Before composer Ludwig van Beethoven died on March 27, 1827, it was his wish that his ailments be studied and shared so "as far as possible at least the world will be reconciled to me after my death."
Now, researchers have taken steps to partially honor that request by analyzing Beethoven's DNA from preserved locks of his hair and sequencing the composer's genome for the first time.
A study detailing the findings published Wednesday in the journal
The researchers determined that the Hiller Lock, long attributed to Beethoven, was actually a hair sample from a woman.
"Our primary goal was to shed light on Beethoven's health problems, which famously include progressive hearing loss, beginning in his mid- to late-20s and eventually leading to him being functionally deaf by 1818," said study coauthor Johannes Krause, a professor at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, in a statement.
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The five hair samples helped scientists discover insights about family history, chronic health problems and what might have contributed to his death at the age of 56.
A portrait of Beethoven by Joseph Karl Stieler, 1820, is pictured here.
In addition to hearing loss, the famed classical composer had recurring gastrointestinal complaints throughout his life, as well as severe liver disease.
Beethoven wrote a letter to his brothers in 1802 asking that his doctor, Johann Adam Schmidt, determine and share the nature of his "illness" once Beethoven died. The letter is known as the Heiligenstadt Testament.
But Beethoven outlived his favorite doctor by 18 years, and after the composer died, the testament was discovered in a hidden compartment in his writing desk. In the letter, Beethoven admitted how hopeless he felt as a music composer struggling with hearing loss, but his work kept him from taking his own life. He said he didn't want to leave ''before I had produced all the works that I felt the urge to compose.''
Since his death, questions have swirled around what ailed Beethoven and his true cause of death. Within the last seven years of his life, the composer experienced at least two attacks of jaundice, which is associated with liver disease, leading to the general belief that he died from cirrhosis.
Medical biographers have since combed through Beethoven's letters and diaries, as well as his autopsy, notes from his physicians, and even notes taken when his body was exhumed twice in 1863 and 1888, with the hopes of piecing together his complicated medical history.
But the researchers behind the new study took things a step further about eight years ago when they set out to do a genetic analysis of Beethoven's hair. The samples they used included hair cut from his head in the seven years prior to his death.
The team started by analyzing a total of eight hair samples from public and private collections across the UK, Europe and the US. During their authentication work, they discovered that two didn't come from Beethoven at all, while another was too damaged to analyze.
Previous work suggesting that Beethoven had lead poisoning was determined to be based on a hair sample that didn't belong to him — one that instead had belonged to a woman.
The Stumpff Lock, from which Beethoven's whole genome was sequenced, with inscription by former owner Patrick Stirling.
But five of the samples all came from the same European male and matched his German ancestry. Beethoven had hand delivered one of the locks himself to the pianist Anton Halm in April 1826, saying "Das sind meine Haare!" ("That is my hair!")
The genetic analysis spotted clues hiding in the composer's DNA that could add context to his health issues.
"We were unable to find a definitive cause for Beethoven's deafness or gastrointestinal problems," Krause said.
The Moscheles Lock, authenticated by the study, includes an inscription by former owner Ignaz Moscheles.
Ira F. Brilliant Center for Beethoven Studies/San Jose State University
"However, we did discover a number of significant genetic risk factors for liver disease," he added. "We also found evidence of an infection with hepatitis B virus in at latest the months before the composer's final illness. Those likely contributed to his death."
Beethoven's genetic data also helped the researchers rule out other potential causes of his ailments, such as celiac disease, an autoimmune condition, lactose intolerance or irritable bowel syndrome.
Letters written by Beethoven, as well as those of his friends, show that the composer regularly consumed alcohol. Although it's difficult to tell how much he drank, a close friend wrote that Beethoven had at least a liter of wine with lunch each day.
These two locks of hair, including one delivered to pianist Anton Halm by Beethoven, were both authenticated by the study.
Drinking alcohol, combined with genetic risk factors for liver disease and his hepatitis B infection, might have been the perfect storm for Beethoven's health near the end of his life.
"If his alcohol consumption was sufficiently heavy over a long enough period of time, the interaction with his genetic risk factors presents one possible explanation for his cirrhosis," said lead study author Tristan Begg, Ph.D. student at the University of Cambridge.
But the researchers cautioned that the timing of all of these events was critical to understanding what contributed to Beethoven's death. Future research could reveal more insights — including the reason behind his hearing loss, the authors said.
"We hope that by making Beethoven's genome publicly available for researchers, and perhaps adding further authenticated locks to the initial chronological series, remaining questions about his health and genealogy can someday be answered," Begg said.
A secret in the DNA
Once the research team established Beethoven's genetic profile, they compared it with the DNA of his living relatives in Belgium. But in a twist, they weren't able to determine a complete match.
While some of the relatives shared a paternal ancestor through Beethoven's family in the late 1500s and early 1600s, there was no match for the Y-chromosome in Beethoven's hair samples.
This suggests that somewhere in the family's history, there was an extramarital affair on Beethoven's father's side that resulted in a child.
"Through the combination of DNA data and archival documents, we were able to observe a discrepancy between Ludwig van Beethoven's legal and biological genealogy," said study coauthor Maarten Larmuseau, a genetic genealogist at the KU Leuven in Belgium.
The researchers think the affair occurred sometime between the 1572 conception of Hendrik van Beethoven, an ancestor in the paternal Beethoven line seven generations removed from the composer, and the conception of Beethoven in 1770.
