Even as our society evolves, stuttering is still more common than you may think. Many famous singers have shared their history of stuttering in an attempt to encourage others facing the same issue. In this article, I will outline the story of 30 of these singers, spanning across time.
30 Famous Singers Who Stutter(ed)
As you scroll through, you will find famous singers that have stood the test of time, as well as some of the more modern artists we know today. I hope that their stories will inspire you to continuing singing, despite any challenges you may face. In fact, as you read, you will sense a continuing theme that singing is what helped these individuals overcome their fears.
Born in the 1910s & 1920s
John Lee Hooker
American blues singer, composer and guitarist, Hooker developed a stutter as a child. However, he only stuttered when talking and was able to sing seamlessly. This intriguing phenomenon is one of the primary reasons that he was recorded in the first place (although he was also very talented).
Hooker had a light-hearted view of his stammer, even recording the song 'Stuttering Blues'. It was present throughout his entire life, but never affected his singing voice.
Baritone singer, Robert Merrill, began singing at 18 years old after a traumatic of trying to hide away from any need to talk. Singing gave him the confidence to speak again, where he believes the musical rhythm helped reduce his stutter.
Years later, his stutter was barely noticeable, and he even went on to become the spokesperson for the Stuttering Foundation of America.
Blues singer B.B. King's stutter is not as well known, but he did not shy away from the conversation. As a child, King was targeted by bullies for the way he talked, but found inspiration from his Uncle Major and great-grandfather. Both role models also struggled with stammering, helping King to accept his own.
However, like others, King found freedom to express himself through song, and noticed a decrease in his stuttering in adulthood.
Marilyn Monroe's famous breathy voice is a direct result of her stuttering. In order to reduce the stutter as an actress, she was taught by a speech therapist to breathe a certain way before talking, and she used the technique ever since.
Although these breathing techniques improved the fluency of her voice, she still struggled, sometimes needing over 40 takes to record one line. Her personal life ultimately caused her too much stress, exaggerating the stammer, which led to her being fired from an acting role before she died.
Born in the 1930s & 1940s
Mel Tillis was an American Country singer/songwriter that struggled with a stutter, along with his father and brother. After a teacher this, it was arranged that he would sing regularly for the class instead, which improved his popularity.
However, he was still embarrassed by his stutter and later refused to address his audience during shows. It was only when he told that 'making it' in the music world was more than just singing that he faced his fears. He then allowed his audience to hear the stutter and made light of the fact, helping his fame grow from that point onwards.
Elvis was an American singer/actor, dubbed 'The King of Rock and Roll'. There's no denying that Elvis Presley is one of the most influential singers in history. You wouldn't know it from his singing, but he struggled with stuttering from a young age. In fact, it almost cost him a number of auditions because of the excitement and nervous energy, which made his stutter more noticeable.
This was sometimes evident when he talked to the audience in between shows. However, Presley was able to recognise his trigger sounds, mostly words starting with 'w' and 'i', which allowed him to choose his sentences more carefully when on stage.
Dunphy was an Irish baritone singer, known mostly as the lead singer of the popular Irish band, The Hoedowners. However, his fame became more widespread with his entry into the Eurovision Song Contest in 1967, where he won second place, and when he left The Hoedowners to go solo.
Dunphy was a family man who shunned the celebrity life, so unless you knew him personally, you may not have known that he had a stutter.
Storm was the lead vocalist of the band 'Rory Storm and the Hurricanes' (which had changed names many times in the past), a popular band from Liverpool around the time of The Beatles. In fact, the drummer of this band was Ringo Starr, who later left to join The Beatles.
Storm's stutter never affected his singing career, but it was described as severe by those who knew him. Unfortunately, Storm's band was not successful in the recording industry and, with the rising craze of The Beatles (and their widespread reach), his singing career faded away. Losing the fluency he found through singing, Storm had his stutter successfully treated and became a DJ instead.
American singer/songwriter, Bill Withers, struggled with stuttering as a child and young man. The struggles and humiliation he faced at school was one reason for leaving to join the Navy, which gave him access to speech therapy.
Withers did not begin his singing career until he had successfully treated his stutter, as it was his time in the Navy that gave him the fluency and confidence to pursue his growing interest in music. Since rising to fame, Withers was open about his stutter and supported organisations that help others suffering with speech impediments.
