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When I first started researching and listening to all these bands and musicians from North Carolina, an eventual euphoria took over the initial overwhelm. And not just because of the many stories behind songs and albums produced and created by these amazing people.
The thing that really stood out to me is that many of these singers, songwriters, and bandleaders still live in North Carolina or return often. And the fact that Carolina remains on so many of their minds is a clear indicator that we’ve got something special in this state.
I know there are many more to share but for now, here are 50-plus bands and musicians from North Carolina that are worth a listen right now!
This post about bands and musicians from North Carolina is part of our series on the awesome people of North Carolina.
Bands and Musicians from North Carolina
While reading this post and after finishing, check out the Spotify Playlist we created that features songs from all the artists we mentioned.
Clay Aiken is more of a political activist today, but the Central North Carolina-born artist’s memorable second-place finish on American Idol in 2003 remains on many music fans’ minds. In fact, he’s the first of many artists mentioned here to get their start on that show. Since then, he’s released multiple albums, with his debut Measure of a Man going multi-platinum.
Tori Amos might not have spent a lot of time in North Carolina, but she was born in Newton. And as of 2012, Amos has been a North Carolina Music Hall of Fame inductee. “Cornflake Girl” and “Caught a Lite Sneeze” deserve a least a listen before moving onto the rest of the hit-filled Amos catalog.
Archers of Loaf
Archers of Loaf’s members all originally hail from North Carolina (Asheville) and singer/guitarist Eric Bachmann even spent some time studying saxophone at App State in Boone. “Web in Front” made the soundtrack of the Kevin Smith-directed Mallrats and recent release “Raleigh Days” is a fun listen, too!
The Avett Brothers
In 2000, Seth and Scott started The Avett Brothers in Cabarrus County. Bassist Bob Crawford and cellist Joe Kwon joined later to make it a foursome. Along with 2007’s nationally-acclaimed albums Emotionalism and I and Love and You, they’ve released 10 studio albums and continue to tour each year.
That includes a New Year’s Eve show each year in a different North Carolina location (Greensboro, 2019, pictured top).
Between the Buried and Me
Prog metal band Between the Buried and Me started in Raleigh and have released nine albums, including a 2006 live DVD recorded at Cats Cradle in Carrboro. Their songs are a journey through a variety of genres, from blues to death metal and many more in between. “Voice of Trespass” off Automata II is an excellent example of their range.
Duke students Bryan Rahija and Daniel Michalak formed folk-pop band Bombadil while studying abroad in Bolivia, recording multiple demos at an elementary school in La Paz. Rahija eventually left the band but Bombadil has continued on with Michalak, James Phillips, and Stacy Harden.
2013’s Metrics of Affection is a sooting showcase of this North Carolina band’s harmonies and lyrics.
Chuck Brown, also known as the “Godfather of Go-Go,” sadly passed away at age 75 in 2012. The Gaston-born musician moved from North Carolina at age six and experienced many hardships during his early years. He found his way with music and is credited as a major influence of Go-Go, a DC area-developed subgenre of funk.
Carolina Chocolate Drops
The Grammy-winning Carolina Chocolate Drops formed in Durham as one of the only all-Black string bands. Many of their songs are based on traditional Piedmont music, including old-time fiddler Joe Thompson. The Drops have also touched upon R&B traditions, which you’ll find in “Hit’ em Up Style.”
The group’s songs have reached far and wide, including “Daughter’s Lament,” which featured on the Hunger Games Soundtrack.
Durham-born Shirley Caesar has released more than 40 albums and her 2016 Fill This House topped the Gospel Billboard chart. The prolific singer’s many credits include “The Queen of Gospel Music” and a place in both the Gospel Music Hall of Fame and NC Music Hall of Fame. Some of her biggest hits include “God’s Got It All in Control” and “You’re Next in Line for a Miracle.”
Chatham County Line
Chatham County Line formed in Raleigh the foursome has played shows throughout much of Europe and the US, building quite a following along the way. They’ve put out more than a handful of albums, with Wildwood and IV among this North Carolina band’s most popular. “The Carolinian” will get your toes tappin’ and “Birmingham Jail” will push your emotions to the limit.
Chatham Rabbits are an homage to a mill-sponsored string band of the same name from a previous time. Sarah and Austin make up today’s version, which combines the traditions and old, forgotten stories with theirs. Their debut All I Want from You is filled with sweet, reminiscent songs like “Come Home” and “Rambler.”
Joe Troop is the only member of Che Apalache from North Carolina, so that gets this band into our list. They formed in Argentina while the Winston-Salem-raised Troop was teaching bluegrass music. Listen to songs like “The Dreamer” and you’ll see why Che Apalache has built up such a huge following and acclaim.