Most famous musician born the same year as you
Most famous musician born the same year as you
It's always fun to have something in common with a celebrity. Zac Efron dated your cousin? Your Facebook friends will definitely like that. Beyoncé was in your kindergarten class? That's instant cocktail party fodder. Even knowing you're the same age as a celebrity gives you a special bond, no matter how small that bond may be. That's why we compiled this list of the most famous musician born the same year as you.
Stacker identified musicians born every year from 1920 to 2003 and then selected the top three musicians in each year using page view analysis from Wikipedia while ignoring data spikes that may have been caused by big news stories or other anomalies. The result is a full list of the most famous musicians born the same year as you, including some of the biggest names in pop, rock, rap, and jazz. Who was born in your birth year? You'll have to click through to find out. You may also like: 30 pop songs you may not know are covers
Amy Sussman // Getty Images
1920: Charlie Parker
- Date of birth: Aug. 29 (Died: March 12, 1955)
Charlie "Yardbird" Parker set the jazz world on fire with his progressive saxophone style. Parker was born in Kansas City, Kansas, and moved to New York in his early 20s. There, he found kindred spirits in other future legends like Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, and Miles Davis. Parker changed the face of jazz forever with his inventive time signatures and solos but passed away prematurely at 34 due to several health issues.
- Other notable artists: Dave Brubeck, Peggy Lee
William P. Gottleib // Wikimedia Commons
1921: Johnny Otis
- Date of birth: Dec. 28 (Died: Jan. 17, 2012)
Godfather of Rhythm and Blues" Johnny Otis was born in Vallejo, California, but grew up in a predominantly Black area of Berkeley, California, greatly shaping his worldview and musical development. Otis was a hit DJ and TV star in the '50s and found significant acclaim with hits like "Willie and the Hand Jive." The R&B innovator passed away at the age of 90.
- Other notable artists: Charles Mingus, Yma Sumac
1922: Charles Mingus
- Date of birth: April 22 (Died: Jan. 5, 1979)
Charles Mingus was a
bass player and bandleader who grew up in Watts, California, before becoming one of the most influential American jazz musicians of all time. Playing alongside Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong, Mingus carved out a place for himself as a musician and composer. He recorded over 100 albums and 300 scores.
- Other notable artists: Yma Sumac, Illinois Jacquet
Tom Marcello // Flickr
1923: Hank Williams Sr.
- Date of birth: Sept. 17 (Died: Jan. 1, 1953)
A pioneer of country music, Alabama-born Hank Williams Sr.
lived a short but prolific life. He hit the Grand Ole Opry with songs like "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" and "Your Cheatin' Heart" and won fans all over America. While he only recorded 66 songs under his name, an astonishing 37 of them became hits.
- Other notable artists: Maria Callas, Jim Reeves
1925: Sammy Davis Jr.
- Date of birth: Dec. 8 (Died: May 16, 1990)
Rat Pack member
Sammy Davis Jr. was a singer, actor, and dancer. Born in New York City, Davis overcame rampant racism to become one of America's favorite entertainers with hits like "The Candy Man" and "I've Gotta Be Me."
- Other notable artists: BB King, Celia Cruz
Allan warren // Wikimedia Commons
1926: Miles Davis
- Date of birth: May 26 (Died: Sept. 28, 1991)
It's hard to understate the cultural impact of iconic jazz musician Miles Davis, whom Rolling Stone called the "
most revered jazz trumpeter of all time." Born in St. Louis and educated at New York's prestigious Juilliard School, Davis solidified his place in history with "Kind of Blue," the bestselling jazz record of all time.
- Other notable artists: Chuck Berry, Tony Bennett
William P. Gottlieb // Wikimedia Commons
1927: Harry Belafonte
- Date of birth: March 1
Harry Belafonte crossed racial barriers as a singer and actor and became the
first African American to win an Emmy. Born in New York City to Jamaican parents, Belafonte's first hit was "Matilda," followed by "Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)." He has spent his career impacting the world as both an entertainer and an outspoken civil rights activist.
- Other notable artists: Eartha Kitt, Andy Williams
Photo by Keystone // Getty Images
1928: Fats Domino
- Date of birth: Feb. 26 (Died: Oct. 24, 2017)
New Orleans-born Fats Domino tore up the charts with his rock 'n' roll piano playing, which
led to 25 gold records and 65 million albums sold. In some circles, Domino's first single, "The Fat Man," is considered the first rock 'n' roll record.
- Other notable artists: Rosemary Clooney, Eddie Fisher
Roland Godefroy // Wikimedia Commons
1929: June Carter Cash
- Date of birth: June 23 (Died: May 15, 2003)
June Carter Cash was country music royalty two times over as part of the Carter family and as the wife of Johnny Cash. Her prolific career included noteworthy credits such as
co-writing "Ring of Fire," one of Johnny's biggest hits.
- Other notable artists: Lata Mangeshkar, Link Wray
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1930: Ray Charles
- Date of birth: Sept. 23 (Died: June 10, 2004)
Known for his effortlessly cool persona and angelic voice, pianist and singer-songwriter Ray Charles transformed R&B and soul music over his multidecade career, scoring a spot
in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Born in Georgia and raised in Florida, Charles—who became completely blind by age 7—recorded and performed right until his death at 73.
- Other notable artists: Stephen Sondheim, Rolf Harris
Express Newspapers // Getty Images
1931: Sam Cooke
- Date of birth: Jan. 22 (Died: Dec. 11, 1964)
The songs of Sam Cooke are forever intertwined with the soulful music of the '50s and '60s. Cooke developed his musical abilities as a gospel singer before crossing over and basically inventing soul music. A string of timeless hits like "Wonderful World," "Twistin' the Night Away," and "Having a Party" have rendered Cooke's influence immortal.
