Names Real Names of Famous Blues Guitarists & Singers  

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While you may know the beloved musicians below by names like Billie Holiday, Ray Charles, and Etta James, these musicians were actually born under entirely different names. These and other blues musicians with pseudonyms took on new monikers for a wide variety of reasons. From simply going by a nickname to adopting a name to solidify a particular persona, below you'll find a definitive list of the real names of all major blues artists (including some who crossed over into soul, R&B, and rock). 

Blues musicians with nicknames from childhood often opted to use these on the stage. Etta James, born Jamesetta Hawkins, used a shortened version of her birth name and Muddy Waters, born McKinley Morganfield, was nicknamed Muddy as a kid due to his tendency to play in the mud. However, other famous blues musicians opted for a stage name for artistic reasons. Billie Holiday, born Eleanor Fagan, wanted to honor actress Billie Dove. Ray Charles dropped his last name, Robinson, both out of respect to boxer Sugar Ray Robinson and to carve out his own unique identity. 

If you're curious about the original name of other blues guitarists and singers, browse the list below! If you're interested in stage names in general, you can also check out this list of the real names of country stars

Billie Holiday is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list Real Names of Famous Blues Guitarists & Singers
Photo: The Library of Congress/Flickr

Billie Holiday was born Eleanora Fagan on April 7, 1915 to her mother Sadie Fagan and Clarence Holiday, who is believed to be her father. She took the stage name "Billie" - after the actress Billie Dove – around 1930 when she was singing at clubs in New York.

Age: Dec. at 44 (1915-1959)

Birthplace: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States of America

Also Ranked

#13 on The Best Female Vocalists Ever

#75 on Which Artist Would You Bring Back From The Dead To Write One More Song?

#62 on The Greatest Entertainers of All Time

#16 on The Best Blues Artists of All Time

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Ray Charles is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list Real Names of Famous Blues Guitarists & Singers
Photo: Metaweb (FB)/Fair use

Ray Charles was born Ray Charles Robinson on September 23, 1930. He decided to drop his surname around 1950 in part out of respect for the boxer Sugar Ray Robinson and in part to create a persona that people would easily remember.

Age: Dec. at 74 (1930-2004)

Birthplace: Albany, Georgia, United States of America

Also Ranked

#21 on The Best Singers of All Time

#84 on The Greatest American Rock Bands

#25 on Rank the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame Inductees

#82 on The Greatest Musical Artists of All Time

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Etta James is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list Real Names of Famous Blues Guitarists & Singers
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Etta James was born Jamesetta Hawkins on January 25, 1938. She adopted the name Etta James - a play on her first name – in 1954 and began her solo career soon after.

Age: Dec. at 74 (1938-2012)

Birthplace: Los Angeles, California, United States of America

Also Ranked

#55 on The Best Singers of All Time

#20 on The Best Female Vocalists Ever

#93 on The Best Rock Vocalists

#39 on Which Artist Would You Bring Back From The Dead To Write One More Song?

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B.B. King is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list Real Names of Famous Blues Guitarists & Singers
Photo:  Heinrich Klaffs/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 2.0

B.B. King was born Riley B. King on September 16, 1925. While working as a disc jockey in Memphis, Tennessee, he was given the nickname "the Beale Street Blues Boy." He shortened that to B.B. and the rest is history.

Age: Dec. at 89 (1925-2015)

Birthplace: USA, Mississippi, Berclair, Mississippi

Also Ranked

#51 on Rank the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame Inductees

#60 on The Greatest Musical Artists of All Time

#28 on Which Artist Would You Bring Back From The Dead To Write One More Song?

#44 on The Greatest Entertainers of All Time

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