31. Madonna – Pop
When Madonna first made the scene in the early ‘80s, she was roundly dismissed by critics as a flash-in-the-pan pop princess. Thirty-five years on, most of those guys are probably writing coupon copy for local supermarket circulars. Madonna, by contrast, is the reigning Queen of Pop.
Madonna Louise Ciccone was born in Bay City, Michigan, and raised in the suburbs of Detroit by devoutly Catholic parents. Though a bright student and the recipient of a dance scholarship to the University of Michigan, she nonetheless dropped out after her sophomore year and sojourned in New York at the height of both the punk and disco eras in that city. These seemingly antithetical cultural movements would both have a formative effect on Ciccone, who landed her first major gig as a backup dancer for touring disco singer Patrick Hernandez.
In 1979, Madonna formed her own band, a short-lived punk outfit called The Breakfast Club. Though she started out on drums, her personality quickly earned her duties as lead vocalist. Over the next two years, though, she embraced the lean, synthy textures of the club scene and proved uncommonly adept at delivering hooks, eventually coming to the attention of Sire records.
She released released her self-titled debut in September of 1983 and, by October, scored her first Top 40 hit with “Holiday.” “Borderline” followed by cracking the Top Ten in early ’84, launching a streak of 17 consecutive Top Ten entries.
With 1984’s Like a Virgin, Madonna had become an absolute cultural sensation. Performing the title track during a live performance at the 1984 MTV Video Music Awards, she famously humped the stage while wearing a wedding dress and veil. To date, this remains among the most iconic performances in pop history, a declaratively sexual statement from a strong and independent woman, roughly the female equivalent of Elvis Presley gyrating on The Ed Sullivan Show 30 years earlier.
It also launched Madonna as the female counterpart to Michael Jackson, a trailblazer in the music video medium. As MTV was beginning its decade-long reign over youth culture, Madonna was a true innovator. Incorporating risqué imagery, controversial ideas, and evocative cinematic production values into her music and videos, Madonna emerged as the top female performer in the business.
In a medium where women are more typically judged by their appearance and their youth than their bravado and their talent, Madonna has succeeded in creating overtly sexual music while remaining stubbornly relevant. Among the reasons for her continued success and her incalculable influence on popular music is a 30-year career distinguished by the highest quality of songwriting. Whether through her own pen or through collaborations with the top pop-smiths in the game, Madonna has benefited from some of the greatest confectionary pop hooks to grace the radio.
She has also ceaselessly transformed her image, pushed boundaries, teased taboos, and embraced the empowerment of her fellow female artists. The result is a legacy that gave birth to Britney Spears, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, and basically the entire mega-spectacle performance aesthetic that drives the touring pop business today.
Madonna is a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, founder of Maverick Records, and—according to the Guinness Book of World Records—the best-selling female artist of all time with more than 300 million records sold worldwide.
32. Paul McCartney – Rock
Along with John Lennon, Paul McCartney was half of the most important songwriting duo in the history of recorded music. The Beatles marked an inflection point, a moment when the force of popular music was powerful enough to move cultural mountains, to widen generation gaps, to signal a new and consequential identity for the world’s youth. If Lennon was the soul of The Beatles, McCartney was the brain. Ever the perfectionist, McCartney was the chief architect of the Beatles’ most ambitious and convention-shattering accomplishments.
The young McCartney excelled as a student, a fact which gained him admission into the reputable Liverpool Institute. His enrollment at the grammar school led to a chance 1954 meeting with George Harrison. His next chance meeting was at a 1957 church picnic, where he took in a spirited performance by a band called the Quarrymen. Paul approached the singer and introduced himself. This was the beginning of his musical partnership with John Lennon, one that would rewrite the rule book for popular music. Harrison joined a year later and, by 1960, they had dubbed themselves The Beatles. When Ringo Starr joined on drums in 1962, the most famous foursome in music was born.
With the release of their first single, “Love Me Do,” in 1963, the Beatles touched off a fan hysteria, media fascination, and merchandising blitzkrieg never previously experienced by a music act. The firestorm of attention became known as Beatlemania, a phenomenon fueled by four distinct, clever, and disarmingly charismatic young Brits. Their arrival at JFK Airport in February of 1964 signaled the start of the British Invasion, a period in rock and roll history that brought the Rolling Stones, the Who, the Animals, the Kinks, and countless other groundbreaking British acts stateside.