- Other notable artists: Della Reese, Ike Turner
Unknown // Wikimedia Commons
1932: Johnny Cash
- Date of birth: Feb. 26 (Died: Sept. 12, 2003)
Johnny Cash was born to Arkansas sharecroppers and forged a path to the highest heights of country music with hit songs "I Walk the Line," "Folsom Prison Blues," and the June Carter Cash-penned "Ring of Fire." Cash became the youngest inductee into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1980 at 48. He died less than four months after his wife.
- Other notable artists: John Williams, Little Richard
CC-BY-CSA // Wikimedia Commons
1933: Willie Nelson
- Date of birth: April 29
One star of the
outlaw country subgenre, Texas-born Willie Nelson had a decent career in the '60s until he broke big with his 1973 album "Shotgun Willie." Known for his trademark red bandana headband, long pigtails, and a flagrant love of marijuana, Nelson still tours regularly.
- Other notable artists: Quincy Jones, Nina Simone
RCA Records // Wikimedia Commons
1934: Leonard Cohen
- Date of birth: Sept. 21 (Died: Nov. 7, 2016)
Canadian folk singer and poet Leonard Cohen
didn't release his first album until he was 33 but certainly made his mark with hits like "Hallelujah" and "Suzanne." Cohen's impact as a songwriter is felt through other artists, who have covered his songs over 2,000 times (and counting).
- Other notable artists: Frankie Valli, Eduard Khil
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Rama // Wikimedia Commons
1935: Elvis Presley
- Date of birth: Jan. 8 (Died: Aug. 16, 1977)
White jumpsuits, swinging hips, and tender loving defined the life of Elvis Presley, the biggest star to ever come out of Memphis. "The King of Rock & Roll" became rock music's first big star, with
seven #1 Billboard hits and 25 songs in the top 10. The popularity of Elvis has endured with posthumous record releases and the addition of his Graceland Mansion to the National Register of Historic Places.
- Other notable artists: Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Mathis
1936: Glen Campbell
- Date of birth: April 22 (Died: Aug. 8, 2017)
Pop country singer Glen Campbell
released over 70 albums over his career. An Arkansas native, Campbell started his professional career as a studio musician and wound up a Grammy and Golden Globe winner, TV host, and actor by the time it was all over.
- Other notable artists: Roy Orbison, Kris Kristofferson
MrBlueGenes // Flickr
1937: Waylon Jennings
- Date of birth: June 15 (Died: Feb. 13, 2002)
Country music giant Waylon Jennings grew up in poverty in West Texas before becoming Buddy Holly's bassist when Jennings was just a teenager. The rebel singer carved
a huge niche for himself in the intersection between country and rock across more than 60 albums. Jennings died at 64, shortly after being inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
- Other notable artists: Merle Haggard, Jerry Reed
majunznk // Flickr
1938: Kenny Rogers
- Date of birth: Aug. 21 (Died: Mar. 20, 2020)
He knows when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em, so when "The Gambler" himself Kenny Rogers decided to hang up his hat in October 2017 after nearly seven decades of performing, the world knew it was time to say goodbye—professionally, at least. The Texas-born star made his home in Georgia, where he'd lived with his wife, twin boys, and a goat named Smitty up until his death in 2020.
- Other notable artists: Etta James, Ben E. King
Evening Standard/Hulton Archive // Getty Images
1940: John Lennon
- Date of birth: Oct. 9 (Died: Dec. 8, 1980)
Liverpudlian Lennon crafted some of the most recognizable songs in history as part of the Fab Four, including "I Want to Hold Your Hand" and "Hey Jude." Lennon's incredible songwriting continued after the Beatles disbanded, with more big hits like "Imagine."
- Other notable artists: Ringo Starr, Tom Jones
Edward Wing // Getty Images
1941: Bob Dylan
- Date of birth: May 24
Folk singer-songwriter Bob Dylan became one of the counterculture voices of the 1960s with generation-defining anthems such as "Blowin' in the Wind" and "The Times They Are a-Changin'." Dylan's success is so far-reaching, he even received a
Pulitzer Prize Special Citation for his music's impact on the world. He still performs and records to this day.
- Other notable artists: Paul Simon, Neil Diamond
H. Thompson // Getty Images
1942: Paul McCartney
- Date of birth: June 18
The second Beatle on the list, Paul McCartney is one of two surviving members of the band. While he made his mark as one of the primary voices and songwriters of the most popular rock band in the world, McCartney has enjoyed success even after the band dissolved. His '70s band Wings, and his solo work, have propelled him to unparalleled status among rock stars.
- Other notable artists: Jimi Hendrix, Barbra Streisand
Keystone // Getty Images
1943: George Harrison
- Date of birth: Feb. 25 (Died: Nov. 29, 2001)
Beatles' lead guitarist George Harrison didn't soak up the spotlight like Paul and John, but his impact was just as large. Harrison wrote some of the Beatles' most loved songs, from "Something" to "Here Comes the Sun." He's been inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame twice: as a Beatle and
as a solo artist.
- Other notable artists: Mick Jagger, Jim Morrison
Fox Photos // Getty Images
1944: Diana Ross
- Date of birth: March 26
As the lead singer of the Supremes, Detroit native Diana Ross solidified Motown's place in history. The Supremes scored a record-setting
12 #1 singles on the Billboard Hot 100 charts with major hits like "You Can't Hurry Love" and "Stop! In the Name of Love." Ross' solo career was just as impressive; in 2012, she was given a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Grammys.
