While it may not be the first state you think of when you imagine a rock star, Arkansas has had more impact on country, rock, jazz, R&B, and blues music than people realize. It played a huge role in shaping the pop culture we see today! And that’s all because of the musicians, artists, and bands from Arkansas!
In this post, I have narrowed down 20 of the best musicians from Arkansas. So, let’s dive right in and discover some of the state’s timeless acts!
1. Johnny Cash
Without a doubt, the most popular musician from Arkansas is Johnny Cash. Cash shared a special relationship with the state, where he was born in Kingsland. He frequently mentioned the place in his music and spoke affectionately of his hometown at every chance. His growing up in the state of Arkansas had a profound effect on his musical style and songwriting.
Cash catapulted to stardom in the mid-1950s within the burgeoning rockabilly scene in Memphis, Tennessee, following a four-year stint in the Air Force.
He is one of the greatest-selling artists in history, with record sales exceeding 90 million worldwide and a diverse musical style that spanned country, rock and roll, rockabilly, blues, and folk gospel. He primarily played a Martin acoustic guitar, but also played electric at times.This wide-ranging popularity explains why he was selected for induction into the Country Music, Rock and Roll, and Gospel Music Halls of Fame in a single go. The story of his dramatic rise and fall was made into the 2005 biographical film Walk the Line, in which Joaquin Phoenix played Cash.
2. Glen Campbell
Legendary musician Glen Campbell had a special affection for his home state of Arkansas, where he spent much of his youth. He was born in Billstown, Arkansas, and his family lived in several places within the state as he grew up.
In addition to possessing a strong voice and the natural gift of songwriting, he was also skilled in guitar playing. He made his mark in many different genres, from country to pop, folk, and rock. He was truly a master of diversity.
In 1969-72, he hosted The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour on the CBS TV network and became well known for a series of number-one chart hits during the 1960s and ’70s.
During a career lasting more than half a century, he issued 64 albums that have sold more than 45 million copies worldwide. His accomplishments included 12 gold albums, four platinum albums, and one double-platinum album.
In 1967, he took four Grammies for works ranging across country and pop genres. Moreover, he continues to be recognized by the Recording Academy with three Grammy Hall of Fame Awards for his early hits between 2000 and 2014. Such noteworthy achievements prompted the presentation in 2012 of a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award to him.
3. Levon Helm
Levon Helm was a tremendously talented musician, most famous for being the drummer and lead singer of The Band. Growing up as a musician in Arkansas, Helm learned to appreciate various musical genres such as blues, folk, and rock.
Helm’s voice and drumming were an indispensable part of The Band’s unique style. They also have rich storytelling qualities in their music, which borrows heavily from Americana.
In 2008, his comeback album Dirt Farmer won a Grammy for Best Traditional Folk Album.
He was listed by Rolling Stone as 91st among the Greatest Singers. Both “Electric Dirt” and Ramble at the Ryman won Grammys for best Americana album. He was also ranked 22nd by Rolling Stone’s list of Greatest Drummers.
4. Al Green
The Forest City, Arkansas-born, RnB and Soul singer Al Green is famed for his silky voice and a succession of chart hits. In 1995, Al Green was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, being voted one of soul music’s greatest. Nicknamed “The Last of the Great Soul Singers,” he holds a record 11 Grammys (plus one lifetime achievement award).
His accolades include receiving the BMI Icon Award and the distinguished Kennedy Center Honors. Despite all those achievements and a Soul legend status, Al had a difficult personal life and became a pastor and a Gospel musician in the later stages of his career.
5. Scott Joplin
Scott Joplin was a trailblazing composer and pianist known as the “King of Ragtime.” He contributed enormously to popularizing American music with his syncopated compositions in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
His most popular works are “The Maple Leaf Rag” and the “Entertainer”, which were sensations that helped make Joplin the trendsetter in ragtime music.
Scott Joplin was raised by a family of railway workers in Texarkana, Arkansas, right near the Texas border. With the help of his family, he nurtured his talent and honed it in the rich musical culture he was brought up in.
Though his work was not highly regarded then, it enjoyed long-term significance afterward. Joplin’s life and compositions indirectly influenced American jazz and 20th century popular music.
6. Charlie Rich
Another iconic musician from Arkansas is the renowned singer Charlie Rich. He had deep roots in his native state of Arkansas, which show themselves in the mixture of country, rock, and soul that you can hear in his music.
