10 Most Influential LGBTQ Musicians Of All Time • Volume
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Written by: Mikala Lugen | Photo(s) by: Phil Dent/Redferns Ian Gavan/Getty Images Paras Griffin/Getty Images Greg Allen/Invision/AP Charlotte Rutherford Hanna Hanseroth Brad Hebert Olle Lindeborg/Getty Images MediaPunch/IP Rich Fury/Getty Images

10 Most Influential LGBTQ Musicians Of All Time

Here at Volume, we’re celebrating Pride Month by honoring and listening to some of history and today’s most respected and celebrated LGBTQ+ musicians. The LGBTQ+ community has been celebrated for decades throughout the music industry, with some of the biggest and most influential musicians of our time identifying a part of the community and movement.

This month is all about celebrating YOU and the confidence to be yourself. We honor the 1969 Stonewall riots and the ongoing work to achieve equal justice and equal opportunity for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) Americans.

We looked over the past several decades and highlighted some of the music industry’s most iconic and influential LGBTQ+ musicians and activists. From the lasting impressions of Freddie Mercury and Elton John to today’s anthems sung by Lady Gaga, Lil Nas, and WILLOW, scroll down to see who we recognize as true pioneers and activists for the LGBTQ+ community.

 Freddie Mercury (1946 – 1991)

The man, the myth, the legend, Freddie Mercury is deemed one of the world’s most famous musicians of all time. As the British lead singer for Queen, he’s regarded as one of the greatest singers in the history of rock music due to his four-octave vocal range. In addition to his impeccable musicianship, Mercury was also known for his flamboyant stage persona, theatrical style, and groundbreaking rejection of societal norms throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s. He showed the world that clothing had no gender, and while he never formally came out as gay, Mercury freely expressed androgynous behaviors. After his passing in 1991 from HIV and AIDS-related complications, he continues to inspire generations of people and spark conversations surrounding HIV, making him not only a rock icon, but an LGBTQ icon that pushed for acceptance and understanding for originality.

Elton John (1947 – Present)

The Grammy-winning legend and flamboyant superstar is one of the most enduringly successful singer-songwriters of his generation. Commonly known as the “Rocket Man” after his 1972 hit single of the same name, Elton John is the most successful solo male in the history of the American charts, having sold more than 300 million records worldwide throughout his six-decade career in music. In the peak of the ‘70s social and cultural revolution, John came out as bisexual, helping to pave the path of inclusivity and equal rights for the LGBTQ community. After losing two friends to HIV/AIDS, including Freddie Mercury, he established the Elton John AIDS Foundation in 1992, which has raised over $450 million to support HIV-related programs across four continents. His music, freedom of expression, and philanthropic work continue to make a significant impact in today’s world.

Madonna (1958 – Present)

As the reigning Queen of Pop, Madonna is known for her continual reinvention and versatility in music production, songwriting, and artistic expression. Throughout her decades-long career in music, she’s pushed the boundaries surrounding everything taboo – from social issues, to political, sexual, and religious themes throughout her music videos, live performances, and interviews. As a globalized figure, she is the best-selling female music artist of all time and the most successful solo artist in the history of the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart. Since her career in music and dance as a teenager, Madonna has been an active voice for the LGBTQ community, denouncing homophobia around the world while calling on equal rights and the need for allyship. Today, she is considered one of the greatest LGBTQ icons in the world in her role in bringing gay culture into the mainstream media.

Lady Gaga (1986 – Present)

Since starting her performance career as a teenager, Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, known as Lady Gaga, has become an international icon for being true to oneself. From her bold, rainbow-adorned and meaningful outfits, musical versatility and radical lyrics, to confident public speeches and statements, she’s encompassed true individuality and self-worth. Her 2011 single “Born This Way” sold more than one million copies within five days and charted No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for a solid six weeks. The song continues to stand as an anthem within the LGBTQ community, calling on all walks of people to own their originality and uniqueness. As an openly bisexual woman herself, Lady Gaga continues to advocate for the health, wellness, and equality within the queer community and the human race as a whole.

