The British Invasion may have happened in the 1960s with the arrival of The Beatles in the United States, but artists from the United Kingdom had been shaping the world of music for a long time before that. They continue to influence many different genres today. Whatever your musical preference, that tiny island in the Atlantic Ocean has some of the best of the best for you.
That’s why we’re bringing you a list of the 55 best British musicians of all time. We’re covering all genres and a lot of eras, so get ready for a listening feast.
1. Paul McCartney
You know we’re going to cover The Fab Four, so let’s get right to it. Paul McCartney rose to fame with The Beatles, but he moved on to many award-winning musical projects, bands, and collaborations after that. He’s easily one of the most talented and universally beloved rock stars of the modern era.
Next: The greatest rock bands in music history (full featured list)
2. John Lennon
John Lennon’s life was cut tragically short, so we don’t know what other amazing things he might have accomplished. However, his work in The Beatles and solo career later on demonstrated beyond a shadow of a doubt that he was one of the greatest musical talents to have lived.
3. George Harrison
George Harrison was a visionary member of The Beatles, and his heartbreaking, soul-searching song, While My Guitar Gently Weeps has become a classic in lyrical and musical expression. He knew how to tell a story with music and stir emotion with music in ways that not many other artists have been able to achieve.
4. Ringo Starr
Ringo Starr was the drumming heartbeat of The Beatles, even writing a few of their biggest hits. Since then, he has gone on to have a remarkable career in music and has been inducted, along with his fellow The Beatles members, into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Next: The top drummers of all time (our full featured list)
5. Julie Andrews
There are few women as iconic as Julie Andrews. With stage and film credits galore, this queen of musical theater spent several decades capturing the hearts of young and old alike with her cheerful disposition and beautiful voice.
Next: Greatest songs from musicals of all time
6. Elton John
Few artists are successfully able to navigate the changing musical trends over time, but Elton John made it seem easy. His songs have become timeless classics of rock and pop, reaching out to different generations with his unique flair for giving a fantastic performance.
Next: The greatest gay songs to celebrate LGBTQ pride
7. Peter Gabriel
Peter Gabriel was mostly known as a voice of the 1970s and 1980s, but he hasn’t been forgotten since. It’s simply that, when he burst onto the scene with Garden Wall and Genesis, he brought a style to his performances that fans couldn’t get enough of. As a result, his voice has come to be a defining sound for that era.
8. Phil Collins
Phil Collins took over as the frontman for Genesis when Peter Gabriel moved on, and he has handled it with great success. His ability to hold an audience with his charismatic voice is unmatched by most other artists of his generation.
9. Judith Weir
Queen Elizabeth II appointed Judith Weir as Master of the King’s Music in 2014, marking the first time a woman has held this position. She is an internationally celebrated composer, most known for the mysterious sound she brings to her operas.
10. Edward Elgar
Edward Elgar was a British composer who lived at the turn of the 20th century. He considered his work to be heavily influenced by non-British artists, and this influence allowed him to create unique compositions that experienced a revival in popularity long after his death.
Next: The best songs to graduate to (graduation tracks)
11. Amy Winehouse
Amy Winehouse hit the scene in the early 2000s with a retro look and sound that captured the hearts of millions. Her blending of jazz and pop soul made her stand out among the many artists of her day. Tragically, she passed away at the age of 27, leaving fans to wonder what amazing music she might be bringing us today.
Next: Full history and members of the 27 club in music
12. Thomas Tallis
This 16th-century composer of high renaissance music is a staple of British musical history. Though many composers live on through their symphonies, Thomas Tallis gave us beautiful choral pieces that are regularly performed by groups of singers today.
13. Kate Bush
In case you missed her during the actual 1980s, the television show Stranger Things has made a strong effort to catch you up on Kate Bush. Her deep, gentle voice became synonymous with the 1980s, and her singles were regular hits.
14. John Taylor
We can thank John Taylor, in part, for the existence of the new romantic band Duran Duran, which started in the late 1970s but became known as a movement of the 1980s. In 1997, he left the band to launch his solo career and star in several film projects. This British bassist is one of the best of his kind.
