When is it too late to start a singing career? Am I too old to take singing lessons? And is it possible to become a successful singer later in life? Here we’ll study 15 singers who stared singing later in life.
You may be worried your voice won’t be good enough as a more mature vocalist. Or that you won’t be taken seriously in a competitive industry. But in reality, there are many famous singers who started late and have gone on to have prolific, successful careers.
In this article, we answer your questions and explain why your ship hasn’t sailed, no matter your age or stage. Read on to learn about the musicians who began when they were more advanced in years.
Singers who started late
The major record labels like Sony and Colombia, often look for singers in their teens who they can develop over a period of time. But many performers have proved that with dedication, commitment and hard work they can achieve their goals. No matter how old they are when they get started.
Age is not a barrier to being a good singer. Some are born with a gift of a naturally beautiful voice, while others benefit from singing lessons and voice coaching which can transform the vocal tone, range and technique.
Can you become a singer later in life?
Yes, you certainly can. There are plenty of examples of singers who have had a big success, chart hits and been signed to labels as “late bloomers”. However not everyone is looking for fame and fortune, many singers have great enjoyment and fulfilment from singing in choirs, groups, theatre companies and societies, either as amateurs or semi-professionals.
Starting later in life can be a benefit for those who have studied and practised their craft, gaining musical knowledge and putting in hard work. If you have a passion for music and singing it will show in your performance and this often comes with time and experience as well as training.
Singers who made it after 25
Here are some singers who started later, becoming well known and respected artists well beyond their mid-twenties.
#1 Leonard Cohen
Cohen began writing for other artists, but he was 33 before his first album ‘Songs of Leonard Cohen’ was released. Songs from the album were covered by other big names such as Judy Collins and James Taylor. He initially had a career as a poet and novelist before turning to music in his 30s. At high school, he studied poetry and music and taught himself to play acoustic guitar.
Cohen then switched to classical guitar after learning a few chords of Flamenco from a Spanish guitar player. He was eventually signed to Columbia Records after performing at folk festivals. His music and writing have been hugely influential throughout the industry and his song ‘Hallelujah’ has become one of the most performed songs, by almost 200 artists in many languages and is covered on a regular basis to date.
Singing as a hobby is beneficial too – it will build vocal strength and repertoire. The transition to professional singing will be enhanced by learning and developing over a period of time and singers who start later have often developed a richer vocal tone and range. Entering festivals and competitions helps to gain experience and confidence and to make valuable contacts.
#2 Debbie Harry
Blondie was one of the most popular bands of the late ’70s, but mainstream success didn’t come until 1978 with the third album Parallel Lines. Debbie Harry was 33 years old when ‘Heart of Glass’ reached No.1 in the charts. Before breaking through in the music industry, she had various jobs including a secretary, dancer and Playboy Bunny. After achieving massive success with Blondie, Debbie released a solo album in 1981 and embarked on an acting career.
Blondie reunited in the late ’90s, with their 2017 album Pollinator charting at No.4 in the UK. Her memoir, Face It, was released in 2019.
#3 Robin Thicke
Robin Thicke first started out in the industry working as a songwriter and producer and, although he’d previously released 5 albums, it wasn’t until Blurred Lines became a massive international hit in 2013 that he found mainstream success as a performer.
#4 Pharrell Williams
Long before collaborating on Blurred Lines with Robin Thick, Pharrell made it as a producer before he started singing, with industry success coming by the age of 28. However, he didn’t record vocals till much later, launching his hit song Happy when he was 40.
If you’re already working and have a platform in the music world, as Pharrell did, it gives you a head start as a singer starting later in life.
If you’re into electro-punk you’ll be familiar with the outlandish Canadian performance artist, Merrill Beth Nisker – aka Peaches. Her first album was released when she was 32, but she didn’t see any significant success until age 35.
Artists who started late
Artists begin late in all types of genre, from pop and rock to hip-hop…
One of the biggest names in the music industry – not only as an artist but now as a music producer, Jay-Z needs no introduction. But he didn’t have a hit till he was 28. He’s moved at lightning speed since then though, racking up 100 million record sales and 21 Grammy Awards.
#7 2 Chainz
Once known as Tity Boi, it wasn’t until he changed his name to 2 Chainz that the artist had any real success. After releasing a popular mixtape, his debut album hit #1 on the Billboard 200. 2 Chainz was 35 at this point.
#8 Rachel Platten
Known for her anthem, Fight Song, Plattern didn’t manage a hit until she’d reached her 30s. Age didn’t stop the singer-songwriter from entering the Billboard Hot 100’s top 10. Her smash was also featured on the show Pretty Little Liars and has been covered the world over.
#9 Ian Dury
With a career as an illustrator and teacher, Ian Dury sang as a hobby. But when he founded a band named Blockheads their song Sex, Drugs and Rock & Roll became a huge hit. He was 35 years old when he rose to fame during the punk and new wave era. In addition to the music business, he had parts in many films. He also wrote a musical called ‘Apples’, which was staged at the high respected Royal Court Theatre.