Ray Griff's passion for music began at an early age, where he wrote his first song 'Blue Bells' at eight years old. His music was something that brought him joy, amidst the challenges he faced as a stuttering child.
When playing, singing and writing songs, Griff was able escape his stutter and connect with others in a way that stuttering inhibited. As he rose to fame, Griff sought speech therapy and was able to speak fluently from then onwards.
Despite his stutter, Ian Whitcomb was not only a singer, but also an actor, entertainer and broadcaster (...and songwriter, record producer and author!). It would seem that nothing held this man back, although he did recall struggling to announce the show on one of his first roles as a TV presenter ('The Old Grey Whistle Test') due to his stutter.
Like others before him, Whitcomb embraced his stutter, even playing on the fact in his song 'N-E-R-V-O-U-S'.
Scatman John Larkin
Scatman John had a stutter from an early age and chose to play jazz piano to shy away from the need to speak publicly. It was only when he realised the audience loved his 'scatting' in the background, that he gained the courage to include vocals in his performances, which proved to be no issue. Scatting gave Larkin a way to stutter freely.
As he began rising to fame, he chose to speak publicly about the stutter. This was in an attempt to pre-empt any future radio or TV appearances, where it would be made obvious. He liked the idea that people would then expect him to stutter. In the end, Larkin realised that it was okay to stammer and believed that he rose to fame because of it.
Carly Simon was fortunate to have a very perceptive mother who encouraged her to sing around the house to communicate, instead of struggle with forming spoken sentences. Her other family members also began communicating in this style at home.
It was through singing and songwriting that Simon found her escape from stuttering, which was unsuccessfully treated as a child. In her adulthood, she still stammered on certain words, but learned to find other words to use (describing herself as a walking thesaurus!).
Born in the 1950s & 1960s
Ann Wilson grew up enjoying a variety of musical styles in her American family and described the freedom of 'unbroken air' when she sang. Singing provided a stark contrast to the humiliation she felt attending speech therapy for her stutter and trying to read aloud in high school.
In her early 20's, Wilson joined a local band, now known as 'Heart', which rose to fame throughout the 70's and 80's. As with many people with a stutter, her stammering lessened as the years passed, but she has still been open about her experience and struggles.
Flamboyant English singer/songwriter, Marc Almond, not only suffered with a stutter as a child, but also with dyslexia and mild learning difficulties. These challenges made the music industry very appealing, where he was able to sing without stammering and memorise lyrics.
Almond successfully treated his childhood stutter, only for it to return after a serious motorbike accident that left him unconscious for 10 days. He suffered serious head trauma and a big blow to his confidence, both of which could have been responsible for the stutter's vengeful return. However, Almond's determination once again reduced his stammer to only appear on the odd occasion.
Gothic singer Peter Murphy had a stutter as a child and never really considered it something that could be 'worked on'. He explains that he could always say the words when he practiced them, but would stutter whenever it came to actually using them.
Naturally, Murphy attributes his success as a singer to the fact that singing provided an escape from his stutter. He still has a subtle stutter, but doesn't let it get in the way of putting on some amazing and unique shows.
Jim Kerr, the lead singer of Scottish band 'Simple Minds', wrote short stories as a child, using this as a form of communication when his stutter 'handicapped' the 'loud voice in his head'.
Although his stammer naturally faded in adulthood, Kerr believes it was his stutter that allowed him to pay closer attention to the world around him. This made him a better listener and gave him the imagination he needed to become a songwriter.
Although he is more known as an American television personality, Mike Rowe is an exceptional singer, having performed professionally in the Baltimore Opera. In fact, it was his choir teacher, Fred King, that gave him the confidence to overcome his stutter.
As a freshman, Rowe was encouraged by his choir teacher to join the school play. At first he stuttered through the monologue, but after being told that this character did not stutter, was able to read the lines flawlessly. Rowe then went on to be a successful singer, television host and narrator.
Noel Gallagher, along with his brother, played in the English band Oasis before Noel moved on as a solo singer and songwriter. Both brothers suffered from a stutter, with Noel also suffering from dyslexia.
Gallagher struggled with his communication as a child until his mother organised weekly speech therapy for both brothers. After four years, both boys were able to talk without a stammer.
Singing was used as an exercise to help Australian singer, Kylie Minogue, overcome her stuttering. Of all the exercises she was given, singing was the only one that helped, causing her to sing more frequently.