15. Robert Smith
Robert Smith co-founded The Cure in 1978 and set off an explosion of his gothic rock aesthetic. From music to fashion, he set an example for fans and other musicians alike, paving the way for more new wave movements later on.
16. Imogen Heap
Imogen Heap has been called an experimental pop artist for good reason. She is often the first to try new things with her music, including recording VR concerts, developing musical gloves, and more. It is her ethereal sound, though, that captures audiences. She uses electronic tones that contrast with her lilting voice and haunting lyrics.
17. Frederick Delius
In 1884, Frederick Delius was sent to the United States to manage an orange plantation in Florida. That career didn’t suit him, though, and he soon returned home. However, he had been influenced by the music he heard in Florida, and that helped shape the compositions he was going to become famous for creating.
18. Bonnie Tyler
This pop-rock singer comes from Wales and has released some of the best power ballads of any female singer in the industry. Her singing has a memorable edge to it, and fans love the apparent heartbreak in her voice.
Next: Greatest 80s female vocalists (1980s woman singers)
19. Jimmy Page
Few people have rocked a guitar like Jimmy Page. The founder of Led Zeppelin has been called one of the most influential guitar artists of all time, and he’s been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice.
Next: The greatest 1970s rock bands list (our picks)
20. Robert Plant
When Robert Plant joined Led Zeppelin, he brought his voice and lyrics to Jimmy Page’s epic guitar riffs and John Bonham’s unforgettable drumming. That proved to be the magic combination, and their group went down in history as one of the greatest rock bands ever.
21. Judith Bingham
An early member of the BBC Singers, Judith Bingham went on to have an amazing career as a composer and mezzo-soprano singer. For her services to music, she has been appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire, which gives her an OBE designation after her name.
Next: The greatest composers in music history (our full featured list)
Frontman for The Police for many years, Sting went on to have a successful career as a solo artist and an actor. His talent has earned him a whopping 17 Grammy Awards, a Golden Globe Award, and an Emmy.
23. Gustav Holst
Born in 1874, Gustav Holtz is perhaps best known for his The Planets composition. This is an orchestral suite that effectively secured his place in classical music history. He was also a teacher.
Slash is widely known for his epic guitar riffs in Guns N’ Roses. This British-American rock star has gone on since then to have an incredible career. Rolling Stone magazine listed him among the Greatest Guitarists of All Time.
25. Kiki Dee
Kiki Dee had a fairly large following when she first hit the scene. However, it was after she signed with Elton John’s label in the 1970s that her career skyrocketed her to absolute stardom.
26. Eric Clapton
Eric Clapton is one of the most famous musicians to come out of Britain. His rock ballads are known for carrying raw emotion that becomes truly memorable and heartbreaking when delivered with his husky rock voice.
27. William Byrd
Born in 1540, William Byrd is now regarded as one of the most important Renaissance composers who ever lived. Later in his life, he became a Catholic, and this heavily influenced his musical compositions from then on.
28. Mick Jagger
Did you think we were going to forget The Rolling Stones? This band is an absolute must on a list of the best British artists of all time. Mick Jagger’s sexy rock-and-roll style defined an entire generation of music and set the tone for all that was to come next.
29. Keith Richards
Keith Richards was the guitarist and writer who brought The Rolling Stones to life. His poetic influence secured the band a place in rock history, as he elevated their music to true entertainment as art.
30. Freddie Mercury
The lead singer of Queen is one of the most iconic voices to ever come out of Britain. His range was nearly unmatched by any other singer alive, and his ability to bring operatic power singing to rock ballads made the band an unforgettable experience.
Next: Top Queen songs from their entire discography (our picks)
31. Brian May
Astrophysicist Brian May co-founded Queen and went on to become known as one of the greatest guitar players of all time. His contribution to glam rock helped shape the future of this genre and the subgenres that would follow.
32. Rebecca Saunders
Though she eventually moved to Berlin, this London native is considered one of the best British composers of our time. She enjoys experimenting with a range of musical sounds and changes in her compositions, which makes her work fascinating to listen to.
33. Marcus Mumford
Marcus Mumford co-founded Mumford & Sons in 2007. He plays a variety of string and percussion instruments, including the mandolin. His folk-rock sound is considered some of the best music of our day.
