Music Industry

35+ Musicians & Singers Who Started Late

As we’re sure you’ll agree; it seems the barriers to popstar-level success come clamping down the moment a musician hits 25.

However, you might be surprised to learn that some of the most famous musical stars in history (seriously…we mean Freddie Mercury and Kanye West-level famous) actually started their careers pretty late.

In this article, our expert gang of musos have put together an all-encompassing list of 35+ musicians and singers who started their careers late, along with a comprehensive backstory on each artist.

35+ Musicians & Singers Who Started Late

1. Noel Gallagher

Age at breakthrough: 26

Lead guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter for the band Oasis; Noel Gallagher was 26 when the band’s debut single Supersonic was released in 1994. Prior to this, Gallagher worked as a road crew member for the band Inspiral Carpets for two years. Oasis sold over 70 million records and had eight number one albums in the United Kingdom.

2. Bonnie Raitt

Age at breakthrough: 27

Though she released her debut album at 22, Bonnie Raitt did not achieve mainstream success until her hit single Runaway came out when she was 27. She has been named as one of the 100 Greatest Singers of All Time according to Rolling Stone magazine and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2000.

3. Chris Stapleton

Age at breakthrough: 29

Chris Stapleton was 29 when The SteelDrivers released their debut album in 2008. Until this time he had been working as a songwriter in Nashville. Stapleton had two successful albums with The SteelDrivers and has since embarked on a solo career. He has won 10 Country Music Association awards and five Billboard Music Awards.

4. Sting

Age at breakthrough: 25

As lead singer and bass guitar player for The Police, Sting was 25 when the band formed. After attending school, Sting worked as a teacher in England for two years while playing music in his spare time. He achieved success both with The Police and as a solo artist, winning 18 Grammy Awards.

5. Andrea Bocelli

Age at breakthrough: 35

An operatic tenor, Andrea Bocelli has sold over 75 million records. He worked as a lawyer for one year before starting his music career in 1992. His first album – Il Mare Calmo Della Sera – was released two years later when Bocelli was 35. He has been described as having the most beautiful voice in the world.

6. Sheryl Crow

Age at breakthrough: 25

American singer-songwriter Sheryl Crow studied music education at university before becoming an elementary school music teacher. It was not until she was 25 that she started working as a backup vocalist for artists like Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder. She didn’t release her first album until she was 31. To date, Crow has sold over 50 million albums.

7. Alan Jackson

Age at breakthrough: 30

Country singer Alan Jackson started his career in Tennessee working in a mailroom at The Nashville Network. It wasn’t until 1989 that Jackson released his debut single Blue Blooded Woman at the age of 30. He has had 35 number one songs on the Billboard Hot Country chart and was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2017.

8. Wayne Coyne

Age at breakthrough: 31

Lead singer of The Flaming Lips, Wayne Coyne spent 13 years working at a restaurant in Oklahoma City before making it in the music world. Though the band was formed in 1983, it wasn’t until Coyne was 31 that the band signed with Warner Brothers in 1992. The Flaming Lips have won three Grammy Awards.

9. Rachel Platten

Age at breakthrough: 29

Rachel Platten discovered a love for music as a young child when she learned to play the piano. She also sang in an acapella group while studying political science in college. Platten was 29 when she released her first album Be Here. In 2016, she was nominated for a Billboard Music Award for Fight Song.

10. Kanye West

Age at breakthrough: 26

Kanye West attended the American Academy of Art and Chicago State University before dropping out to pursue music. He worked as a producer for Roc-A-Fella and then released his first album The College Dropout in 2004 when he was 26. Since that time, West has gone on to sell over 160 million albums and has won 22 Grammy Awards.

11. Jay-Z

Age at breakthrough: 26

In 1996, Jay-Z released his first album Reasonable Doubt at the age of 26. A high school dropout, Jay-Z started independent record label Roc-A-Fella Records. Named by Rolling Stone as one of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time, he has sold over 125 million albums and won 23 Grammy Awards.