Singing for therapy allowed Minogue to develop her voice. As we know now, this launched Kylie into her career as one of the most successful Australian singers today.
Marc Anthony is an American singer and actor, known for his Latino spice. He was actually named after the famous Mexican singer, Marco Antonio Muniz (Anthony's birth name), so singing was bound to be on the cards.
As well being something he felt born to do, Anthony describes singing as his 'safe haven' from a childhood stutter. It was a way for him to express himself - and, as he discovered, he was quite good at it too. Although he overcome his stammer in the rise to fame, he is not shy about it and attributes it to his origin story.
Born After 1970
Wayne Brady learned from an early age that, if he kept quiet, nobody could make fun of him. But despite his stutter, it was his quick witty comebacks that eventually led him into comedy. As his popularity rose, he realised that he no longer needed to keep quiet or be ashamed.
Like many others, Brady used the method of putting melodies to words to help communicate. His therapy allowed him to speak more freely, and the improvisational skills he developed as a bullied child made him the great improv singer and actor we know today.
Jason Gray is a Christian singer and songwriter who has come to accept his stutter. Although he had hoped that it would go away to allow him to speak more freely at shows, he soon realised that it connected him to audience members in a way that inspired them.
After Gray realised that his stammer gave others the confidence to achieve their dreams, despite their challenges, he was no longer embarrassed when he struggled to get words out at a performance. As a reminder, those who stutter are able to sing fluently, it is just the talking in between songs that is hard.
Gray's stutter has lessened over the years, but is still there. But he wouldn't have it any other way.
UK-singer, Chris Martin, is the lead vocalist of Coldplay and yet another highly successful singer with a stutter. His stutter is not prominent, but contributed to being bullied in his early years. The stutter only appears occasionally as an adult, and has even been considered endearing, a 'Hugh Grant-like stammer'.
Tenitra Michelle Williams
Destiny's Child singer, Michelle Williams, would stutter mostly when learning new words as a child. She describes her stutter as simply 'going away' as she got older. As you can see, this is something that happens in many cases of childhood stuttering.
Shane Yellowbird was led to music because of his stuttering as a child. He was born with a severe stutter, but was trained by a speech therapist to use singing as a way of communicating. From there he fell in love with music and became inspired by Mel Tillis, who also struggled with a stutter. He could see that people liked the fact that Tillis' stutter made up part of who he was as a person and a great singer.
It was Yellowbird's residual stutter that actually prompted Lois O'Reilly from International Entertainment Management to sign with him. This demonstrated a drive and determination that gave O'Reilly the confidence that Yellowbird would be successful.
Garath Gates is a UK singer, songwriter and actor who has explored both recording and musical theatre. Although his stutter was present from an early age, it was made widely known through his appearance on Pop Idol (2002), where he was the runner-up of 10,000 contestants.
Since rising to fame, Gates underwent speech therapy to improve his speaking ability, with great success (and hard work). He now actively helps others with the same issue through raising awareness and becoming a speech coach himself. He strongly believes a stutter should never hold you back from your dreams.
Australian singer, Megan Washington, took years of speech therapy alongside her rise to fame. However, it took many more years to overcome her fear of public speaking. Although her therapy allowed her to get by, the bullying she had received as a child and teenager led her to avoid public speaking at all costs.
It was only after writing the deeply personal song, Marry Me, that she gained the confidence to let her audience see her true self. She was able to successfully write and deliver a speech at a TEDx event in Sydney, and has been able to confidently combine singing and speech ever since.
Kendrick Lamar, the talented American rapper and songwriter, claims his childhood stutter is what caused him to channel all his energy into music. Music provided a way to get his thoughts out. Since entering the music scene, Lamar has won several Grammy awards and his stutter has faded.
Well-loved pop singer and songwriter, Ed Sheeran, developed his stutter as a child. It was only after discovering the rap music of Eminem that he began inadvertently undergoing music therapy for the issue by singing along. To Sheeran's delight, he found himself able to copy the fast-paced rapping word-for-word, which eventually led to his stutter disappearing.
So there we have it - 30 famous singers who grew up with the struggle of a stutter, just like 1 in 20 children around the globe. I hope you have been inspired by these 30 incredible individuals, who have worked with their stutter to achieve their dreams.