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From A-listers to tennis legends: 20 famous figures who are also surprisingly musicians

20 famous figures who are also surprisingly musicians

Experts agree that having a creative outlet is important for mental health. One recent study found that folks who had a creative hobby or pastime were likely to have higher levels of self-esteem, optimism, and an overall positive outlook on life. It also doesn’t seem to matter what that outlet is—writing poetry, making greeting cards, picking up an instrument—as long as the right side of the brain is being challenged, all creative hobbies have the same beneficial effects.

For many, these creative outlets never become anything more than just a hobby. We might share our skills on TikTok or sell our wares on Etsy, but that’s the extent of it. Of course, that’s not true all of the time. Celebrities, for example, can often spin their creative outlets into a full-on second act.

Take these 20 famous figures who are secretly musicians, for example. The folks on this list have all had highly successful careers as actors, authors, politicians, athletes, directors, and people in business. They’ve also all used music as a way to stretch a different part of their brains and cope with the pressures of being in the public eye, and nearly all of them have wound up turning their musical talents into a second career or a quiet side hustle.

From a baseball player who was nominated for a Latin Grammy to an actor who’s making musical waves alongside his brother, Skoove scoured the internet for 20 famous figures who you may not know are musicians. Read on to hear their stories. Who knows, maybe their passion will inspire you to pick up an instrument, too.

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Stephen King

Stephen King

By day, author Stephen King spends his hours penning bone-chilling tales like “Carrie,” “It,” and “The Shining.” But once the sun goes down, he funnels those creative juices into his passion project, The Rock Bottom Remainders.

Composed primarily of publishing bigwigs—authors like King, Amy Tan, and Mitch Albom—the rock group never put out an album of their own but did perform publicly a handful of times, treating audiences to covers of famous hits like “Werewolves of London” and “Wild Thing.”

In 2012, after nearly two decades of making noise, the group disbanded following the death of one of the founding members, Kathi Kamen Goldmark.

 

Zoë Kravitz

Zoë Kravitz

Actress Zoë Kravitz is best known for her work in TV series like “Big Little Lies” and films like “Divergent” and “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” but the seasoned actress is also a talented indie musician. She’s released two albums with her electropop band Lolawolf—”Calm Down” in 2014 and “Tenderness” in 2020— alongside bandmates Jimmy Giannopoulos and James Levy.

In between Kravitz’s film shoots and Giannpopulos and Levy’s work with their other group, Reputante, the band has found the time to open for bigger acts like Lily Allen and Miley Cyrus and frequently play shows in smaller Brooklyn venues.

In a 2022 interview with Elle, Kravitz revealed that she was in the middle of recording a solo album with producer Jack Antonoff, though a release date still remains to be set.

 

Elijah Wood

Elijah Wood

Elijah Wood, now in his 40s, has been acting since he was just seven years old, famously going from precocious kid in “Kindergarten Cop” to the beloved Frodo Baggins in the Lord of the Rings film franchise. While he’s been acting consistently for more than three decades, Wood has also been developing a quiet music career.

He’s been DJing for nearly 25 years and currently performs as a duo under the name Wooden Wisdom with Zach Cowie. Wood has even gone from DJing with an iPod to vinyl to prove his chops. “Music is inherently part of my identity. And when [fans] hear the records, they can judge for themselves,” he told Entertainment Weekly in 2015.

 

David Lynch

David Lynch

Renowned director and producer David Lynch will be best remembered for his surrealist films like “Blue Velvet” and “Mulholland Drive” as well as the cult-classic series “Twin Peaks,” but fans would be remiss to overlook his contributions to the musical world.

A talented composer, Lynch has composed much of the music that appears in his projects and has helped produce and arrange tracks for acts like Julee Cruise and Danger Mouse. He’s also released several albums of his own, including “Crazy Clown Time” and “The Big Dream,” that fall in the experimental rock/electropop genres.

 

Paul Allen

Paul Allen

When he wasn’t busy inventing technology that would revolutionize the world, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen could be found playing the electric guitar in his band, The Underthinkers.

Inspired by Jimi Hendrix, Allen got his first guitar at 16 and quickly found that regular jam sessions were an integral part of his creative process. So he formed a loose group with other early Microsoft employees, playing birthday parties and weddings, before solidifying the lineup into The Underthinkers.

In 2013, the group released their first and only original album, “Everywhere at Once.”

 

Ryan Gosling

Ryan Gosling

Actor Ryan Gosling is one-half of the rock duo Dead Man’s Bones. When the band formed in 2005, they intended to develop a spooky musical theater production about all things macabre.