Their subsequent appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show would beam the Beatles into an estimated 73 million homes. The U.S. tour that followed was marked by pandemonium, as the Beatles found themselves the focus of intense, passionate, and utterly chaotic mass expressions of fandom. At the center of this mania, McCartney and Lennon were songwriters, lyricists, and hook-makers without equal. Even as the Beatles achieved uncontested dominance over the Billboard charts—holding an unprecedented 12 spots on the Billboard Hot 100 in the week of April 4, 1964, including the top five—they also broadened the complexity, depth, and sophistication that was considered acceptable in popular music.
Indeed, by 1965, Paul McCartney had emerged as the chief visionary and musical director of the Beatles (as well as its bassist). His ambition as a songwriter led the Beatles into uncharted waters for a pop band during the mid and late ‘60s. With Rubber Soul (1965), Revolver (1966), and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967), McCartney pushed his fellow bandmates (often to the point of irreparable disagreement) to use the evolving LP format to create lasting musical achievements within a rock milieu in its most rapid period of evolution.
In the 45 years since the Beatles broke up, McCartney has produced a body of work that has been frequently brilliant, often bold, and always on the cutting edge. From his globetrotting stadium tours with Wings in the 1970s, to a series of duets with King of Pop Michael Jackson in the ‘80s, to his most recent collaboration with hip hop fashionista Kanye West, McCartney has persisted in being relevant, inventive, and accessible.
Both with the Beatles and as a solo artist, McCartney has accumulated sales of over 100 million albums and over 100 million singles. With more than 264 certified units sold worldwide, nobody has moved more records than the Beatles. And McCartney’s composition, “Yesterday,” has also been recognized by the RIAA as the single most recorded song of all time.
McCartney has twice been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, both as a Beatle and as a solo artist, and in 1997, was knighted by the British Crown.
33. Giorgio Moroder – Disco
If you had to trace EDM to a single, solitary source (other then an electrical outlet of course), disco giant Giorgio Moroder would be a great starting point. Today, electronic beats, synthesizers, and discotheque whimsy are de rigueur for every hipster band in tight pants and EDM (electronic dance music) rules urban nightlife, two facts for which Moroder deserves equal credit and blame.
Born in the Italian village of Ortisei, Moroder got his start on more traditional pop music instruments like the guitar and bass. He toured Europe with an array of bands in the early ‘70s before ultimately discovering the German discothèque scene. Here, Moroder began to make a name for himself, producing endearingly sleazy, danceable synth tracks that predicted the rise of disco. When Moroder met Donna Summer, it initiated a partnership that virtually defined the genre. In 1975, the two conceptualized a 17-minute disco opus called “Love to Love You Baby.” The song’s sensuality made it a hit, but its lush, languorous, and indulgent production made it a game-changer.
What followed was a string of hits that defined disco and made Donna Summer its queen. Moroder’s sneaky synth lines and brightly colored electrofunk helped groom Summer into the era’s biggest and most sustainable star. It also gave Moroder the opportunity to enter the 1980s as an in-demand musician and producer, particularly as a composer of scores. In the mid-’80s, he wrote songs, performed score work, and produced soundtracks for Midnight Express (1978), Flashdance (1983), and Top Gun (1986). All told, these recordings earned Moroder three Oscars, a Grammy, and in Top Gun, one of the biggest selling records of all time.
Today, Moroder’s influence looms larger than ever through the rising dominance of the EDM scene. His instrumentation, rhythms, and electronic eccentricities all drive the sounds that dominate club floors and raves today.
34. Ennio Morricone – Film Score
Ennio Morricone is the most prolific and influential composer of film music in the history of the medium. His evocative soundscapes, particularly those from the spaghetti Western genre that flowered through the ’60s and ’70s, helped to elevate the role of the score in cinema. At his best, Morricone was responsible for adding a depth, dimension, suspense, and character to the films he scored, combining elements of traditional orchestration with heavy, exotic instrumentation to produce a spellbinding musical texture. With more than 500 film scores and 100 classical works under his belt, nobody can touch the octogenarian for productivity.