Country singers who started late in life
We know of many country artists who started in their teens, like Taylor Swift and Dolly Parton. So who took a little longer?
#10 Billy Ray Cyrus
Billy’s daughter Miley got her big break at a very young age, performing on the Disney Channel as Hannah Montana. But Billy had a later start than his daughter. He was well into his 20s when he joined a band and didn’t go solo till much later, eventually making it with Achy Breaky Heart at 31.
#11 Sheryl Crow
Despite singing and writing from a young age, Sheryl was over 30 when her album “Tuesday Night Music Club” burst on to the music scene. She had previously been a backing singer for Michael Jackson and Rod Stewart. Despite all her experience in her studio sessions, touring, writing and a degree in piano and voice, it took some years to be signed with a record label and become established in her own right.
She has sold over 50 million albums internationally and appeared on numerous TV shows as a character. Her music incorporates pop, rock, country, jazz and blues, producing her unique sound. In 2019 Sheryl released the album “Threads” and continues to write music and tour.
Musicians who learned instruments late
And it’s not just your voice that can be trained later on. You can still pick up instruments when more advanced in years. It does generally get harder to learn to play as you get older, so don’t delay it. But do know that it’s still possible. Combine your newfound instrumental ability with some cracking vocals and top songwriting and you have a winning combo. Just like these musicians…
#12 Bill Withers
Three-time Grammy award winner and soul legend, Bill WITHERS had timeless hits such as “Ain’t No Sunshine” and “Lovely Day” which have been covered for decades by many singers. He joined the Navy after school and later worked as a milkman and in a factory. But after hearing singer Lou Rawls in a nightclub he realised where his heart lay, bought a cheap guitar, taught himself to play and started writing songs. He was in his 30s when he achieved success.
His big hit “Lean On Me” was covered in 2020 by UB40 featuring Ali Campbell and Astro to help raise funds for the NHS Covid Appeal – described as a perfect song for the time.
#13 Seasick Steve
On a list of singers who started late, it’s impossible to omit Seasick Steve who made it at the age of 65. Previously a farm labourer, a busker and a paramedic, it was an appearance on Jools Holland’s New Year’s Eve Hootenanny that plummeted hits on Steve’s website from 75 to over a million. In 2007 he won the MOJO Award for Best Breakthrough Act. He has appeared at major festivals including Glastonbury and Reading and toured extensively.
Famous classical musicians who started late
The classical, operatic and musical theatre worlds are less focussed on youth than the pop industry. Especially where a story is being told, older performers may be needed to portray characters of different ages.
#14 Andrea Bocelli
The acclaimed Italian tenor had a passion for music from an early age, learning piano, flute, saxophone, trumpet, trombone, guitar and drums – truly a multi-instrumentalist! Having been diagnosed with congenital glaucoma, he lost his sight completely aged 12, following an accident during a football game. Music was vital to his life and he won his first song competition aged 14. But it was not until 1994 at the San Remo Music Festival, where he won the newcomer section that his career began.
He was in his mid-thirties when he released his debut album which went platinum in weeks. Known as ‘The world’s most beloved tenor’ and ‘the world’s most popular living tenor’ he is one of the finest artists of our generation. Bocelli has since performed at royal weddings and duetted with contemporary artists like Ed Sheeran.
#15 Susan Boyle
Britain’s Got Talent has featured many older performers but when Susan Boyle stepped out onto the stage in 2009 to sing ‘I Dreamed A Dream’ from Les Miserables it became one of the show’s most memorable performances. Proving that it’s never too late, Susan was in her late 40s and had almost abandoned her plans to enter as she believed she was too old. Her early musical training involved singing lessons from vocal coach Fred O’Neill, she attended Edinburgh Acting School and took part in the Edinburgh Fringe.
She won a number of local singing competitions but it was not until BGT that the nation heard her glorious voice. With over 25 million albums sold, Grammy nominations, Guinness World Records, endless awards, performances for royalty and some of the biggest TV shows in the world, being a ‘late bloomer’ has brought great acclaim.
#16 Russell Watson
The I’m a Celebrity 2020 contestant started out singing in working men’s clubs in the north of England. After entering contests and performing at sports events he was spotted and taken on by management. His debut album followed, putting him on the classical music map. By this time, Watson had reached his early 30s.
- What age is too late to start rapping?
You may think you need to be young to rap, but there are loads of older artists. Kwayzar was a legendary rapper inspired by Ice Cube and Eminem, who kept going till he was 88. So if you have something to say, don’t hold back because of your age. There are many current older rappers like Ice T and Dr Dre.
- What age do most musicians make it?
This depends on the genre, but an average is teens through to early 20s. While this knowledge shouldn’t stop you from launching a career later, it should also spur you on if you’re younger and thinking of delaying. If you have talent and determination, the sooner you begin the better.
- Do musicians have a better memory?
Yes! The practice of music, be it singing or playing has shown to improve cognitive function. This wards of dementia and boosts the brain cells. Memorising lyrics and learning musical scores is excellent for your brain health. Because of this, music education is incredibly valuable.
What age did you start in the music industry? Are you thinking of taking up singing but are worried you’re too old? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.