It’s where the white, sandy beaches draw you out to the coast and where the southern food fills your belly and warms your heart. South Carolina is the birthplace of some of the most popular music makers and cycle breakers who have left a stamp in the hearts of many.
Many incredible musicians were born in South Carolina, and we couldn’t possibly list them all. But we did choose a solid bunch of great musicians who have greatly impacted the music world. We looked at several sources, including their official websites, to put this list together. Meet the 10 biggest musicians from South Carolina!
1. Darius Rucker
Originally gaining Grammy award-winning status with the band Hootie & the Blowfish, Darius Rucker went on to release his very own country album. This genre shift opened him up to new audiences, and he topped the Billboard charts with multiple albums. He later won a Grammy for “Best Solo Country Performance” for his fan-favorite single, “Wagon Wheel,” only to continue topping charts with his never-miss hits. His success has carried him, but he doesn’t stray far from his hometown of Charleston, where he served as co-chair for a massive capital campaign to build the MUSC Shawn Jenkins Children’s Hospital. Rucker has repeatedly raised funds for his philanthropic ventures, also contributing to St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital.
2. Hootie and the Blowfish
Darius Rucker shines in this band, letting his bluesy vocals carry the diverse sounds of Hootie and the Blowfish. Pairing beautifully with bassist Dean Felber, guitarist Mark Bryan, and drummer Jim “Soni” Sonefeld, the band has a rich history, having sold over 25 million records globally. Some of their early hits include “Only Wanna Be With You” and “Hold My Hand.” The band had been working together for a decade before they became well-known in 1994 with these melodic hits. Rucker, Felber, Bryan, and Sonefeld met in Columbia at the University of South Carolina and were quickly awed by one another’s talents as they met one by one. Rucker’s voice defines the band’s vibe, no matter how many diverse sounds they play. After wrapping a summer tour in 2008, the quartet went on to focus on solo albums. Over a decade later, they set out on their Group Therapy Tour, which was received exceptionally well throughout the U.S., Canada, the U.K., and Ireland.
3. James Brown
Born just outside of Barnwell, SC, James Brown almost didn’t make it. Despite the odds, he had a fight in him. Even from infancy, he demonstrated a strong desire to live and become someone. Losing was never an option, and he declared success, even when it was still around the corner from where he stood. Calling himself “Mr. Dynamite,” Brown carried on, knowing he was on his way to his first pop hit. His unapologetic belief in himself was sometimes met with matching excitement and sometimes with disdain. But the negative views didn’t deter Brown — he worked hard, danced like no other, and made his name known. In 1980, Brown gained a new set of fans, but eight years later, he fell off the grid while he served two concurrent prison sentences. After his release, he continued filling venues until his death in 2006.
4. Eartha Kitt
Though Eartha Kitt was in Harlem by age nine, she was born in South Carolina to her sharecropper mother. Kitt was born out of wedlock, and her mother gave her away — her teen years were comprised of homelessness, but she managed to use her inherent talent of singing to propel herself into a new life by the 1950s. She partook in the Katherine Dunham Dance Troupe and toured Europe, using her platform not just to display her singing voice but also to address difficult-to-broach civil rights topics. Kitt enjoyed the affection of her audience, stating that it was a great need, particularly because her childhood was so rough. She represented resilience throughout her life until her death in 2008.
5. Chubby Checker
Spring Gulley, SC, is the birthplace of Chubby Checker, who is known for popularizing “The Twist.” He recorded his own version of the song in 1959, when he first signed on with Cameo-Parkway Records. The song became a number-one hit, with audiences moving in unison with Checker, twisting on the dance floor full of glee. Before becoming Chubby Checker, he was known as Ernest Evans. His family moved from Spring Gulley to Philadelphia, where he performed with a singing group called the Quantrells. It was this early exposure that piqued the interest of music executives in the city.
6. Dizzy Gillespie
Bandleader and composer, Dizzy Gillespie left a mark on jazz music, using his trumpet skills in a way no other had before him. Unfortunately, Gillespie lost his father before he reached age 10. Despite such a short time spent with his bandleader father, he managed to carry his legacy and love for music. Gillespie dabbled with the trombone before learning to play the trumpet during his early teen years. Born in Cheraw, SC, he headed north to study at the Laurinburg Institute in NC. After working professionally with a couple of bands, Afro-Cuban rhythms and bebop caught his attention. Gillespie enjoyed collaborating with various bands and famous artists, continuously incorporating new elements into his music to make it one of a kind.
7. Lee Brice
American singer-songwriter Lee Brice is a family man who sells out entire arenas to adoring fans who celebrate his country music. Born in Sumter, SC, Brice displayed an affinity for music, having learned the piano early on. He used his singing talent in church and began writing songs, which granted him recognition and awards in high school. His interests shifted for a while as he focused on football, but after suffering an injury, he decided to give his country music career his full attention. In 2007, he wasn’t just songwriting for country stars, but he also signed to Curb Records’ Asylum-Curb division. As of the time of this writing, Brice is on tour in the US.
8. Edwin McCain
Though Edwin McCain’s concerts are resounding, sometimes incorporating entire orchestras, he manages to offer audiences an authentic, intimate feel each time. Born in Greenville, SC, McCain released music with an alternative and indie flair, displaying his expertise as a rock guitar player. He signed with Atlantic Records’ Lava Records in 1994 and released several albums, including his first major-label album, “Honor Among Thieves.” It’s not just music that has popularized McCain; he gained a whole legion of new followers when his “Flipping Ships” television show came out on Animal Planet. Nevertheless, his heart belongs to the road, so he continues touring the US.
9. John Berry
The 1990s country music charts had John Berry’s name plastered all over them. Berry had several hits during that period, including “Your Love Amazes Me” and “She’s Taken a Shine.” He is no stranger to recognition and awards, having earned a number of gold and platinum records as well as a Grammy award. Always ready for what’s next, Berry takes fresh eyes to each phase of his life, infusing it with new music. SC is where he was born, but he grew up in GA, where he started playing guitar during his early teen years. His rendition of “O’ Holy Night” led to beloved annual Christmas tours, and today, he continues playing in theatres, sharing his new faith-based music with his loyal fans.
10. Toy Caldwell
Born in Spartanburg, SC, Toy Caldwell was a guitarist and songwriter best known for his role in the Marshall Tucker Band. He didn’t just stay within a single genre and instead hopped around between rock and roll, country, and blues music. Though the Marshall Tucker Band broke up, Caldwell continued, eventually forming the Toy Caldwell Band, which allowed him to continue playing shows until his untimely death in 1993 when he was just 45 years old. (Here is a list of 20 celebrities who died far too young.)