Born in Rome to a trumpet-playing father, Morricone showed his talents for composition as early as six years old. His father taught him to sing and play the trumpet, both of which he studied with precocious brilliance at the National Academy of Santa Cecilia. Though his program at the musical conservatory was to last four years, the 12-year-old Morricone mastered it in just six months. By the completion of his studies, Morricone’s focus was trained entirely on composition.
Still devastated by World War II, Italy of the early 1950s was not brimming with opportunities for a serious classical musician or composer. Thus, Morricone found work scoring radio and television. The late ‘50s and early ‘60s also saw Morricone’s arrangements and compositions paired with a number of prominent international pop stars, including Mario Lanza, Paul Anka, and Françoise Hardy.
But his work in film would define his career, reaching a particular peak during the boom of Italian Western cinema in the middle of the decade. Through soundtracks like A Fistful of Dollars (1964) and For a Few Dollars More (1965)—both for films directed by Sergio Leone and starring Clint Eastwood—Morricone established himself as a composer of groundbreaking unpredictability. His musical collaging in the Western genre is as iconic as the films themselves. His use of whips, gunshots, eerie chanting, and jew’s harps produced a sound that, accurate or not, is what we associate with the Old West.
Morricone peaked with the soundtrack to Leone’s The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly (1966), the title track of which is pretty much the music you automatically hear in your head when you picture cowboys dueling. It also became a crossover hit when covered by Hugo Montenegro. Morricone’s rising success both through the Leone/Eastwood trilogy and his work in comedy during the ‘70s, helped him make the leap from Italian cinema to Hollywood. There, he would proceed to dominate the medium, producing music for notable films like Days of Heaven (1978), The Mission (1980), The Untouchables (1987), Frantic (1988), In the Line of Fire (1993), Disclosure (1994), and (presumably all the non-rap parts of) Bulworth (1998).
In addition to producing a body of work that could fill the Grand Canyon, Morricone has also been recognized with three Academy Awards, two Golden Globes, and 11 Italian critic–appointed Nastro d’Argento trophies.
35. Nana Mouskouri – Entekhno/Greek Folk
On a global scale, there is no female artist in history who is more prolific than Nana Mouskouri. Gifted with a distinctive soprano tone—said to be the result of having been born with only one vocal chord—Mouskouri is fluent in seven languages and, based on her recorded output, capable of singing in at least six others. These gifts and a prolificacy in vocal jazz, French chanson, and modern Greek Folk (known locally as entekhno, derived from the older folk tradition known as rebetiko) have helped Mouskouri to move more than 300 million records worldwide.
Mouskouri was born on the island of Crete but her family moved to Athens when she was just three. Much of her early life was cast in the shadow of Nazi occupation and her father was an active part of the local resistance. At the end of the war’s hostilities, Mouskouri began singing lessons, influenced in particular by the popular radio singers of the day, including Édith Piaf, Ella Fitzgerald, and Frank Sinatra. In 1950, she had excelled enough to gain entry into the Athens Conservatoire, where she trained formally in opera.
This association persisted until 1957, when Nana began to explore jazz. She began performing in local Athens nightclubs, but when word reached authorities at the Conservatoire, she was summarily dismissed. This gave her the chance to leap fully into jazz music. Taking first prize at two consecutive Greek song festivals in 1959 and 1960, Mouskouri earned a recording contract.
The next year, she recorded the soundtrack to a German documentary about Greece. The lead single, “Weisse Rosen aus Athen,” sold a million copies in Germany. The year after, she teamed up with Motown mastermind Quincy Jones for her first English-language record, a feat which she repeated during a 1965 pairing with Calypso King Harry Belafonte. Then, in 1967, having settled permanently in Paris, she recorded “Le jour où la colombe” (1967), a massive hit that made her a superstar. To put it simply, Mouskouri promptly conquered every country where she ever released a record.