12. Leonard Cohen

Age at breakthrough: 34

After spending his twenties and early thirties pursuing a writing career, Leonard Cohen released his debut album at the age of 34. Songs of Leonard Cohen was the first of 15 albums produced in the course of his career which lasted almost 50 years. Cohen was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2008.

13. Bruce Springsteen

Age at breakthrough: 25

Bruce Springsteen achieved worldwide fame with his 1975 album Born to Run, released when he was 25. Springsteen learned guitar as a teenager and spent several years playing music before becoming a commercial success. As one of the world’s best-selling musicians, Springsteen has won 20 Grammy Awards.

14. Cyndi Lauper

Age at breakthrough: 30

Cyndi Lauper spent much of her twenties performing with cover bands and singing in clubs. It wasn’t until she was 30 that she released her first solo album She’s So Unusual. This record featured the hit Girls Just Want to Have Fun and contributed to her winning the Best New Artist Grammy Award in 1985.

15. Debbie Harry

Age at breakthrough: 31

Lead vocalist of Blondie, Debbie Harry worked as a Playboy Bunny and dancer before getting started in the music industry. Blondie released its self-titled album when Harry was 31. The band gained popularity with songs like Heart of Glass and Atomic and would go on to sell over 40 million albums.

16. Emmylou Harris

Age at breakthrough: 27

Emmylou Harris studied music at university before moving to New York City to pursue her singing career. Harris was 27 when her hit album Pieces of the Sky was released. She won her first Grammy Award in 1977 and would go on to win 13 more including the Lifetime Achievement Award in 2018.

17. Freddie Mercury

Age at breakthrough: 29

Lead singer for the rock band Queen, Freddie Mercury studied art and design after moving to London. A year after graduating from Ealing Art College, the band Queen was formed in 1970. It was not until five years later – when Mercury was 29 – that the band saw real success with their hit song Bohemian Rhapsody.

18. Ed Roland

Age at breakthrough: 30

Lead singer of the rock band Collective Soul, Ed Roland studied music in college and worked as a producer for eight years. The band released its album Hints, Allegations, & Things Left Unsaid in 1993 when Roland was 30. Its hit song Shine brought the band success and their first Billboard Music Award.

19. Gotye

Age at breakthrough: 31

Though he had been making music and producing albums for several years, it wasn’t until Gotye was 31 that he achieved international success. His hit single Somebody That I Used to Know became the best-selling song in 2012. Gotye has won three Grammy Awards and 13 ARIA Music Awards.

20. Eminem

Age at breakthrough: 26

Eminem made his first demo tape at 16 and released his debut album Infinite at 24, though it wasn’t successful. At the age of 26, The Slim Shady LP was released and went triple platinum. He has sold over 220 million records and was the first artist to have ten albums to debut at number one on the Billboard 200.

21. Kim Gordon

Age at breakthrough: 37

Kim Gordon attended the Otis Art Institute and worked as a writer before forming the band Sonic Youth with Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo in 1981. The band’s first big success was their sixth album, Goo (Gordon was 37 when it was released). Sonic Youth would go on to make another nine records before disbanding.

22. John Ondrasik

Age at breakthrough: 36

Better known by his stage name Five for Fighting, John Ondrasik’s success came at the age of 36 with his hit song Superman. He attended UCLA and formed a band called John Scott which did not have any commercial success. Five for Fighting would release a total of six studio albums and six live albums.

23. John Legend

Age at breakthrough: 26

After attending college in Philadelphia, John Legend worked in management consulting. His debut album Get Lifted was released when Legend was 26. The album won a Grammy Award for the best R&B album in 2006. Legend has since won an additional 11 Grammy Awards for his music.

24. Willie Nelson

Age at breakthrough: 42

Prior to starting a career in music, Willie Nelson served in the U.S. Air Force and worked various jobs including as a bouncer. He attended university in Texas where he studied agriculture. He made his first album at the age of 23, but it wasn’t until Nelson was 42 that he released Red Headed Stranger which brought him success.

