at a young age.4 He is one of the most popular pop stars alive today. He lost his eyesight soon after his birth as he was born prematurely. When he was 11 years old, he signed his first record deal, by the time he was 13, he had already released his first number one hit, and since then, he has won 25 Grammy awards!
3. Billy Joel
Billy Joel was forced to start playing the piano at the age of 4 by his parents. It wasn’t until he saw the Beatles live on “The Ed Sullivan Show” that he truly felt inspired to pursue a career in music.
Soon after, he started playing in nightclubs across New York and called himself the “Piano Man,” which went on to become his nickname. He has sold over 150 million albums worldwide, making him one of the best-selling musicians in the United States. His contributions and impact on music have been so far-reaching that July 18 was declared “Billy Joel Day” in New York.
4. Nina Simone
Nina Simone began playing the piano in the 1930s, a time when underprivileged black women couldn’t even dream of a career in the music industry in the United States. Simone started learning how to play the piano when she was 4 years old. After studying at the Julliard Music School in New York, she had to settle for playing in bars and nightclubs due to several societal challenges. She only began singing to avoid losing her job. She was told she’d have to sing if she wanted to continue performing at one of the nightclubs that had hired her.5 Her music encompasses the styles of jazz, cabaret, protest songs, folk, and gospel music.6
5. Freddie Mercury
Despite being admired for his piano skills by many, Freddy Mercury, the frontman of the British rock band Queen, was not very confident about his abilities. His raw playing technique is considered one of the most unique in the world of rock and pop music. He is better known for being a singer, composer, and performer who loved communicating with his audience, but all of the band’s best songs were the result of the piano, the instrument he used to compose all of the amazing music.7
6. Jerry Lee Lewis
Jerry Lee Lewis is a rock and roll star who was at his peak during the 1950s and 1960s. The piano techniques he acquired were influenced by the playing styles of local preachers and black musicians.8 This added a touch of western swing and honky-tonk to his music. His high-energy piano performances usually involved standing on the piano, playing it with his arms and feet, kicking over the stool, and even lighting the instrument on fire. These antics earned him the popular nickname “Killer.”
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1. 15 Famous Rock And Pop Piano Players You Should Know. (n.d.). Retrieved June 30, 2022, from https://hellomusictheory.com/learn/famous-rock-pop-piano-players/
2. Top 13 Best Rock and Pop Piano Players of All Time. (n.d.). Retrieved June 30, 2022, from https://stories.oktav.com/en/s/13-best-rock-and-pop-pianists
3. Stevie Wonder | Biography, Albums, Songs, & Facts | Britannica. (n.d.). Retrieved June 30, 2022, from https://www.britannica.com/biography/Stevie-Wonder
4. Stevie Wonder – Biography – IMDb. (n.d.). Retrieved June 30, 2022, from https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0005567/bio
5. Nina Simone | Facts, Biography, & Music | Britannica. (n.d.). Retrieved June 30, 2022, from https://www.britannica.com/biography/Nina-Simone
6. Nina Simone – 10 of the best | Nina Simone | The Guardian. (n.d.). Retrieved June 30, 2022, from https://www.theguardian.com/music/musicblog/2016/mar/02/nina-simone-10-of-the-best
7. Legendary Rock and Pop Music Piano Players. (n.d.). Retrieved June 30, 2022, from https://www.perfectlygrand.com/blog/legendary-rock-and-pop-music-piano-players
8. Jerry Lee Lewis | Biography, Music, Songs, & Facts | Britannica. (n.d.). Retrieved June 30, 2022, from https://www.britannica.com/biography/Jerry-Lee-Lewis