- Other notable artists: Jimmy Page, Gladys Knight
You may also like: Iconic music videos from your high school days
Larry Ellis // Getty Images
1945: Bob Marley
- Date of birth: Feb. 6 (Died: May 11, 1981)
The biggest name in island music, Jamaican superstar Bob Marley brought reggae to the masses in the '60s and '70s with his band the Wailers and as a solo artist. Marley's legacy is so powerful that, as of 2017,
his estate was still earning $23 million a year—and the next generation of Marleys has followed suit with similarly successful careers.
- Other notable artists: Eric Clapton, Rod Stewart
Eddie Mallin // Wikimedia Commons
1946: Freddie Mercury
- Date of birth: Sept. 5 (Died: Nov. 24, 1991)
Queen frontman Freddie Mercury
started life in Zanzibar as Farrokh Bulsara and grew up going to boarding schools in India. His musical legacy as part of Queen includes the '70s arena rock anthems "We Will Rock You" and "We Are the Champions." The eccentric singer passed away tragically from AIDS.
- Other notable artists: Cher, Dolly Parton
Keystone // Getty Images
1947: David Bowie
- Date of birth: Jan. 8 (Died: Jan. 10, 2016)
English rocker David Bowie captivated audiences with his androgynous glam style and theatrical performances as the alter-ego Ziggy Stardust.
Musical chameleon Bowie had hit after hit—from "Changes" to "Heroes" to "Space Oddity"—and toured extensively until his death at 69.
- Other notable artists: Elton John, Iggy Pop
Ralph Gatti // Getty Images
1948: Stevie Nicks
- Date of birth: May 26
Phoenix-born Stevie Nicks has been a singer for Fleetwood Mac since 1975. Rolling Stone named her one of the
100 Greatest Songwriters of All Time and one of the 100 Greatest Singers of All Time. She still performs regularly with the band and shows no signs of stopping.
- Other notable artists: Ozzy Osbourne, Alice Cooper
Hulton Archive // Getty Images
1949: Lionel Richie
- Date of birth: June 20
Lionel Richie found his first commercial success as part of the funk-soul band the Commodores. In 1982, he launched a solo career that has earned millions of fans for his soulful crooning on songs like "Hello" and "Say You, Say Me," both of which were
#1 on the Billboard charts.
- Other notable artists: Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen
You may also like: 100 greatest movie songs from 100 years of film
Hulton Archive // Getty Images
1950: Stevie Wonder
- Date of birth: May 13
Stevie Wonder first broke out when he was signed to Motown Records at 11 years old. From that moment on, Wonder became one of the greatest living singer-songwriters with dozens of hit tracks like "Signed, Sealed, Delivered I'm Yours," "Superstition," and "Higher Ground."
- Other notable artists: Tom Petty, Agnetha Faltskog
1951: Phil Collins
- Date of birth: Jan. 30
Born in West London, Phil Collins spent time as a child actor before he found his way to rock 'n' roll. His musical career started with drumming for the progressive rock band Genesis, eventually becoming the group's lead singer. Collins also pursued a wildly successful solo career, racking up chart-topping hits including "Sussudio" and "Don't Lose My Number."
- Other notable artists: Sting, Bonnie Tyler
1952: George Strait
- Date of birth: May 18
King of Country George Strait has been crooning to country music fans since the early 1980s. His full-on rancher style (cowboy hat, Western shirt, jeans) coincided perfectly with the "
Urban Cowboy" movement—and Strait added his name to the top of the list of honky-tonk heroes.
- Other notable artists: Paul Stanley, Neal Peart
Bede735 // Wikimedia Commons
1953: Cyndi Lauper
- Date of birth: June 22
Cyndi Lauper found immense success in the '80s as a pop star with hits like "Girls Just Want to Have Fun," "True Colors," and "Time After Time." Born in Quebec, Lauper has expanded her purview to include scores for Broadway musicals (composing for "Kinky Boots") and
inspiring humanitarian work.
- Other notable artists: Chaka Khan, Tito Jackson
Hulton Archive // Getty Images
1954: Stevie Ray Vaughan
- Date of birth: Oct. 3 (Died: Aug. 27, 1990)
Dallas-born Stevie Ray Vaughan was arguably one of the
greatest guitarists who ever lived. He picked up the guitar at 7 and eventually played the Texas roadhouse circuit with his band Double Trouble until being discovered by David Bowie. After playing a legendary show with Eric Clapton and Buddy Guy, Vaughan's helicopter crashed, leaving the world without one of its greatest musical talents.
- Other notable artists: Annie Lennox, Elvis Costello
You may also like: History of rock 'n' roll
David Redfern/Redferns via Getty Images
1955: Reba McEntire
- Date of birth: March 28
Country singer and actress Reba McEntire was born on an Oklahoma ranch and
got her start singing in a high school cowboy band. She was named the Country Music Association's Entertainer of the Year in 1986 and has since top-lined her own sitcom, "Reba," and earned the National Artistic Achievement from the United States Congress.
- Other notable artists: Angus Young, Billy Idol
Spencer Platt // Getty Images
1956: Kenny G
- Date of birth: Aug. 29
Easily one of the greatest saxophonists of all time, Kenny G will not only be remembered for having sold
over 75 million copies worldwide but also for having diversified himself across many disciplines of entertainment. In addition to producing his many multiplatinum solo albums, Kenny G has also collaborated on soundtracks for films like "The Bodyguard" and "Pretty Woman" and accepted cameos in big pop culture productions such as Katy Perry's "Last Friday Night" music video.