Rich’s sound and storytelling style was deeply rooted in his home state of Arkansas. His hits, including “Behind Closed Doors” and “The Most Beautiful Girl”, brought rich critical acclaim for him as a singer-composer.
Charlie Rich roamed through different types of music, especially country and deep-felt, soulful numbers. His Grammy Awards and Country Music Association awards bear witness to the influence he had on country music and popular songs.
7. Jimmy Driftwood
Born in Timbo, Jimmy Driftwood is an Arkansas legend who has enchanted countless audiences with his gift of storytelling through music, often drawing inspiration from historical events and folk tales rooted in the Ozark Mountains.
His song “The Battle of New Orleans” was a sensation and was recorded by pop singer Johnny Horton. It revealed that Guthrie could combine history and music fluidly to become famous. Driftwood frequently performed songs extolling American roots and traditions, featuring folk melodies and historical anecdotes.
8. Sister Rosetta Tharpe
One of the main pioneers of modern guitar music is Sister Rosetta Tharpe, an Arkansas gospel musician from the mid-20th century. Tharpe was a musician who significantly contributed to gospel, blues, and rock and roll. Originally from Arkansas, she pioneered the combination of spiritual lyrics with a high-energy guitar style.
A musical icon, her unique guitar work and strong voice set her apart. For a mid-20th century, African American woman to play guitar music in an industry traditionally dominated by men – and be revered as an inspiration for other artists was certainly not easy!!!
9. Joe Nichols
Joe Nichols is a country singer noted for his old-fashioned yet progressive style. A native of Arkansas, many of his songs seek to combine elements from a traditional country with a contemporary feel.
He is famous for songs such as “Brokenheartsville”, “Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off”, and “Sunny And 75”. With his silky voice and sincere delivery, Nichols is a favorite with country fans everywhere. He usually sings about love, heartbreak, and the joys of everyday life–plain tales pitted against a lilting melody that strikes up an instant rapport with his listeners.
Nichols has won numerous Grammys and nominations, as well as awards from the Academy of Country Music throughout his career.
10. Wayland Holyfield
Wayland Holyfield is a country-music songwriter who has often been recognized as an outstanding performer, lyricist, and musician. Originally from the state of Arkansas, Holyfield has written many hits that have left an indelible impression on country music.
His songwriting genius has led to chart-breaking hits by such country legends as Don Williams, George Strait, and Conway Twitty. Hits like “Rednecks”, “White Socks”, and “Blue Ribbon Beer” bear witness to Holyfield’s knack for creating memorable lyrics that tug upon audiences’ hearts.
Throughout his career, Holyfield won various awards and accolades across the country music scene for his compositions.
11. Tracy Lawrence
Another Arkansas native country music star is Tracy Lawrence. Lawrence is known for his deep voice and ability to write commercial songs. Coming out of Texas, Lawrence burst onto the country music scene in the ’90s with a style that incorporated old-style roots and modern appeal.
It produced many classic numbers like “Sticks and Stone”, “Alibis”, and “Time Marches On” that tell the stories of love or survival in a world. Lawrence’s music sings to them and hits a nerve with classic country fans.
While Lawrence was born in Atlanta, Texas, a portion of his childhood occurred in Foreman, Arkansas. Later, his early years and the environment he grew up in would have an impact on how he viewed country music and its culture of storytelling.
12. Beth Ditto
Musician and activist dynamo Beth Ditto is originally from Arkansas, where she rose to fame as the singer of her band Gossip. A mix of punk, indie rock, and dance music swept Gossip toward stardom courtesy of her soaring vocals and no-nonsense attitude.
Furthermore, growing up in Searcy, Arkansas, Ditto became and determined what sort of music she would write. Taking an active stance, she’s advocated for LGBTQ+ rights and body positivity.
13. Conway Twitty
The late, great Conway Twitty was a country music legend from Arkansas with a unique mix of country and rock and roll music with soulful ballads. His hits, such as “ Hello Darlin ” and “It’s Only Make Believe,” took top spots on his chart, establishing him even more firmly in the pantheon of country music greats.
With a wide range of styles and engaging stage presence, he won numerous awards, a loyal audience, and a reputation as one of country music’s great performers.
Having settled in Arkansas at age 10, he found success in the country music scene and established deep roots within the state. His love for his home state showed through Twitty’s community participation and concern about local music.