Bluegrass icon Bela Fleck is one fan who went on to produce their second album Rearrange My Heart.
Charlotte-based Chócala is an adventurous band that anyone with a taste for the eclectic will appreciate. Evolving in 2019 out of their previous effort Patabamba, the group’s self-titled debut is a journey that you’ll want to take. Based on the spontaneity of that effort, we hope they’ll keep things open and adventurous on subsequent albums.
Eric Church might call Nashville home today but he’s North Carolina, through and through. Before releasing chart-topping hits like “Springsteen” and “Record Year,” Church was born in Granite Falls. He even graduated from App State and married his wife in Blowing Rock.
The Churches’ Chief Cares Fund helps underprivileged families in Tennessee, North Carolina, and elsewhere throughout the world.
Fayetteville-raised J Cole long proved himself through music and eventually landed as the first of Jay-Z’s Roc Nation signees. He did more than break through, with multiple platinum records and massive hits. 2014 Forest Hills Drive is one that many fans will say is his best, thanks to songs like “No Role Modelz” and “Wet Dreamz.”
One who left this world far too soon, John Coltrane is a musician from North Carolina who needs no introduction. But in case you didn’t know, this saxophonist and composer was in fact born in Hamlet, Richmond County and grew up in High Point. Among the many songs to kick back and enjoy, “Blue Train” and “In a Sentimental Mood” first come to mind.
Corrosion of Conformity
Stoner Rock legends Corrosion of Conformity hail from Raleigh and after a couple of hiatuses are still in action. Blind and Deliverance are probably their two best-known albums, though the band has produced a ton of headbang-worthy hits.
You might not know who Elizabeth Cotten is but you might definitely know some of the Carrboro native’s songs. She wrote “Freight Train” at age 11 and that song has been covered by many artists, including Bob Dylan and Joan Baez. Thankfully, much of her work was preserved in the late 1950s when Mike Seeger recorded them in Cotten’s house.
Those songs and many others were packaged in album form titled Folksongs and Instrumentals with Guitar.
Wilson’s Greg Cox mixes gospel and R&B in his inspiring collection of songs. “Bigger Dreams” is an excellent example of the power behind his words, especially during the chorus. Cox’s most popular effort “The Other Side” features Charlotte jazz vocalist Emily Sage and earned much praise on NPR’s World Cafe.
Is it too much speculation to assume that the NC Music Hall of Fame belongs in Kannapolis because it’s also where the Godfather of Funk was born? His influence throughout the music industry is clear, whether you’ve listened to Parliament-Funkadelic outright or heard Clinton’s work sampled by various producers and artists.
Wilmington-born Charlie Daniels might be primarily known for “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” but he’s made many musical contributions beyond that iconic hit. His writing credits include “It Hurts Me,” which King Elvis Presley recorded. While working as a session musician in the 1970s, Daniels played on Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen albums.
Daughtry frontman and namesake Chris Daughtry is from Roanoke Rapids and two of the four remaining members hail from North Carolina. The band formed after Chris made the finals of American Idol‘s fifth season and quickly released a chart-topping debut album (self-titled). “Over You” and “Waiting for Superman” are a couple of their many popular songs.
Amelia Meath and Nick Sanborn paired up in Durham between 2012 and 2013 and have been going strong ever since. They released What Now in 2017 and received a Grammy nod for “Best Dance/Electronic Album.” The duo has released a few recent singles and remixes and continues to tour throughout the US and Europe.
Before 2020’s “Quarantined with You” brought Andy Eversole a bit of instant fame, the Greensboro-based musician’s Banjo Earth project has shared findings both at home and abroad. His cover of “China Cat Sunflower” by the Grateful Dead is a wonderful example of mixing cultures through sound.
Winston-Salem’s Ben Folds still plays from his massive catalog of songs on occasion but his best-known work came from the Ben Folds Five era. The band formed in Chapel Hill and 1997’s Whatever and Ever Amen brought them mainstream success.
“Brick” is the most popular song among fans but “Battle of Who Could Care Less” is one of many dashboard-thumpers that’s perfect for your next road trip.
Andy Griffith not only starred in TV shows about and filmed in North Carolina, but his credits also included “musician.” He didn’t write the Andy Griffith show’s title song “The Fishin’ Hole,” but he did sing and record a version of it.
The Mount Airy native also won a Grammy for his platinum I Love to Tell the Story: 25 Timeless Hymns.
Many folks in Durham and surrounding areas know him as Joshua Gunn or J Gunn. Both are entirely possible if you voted for Durham City Council in 2019 and if you’ve had the pleasure of hearing his music.