- Other notable artists: La Toya Jackson, Ian Curtis
DeltaNewsHub // Flickr
1957: Hans Zimmer
- Date of birth: Sept. 12
Composer Hans Zimmer became a minor rock star in his native Germany before transitioning into the advertising world. Throughout the '80s, he scored numerous films before
his big breakout with "Rain Man." After that, Zimmer began scoring high volumes of films each year and continues to this day, including the live-action "Lion King" remake and "X-Men: Dark Phoenix."
- Other notable artists: Sid Vicious, Gloria Estefan
Richard Yaussi // Wikimedia Commons
1958: Michael Jackson
- Date of birth: Aug. 29 (Died: June 25, 2009)
The King of Pop got his start in Gary, Indiana, as part of his family pop group The Jackson 5. After going solo, Jackson dominated the charts with songs like "Beat It" and "Bad," which were adored worldwide. As Jackson dealt with scandals, however, his behavior became more reclusive and eccentric. Just before launching a comeback tour, he
succumbed to a fatal combination of drugs at 50.
- Other notable artists: Prince, Madonna
CC-BY-SA // Wikimedia Commons
1959: 'Weird Al' Yankovic
- Date of birth: Oct. 23
There's something poetic about "Weird Al" Yankovic following Michael Jackson on this list since some of his biggest hits ("Eat It," "Fat") are parodies of Jackson songs. Yankovic's entire career is built off of parodying other artists' work, but even as a parodist, he's been
nominated for 15 Grammys and won four times.
- Other notable artists: Morrissey, Bryan Adams
You may also like: #1 pop song from the year you graduated high school
slgckgc // Flickr
- Date of birth: May 10
Born and raised in Dublin, Paul David Hewson later took the nickname Bono in the late '70s. As the frontman for U2, Bono made his mark on rock history; as a humanitarian, he's made his mark on the world. He's been
nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize and previously named one of Time magazine's People of the Year.
- Other notable artists: Amy Grant, Roger Taylor
Peter Neill // Wikimedia Commons
1961: Boy George
- Date of birth: June 14
karma chameleon started life in London as George O'Dowd, eventually finding his way into England's blue-eyed soul movement as the lead singer of Culture Club. The group's hit "Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?" went to #1 in countries around the globe—and Boy George, along with his signature genderless style, has been riding the wave ever since.
- Other notable artists: Billy Ray Cyrus, Susan Boyle
Clisby // Getty Images
1962: Axl Rose
- Date of birth: Feb. 6
Axl Rose welcomed everyone to the jungle as the lead singer of Guns N' Roses and has been named as one of the
100 Greatest Singers of All Time. The Indiana troublemaker made his way out to Los Angeles in the early 1980s and landed in the middle of the hard rock explosion. As Guns N' Roses climbed the charts, Rose earned a reputation as one of the bad boys of rock 'n' roll, a distinction that survives today.
- Other notable artists: Garth Brooks, Jon Bon Jovi
Ed Vill // Wikimedia Commons
1963: George Michael
- Date of birth: June 25 (Died: Dec. 25, 2016)
George Michael grew up in North London and broke onto the pop scene in 1980 as half of the hit group Wham! "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go" was a smashing success, but Michael went solo in 1987 with the megahit "Faith." His illustrious career spanned four decades before his death at 53 years old.
- Other notable artists: Whitney Houston, Seal
Kevin Winter // Getty Images
- Date of birth: Sept. 7 (Died: March 26, 1995)
One of the founders of seminal gangster rap group N.W.A., Eric Wright grew up on the streets of Compton, California. He went from being a drug dealer to a multiplatinum artist as N.W.A. exploded onto the scene. Less than a decade after his career began, N.W.A. had disbanded, and
Eazy-E fell prey to complications from AIDS. He was just 30.
- Other notable artists: Lenny Kravitz, Courtney Love
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1965: Dr. Dre
- Date of birth: Feb. 18
While Eazy-E's story tragically ended, fellow N.W.A. member Dr. Dre's tale is still being told. California gave birth to Dre as Andre Young. He first made his name as the group's DJ—but as a solo artist and the creator of Death Row Records, Dr. Dre took gangster rap mainstream. As the CEO of Aftermath Records, Dre launched the career of Eminem. After that, he started an audio brand called Beats by Dre, which eventually
sold to Apple for $3 billion.
- Other notable artists: Shania Twain, Slash
Jason Persse // Wikimedia Commons
1966: Janet Jackson
- Date of birth: May 16
Janet Jackson is the youngest member of the famous Jackson family and started her career performing with her siblings as part of the family's TV variety show, "The Jacksons." She went off on her own and found enormous success as a solo singer and dancer,
earning 10 #1 Billboard hits, five Grammys, and an Academy Award nomination.
- Other notable artists: Darius Rucker, Rick Astley
J Vettorino // Wikimedia Commons
1967: Kurt Cobain
- Date of birth: Feb. 20 (Died: April 5, 1994)
mercurial lead singer of iconic rock band Nirvana was one of the most influential names of the entire grunge movement that grew out of his home state of Washington. Nirvana became one of the most significant bands of the '90s but broke up after the loss of Cobain.
- Other notable artists: Keith Urban, R. Kelly
Fabio Diena // Shutterstock
1968: Celine Dion
- Date of birth: March 30
Quebecois superstar Celine Dion sang on TV for the first time when she was just 13 years old. She's
one of the bestselling female singers in music history and continues to perform with sold-out shows worldwide.