25. Joey Ramone

Age at breakthrough: 25

Punk rock band The Ramones released their first album in 1976 when lead singer Joey Ramone was 25. The band had 14 studio albums over 19 years. Popular hits included I Wanna Be Sedated and Blitzkrieg Bop. The Ramones were awarded a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011 and were named one of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time by Rolling Stone.

26. Scatman John

Age at breakthrough: 52

An American jazz musician, Scatman John sang and played piano for many years before becoming popular in the mid-1990s. His 1995 single Scatman was his best-known song which came out when he was 52. It sold over six million copies worldwide and his greatest success was in Japan.

27. Chuck Berry

Age at breakthrough: 29

Called the Father of Rock and Roll, Chuck Berry was a singer-songwriter and guitar player. His first big hit – Maybellene – came out when Berry was 29. He was 32 when the popular song Johnny B. Goode was released. Prior to his music career, Berry worked in an automobile plant.

28. Bill Withers

Age at breakthrough: 33

Bill Withers served for nine years in the U.S. Navy before starting his music career. He was 33 when his hit single Ain’t No Sunshine was released. The song won a Grammy Award for best R&B song in 1972. Withers would win another two Grammy Awards for his songs Just the Two of Us and Lean on Me.

29. Dan Wilson

Age at breakthrough: 36

Lead singer for Semisonic, Dan Wilson was 36 when their album Feeling Strangely Fine was released. This album – featuring the hit song Closing Time – catapaulted Wilson and Semisonic to fame. Closing Time earned Wilson a nomination for the Best Rock Song Grammy Award. As a songwriter, Wilson also achieved success with Adele’s hit Someone Like You.

30. Christine McVie

Age at breakthrough: 32

Singer, songwriter, and keyboard player Christine McVie is best known for her part in the rock band Fleetwood Mac. She attended art college and played for various bands before joining Fleetwood Mac in 1970. She was 32 when their hit album Rumours was released. The album is one of the best-selling records in the world with over 40 million copies sold.

31. Mark Knopfler

Age at breakthrough: 29

Lead guitarist and vocalist for Dire Straits, Mark Knopfler studied journalism and worked as a reporter before pursuing a musical career. He was 29 when the band released their hit song Sultans of Swing in 1978. Dire Straits has won four Grammy Awards and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2018.

32. Roger Waters

Age at breakthrough: 30

Vocalist and bassist for the rock band Pink Floyd, Roger Waters was 30 when their album The Dark Side of the Moon came out. Before starting his music career, Waters studied architecture at the Regent Street Polytechnic in London. Pink Floyd sold over 250 million records worldwide, including 1975’s Wish You Were Here and 1979’s The Wall.

33. James Murphy

Age at breakthrough: 32

Best known for his role in the band LCD Soundsystem, James Murphy was 32 when their hit single Losing My Edge was released. Murphy was a member of multiple bands during his twenties and also worked as a sound engineer prior to starting LCD Soundsystem. The band won a Grammy Award in 2018 for their song Tonite.

34. Ian Dury

Age at breakthrough: 35

Ian Dury spent his twenties studying at the Royal College of Art, teaching in England, and creating illustrations for The Sunday Times. At age 35, Dury became the lead singer for Ian and the Blockheads. Their song Hit Me with Your Rhythm Stick reached number one in the United Kingdom in 1979.

35. Ann Wilson

Age at breakthrough: 25

Ann Wilson – vocalist and flutist for the rock band Heart – was 25 when the album Dreamboat Annie was released. With the hit singles Magic Man and Crazy on You, this debut album started Heart’s success and sold over a million copies. Heart has since produced another 15 records and was nominated for four Grammy Awards.

Closing Thoughts

We hope you enjoyed our ultimate list of musicians & singers who started their careers late! Why not check out our article on if looks matter in the music industry next?

About Author

I'm George; the founder of Indie Panda. I'm passionate about helping independent musicians realize the full potential of their talents and abilities through a strong work ethic, coherent project identity and a strong logistical foundation.