Along the way, they realized how expensive a full production would be and scrapped the idea but continued writing and composing songs. The finished product, “Dead Man’s Bones,” is a spooky romp that shares a sound with more established groups like Arcade Fire.

Gosling and his bandmate Zach Shields wrote every song, played every instrument—many of which they had never touched before beginning the project—and recorded every track in less than three takes alongside the children’s chorus from the Los Angeles Silverlake Conservatory of Music.

 

John McEnroe

John McEnroe

After 883 career wins and 77 singles titles, tennis star John McEnroe decided it was time to shift gears, so he stepped away from the court and picked up the guitar.

According to his wife, Patty Smyth, the world-class tennis player wrestles his guitar into submission. “So that’s not the most ringing endorsement of my guitar playing,” McEnroe told GQ. McEnroe did work on an album for several years but wound up never releasing it because he wasn’t pleased with the vocals.

But it seems his failed recording plans haven’t stopped him from playing—local news coverage reveals that he regularly rocks out at community events and in small-town venues.

 

Kevin Bacon

Kevin Bacon

Kevin Bacon has been playing music alongside his brother, Michael Bacon, since they were children. In 1994, the siblings decided it was time to take their hobby a little more seriously and formed The Bacon Brothers, a folksy rock band in which they both provide vocals and play various instruments.

In the quarter century since, the pair have released 11 albums—the most recent of which, “Erato,” came out in 2022—and have toured all over the world.

On the group’s website, Kevin describes the duo as “a songwriting band” that is “not beholden to a specific sound” and is “always trying to break out of our specific habits and try something new.”

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Mike Huckabee

Mike Huckabee

In the mid-’90s, not long after he was elected governor of Arkansas, Mike Huckabee started a band with several other staffers. They named the group, which covers mostly rock and country ballads, Capitol Offense.

To date, Huckabee and his bandmates have never released an album, but they have performed at enough charity and social events to be decently well-known in their Southern circles.

The politician also credits his musical endeavors with his political success, saying that music taught him the practice, preparation, discipline, and teamwork skills necessary to be a good leader.

 

Juliette Lewis

Juliette Lewis

To mark her 30th birthday, actress Juliette Lewis realized a childhood dream and formed her own punk rock band. Juliette and the Licks, a five-member group, was surprisingly successful, releasing two full-length albums and headlining multiple tours before breaking up in the late 2000s.

Rumor has it they’re back together now, working on new music and fine-tuning their sound. But during the hiatus, Lewis went ahead and released several solo tracks, giving fans hope that they’ll continue to get albums from the artist, whether or not the Licks are a part of it.

 

Russell Crowe

Russell Crowe

When “Les Miserables” was released in 2012, many fans were under the impression that it was Russell Crowe’s first time belting it out. They were wrong.

Crowe has been writing and performing music since his early 20s, when he released his first single, “I Want to Be Like Marlon Brando,” under the stage name Russ le Roq. In the decades since, he’s been a part of several bands.

More recently, Crowe has been putting out music with Indoor Garden Party, a group that includes Canadian artist Alan Doyle from a former musical endeavor. The actor is on both vocals and guitar.

 

Bernie Williams

Bernie Williams

For more than two decades, Bernie Williams was one of the greatest center fielders to ever wear a Yankees jersey. But what many fans didn’t know about the four-time Golden Glove winner is that he is also an incredibly talented musician.

The guitarist has released two jazz albums, “The Journey Within” and “Moving Forward,” which was nominated for a Latin Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Album in 2009. Though it’s been a bit since he’s released any new music, Williams did receive a bachelor’s degree from the Manhattan School of Music in 2016, which leads us to believe he’s not done creating just yet.

 

John Hall

John Hall

In the late 2000s, John Hall spent several years representing New York in the House of Representatives. While this sort of political position would be a career goal for many, for Hall it was just another part of his multifaceted life. Apart from politics and environmental activism, he also focused on his band, Orleans, which he founded in 1972.

The rock group has released 12 original albums, and several of their songs are decently well-known—like “Still the One” and “Dance With Me.” Hall has also released 10 solo albums.

When he’s not making music with his group, Hall has written songs for several major artists, including Janis Joplin and Chaka Khan.

 

Scarlett Johansson

Scarlett Johansson

While she may be best known for her role in Marvel Cinematic Universe films, Scarlett Johansson isn’t a one-trick pony. In 2008, the actress released her first album, “Anywhere I Lay My Head,” full of Tom Waits covers.