- Other notable artists: Kylie Minogue, LL Cool J
Anirudh Koul // Wikimedia Commons
1969: Jennifer Lopez
- Date of birth: July 24
J.Lo, Jenny from the Block, the former Mrs. Marc Antony—it doesn't matter what you call her, Jennifer Lopez is one of the biggest stars in the world. Originally from the Bronx, Lopez started her career as a backup dancer before transitioning into acting in 1993. She released her debut album in 1999 and became a massive star, eventually winding up
atop Forbes' Celebrity 100 list. She served for four seasons as a judge and executive producer on NBC's hit dance competition show "World of Dance."
- Other notable artists: Jay-Z, Gwen Stefani
You may also like: The richest country music stars
KHALED DESOUKI // Getty Images
1970: Mariah Carey
- Date of birth: March 27
Mariah Carey became an overnight sensation in 1990 with the release of her self-titled album and recorded a
#1 hit in every year of the '90s. As one of the bestselling artists of all time, with over 200 million records sold, Carey has earned her place in history. She continues to perform regularly, with a new residency announced for this summer in Las Vegas.
- Other notable artists: DMX, Master P
1971: Tupac Shakur
- Date of birth: June 16 (Died: Sept. 13, 1996)
Representing for the West Coast in the gangster rap feuds of the '90s, Tupac became a legend for his rap skills as well as his acting. He released his first album in 1991 and started to work regularly as a film actor ("Poetic Justice," "Juice," "Above the Rim"). After an intense feud between rival rap factions, Tupac was killed in Las Vegas in September 1996
as his career was reaching new heights.
- Other notable artists: Selena Quintanilla, Snoop Dogg
Columbia Pictures Corporation
- Date of birth: Oct. 17
Eminem was born as Marshall Mathers and spent most of his formative years in the Detroit area (and still lives there today). As a rapper, he's one of the bestselling artists in history, with eight albums that have gone multiplatinum and
five Billboard #1 hits.
- Other notable artists: Notorious B.I.G., Liam Gallagher
DoD News features // Wikimedia Commons
1973: Pharrell Williams
- Date of birth: April 5
First rising to prominence as part of the record-producing duo the Neptunes, Pharrell Williams has his hands in a lot of different pots including music, fashion, and movies. He's remained a songwriter and producer his entire career,
spearheading massive hits like Daft Punk's "Get Lucky" and Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines," as well as his own giant smash "Happy."
- Other notable artists: Nas, Akon
Frank Schwichtenberg // Wikimedia Commons
1974: Victoria Beckham
- Date of birth: April 17
Victoria Beckham has enjoyed two significant careers in her life: first as a member of the hit U.K. girl group the Spice Girls, and the second
as a fashion designer. As Posh Spice, she toured the world and released chart-topping pop songs. As soccer star David Beckham's wife, she became a fixture of the tabloids, which only helped raise her celebrity profile. She currently spends most of her time running her fashion empire and becoming a reality TV star.
- Other notable artists: Robbie Williams, Lil' Kim
You may also like: Famous songs about every state
Valery Hache // Getty Images
1975: 50 Cent
- Date of birth: July 6
Born in Queens, New York, as Curtis Jackson, 50 Cent transitioned out of the life of a drug dealer and into the world of rap. Just as he was finding success in the late '90s and early 2000s, he was shot nine times at close range. When he recovered, he released his debut album, "Get Rich or Die Tryin'," and set
sales records immediately. While he made his career as a rapper, he's also been a hugely successful businessman—from his G-Unit empire to his shrewd investment in Vitamin Water.
- Other notable artists: Sia, Fergie
Alex Const // Wikimedia Commons
1976: Blake Shelton
- Date of birth: June 18
Oklahoma-born Blake Shelton moved to Nashville, Tennessee, at 17 to pursue his dream of becoming a country music star. His self-titled debut album registered three Top 20 hits, and he's followed it up with a huge career that's featured 35 total songs on the
Billboard Hot 100.
- Other notable artists: Chester Bennington, Luke Bryan
Thailand2016 // Wikimedia Commons
1977: Kanye West
- Date of birth: June 8
Kanye West is a producer and performer who's also one of the most controversial figures in hip-hop. After breaking in as a producer for Jay-Z, he scored hit after hit on his own records, like "Through the Wire," "Gold Digger," and "Stronger." West's made just as much noise outside of his performing career as the husband of reality star Kim Kardashian and
frequent Twitter user.
- Other notable artists: Shakira, Daddy Yankee
Jason Persse // Flickr
1978: Nicole Scherzinger
- Date of birth: June 29
The Pussycat Dolls became one of the biggest girl groups in history in the 2000s, with
54 million records sold and Nicole Scherzinger at the helm. The group broke up in 2009, and Scherzinger embarked on a solo career. She's also spent time as an actress and reality TV judge on shows like "The Sing-Off" and "The X Factor."
- Other notable artists: John Legend, Luis Fonsi
Anthony Devlin // Getty Images
- Date of birth: Sept. 8
Philadelphian Alecia Moore, now known simply as Pink, started off in an R&B group. She eventually went solo and scored major hits like "Get the Party Started" and "Just Like a Pill." She continues to perform as one of the most influential female pop stars of the 21st century.
- Other notable artists: Aaliyah, Adam Levine
You may also like: Songs that dominated Billboard charts the longest
George De Sota // Getty Images
1980: Gucci Mane
- Date of birth: Feb. 12
Gucci Mane started out as a young hustler named Radric Davis but is one of hip hop's most successful acts today. Drug addiction and legal issues have sidetracked his career somewhat, but he was a featured artist on the
megahit "Black Beatles" in 2016 and toured all summer in 2018.