Gunn’s “What a Wonderful Durham” was a collaborative effort with Made in Durham, a cross-industry community cooperative that hopes to prepare younger generations for joining the workforce.
It’s easy to fall in love with Anthony Hamilton’s voice when listening to “Charlene” or “Coming from Where I’m From.” The Charlotte native has released six albums and has been on the Grammy’s radar since at least 2004. His “You’ve Got the Love I Need” won “Best Traditional R&B Performance in 2009.
You can listen to Percy Heath’s solo work but might also want to check out the Wilmington native’s long list of credits. You can hear his double bass on multiple Miles Davis albums, including Blue Haze, and also on Dizzy Gillespie’s Dizzy and Strings.
Heath was also a longtime member of the Modern Jazz Quartet, appearing on albums released between 1952 and 1993.
It’s Snakes brings together two longtime contributors to Charlotte’s music scene. Drummer and lead singer Hope Nicholls is known to many as the Godmother of Charlotte Rock and guitarist Aaron Pitkin rocked out with her as part of Fetchin Bones in the late 1980s. “Dance Party with Cats” is one of their toe-tappingest songs, part of their sophomore effort It’s Snakes II.
Charlotte’s Jason Jet brings a truly unique mix dubbed “electro-soul.” In “Up All Night,” the melodies and lyrics harken back to the days of Soul’s heyday. Songs like “Superhero” demonstrate that Jet is looking ahead to forge his own legacy, “putting an ‘S’ on his chest.”
Jodeci, also known as “The Bad Boys of R&B,” formed in Charlotte in 1989 and made a splash with Forever My Lady and two additional platinum albums. The group started a two-decade hiatus in 1996 and half of the quartet (K-Ci & JoJo) broke out on their own and released fives albums.
Jodeci reunited in 2015 to release The Past, the Present, the Future.
Phonte, Big Pooh, and 9th Wonder met while attending North Carolina Central University in Durham and formed Little Brother. The trio remained intact for three albums before 9th Wonder departed following Getback. A hiatus began in 2010, though all three reunited briefly in 2018 and Phonte and Big Pooh continuing on in 2019.
“Lovin’ It” from their second album The Minstrel Show remains the group’s most popular song to date.
For more than a decade, the Chapel Hill duo known as Mandolin Orange has released six albums and toured extensively, including a show at the Governor’s Mansion in Raleigh in 2019. You can label them Americana or Folk but one thing is clear.
There’s a real synergy between songwriter Andrew Marlin and Emily Frantz, especially on songs like “Wildfire” and “Wolves.”
Robbinsville native Ronnie Milsap faced a difficult early childhood until age five when he was sent to the Governor Morehead School for the Blind in Raleigh. His passion for music truly came to fruition there and Milsap mastered the piano. He wrote and performed many hits over the years, including “(I’m a) Stand by My Woman Man” and “Smoky Mountain Rain.”
Petey Pablo was born in Greenville and his “Raise Up” put him on the map and is played by the Marching Tar Heels during football games when UNC makes a third-down stop. Pablo’s biggest song to date, though, is “Freek-a-Leek,” which featured on his second album Writing in My Diary: 2nd Entry.
Maceo Parker is another of our musicians from North Carolina that you may not recognize so easily on his own but you’ve probably heard his work. The Kinston-born saxophonist featured on many James Brown songs during the 1960s and also played with Parliament-Funkadelic a decade later.
His list of credits continues on but Parker’s solo work, including “Children’s World,” is worth a listen.
Chris Daughtry wasn’t the only North Carolina to make it far into the fifth season of American Idol. Albemarle-born Kellie Pickler finished sixth and soon after, signed a record deal and released her debut Small Town Girl.
Her latest release was The Woman I Am in 2013 but she’s still been active on the stage and screen. Pickler and professional ballroom dancer Derek Hough won the sixteenth season of Dancing with the Stars.
Rainbow Kitten Surprise
Rainbow Kitten Surprise recorded its first EP in an App State dorm room in 2013. Original members Sam Melo and Darrick “Bozzy” Keller have since added three more members and the group eventually signed on with Elektra Records after a stint on Split Rail Records, a student-run label.
Their talents and harmonic instrumentation capabilities come together throughout the band’s catalog, especially in “Cocaine Jesus” and “Fail!”
Rapsody is the second person on this list from Snow Hill in Greene County, along with Petey Pablo. This rapper stands alone, making a name for herself that led to a debut on 9th Wonder’s The Dream Merchant Vol 2.
Rapsody has released three of her own studio albums, though her guest appearance credit list is impressive at least. 2017’s Laila’s Wisdom earned two Grammy nominations for “Best Rap Album” and “Best Rap Song.”
