- Many of today’s well-known musicians looked very different in their 20s.
- While in their 20s, Diana Ross, Madonna, and Elton John all released no. 1 songs.
- Other musicians, like Jimmy Buffet, Joni Mitchell, and Bob Dylan, found greater success later in their careers.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Many iconic musicians who helped shape today’s music industry started their careers in their 20s.
Although some saw early success and rose to stardom quickly, others were still finding their way in the competitive business by the time they turned 30.
Here’s a peek at what 20 iconic musicians were doing in their 20s:
By the time he was in his 20s, Mick Jagger was already part of a successful band.
At around 19 years old, Jagger joined The Rolling Stones with longtime-friend Keith Richards and four other musicians.
The Rolling Stones took off in Jagger’s 20s with the launch of the band’s debut album in 1964 and first no. 1 international hit in 1965, “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.”
Today, Jagger is in his 70s, and The Rolling Stones are still set to tour in the coming years.
Stevie Wonder already had two songs reach no. 1 by the time he was 21.
While in his 20s, Wonder released a few albums, including “Talking Book,” which featured songs like “You Are the Sunshine of My Life” and “Superstition,” both of which hit no. 1 on the Billboard charts.
At age 23, he was in a near-fatal car accident that left him in a coma for a few days. Fortunately, the musician was able to recover and he put out four more albums before his 30th birthday.
Now in his 70s, Wonder continues to perform music and advocate for people who are blind.
Throughout her early 20s, Gloria Estefan shined as part of the Miami Sound Machine.
As a teenager, she met future-husband Emilio Estefan, and he asked her to join the Miami Latin Boys. Shortly after, the band was renamed to Miami Sound Machine and she became the lead singer.
After numerous hits including “Rhythm Is Gonna Get You,” the band became known as Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine.
Now in her 60s, Estefan continues to play music, but she has also written two children’s books and one cookbook.
In 2016, she and her husband received the Presidential Medal of Freedom to honour their contributions to American music.
While in his 20s, Paul McCartney released 12 studio albums with the Beatles.
Born James Paul McCartney in 1942 in England, McCartney has spent his entire adult life playing music professionally.
As a teenager, he joined John Lennon to form a band that eventually became the Beatles.
Throughout his early and mid-20s, McCartney found great success with the Beatles’ iconic hits like “Can’t Buy Me Love,” “Eight Days a Week,” and “Let It Be.”
By the time the Beatles officially broke up in 1970, they had released 12 albums. That same year, shortly before he turned 30, McCartney released his first solo album.
Now in his 70s, McCartney continues to put out new music and tour around the world.
Madonna launched her music career when she was in her 20s.
Nicknamed the “Queen of Pop,” Madonna was born Madonna Louise Veronica Ciccone in 1958 in Michigan.
When Madonna was in her 20s, she launched her music career with the song, “Everybody.”A few years later, her album “Like a Virgin” reached no. 1 on the Billboard charts.
Now in her 60s, Madonna released her most recent album, “Madame X,” in 2019, and it debuted at no. 1 on the Billboard charts.
While in her 20s, Dolly Parton released some of her biggest hits.
Born in 1946 in Tennessee, Dolly Parton grew up as one of 12 children. She first started to find some success at age 21 when she joined “The Porter Wagoner Show,” which was a musical variety show.
While in her 20s, Parton signed a record deal and churned out classic hits like “Jolene” and “I Will Always Love You.”
In 2019, she executive-produced “Dolly Parton’s Heartstrings,” a Netflix anthology series inspired by her extensive music catalogue. In 2020, she wrote, produced, and starred in the holiday film “Dolly Parton’s Christmas on the Square.”
While in his 20s, Bob Dylan released one of his most famous songs.
Iconic folk singer-songwriter, Bob Dylan was born Robert Allen Zimmerman in 1941 in Minnesota.
He got his big break at 20 years old after one of his shows received a positive review in the New York Times.
In 1966, he was reportedly in a near-fatal motorcycle accident, though there have been many mysterious and contradictory details about it shared over the years. Following the reported incident, he stepped out of the spotlight and was rather quiet for about a year.
He released music again in December of 1967, and found increased success in his 30s.
Now in his late 70s, Dylan has received multiple awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012 for his contribution to American music and the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2013 for his lyrics, making him the first songwriter to win the award.
Carlos Santana played Woodstock shortly after he turned 20.