- Other notable artists: Christina Aguilera, T.I.
Jason Persse // Wikimedia Commons
- Date of birth: Sept. 4
Born and raised in Houston, Beyoncé first found fame as a singer in Destiny's Child before going the solo route and becoming one of the world's most successful pop stars. Her
biggest hits ("Crazy in Love," "Single Ladies," "Run the World") have captivated the world and made her one of the most-awarded stars in history with 28 Grammys and the most wins in MTV VMA history since 2016.
- Other notable artists: Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears
Kevin Winter // Getty Images
1982: Nicki Minaj
- Date of birth: Dec. 8
Born in Trinidad and raised in New York, Nicki Minaj spent time at New York's famous performing arts-focused LaGuardia High School (the "Fame" school) before hitting the mainstream with her debut album, "Pink Friday." Releasing hit after hit and rocking her glam yet outrageous fashion sense, Minaj propelled herself to the top of the charts on multiple occasions. Her acting career has also bloomed, with appearances in movies like "Barbershop: The Next Cut" and notable "
Saturday Night Live" performances.
- Other notable artists: Lil Wayne, Kelly Clarkson
Eva Rinaldi // Flickr
1983: Amy Winehouse
- Date of birth: Sept. 14 (Died: July 23, 2011)
British soul singer Amy Winehouse made a name for herself with a deeply engaging voice and trademark beehive hairdo. She set records by
winning five Grammys in 2008, including Best New Artist, Record of the Year, Song of the Year, Pop Vocal Album, and Female Pop Vocal Performance. Winehouse fought addiction during most of her career and succumbed to her battle at just 27 years old.
- Other notable artists: Future, Carrie Underwood
Rama // Wikimedia Commons
1985: Bruno Mars
- Date of birth: Oct. 8
Bruno Mars became the biggest star to come out of the Hawaii islands. Singing since
the age of 4 and signed to Motown at 18, Mars didn't truly become a sensation until he released "Just the Way You Are," which became a #1 hit in 2010. He's the first solo artist in history to have his first 13 songs all reach the Top 10 in the American Top 40.
- Other notable artists: Lana Del Rey, J. Cole
Kevin Winter // Getty Images
1986: Lady Gaga
- Date of birth: March 28
Part pop star, part performance artist, Lady Gaga has dominated dance music for more than a decade since her debut album, "The Fame," produced four #1 hits. Known as much for her
flamboyant costumes as she is for her performances, Gaga has been the reigning queen of dance music for so long that Esquire called her the " Grandmother of Pop" back in 2010.
- Other notable artists: Drake, Lindsey Stirling
Michael Buckner // Getty Images
1987: Kendrick Lamar
- Date of birth: June 17
Rap's biggest star was born in Compton, California, as Kendrick Duckworth. His major label debut, "good kid, m.A.A.d city,"
was certified platinum in 2013. Four albums later, MTV named him the "Hottest MC in the Game," while Time magazine listed him as one of 2016's Most Influential People. But there's even more—Kendrick Lamar's "Damn." became the first non-jazz album to win the Pulitzer Prize for Music.
- Other notable artists: Kesha, Wiz Khalifa
Batiste Safont // Wikimedia Commons
- Date of birth: Feb. 20
Rihanna is the youngest and fastest artist to attain
14 #1 singles on the Billboard Hot 100 list. Def Jam records signed her when she was just a teenager, and she's been climbing the charts ever since. Her dancehall-inspired pop has sold more than 54 million records, with worldwide smash hits like "Umbrella" and "S.O.S."
- Other notable artists: Adele, Vanessa Hudgens
FlickreviewR 2 // Wikimedia Commons
1989: Taylor Swift
- Date of birth: Dec. 13
Few artists can go from teenage country music star to global pop sensation, but that's exactly what Pennsylvania's Taylor Swift was able to do. She initially hit the country charts in 2006 with her self-titled debut and was setting all kinds of records just a few years later with 22 Top 40 singles from 2006 to 2010.
- Other notable artists: Chris Brown, G-Eazy
You may also like: Top 100 country songs of all time
- Date of birth: Jan. 22
Born Sir Robert Bryson Hall II (the Sir is part of his name, not a British honorific) in Maryland, hip-hop artist Logic
started gaining traction with his mixtapes in 2010 and eventually found his way to Def Jam Records. With six mixtapes and three studio albums under his belt, including the major hit "1-800-273-8255," Logic has become a fixture on Billboard charts.
- Other notable artists: The Weeknd, Rita Ora
Kevin Winter // Getty Images
1991: Ed Sheeran
- Date of birth: Feb. 17
The red-headed British pop crooner has won millions of fans with his romantic ballads, and he's written songs for stars like One Direction, Taylor Swift, and others. A
Member of the Order of the British Empire, Sheeran has also added the title of actor to his resume—after appearances on HBO's "Game of Thrones" and "The Bastard Executioner" on FX.
- Other notable artists: Charlie Puth, Louis Tomlinson
Christopher Johnson // Wikimedia Commons
1992: Cardi B
- Date of birth: Oct. 11
Cardi B hit the true mainstream when she appeared as
a musical guest on "Saturday Night Live" back in April. The female rapper from the Bronx started her rise to fame on Instagram back when she was working as an exotic dancer and moved over to reality TV on VH1's "Love & Hip Hop: New York." After two seasons on the show, she made the full-time jump to music and has been climbing the ladder to stardom since then with songs like the ultra-popular " Bodak Yellow," "I Like It," "Wap," and "Up."