Her British LP, Over and Over, proved the same in 1969. The next 30 years saw Mouskouri in a phase of prolificacy that may have no equal in recorded music history. In the ’70s and ‘80s, she appears to have averaged roughly five to six releases in a year. Her official discography lists a mind-boggling 14 releases in just 1976. For a point of comparison, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers formed in 1976 and they just released their 13th studio album last year so…yeah.
Back home in Greece, Mouskouri has worked closely with most of her country’s greatest popular composers, including Mikis Theodorakis, Manos Hadjidakis, and Stavros Xarchakos.
By 2008, with well over 100 recordings under her belt and a rigorous touring schedule of roughly 100 shows a year in her résumé, Mouskouri announced her retirement. Today, her efforts are largely dedicated to humanitarian causes through her role as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador and as one of Greece’s greatest living cultural icons.
36. Youssou N’Dour – Mbalax/Senegalese Pop
Though known only marginally to American audiences for his occasional (and extremely successful) crossover work in the English language, Youssou N’Dour may well be the most famous singer in all of Africa today. This is certainly true of his stature in Senegal. He is not just his home country’s most celebrated musician, he is also a genuine political force.
Born in Senegal’s capital city, Dakar, N’Dour inherited his musical propensities from his mother, a poet, singer, and story-teller in the griot oral tradition. N’Dour gleaned much from this tradition, ultimately incorporating it into a decidedly more modern musical collage. By his late teens, N’Dour was a skilled percussionist and an arresting singer. At 19, he joined the Star Band de Dakar, an Afro-Cuban combo and Dakar’s biggest musical attraction. N’Dour soon emerged as the group’s unquestioned star.
He was also its frontman by the age of 21, when he rebranded the group as Super Étoile de Dakar. It is worth noting that several of the Star Band’s former members went on to form the also massively influential (and still active) Afro-Cuban combo Orchestra Baobab. With Super Étoile, N’Dour would pioneer a uniquely Senegalese genre called mbalax, an uptempo style of play that draws on the cheery instrumentation of African High Life, the rhythms and backbeats of Caribbean music, and the arrangements and conventions of American pop.
The blend made N’Dour’s group a top draw in Africa and led to extensive world touring in the mid-’80s. His tours of Europe in 1984 and North America in 1985 would be especially successful and fruitful. Moved by his charisma and vocal talent, both Paul Simon (Graceland) and Peter Gabriel (So) invited N’Dour to collaborate on major label releases. Both records proved massive hits. Likewise, both records earned universal critical praise for their compelling invocation of African polyrhythms and vocal layering.
As N’Dour’s star was rising, he also committed himself to visible global activism. His performance alongside Gabriel, Sting, and Bruce Springsteen during 1988’s Amnesty International Human Rights Now! tour cemented his reputation both as a dynamic singer and as a vocal supporter of human rights. With the release of his first internationally distributed album, 1989’s The Lion, N’Dour initiated a series of globally acclaimed and commercially successful recordings, eventually earning an American Grammy for 2005’s Egypt.
N’Dour is also a cultural icon in Senegal for his tireless efforts as a political activist. N’Dour is the Goodwill Ambassador of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, a member of the World Future Council, and his nation’s Tourism and Culture Minister in the cabinet of the current prime minister. In 2012, N’Dour even mounted a campaign (unsuccessfully, but a campaign nonetheless) to become Senegal’s president.
37. Willie Nelson – Country
In addition to being one of the most revered, recognized, and beloved figures in country music history, Willie Nelson just seems like he’d be a ton of fun to hang out with. A leading figure of the outlaw country movement, one of the best-selling artists in the genre’s history, and among the last men standing from his generation, Willie Nelson provided one of the most powerful voices of resistance against the Nashville country establishment, helping make the world of country music more colorful, more creative, and more inclusive.
Willie Nelson was born at the height of the Great Depression in the 300-person town of Abbott out in Hill County, Texas. Willie’s grandfather bought him his first guitar when he was six years old and by nine, he was in his first band. It was a polka band, but a band nonetheless. By the time he reached his early teens, Nelson was gigging regularly at the local honky tonks armed with a growing arsenal of Hank Williams, Ernest Tubb, and Hank Snow songs. After graduating high school and serving in the Air Force, Nelson studied agriculture at Baylor University.
