Miles Davis (1926 – 1991)
Even among this list of musical talent, there are few people in history who can legitimately be referred to as a “musical genius,” but Miles Davis might just be one. Born in Illinois in 1926, Davis traveled to New York City at the age of 18 where he was to study at the prestigious Juilliard School of Music before dropping out in order to become a full-time jazz musician. Davis played nightclubs in the city alongside Charlie “Bird” Parker (with whom he recorded for several years), during which time he developed his unique improvisational style. Albums such as Birth of the Cool and Kind of Blue followed soon after – the latter becoming the biggest-selling jazz album of all time and cited by most critics as the finest in jazz history.
Jimi Hendrix (1942 – 1970)
There may be no musician in history who had the impact on their instrument that Jimi Hendrix had on the electric guitar during his lifetime – one that was sadly cut short at the young age of 27. During his short career, Hendrix completely redefined the role of the guitar in popular music, pioneering new musical technologies, styles and techniques. Hendrix also possessed the kind of flamboyant and commanding stage presence which has rarely been seen since. While blues musicians before him had pioneered some of the more outlandish styles of guitar playing (behind the back, between the legs, over the head), Hendrix pushed the boundaries even further – famously setting his guitar on fire at the end of his set at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967.
Michael Jackson (1958 – 2009)
The “King of Pop,” Michael Jackson experienced a level of fame that no other musician will likely ever come close to. Joining his brothers to form what eventually become the Jackson 5 at the age of five, Michael Jackson had his first number one with the group at just 11 years old. Three more number one singles ensued before Michael Jackson went solo in 1971.