- Other notable artists: Selena Gomez, Demi Lovato
Rich Fury // Getty Images
1993: Ariana Grande
- Date of birth: June 26
Ariana Grande was seemingly born for stardom: She started on Broadway at 15 and quickly landed roles on Nickelodeon sitcoms. She moved from actor to pop star in 2013 and found instant success with global hits like "Bang Bang" and "Love Me Harder." At just 25 years old, she had already scored
nine Top 10 hits on the Billboard charts.
- Other notable artists: Zayn Malik, Liam Payne
Berisik Radio.com // Wikimedia Commons
1994: Justin Bieber
- Date of birth: March 1
Justin Bieber has been a worldwide celebrity since he was a preteen. The Canadian singer gained prominence
from YouTube videos and released his first studio album at 15. He's made hit after hit, but the spotlight has magnified the problems of success for someone so young. Now, he's trying to rehabilitate his image and maintain his post as a huge pop star, having done so by releasing #1 albums like "Purpose," "Changes," and "Justice."
- Other notable artists: Halsey, Harry Styles
You may also like: Iconic one-hit wonders over the past 50 years
Stephen Lovekin // Getty Images
1995: Dua Lipa
- Date of birth: Aug. 22
Born in London to Albanian parents, Dua Lipa is the youngest artist to
get 1 billion music video views on YouTube. Her hits "IDGAF" and "Blow Your Mind (Mwah)" are in heavy rotation, and the follow-up hit "Levitating"—off her sophomore album, "Future Nostalgia"—became the most-played song in the United States in 2021.
- Other notable artists: Post Malone, Troye Sivan
jus10h // Flickr
1996: Lil Peep
- Date of birth: Nov. 1 (Died: Nov. 15, 2017)
Lil Peep was a heavily tattooed underground rapper from Long Island who found his audience through SoundCloud. Just as his star was rising, Lil Peep overdosed on drugs and lost his life at 21. Several songs of his songs have since been released posthumously.
- Other notable artists: Jack Gilinsky, Jack Johnson
Pascal Le Segretain // Getty Images
- Date of birth: Sept. 1
The youngest member of Korean pop boy band BTS is Jeon Jungkook. He is a singer and dancer from Busan, South Korea, who, while known for his many talents, is no stranger to the exhaustion of training and performing—just
look at BTS' YouTube Red series.
- Other notable artists: Camila Cabello, Kodak Black
Yun_Q // Flickr
- Date of birth: Jan. 23 (Died: June 18, 2018)
Jahseh Onfroy was one of Florida's newest rap sensations as Xxxtentacion, having broken out with the help of SoundCloud and his most popular song "SAD!"
Legal troubles put Xxxtentacion in the spotlight for the wrong reasons, and changes to streaming service policies against hate speech influenced his popularity. Unfortunately, it came to an end in 2018 when the rapper was shot and killed during an armed robbery in Florida.
- Other notable artists: Shawn Mendes, Khalid
Florida Department of Corrections
1999: Madison Beer
- Date of birth: March 5
Long Island singer Madison Beer got her big break when Justin Bieber tweeted about her. Her first song to crack the Billboard 200 was "As She Pleases," reaching #93 in February 2018.
- Other notable artists: HRVY, NBA YoungBoy
You may also like: What 50 famous musical acts looked like at the start of their careers
Andreas Rentz // Getty Images
2000: Lil Pump
- Date of birth: Aug. 17
With over 11 million Instagram followers, Miami's Lil Pump is the underground rapper of the Instagram generation. His song "Gucci Gang" has already gone
certified platinum, and the New York Times has also covered his rise to stardom. Not bad for a high school dropout.
- Other notable artists: Willow Smith, Daniel Skye
Paras Griffin // Getty Images
2001: Billie Eilish
- Date of birth: Dec. 18
Billie Eilish stormed onto the music scene in 2016 with her SoundCloud release "Ocean Eyes." Raised in Los Angeles by her entertainment-industry executive parents, she frequently collaborates with her brother, Finneas. Eilish made history threefold in 2020 by becoming the first woman, the youngest person, and the second person ever to win four main Grammy categories (and in a single night): Best New Artist, Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and Album of the Year.
- Other notable artists: Lil TJAY, Zach Herron
Scott Dudelson // Getty Images
2002: Loren Gray
- Date of birth: April 19
Loren Gray was just 13 years old when she became famous on TikTok (musical.ly at the time) in 2015. Despite being bullied for her budding social media stardom, Gray would get the last laugh in 2019 when she became TikTok's most-followed user for an entire year. Apart from succeeding as one of
TikTok's highest-earning users, Gray's since forged a singing career for herself and has appeared in music videos for fellow pop stars like Taylor Swift ( "The Man").
- Other notable artists: Lil Mosey, NLE Choppa
Noam Galai // Getty Images
2003: Olivia Rodrigo
- Date of birth: Feb. 20
From Disney darling to three-time Grammy-winning recording artist in just a few years' time, Olivia Rodrigo's path to pop stardom is nothing short of miraculous. Although she'd built a fanbase for her acting work in the late 2010s, Rodrigo became an overnight sensation with the release of her
record-breaking debut single, "Driver's License," which would unequivocally become the song of 2021. The California native was named Billboard's Woman of the Year in 2022 and Time's Entertainer of the Year in 2021.
- Other notable artists: The Kid Laroi, JoJo Siwa
Amy Sussman // Getty Images
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