Famous Drummers and Percussionists

If someone asks you “who is the most famous percussionist?” it would be difficult to answer right off the bat without some clarifying question – specifically, what genre? Additionally, if you asked ten people to name the most famous percussionist, you’d probably get ten different answers. That’s all to say that narrowing it down to just one person is impossible! However, there are a lot of drummers and percussionists who could certainly make a lot of lists. Here are just a few.

Most famous female percussionist

Cindy Blackman

Cindy is an American jazz and rock drummer. She has recorded several jazz albums as a solo act and has performed with a wide variety of acts including Pharoah Sanders, Sonny Simmons, Ron Carter, Sam Rivers, Cassandra Wilson, Angela Bofill, Buckethead, Bill Laswell, Lenny Kravitz, Joe Henderson and Joss Stone. She is often regarded as one of the top drummers in the world who can easily move between genres, from jazz to rock to funk and back again. Blackman feels strongly that musicality has nothing to do with gender. She said, “The gender question is not even worth bringing up because the drums have got nothing to do with gender. I’m there because I love to play music. And I’m in support of anyone who wants to play the instrument.”

Runner up: Sheila E

Most famous jazz percussionist

Buddy Rich

Born in 1917 in Brooklyn, Buddy Rich was a gifted musician, a bandleader, a fine singer, a skilled tap dancer and a story teller. While he was known as a jazz musician, many of rock’s most famous drummers, like John Bonham, Phil Collins and Travis Barker, cited Rich as a primary influence. He was known for his virtuoso technique, power, and speed. He performed with Tommy Dorsey, Harry James and Count Basie, and led a big band.

Runner up: Elvin Jones

Most famous classical percussionist

Martin Grubinger

An incredibly talented multi-percussionist, the Austrian Martin Grubinger possesses an unusually broad repertoire ranging from solo works to chamber music to percussion concertos. Some even call him the Wizard of Percussion. His technical perfection, enthusiasm and musical versatility make his performances ​must-see events. He has an increasing number of musical pieces written by composers specifically for him, and as such, Martin has been credited with bringing the percussion from the back of an orchestra to the center of the stage.

Runner up: Evelyn Glennie

Most famous rock percussionist

Neil Peart

Neil Peart of Rush was one of rock’s greatest drummers, with a flamboyant yet precise style while expanding the technical and imaginative possibilities of his instrument. His drumming was renowned for its technical proficiency and his live performances for their exacting nature and stamina. Not just known for drumming, Neil was Rush’s primary lyricist and he published several memoirs about his travels. Peart wrote a total of seven nonfiction books focused on his travels and personal stories. A beloved “drummer’s drummer,” Peart died in January 2020 and was mourned by musicians and fans the world over.

Runner up: Dave Grohl

Most famous marching band percussion team

Ohio State University Marching Band

The Ohio State University Marching Band (nicknamed The Best D**n Band in the Land) has developed many famous marching band innovations, including floating and animated formations, script writing, and the fast cadence with a high knee lift. The band’s Script Ohio is one of the most memorable traditions in college band history. The entire band consists of 228 members – of course, not all of them are percussionists, but all marching bands rely on their drummers and percussionists to keep the beat, contribute to melody and create excitement. The percussion section of the band currently uses Mapex drums.

Runner up: The Blue Devils Drum and Bugle Corps

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