14. Art Porter Sr.
Art Porter Sr. was a talented jazz musician and educator whose presence made itself deeply felt in Arkansas and all over the world. A well-known sax player, Porter Sr., played not only with jazz giants but also contributed to building the local scene in Little Rock, the city he grew up in!
His dedication to music education was awe-inspiring and motivating, guiding many budding musicians in the state of Arkansas. In fact, Art Porter Jr. followed in his father’s footsteps and became quite a good jazz musician himself.
15. Pharoah Sanders
The late Pharoah Sanders, a noted saxophonist and composer, made a major contribution to the world of jazz with his avant-garde style and spiritual approach to music. Sanders, who was born in Little Rock, Arkansas, had deep musical roots that he traced back to the state.
Famous for working with jazz greats such as John Coltrane, Sanders was noted for his improvisational style, which included elements of free and modal jazz. This innovative approach to the horn and his deeply spiritual music work both helped him achieve legendary status in jazz.
16. Collin Raye
Country music superstar Collin Raye hails from De Queen, Arkansas. In fact, you could say that this Arkansas musician spent everything from his birth to the discovery of fame and fortune in De Queen.
He carried his legacy forward from his mother, Lois Wray, a local musician who was an opening act for Sun Records artists in the ’50s, like Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Carl Perkins. Her sons, Collin and Scotty (Scott), joined her on stage, later forming the Wray Brothers Band in the ’80s, where Collin adopted the stage name Bubba Wray.
Raye’s deep voice and heartstring-pulling songs, such as “Love” and “Me Taking America by Storm,” proved to be hits! His folksy songs explore the tender complexities of love, family, and poignant moments in life.
17. Justin Moore
Justin Moore is another country music artist from Arkansas known for his traditional country sound. He’s earned great respect and fame in the genre with hits like “Small Town U.S.A.” and “If Heaven Wasn’t So Far Away.” Born in Arkansas, his music often reflects his rural upbringing, resonating with audiences drawn to his authentic storytelling and classic country style.
Moore has also won Inspirational Country Song and Video awards for ‘If Heaven Wasn’t So Far Away in a 2011 presentation of the grants. Then, last year, he walked away with New Artist of the Year at an Academy of Country Music Awards ceremony after being nominated as Breakthrough Artist by American County Studio Compatibility System.
Generally speaking, he’s regarded as a small-town boy with a rebel heart. So Moore, unable to find material in Nashville, began writing songs. Reviews for his debut album varied: Some called it anonymous country rock, others celebrated his authenticity and southern style.
18. Ike Turner
Known for his innovative guitar playing, Ike Turner is considered a rock and roll pioneer. As a teen, he was born in Clarksdale and moved to West Memphis, Arkansas, where he studied music.
There, he formed the Kings of Rhythm with some friends who went on to become influential players both in the R&B and rock ‘n’ roll worlds. Turner’s musical achievements were groundbreaking.
He was a skilled multi-instrumentalist, an innovative band leader, and something of a pioneer in rock and roll. The record he produced with Jackie Brenston, ‘Rocket 88,’ is generally regarded as one of the first rock and roll songs.
19. Kari Faux
Kari Faux is an internet rapper and singer who rose to prominence for her unique blend of hip-hop and R&B. Growing up in Little Rock, Arkansas, she hit the music scene after she gained attention with her mixtape “Laugh Now Die Later.”
Faux’s music often reflects her eclectic style and witty lyricism, allowing her to carve her niche within the hip-hop landscape.
I wanted to end the list with a bang! What is better than the haunting and captivating rock-based alternative rock and gothic band Evanescence that shook every 90s kid?
With hits like “Bring Me to Life” and “My Immortal,” the band won several Grammy awards and had multi-platinum albums, showcasing their ability to infuse dark, emotional themes into their music.
Despite lineup changes, Evanescence’s signature sound and Amy Lee’s powerful voice continue to captivate audiences globally, solidifying their place as prominent figures in alternative rock.
The band uniquely fuses rock, alternative, heavy metal, industrial, and electronic genres into their music, creating a diverse and dynamic sonic landscape, which has led them to capture a huge and dedicated fanbase over the years.
The sound of Arkansas carries echoes of its diverse musical heritage. From the blues and rockabilly roots echoing through the Delta to the soulful melodies of jazz and gospel, the state’s music resonates with rich storytelling and heartfelt rhythms. Arkansas has surely bred and gifted us with some legends and great talents!