Sometimes known as an alternative rock star, sometimes called a “jangle pop” artist, Morrisey worked his magic in The Smiths. Later, with an iconic voice and style, he left fans swooning.
35. Annie Lennox
This Scottish singer is one of the most recognizable voices to come out of the region. With four Grammy Awards, a Golden Globe Award, and an Academy Award for her music, Annie Lennox is a definitive success.
36. David Bowie
David Bowie’s career was long and filled with narrative artistic expressions in every album. He was known for his glam look, embracing feminine or androgynous fashion styles that shocked many people of the time. Now, he is seen as a trailblazer who paved the way for music, lifestyle, and fashion alike.
Anyone who didn’t already know and love Dido came to know the power of her music when Eminem sampled her song Thank You in his song, Stan. She has won Brit Awards, World Music Awards, and a Billboard Music Award.
38. Benjamin Britten
Benjamin Britten was a British phenomenon of the 20th century. His composition work for concerts, theater, film, and more has been written about many times for its massive contribution to classical music.
39. Sid Vicious
Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols can be a bit of a polarizing topic. The punk band was legendary for its influence on the genre and the politics of the time. However, he had a tragic and violent end to his story that has been documented in several films.
40. Henry Purcell
Henry Purcell was born in 1659 and is known for his Baroque-style music that included influences from Italian and French musical movements. Though he died tragically young, his son Edward also went on to become a famous composer, continuing his father’s legacy.
Next: Greatest baroque era composers
41. Roger Daltrey
Roger Daltrey of The Who can be best experienced in his Broadway show, The Who’s Tommy. This amazing rock opera about a deaf, dumb, and blind pinball player is also available in movie form.
42. Thom Yorke
The main vocalist and songwriter for Radiohead, Thom Yorke, is known for playing a variety of instruments and singing in a compelling falsetto.
43. Hubert Parry
Born in 1848, Hubert Parry is known for his choral compositions and orchestral odes.
44. Liam Gallagher
Liam Gallagher is best known for his work in Oasis, but he has most recently been rocking a successful solo career.
45. Ralph Vaughan Williams
Born in 1872, Ralph Vaughan Williams wrote choral music, operas, and symphonies, all of which are now considered major contributions to British music.
Next: Top symphonies of all time (our complete list)
46. Elvis Costello
Singer, songwriter, and producer, Elvis Costello is a household name for a reason. He’s won several major awards and has been nominated for more.
47. Sally Beamish
British composer and violinist Sally Beamish has also been appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE).
48. Mick Fleetwood
This co-founder of Fleetwood Mac was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998.
49. John Tavener
The Guardian once described John Tavener’s choral compositions and operas as the “musical discovery of the year.”
50. Tom Gray
Tom Gray co-founded the band Gomez and went on to compose for film and television. He has also founded a campaign for fair remuneration for artists.
51. Joe Strummer
Best known for his work in The Clash, Joe Strummer remains a punk rock icon today, even years after his death in 2002. His political music, a staple of the punk genre, has created a legacy for his name.
Next: Top punk rock bands of all time (our full list)
52. Victoria Beckham
Victoria Beckham is one of the most recognizable Spice Girls. This girl band made waves in the late 1990s with their British pop hits.
Next: The greatest girl bands & girl groups of all time
53. Emeli Sandé
This Scottish star has won several awards for her R&B music, including Brit Music Awards, Urban Music Awards, and more. She is also known for her incredible soul style.
Seal is an international success, hailing from London. He has sold over 20 million records and is a qualified success.
55. Paloma Faith
From pop to jazz to R&B, Paloma Faith has done a little bit of it all. She’s won several awards for her enticing performances and unforgettable voice.
Our list of songs about the city of London
Our list of the best British rappers of all time
As the Head Editor and Writer at Music Grotto, Liam helps write and edit content produced from professional music/media journalists and other contributing writers. He works closely with journalists and other staff to format and publish music content for the Music Grotto website. Liam is also the founding member of Music Grotto and is passionate in disseminating editorial content to its readers.
Liam’s lifelong love for music makes his role at Music Grotto such a rewarding one. He loves researching, writing and editing music content for Music Grotto.