30 musicians with legendarily long careers
It's no secret that the music business can be a cruel and hostile enterprise and one that's known to kick an act when they're down. In turn, even successful musicians can find themselves without a contract or an audience as soon as the creative well runs dry. Nevertheless, through the mist of one-hit wonders and short-lived careers, there has come a range of certifiable mainstays. These are the artists who haven't just endured throughout the decades but managed to keep pace with the industry's shape-shifting landscape. In some cases, they remain relevant by changing up their sound or adopting new production techniques. In other cases, the fanbase is so broad and loyal that no amount of mediocre output can dismantle their careers.
Meanwhile, the longest-running acts are more than mere purveyors of classic tunes. Since music is so fundamental to Western culture, its foremost veterans will be remembered for decades and possibly centuries to come. In the same manner that contemporary society still pays its respects to Mozart, Bach, and Beethoven, so too will future societies honor The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Miles Davis, and others. To that end, established musical acts carry the torch of history every time they drop an album or hit the stage.
In commemoration of those who stayed the course, Stacker presents 30 musicians with legendarily long careers. The list was compiled using various internet-based sources, including Billboard and Rolling Stone. Being that there was a fairly large pool from which to choose, Stacker tried to focus on artists who didn't just survive throughout the decades but kept up with or even defined multiple trends. For example, Louis Armstrong burst onto the scene in the 1920s and didn't release his best-selling album, “Hello Dolly!,” until 1964. By contrast, artists like James Brown and Chuck Berry (who aren't included) mostly remain synonymous with specific periods of output, despite their long and massively influential careers.
The list also strives for a certain degree of musical diversity. To that end, it features country artists, jazz icons, rock legends, soul singers, and classic pop vocalists alike. What results is a comprehensive overview of music history itself by way of the medium's most accomplished performers.
Read on to learn more about 30 musicians with legendarily long careers as of 2019.
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Keyboardist Herbie Hancock was a classical music prodigy as early as age seven, eventually transitioning into jazz. Throughout the 1960s, he played piano in the Miles Davis Quintet while simultaneously working on various solo projects and collaborations. Still active to this day, he remains best known for the 1973 album “Head Hunters” and his early 1980s keyboard anthem “Rockit.”
One of the most prolific recording artists of all-time, Johnny Cash released 96 albums over his near-50-year career. Early songs such as “I Walk the Line” and “Folsom Prison Blues” helped define his unique brand of subdued grit. Just when his popularity seemed down for the count, Cash launched a major 1990s comeback with help from producer Rick Rubin.
The Isley Brothers
It's a family affair for soul outfit The Isley Brothers, who first formed as a gospel quartet of siblings back in the early 1950s. Upon the death of Vernon Isley, the group became a trio and released the song “Shout” in 1959. Ronald Isley continued to perform lead vocals over the subsequent decades, which saw the group bringing in new family members while adapting to various musical trends.
Self-taught composer Frank Zappa landed his first recording gig as early as 1962 when he provided the soundtrack to a low-budget film called “The World's Greatest Sinner.” Soon after, he teamed up with the Mothers of Invention and released the landmark double album “Freak Out!” Its sprawling array of genres and styles laid the groundwork for a similarly diverse career, which featured everything from top-selling pop songs to complex classical arrangements.
They don't call David Bowie a “musical chameleon” for nothing. Not only did the rock icon shift from one style to the next throughout the 1970s and early 1980s, but he set various aesthetic templates along the way. While his latter-day output wasn't as impactful as his earlier efforts, his singular aura and mystique never waned.
With help from backing group The Drifters (later The Shadows), this British pop legend released “Move It” in 1958. Often credited as the first British classic rock song, it kicked off a massively successful career that's still going to this day. Richard's 2018 effort “Rise Up”—his first album of original material in 14 years—peaked at #4 on the U.K.'s Official Chart.
A veritable institution unto himself, crooner Tony Bennett scored his first #1 single with the 1951 ballad “Because of You.” Numerous hits would follow, making him one of the few artists to have new albums land on the charts in each of the last seven decades. As if all his achievements weren't impressive enough, Bennett is also an accomplished painter.
Pianist and keyboardist Chick Corea began his career in the early 1960s, playing alongside jazz giants such as Herbie Mann, Mongo Santamaria, and Stan Getz. In 1968, he joined Miles Davis' band and thus became a central figure in the emerging jazz fusion genre. Eventually breaking out on his own, Corea still releases new music to this day.
Currently in the midst of a Las Vegas residency, Aerosmith remains one of the most storied acts in music history. Their first wave of success came in the mid-1970s, with the release of hard rock albums such as “Rocks” and “Toys in the Attic.” Later bringing in outside songwriters, the band reinvented itself as one of the best-selling acts of the late 1980s and early 1990s.
According to some experts, Bing Crosby was the “first multimedia star of the 20th century.” While today's audiences might know him best as the man behind “White Christmas,” that song merely skirts the surface of an accomplished and influential career. Everyone from Frank Sinatra to Perry Como took direct cues from this legendary vocal talent.