Born in 1947 in Mexico, Carlos Santana was the son of a professional musician and was encouraged to learn the violin from an early age. That instrument never stuck, but he eventually developed a passion for the electric guitar.
And in 1966, he formed the Santana Blues Band (later known as Santana) that played a blend of Latin rhythm, rock, and blues.
While in his early 20s, Santana played at Woodstock and caught the attention of producers from Columbia Records.
Santana experienced a resurgence of popularity in 1999 after a collaboration with Rob Thomas on the single “Smooth.” That year, he won eight Grammy Awards.
Now in his 70s, he continues to create and perform music.
By the time he turned 30, Elton John had already released multiple no. 1 songs.
Elton John was born Reginald Kenneth Dwight in 1947 in England. He taught himself how to play the piano when he was a child, a skill that landed him a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music in London.
While in his 20s, John responded to a newspaper ad looking for a songwriter, which ultimately led to his partnership with longtime songwriting companion, Bernie Taupin.
The pair put out classic songs like, “Your Song,” “Crocodile Rock,” and “Bennie and the Jets.”
By the time he turned 30, John had multiple no. 1 songs on the Billboard charts.
Now in his 70s, John is set to continue his “Farewell Yellow Brick Road” tour in 2021, which he said will be his last one. He also recently helped create his Oscar-nominated biopic, “Rocketman,” which debuted in 2019 and received stellar reviews.
While in his early 20s, Willie Nelson worked as a DJ.
Born in 1933, Willie Nelson grew up in Texas where his musical interests were encouraged by his grandparents.
During his early 20s, Nelson studied agriculture at Baylor University while working as a DJ at a radio station. At 27, he moved to Nashville where he became a songwriter for other musicians.
Now in his late 80s, Nelson works as an animal-rights activist while continuing to put out new music. He’s currently working on his upcoming album, “That’s Life.”
Tina Turner became a lead singer in her early 20s.
Iconic R&B singer Tina Turner was born Anna Mae Bullock in 1939 in Tennessee. In her early teens, she moved to St. Louis, Missouri, where she was fully introduced to the R&B music scene.
She launched her music career in her 20s when she recorded “A Fool in Love” for the Kings of Rhythm.
Two years later, she married Kings of Rhythm leader, Ike Turner, and worked with him to release new music and hit covers of songs like “Proud Mary.”
In 1978, Tina divorced Ike, alleging that he physically abused her throughout their relationship. He died in 2007.
Now in her 80s, Tina has mostly retired from music. In 2018, she released her second autobiography called “My Love Story,” and received a lifetime achievement award at the Grammys.
At 27 years old, Joni Mitchell saw commercial success with the release of her second album.
Folk singer Joni Mitchell was born Roberta Joan Anderson in 1943 in Fort Macleod, Canada.
Mitchell began singing when she was 9 years old after contracting polio and being left bedridden.
After moving to the US, she released her debut album at age 25, but she did not see commercial success across genres until she released “Ladies of the Canyon” when she was 27 years old.
Throughout her career, Mitchell earned eight Grammy awards. She released her most recent album, “Shine,” in 2007.
Now in her 70s, she’s been battling a number of health issues and has made few public appearances.
Bruce Springsteen released “Born to Run” when he was in his mid-20s.
He spent his early 20s playing local bars with his friends, who later became members of the E Street Band.
At 24 years old, Springsteen and his band put out their first record with mild success. Their real success came when “Born to Run” was released two years later, landing at no. 3 on the Billboard charts.
Now in his 70s, Springsteen is still making music. His 2019 record, “Western Stars,” reached the top 10 on the Billboard 200 chart.
He also received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2016 for his contributions to American music.
When he was 20 years old, Ozzy Osbourne joined Black Sabbath.
More recently known for his reality TV show, “The Osbournes,”Ozzy Osbourne was born John Michael Osbourne in 1948 in England.
Throughout his teens, Osbourne said he struggled to keep a job and dabbled with “a bit of burglary” before getting caught after just a few weeks.
But in his 20s, Osbourne joined a band that would eventually become Black Sabbath. By the time the singer was 22, he and Black Sabbath had put out their first album, which charted in both the UK and US.
Throughout his 20s, Osbourne put out a number of heavy-metal albums with Black Sabbath.
During the late 1970s, Osbourne was kicked out of the band because he missed weeks of practice and had been continuously engaging in erratic behaviour that was fuelled by drugs and alcohol, according to the BBC archives. He pursued a number of solo projects over the next few decades.