In 1954, Nelson dropped out of school to pursue a career in music and spent the remainder of the decade struggling. His first bevy of recordings failed to make a dent and he endured a series of odd jobs, including work as a night-club bouncer, a dishwasher, and a Bible salesman. In 1960, Willie Nelson moved to Nashville and quickly made friends with local royalty like Faron Young and Ray Price. Both recorded songs written by the struggling Nelson and Price even invited him to play bass in his touring band. It was while touring that Nelson met country star Patsy Cline, who recorded his “Crazy” and turned it into a megahit.
In 1961, Nelson earned a contract with Liberty, where he recorded his first hits before moving over to RCA and mid-level country stardom three years later. Though he joined the Grand Ole Opry in 1965 and rose to relatively consistent charting success by the end of the decade, Nelson had grown frustrated with his RCA contract and the restrictive nature of the Nashville scene. He announced his retirement in the early ‘70s and moved to Austin.
The musically robust Texas city had a rejuvenating effect on Nelson. As the hippie culture blossomed around him, Nelson found that his unique mix of country music, jazz standards, and, increasingly, rock tuning, made him a steadily growing draw in the local scene. When he returned to professional recording in 1973, it was as the first country artist on the Atlantic Records label. That year’s Shotgun Willie earned critical praise and signaled the advent of a new movement called “outlaw country.” Backed by ace Tex-Mex rockers from the Sir Douglas Quintet, Nelson’s work helped to blaze an alternative country path away from the sanitized, conservative, and increasingly outdated sounds of Nashville.
The success of Shotgun Willie opened the door for a contract with Columbia and 1975’s The Red Headed Stranger, his first truly massive commercial hit and still a standard-bearer of the genre. The next several years saw him collaborating with major supporters and fellow outlaw countrymen Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson, and Merle Haggard. In 1977, an album of pop standards called Stardust became a genre-crossing hit, delivering Nelson to mainstream audiences.
He never looked back, spending the next several decades comfortably straddling the line between rock and country, performing and recording with a remarkably diverse roster of friends and followers, including Bob Dylan, Toby Keith, Phish, Sheryl Crow, Snoop Dogg, Ray Charles, and Neil Young, to name just a few. In the mid-’80s, he also formed the outlaw country supergroup The Highwaymen with Kristofferson, Jennings, and Johnny Cash. Their self-titled record enjoyed platinum status and their tour was a great success. So too have been Willie’s constant festival appearances alongside the current crop of touring hippie jam bands. More than any country musician, he has succeeded in attracting audiences of every kind, from genre purists, to rock and roll fanatics, to pot-smoking noodle heads.
And since 1985, he has worked alongside Neil Young and John Mellencamp to put on the annual Farm Aid concert, an event which raises millions annually to support American agriculture and which earned Willie passage into the National Agriculture Hall of Fame in 2011. He is also a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, a recipient of the Kennedy Center Honors, and holder of an honorary doctorate from the Berklee College of Music.
38. Ozzy Osbourne – Heavy Metal
Ozzy Osbourne is the Godfather of Heavy Metal. His contributions as a singer, a bandleader, and a crafter of image are all formative ingredients to the often critically derided but commercially potent subgenre. Osbourne has outlasted the critical derision and discredited those who might have dismissed his music as puerile in its time, standing today as the uncontested emissary of metal—rock and roll’s Prince of Darkness.
Osbourne was born to a poor family in the industrialized city of Birmingham in the U.K. Though he struggled with hyperactivity and a poor attention span in school, he found his direction at the age of 14, when he heard the Beatles on the radio. From the first time he heard “She Loves You” in 1963, he knew he wanted to be a rock star. He was finished with school by the age of 15, and moved into a series of depressing jobs, including stints as a tool-making apprentice and a slaughterhouse worker. He also dabbled in light burglary, a profession which earned him a six-week stay in prison while still in his teens.