In 2009, she followed that middlingly successful debut with her sophomore attempt, “Break Up,” a collaborative effort with fellow singer Pete Yorn.

Most recently, she put together a girl group called the Singles, composed of other musicians and actresses, including Este Haim and Kendra Morris. The band has only released one song thus far, “Candy,” but encountered some problems when served with a cease-and-desist order from another band with the same name.

Fans can still hear her vocals in the “Sing” movies, as well as in a third collaboration with Pete Yorn, “Apart.”

 

Jeff Bridges

Jeff Bridges

Perhaps the reason Jeff Bridges was able to play a washed-up country star in “Crazy Heart” so successfully is that he knows a little bit about being a country singer himself.

“Washed-up” can’t be used to describe his career, however. Bridges released his first independently produced album back in 2000, and his second, with Blue Note Records, in 2011.

These days, the actor performs with his band, The Abiders, which released one album of original work, “Live,” in 2014. Bridges has also, intriguingly, released a 2015 spoken-word album that gets into surreal territory called “Sleeping Tapes.”

 

Idris Elba

Idris Elba

Unlike many of the other celebs on this list, Idris Elba was a musician long before he was an actor. Years before he landed his breakout role in “The Wire,” Elba had been spinning records at small venues and clubs all over London.

As his celebrity has grown, he’s been offered opportunities to collaborate with bigger acts like Macklemore and Lime Cordiale, and play at festivals like Coachella. In a February 2022 interview with Vanity Fair, he even announced his intentions to take a step back from acting so that he could further pursue his music dreams.

 

Doug Flutie

Doug Flutie

Heisman Trophy winner and longtime NFL quarterback Doug Flutie became a household name in the 1980s and ’90s among football fans. He’s also known for establishing the Doug Flutie Jr. Foundation for Autism, in honor of his son. To benefit the organization, the football legend even created a cereal called Flutie Flakes.

On top of his athletic, philanthropic, and culinary efforts, Flutie is also a drummer. He’s one half of the aptly named Flutie Brothers Band, which he started with his older brother, Darren, a Canadian professional football player and guitarist. The classic rock group is still performing as of 2023.

 

Condoleezza Rice

Condoleezza Rice

Condoleezza Rice became the first woman to serve as National Security Advisor and the first Black woman to serve as US Secretary of State, titles she held from 2001 to 2005 and 2005 to 2009 respectively.

During her time in Washington, D.C., she also had an opportunity to display her talents as a pianist, a skill she’d been developing since the age of three. Rice’s goal at one point was to find her way to Carnegie Hall, and she ended up studying at the University of Denver’s prestigious Lamont School of Music.

Though her career took a different turn, Rice—who’s a fan of Mozart, Beethoven, and Brahms—gave some incredible performances in her adult life: with Yo-Yo Ma at the Kennedy Center and for Queen Elizabeth II in London, for example.

 

Denny McLain

Denny McLain

Denny McLain, who’s now nearly 80, spent 10 seasons pitching for the Detroit Lions starting in the 1960s. He quickly rose to stardom but eventually met his downfall after getting involved in some illegal bookmaking activities and injuring his throwing arm. His baseball career was cut short at the young age of 29, but McLain had another talent in his back pocket.

His father had taught him to play the organ, and he leveraged that skill as a second career. He played the organ in Las Vegas, on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” and even released two LPs with Capitol Records. “When it’s all said and done someday in the future, I hope they will remember Denny McLain as an outstanding professional musician,” the LP notes for one of the records read.

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Sarah Palin

Sarah Palin

Former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin is known for many things—her family scandals, her musings on the distance between Russia and Alaska, and her self-deprecating “Saturday Night Live” appearances with Tina Fey, to name a few.

But one aspect of her life many people don’t know is that she’s also a flutist, a fact that came to light when video surfaced of Palin competing in the 1984 Miss Alaska pageant, where she played the instrument as her talent. The junior high school band member performed “The Homecoming” by Nathan Hardy at the pageant, where the announcer said she’d been playing for a decade. Palin picked up the flute again on “The Tonight Show” with Jimmy Fallon in 2014 as a nod to her musical past.

 


Author of this blog post:

Madison Troyer

Madison Troyer has been writing and living in New York City for the better part of the last decade. A graduate of The King’s College, she writes about pop culture, health, and money.

Additional writing by Jaimie Etkin. Story editing by Carren Jao. Copy editing by Lois Hince.

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