Lil Nas X (1999 – Present)

Having emerged into the music scene just a couple years ago, Lil Nas X has become one of today’s unapologetically queer music artists, using his platform for social and creative commentary. After making Billboard history in 2019 with his country rap single “Old Town Road” with the longest-running song at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, the openly gay American rapper and singer has used his quickened mainstream success for advocating and pushing for the inclusivity of LGBTQ people, especially within the BIPOC community. His debut album Montero shared a “baby registry” highlighting LGBTQ rights and other human rights nonprofit organizations calling on donations, while his lyrics and music videos showcase confident “queer lust” and acceptance. Today his claims of representing the LGBTQ community are true to his actions through his advocation and status as a gay Black man in both the country and rap community.

Brandi Carlile (1981 – Present)

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This American singer-songwriter and producer has been turning heads throughout her long-standing career in both the music industry and LGBTQ community. With seven studio albums under her belt and 18 Grammy Award nominations spanning multiple genres, Brandi Carlile graces the stage with true originality and musicianship. On the day she had planned to promote her new brand of rosé wine earlier this year, she decided instead to post a powerful statement relating to the latest anti-LGBTQ legislation throughout the United States, educating her fans and those watching on states like Texas and Florida that continue to spew hateful and exclusive legislation to the queer community. Because of her continued voice as a gay musician and educator, Carlile was presented with the Visibility Award, an honor “for LGBTQ+ individuals who are living open and honest lives at home, at work, and in their greater community.”

Big Freedia (1978 – Present)

Known as the Queen of Bounce music, Big Freedia is one of New Orleans’ most iconic hip-hop artists, known for her global work of bounce music. She’s been credited with helping to popularize the genre throughout the early 2000s and has since worked alongside Beyoncé and Drake producing Grammy Award-winning singles. Identifying as a gay man and using pronouns interchangeably, Big Freedia has stood as a representative icon within the hip-hop community, standing as a loud, proud voice for queer people everywhere while bringing more light to gender fluidity and education.

ABBA (1972 – 1982 / 2016 – Present)

If you don’t know ABBA‘s forever famous “Dancing Queen,” you might be living under a rock. The Swedish pop group – comprised of Agnetha Fältskog, Björn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson, and Anni-Frid Lyngstad – are deemed one of the most popular and successful musical groups of all time. In 1974, the group became Sweden’s first winner of the Eurovision Song Contest with their song “Waterloo,” and went on to mainstream success throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s with their feel-good tunes and wild outfits. With the increase of their popularity, the two married couples divorced in 1982 and stated they’d never work together again. However, the group recently rejoined thanks to the continuous play of their music…in the gay community. Since its release, “Dancing Queen” has topped the gay anthem charts, and remains one of the most ubiquitous LGBTQ+ anthems of our time.

Cyndi Lauper (1953 – Present)

With a career spanning over 40 years, Cyndi Lauper has touted herself as an American icon through her singing, acting, and activist contributions. Her 1983 album She’s So Unusual granted her the recognition as the first female artist to achieve four, top-five hits on the Billboard Hot 100 and has since released 11 studio albums. Alongside her successful career, Lauper has been an active LGBTQ rights supporter, campaigning for equality through various charities and gay pride events throughout the world. In 2008, she co-founded True Colors United, working to end youth homelessness with a focus on LGBTQ youth. She stands as a respected and powerful voice and LGBTQ ally in the music industry, celebrating difference and self-expression through her music and activism.

Willow (2000 – Present)

Willow Smith, known mononymously as Willow, has topped the charts as a singer since her career launch in 2010 with “Whip My Hair.” Shortly after, she signed to Jay-Z’s record label Roc Nation, becoming the youngest artist signed to the label, leading her to a multitude of accolades, including a Young Award Award, NAACP Image Award, BET Award, and more. Now with three albums under her belt, Willow has stood as a modern voice and icon within the queer and Black communities with her co-host position alongside her mother and grandmother Jada Pinkett Smith and Adrienne Banfield-Norris on the Facebook Watch talk show, Red Table Talk. The series focuses on three generations of family discussing “taboo” topics, including sex, drugs, racial issues, and relationship styles. It was on that show in 2021 where Willow confessed to living a polyamorous lifestyle, claiming her love for both men and women and wanting to explore the judged and misinformed relationship dynamic in her own life. Through this, she’s become a mainstream advocate for questioning the “norms” of society, especially within gendered roles in relationships. Add that to her personal ownership of both the feminine and masculine energies within her lyrics, and she’s poised herself to be a queer BIPOC ally and advocate.