Upon his release, Ozzy dedicated his focus to a career in music. After a brief stint on backup vocals for the Magic Lanterns (who scored a minor U.K. hit with 1968’s “Shame Shame”), Ozzy met bassist Geezer Butler and joined his band, The Rare Breed. In late 1969, they recruited Tony Iommi and Bill Ward, solidifying the classic lineup of Black Sabbath. Inspired to create music that elicited the same giddy thrill that people experienced from watching horror films, his band indulged in occult imagery and a slow, sludgy, doom-laden musical approach. Outfitting their songs with gloomy, plodding blues riffs and lightning fast instrumental bridges, Black Sabbath laid the metal blueprint on their self-titled 1970 debut and five subsequent classic Osbourne-fronted records.
Though the band endured a critical slogging for their ultra-simple, sometimes even schlocky approach, their impact on fans was undeniable. Warner Brothers had initially signed the band with little expectation, perhaps even viewing their cheap horror film motifs as a novelty. But their music immediately keyed in to something primal among their fans. At the center was Ozzy, whose cackling howl had a decidedly authentic touch of witchcraft in it.
Ozzy’s personal antics helped to drive sales and fuel the mythology that he was, in all actuality, in league with the devil. The impression was helped by his growing substance abuse and alcoholism, which made him wildly unpredictable and often brought him to blows with his own bandmates. As Sabbath’s success and influence launched a thousand heavy metal bands into the next decade, Ozzy would start the ‘80s alone.
His bandmates dismissed Ozzy in the late 70’s as his behavior began to detract from his abilities as a performer. Though Ozzy descended into his addictions, Warner head Don Arden dispatched his daughter and employee Sharon to mind his investment. She dragged Ozzy out of his hole, took control of his career, and ultimately married him. She also helped him to reinvent himself as a solo artist, fronting a band called the Blizzard of Ozz.
This enterprise, powered by a partnership with brilliant young guitarist Randy Rhoads, brought Ozzy to even greater fame. Once again, his drug-induced behavior helped to earn him plenty of press, particularly in 1982 when he bit the head off of a dove during a meeting with CBS executives and, once again, in 1984, when he bit the head off of a bat in a live concert. Also, for events involving public urination and the Alamo, Osbourne was banned from entering San Antonio, Texas, for a decade.
Osbourne was setting the mold for heavy metal’s trademark musical characteristics and its debauched image. By the 1980s, bands like Metallica, Motley Crue, and Iron Maiden had cast an Aqua Net across the industry, all owing a major debt to Sabbath and Ozzy. His influence grew even larger in the ‘90s, as the alternative boom paved the way for big-selling, metal-influenced groups like Soundgarden, Tool, and Nine Inch Nails. His Ozzfest became a successful and long-running annual event featuring a clutch of current artists owing a debt to his work.
More surprising was Ozzy’s second life as a reality TV Star on MTV’s The Osbournes. He, Sharon, and their children entered suburban households everywhere, starring in the most-watched show in the network’s history and giving viewers the opportunity to see the Prince of Darkness in silk pajamas. Today, Black Sabbath is reunited and continues to tour intermittently, while Ozzy enjoys his enduring status as the original Monster of Metal.
39. Johnny Pacheco – Salsa
(Dominican Republic; 1935)
Johnny Pacheco owns the distinction of having coined the genre for which he was also the leading musical force. As a purveyor of numerous Latin forms, including guaracha, cha cha, and son, Pacheco was a global superstar. And as the founder and musical visionary behind the Fania label, he became the first and most influential champion of what he called “salsa.” Pacheco’s work did nothing less than usher in a new era of unbridled creativity and artistic integration of Latin music in America.
Born in the Dominican Republic to a father who played clarinet and fronted the Santa Cecilia Orchestra, Pacheco began playing the clarinet as a young boy. When he was 11, Pacheco’s family relocated to New York, where the child proved a natural study at nearly every instrument he picked up. He made his focus percussion, however, when he enrolled in the prestigious Juilliard School.
Pacheco began performing live as a backing musician in the late ‘50s and, by 1960, was fronting his own band. His obvious gifts and a growing enthusiasm for Latin music in the record industry earned him a quick contract. Pacheco seized the opportunity by introducing a dance craze (dance crazes were a big thing in the early ‘60s) called Pachanga. In the space of three years, Pacheco had become a global star, even holding the distinction of being the first Latin artist to headline the famed Apollo Theater.