There may not be any other musicians from North Carolina who have a style of playing named after them. Three-finger or Scruggs-style picking helped bring the banjo and Bluegrass music itself to the forefront.
You can learn about this and more at the Earl Scruggs Center in Shelby. If you can’t make it out to Cleveland County to pay homage, give “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” a listen before enjoying the rest of this musical legend’s work.
When listening to her renditions of “Feeling Good” or “I Put a Spell on You,” you’re bound to come away with memories of Nina Simone’s captivating voice. Born in Tryon, Simone attended New York’s Juilliard School of Music and eventually recorded more than 40 albums during an illustrious career.
Many big names have cited Simone as an influence, including Madonna, Aretha Franklin, Beyonce, and John Lennon.
Southern Culture on the Skids
Southern Culture on the Skids formed in Chapel Hill in the early 1980s and has released more than a dozen albums. As they move into their fourth decade of playing, Rick Miller, Dave Hartman, and Mary Huff show no signs of slowing down.
“Camel Walk” and “Freak Flag” are a couple of the fun listens you’ll encounter when digging into this band that seemingly ventures into unknown territory during each song.
The Spongetones started in Charlotte and its reach has gone far beyond North Carolina. Their British Invasion-influenced sound has featured on ABC World News Now and the band toured Japan for a couple of days in 2009.
“My Girl Maryanne” and “She Goes out with Everybody” are fun listens to start your journey with the Spongetones.
Squirrel Nut Zippers
You can’t reminisce about the 1990s “Swing Revival” without mentioning the Squirrel Nut Zippers. The band debuted in Chapel Hill and its popularity peaked with performances at Summer Olympics in 1996 and during various TV appearances.
Hot was the band’s most popular album, with “Hell” and “Put a Lid on It” its two biggest hits.
Steep Canyon Rangers
Steep Canyon Rangers had been around for almost a decade before joining forces in 2009 with acclaimed actor/banjo player Steve Martin. Martin and the Rangers played together at Bonaroo and Austin City Limits before recording Rare Bird Alert.
They released another album with him, aptly titled The Long-Awaited Album with Steve Martin. On their own, the Rangers have done quite well, too, taking home 2013’s “Best Bluegrass Album” at the Grammys for Nobody Knows You.
Superchunk was a big part of the 1990s Chapel Hill music scene with their version of DIY power-pop-punk. Since starting in 1989, the band has released 11 studio albums. “Driveway to Driveway” off 1994’s Foolish and their 2018 album’s titular track “What a Time to Be Alive” shows that this band is still rocking, even after 30 years of playing.
Greenville-born Billy Taylor might’ve been better known as a TV personality who brought jazz piano to the masses, but he was also a prolific performer. Taylor composed over 300 songs and appeared either as a leader or sideman on hundreds of albums. His “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free” became a popular Civil Rights era song and was even covered by Nina Simone.
Boston might be where James Taylor was born but there’ll always be “Carolina in My Mind,” in his own words. Taylor spent much of his childhood in Chapel Hill while his father Isaac taught at UNC, even rising to become dean of the School of Medicine there. Along with “Carolina in My Mind,” there are many hits to sample from Taylor, including “Fire and Rain” and “How Sweet It Is.”
Marshville’s very own Randy Travis has made it very big, even though he was initially rejected by every major label in Nashville. He’s recorded 20 studio albums and released more than a dozen number-one singles. “1982” and “On the Other Hand” are just two of his many big hits and two that show his range between slower ballads and more up-tempo songs.
Doc Watson hailed from Deer Gap in Watauga County and shared many songs that he learned from word of mouth (along with many others) to the world. Until his passing in 2012, Doc was regarded as a living legend in bluegrass, folk, country, and gospel circles.
Yaggfu FRONT is about as old school hip hop as it gets on this list. The trio got started as DJs on NC State’s NCSU and got the attention of Mercury Records, who signed them in 1993. While Yaggfu FRONT is listed as active today, not much information is available about the group. “Busted Loop” and “Left Field” are great ways to start your listening journey with them.
G Yamazawa is a poetry slammer/rapper who’s added beats to his rhymes in the form of two studio albums and multiple singles and EPs. While he’s moved to the West Coast to continue his career, Yamazawa hasn’t forgotten his roots.
2017’s Shouts to Durham includes songs such as “Hwy 751” and “North Cack,” with the latter featuring the aforementioned J Gunn and fellow spoken word champion Kane Smego.
Our Thoughts and Yours, Too!
If you haven’t listened to many of these musicians from North Carolina, we hope you’ll find time to dig into at least a few of their catalogs. And out of all the artists we’ve mentioned, we’d love to know which ones you love best! Also, if there’s someone who you think must be included alongside these amazing talents, please let us know about it in the comments section.