In 2002, Osbourne and his family starred in the MTV reality show, “The Osbournes,” which focused on their daily lives. In the 2010s, he reunited with his Black Sabbath bandmates to release a final album and embark on one last tour.
Now in his 70s, Osbourne has been open about struggling with his health, but he is still releasing music and he plans to continue touring as soon as he is able.
Diana Ross was a successful musician and actress by the time she turned 30.
Born in 1944 in Detroit, Michigan, Diana Ross became a member of the acclaimed Motown group, The Supremes, while in her teens.
By the time Ross turned 20, she and The Supremes had already released three no. 1 hits.
While in her mid-20s, Ross left the band to focus on her solo career and she quickly hit no. 1 with “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.”
From there, she started to explore a career in acting, starring in “Lady Sings the Blues,” which landed her an Academy Award-nomination.
In his early 20s, Billy Joel released “Piano Man.”
Billy Joel was born in 1949 in the Bronx, New York, and he started playing piano when he was a child.
Joel released his first album “Cold Spring Harbour” in 1971 and two years later, in 1973, while he was working as a lounge singer, he released the hit track “Piano Man,” based on his experience.
He went on to release four more albums before he turned 30.
Now in his 70s, Joel has mostly retired from creating new music, but he continues to tour and play his hits.
In 2013, he was inducted into the Kennedy Centre Honours, an honour for individuals in the performing-arts world who make major contributions to American culture.
While in her early 20s, Stevie Nicks opened for fellow music legends Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin.
Born Stephanie Lynn Nicks in 1948 in Arizona, Stevie Nicks was exposed to music at an early age by her grandfather. He had a love for country music and even made Nicks her own guitar.
In 1968, musician Lindsey Buckingham asked Nicks to join the band Fritz, and the group opened concerts for artists like Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin.
After disbanding and putting out some music of their own, Nicks and Buckingham both joined the group Fleetwood Mac in 1975.
That same year, while in her late 20s, Nicks released her first album with Fleetwood Mac and it featured iconic songs like “Landslide” and “Rhiannon.”
It quickly rose to no. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart. In 1977, the band’s next album “Rumours” also hit no. 1.
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Nicks put out more successful solo music and was inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with her bandmates in 1998, and then as a solo artist in 2019.
Now in her 70s, Nicks reunited with Fleetwood Mac for a tour in 2018, and she is set to embark on a solo tour in 2021.
More recently, she inspired a viral trend on TikTok.
Smokey Robinson released his first hit when he was in his 20s.
Called the “King of Motown,” Smokey Robinson was born William Robinson Jr. in 1940 in Michigan. He founded The Miracles as a teenager, which led him to his ultimate success.
When Robinson was in his 20s, he and The Miracles had their first real hit with “Shop Around.” He continued to release popular songs with The Miracles, including “You Really Got a Hold on Me” and “I Second That Emotion.”
During this time, he was also working behind the scenes producing music with Motown Records.
Now in his 80s, Robinson continues to create and perform new music as a solo artist. In 2017, he released a Christmas album called “Christmas Everyday.”
When he was 26 years old, Sting joined the Police.
At age 26, Sting joined the Police, and the band saw some early success with the album “Reggatta de Blanc.” Over the next few years, the Police’s popularity soared with hits like “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” and “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic.”
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Sting released numerous popular solo albums and acted in few movies, including “Dune” (1984).
In 2014, he also composed the music for the musical “The Last Ship,” which is inspired by his childhood in England.
Now in his late 60s, Sting is still performing. Recently, he celebrated the 30th anniversary of his album “The Soul Cages” with an extended digital release.
In his late 20s, Jimmy Buffett moved to Key West and found his beach inspiration.
Country musician Jimmy Buffett was born in 1946 in Mississippi. After graduating from the University of Southern Mississippi, he moved to Nashville to pursue a career in music.
While in his mid-20s, Buffett released his first few albums but did not find much success. And in 1971, he moved to Key West, Florida, where he found inspiration in the tropical islands.
While in his early 30s, he released his beachy album “Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes” that included his iconic hit “Margaritaville” and cemented him in mainstream culture.
In the 1980s, he turned Margaritaville into a brand and started to expand it into merchandise and cafes.
Now in his 70s, Buffett continues to perform and release new music. He’s also expanded the Margaritaville brand to include beach-themed resorts, retirement communities, and casinos.