He parlayed his fame into a partnership with Jerry Masucci, the creation of Fania Records, and the assembly of its incredible stable of groundbreaking musicians, the Fania All-Stars. Fania is to Latin music what Stax is to soul. With Pacheco as its foreman, Fania constructed the hybrid genre known as salsa, a form of distinctly Nuyorican Latin soul that served as a platform for an expansion of Latin music’s international appeal and creative vocabulary. House musicians of note included Ray Barretto, Willie Colón, Héctor Lavoe, Rubén Blades, and Celia Cruz. Guest collaborators comprise a veritable who’s who of crossover Latin superstars, including Tito Puente, Joe Bataan, and Mongo Santamaría.
In the ‘70s, the Fania All-Stars emerged as an international touring unit, releasing a series of acclaimed albums and serving as the foremost name in Latin music, while also offering a springboard to all the musicians cited above. Pacheco’s vision made it possible for each of these and countless other Latin stars to embark on their own now-genre-defining recording careers.
Today, Pacheco is largely retired from performing, but the Fania All-Stars continue to circle the globe. Pacheco is a member of the International Latin Music Hall of Fame and a recipient of the Dominican Republic’s Medal of Honor.
40. Dolly Parton – Country
Dolly Parton was one of 12 children born to a poor tobacco farmer in a one-room cabin just north of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, not far from Knoxville, Tennessee. Sounds like a great start to a country song. Actually, it was the start to roughly 3000 country songs. Today, Dolly sits on top of an empire of songwriting royalties, film credits, and product branding, an incredible upward mobility attributable to the fact that she was writing music by the time she turned seven. She got her first guitar the next year and, by ten, was making regular appearances on Knoxville’s The Cas Walker Show. The little blond prodigy made her studio and Grand Ole Opry debuts both at the age of 13.
These early experiences assured Parton’s path and the minute she graduated from high school, she took off for Nashville. In spite of her pin-up good looks and her emotive voice, it was her gift as a songwriter that first helped her earn her keep, scoring Top Ten singles for the likes of Bill Phillips and Skeeter Davis. Though Parton nailed down a record contract with Monument Records when she was just 19, her producers pushed her toward poppier material and away from the country music that she loved.
It was not until country superstar Porter Wagoner recognized Parton’s distinctive talents and offered her a weekly slot on his television show that she achieved fame. Her duets with Wagoner became not only a beloved staple of his program but, starting in 1967, launched an unprecedented six-year run at the charts. As Wagoner and Parton scored a seemingly endless string of hits, Parton signed to RCA and began her own solo career, as well.
She charted her first #1 single in 1971 and, two years later, surpassed it with 1973’s country masterpiece, “Jolene.” Parton’s reputation as a southern beauty with a hardscrabble resolve had grown enough that she struck out on her own the following year. In 1974, Parton wrote her #1 hit, “I Will Always Love You,” in tribute to Wagoner. Soon thereafter, her own celebrity would far surpass that of her mentor.
Over the remainder of the ‘70s, Dolly Parton was a fixture on the country charts, landing eight singles at the top spot between ’74 and ’80. Then, in the ‘80s, Dolly set her sights on fame beyond the world of country. As her music veered decidedly into the realm of mainstream pop, Dolly also branched out into acting. The greatest synergy of her pursuits came in 1980, when Dolly starred in 9 to 5 alongside Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin, and recorded the hit song of the same title. Parton achieved the exceedingly rare feat of owning a #1 single on the country, pop, and adult-contemporary charts, as well as earning an Academy Award Nomination for the film.
From there, Dolly Parton would achieve a level of celebrity and success never before seen by a female country singer. Her achievement of mainstream appeal and her strong feminine presence helped pave the way for future country pop stars like Shania Twain and Taylor Swift. Also, unlike most country singers, she has her own theme park.
This member of both the Country Music and Songwriters Halls of Fame is at once the most decorated and best-selling female country artist ever. With 25 country #1’s and 41 Top Ten albums, Parton has no commercial equal in country music. And with 46 Grammy nominations (eight wins), she is tied with the mighty Beyoncé for first place among all women. Parton also owns the special distinction of having been nominated for an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony.