Many highly talented musicians leave high school prematurely to pursue their dreams and become successful, recognized stars in the music industry.
The musicians listed here did not graduate from their high schools. Some earned a GED®; others didn’t do that.
All the music celebrities have established considerable net worth.
So let’s check out these 20 world-famous music stars that never completed high school and what net worth they represent.
Where applicable, we tried to adjust the numbers as carefully as possible for inflation.
1. Jay-Z, born Shawn Corey Carter on December 4, 1969, in Brooklyn, New York, quit high school at the age of 15 and had a rather troublesome youth. He took to the streets and was dealing drugs just to make some money, but in 1995, he brought his first recording to Def Jam Records. Well… the rest is history, right?
The rapper, businessman, songwriter, media proprietor, and record executive is widely recognized as one of the best and most influential rappers of all time and among the greatest hip-hop artists in the history of our nation.
Jay-Z sold more than 50 million albums and 75 million singles, making him one of the best-selling artists in the world. Overall, he won no less than 23 Grammy Awards, and he also had the most number-1 album positions ever by a solo artist, namely 14 in total.
In 2017, Jay-Z became the first rap artist to be inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, and in 2018, he received the Salute to Industry Icons award during the 60th Grammy Awards celebration. In 2021, he was additionally inducted, as the first living solo rapper ever, into the prestigious Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Jay-Z’s estimated net worth is around $1.4 billion.
2. Elton John, born on March 25, 1947, in Pinner, UK, quit high school prematurely as he wanted to play the piano in local pubs. Since 1967, the English pianist, singer-songwriter, and composer has worked with lyricist Bernie Taupin on over 30 albums. Elton John has sold more than 300 million records, which places him among the world’s best-selling musicians.
in 1997, Sir Elton John (born Reginald Kenneth Dwight) re-released Candle in the Wind to commemorate British Princess Diana’s death. This version (the original was from 1973), sold over 33 million copies.
Sir Elton had 56 singles that made it to the US top-40, sixteen reached a top-10 position, four got to 2nd place, while nine reached first place! Elton John won 6 Grammy Awards, 2 Academy Awards, 1 Golden Globe, and 1 Tony Award for his extensive work. His net worth is estimated at $500 Million.
3. George Harrison, born on 25 February 1943, in Liverpool, UK, was one of the Fab Four, the Beatles. Harrison left high school before graduating as he wanted to pursue a career in music. The English singer-songwriter, musician, and film and music producer achieved international glory and fame as the Beatles’ lead guitarist. Harrison, who sometimes is referred to as ‘the quiet Beatle’, passed away in 2001.
Although most of the Beatles’ songs were written and composed by Paul McCartney and John Lennon, Harrison also made some impressive compositions such as Within You Without You, Taxman, Something, Here Comes The Sun, and While My Guitar Gently Weeps.
Harrison also released a number of albums and singles as a solo artist and, in 1988, co-founded the Traveling Wilburys together with Jeff Lynne, Tom Petty, Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison, and others. Rolling Stone ranked Harrison number 11 of the ‘100 Greatest Guitarists’ Ever. He got inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice, first in 1988 as a Beatles member and then, posthumously, in 2004 for his work as a solo artist. Harrison’s net worth is an estimated $400 Million.
4. Cher, born Cherilyn Sarkisian on May 20, 1946, in El Centro, California, was never much of a scholar, and she quit high school prematurely to pursue a music career. The television personality, singer, and actress is often referred to in the media as the ‘Goddess of Pop’.
Cher is often described as the embodiment of female autonomy in an industry dominated by males. Cher has worked across multiple areas of entertainment and is famed for her distinctive contralto voice and for adapting various appearances and styles in her 60-year-long successful career in music and film.
It all began in 1965 with the success of husband-wife duo Sonny & Cher, and their hit I Got You Babe that peaked at the number-1 position in both US and UK charts. In two tears’ time, the duo had sold over 40 million record copies worldwide.
Cher’s achievements include (naming just a few) a Grammy and an Emmy Award, an Academy Award, 3 Golden Globe Awards, the famous Billboard Icon Award, the prestigious Cannes Film Festival Award, and the Kennedy Center Honors Award. She also won an Oscar for her strong performance in the film Moonstruck. Cher’s estimated net worth is $360 Million. Check out also this post about 50 highly successful people with a GED instead of a high school diploma.
5. Ringo Starr, born Richard Starkey on July 7, 1940, in Liverpool, UK, suffered as a kid from an illness that caused him to leave high school early. He spent a good deal of his school days in clinics and hospitals or, at home, in bed.
At age 6, he also developed appendicitis which caused him to stay in a coma. At age 12, Poor Richard developed chronic pleurisy causing him to stay in a sanatorium for a few years. After that, he never returned to school. Because of learning delays, he couldn’t complete his high school curriculum.
Sir Ringo Starr is a musician, actor, singer, and songwriter who achieved worldwide fame in the 1960s in his role as drummer for the legendary British rock band The Beatles. Usually, he sang one or two songs on each of the band’s studio albums to express the band’s vocal versatility and to give him also a place in the spotlight.
Sometimes Lennon and McCartney wrote a song that was specifically tailored to Ringo’s limited vocal range, for example, Yellow Submarine and With a Little Help from My Friends from the ultra-successful Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album. Ringo Starr’s net worth is an estimated $350 Million.
6. Katy Perry, born Katheryn Elizabeth Hudson on October 25, 1984, in Santa Barbara, California, left Santa Barbara Don Pueblos High at the age of 15 as she decided to pursue a musical career. Well, as we know, this gamble really paid off. The “Roar” superstar did later get her GED and has risen up the charts.
As a child, Perry sang in church choirs, and as a teenager, she got interested in gospel music. In 2008, Kate Perry rose to fame with the release of her second album One of the Boys. The album included the highly controversial U.S number-1 song I Kissed a Girl and the track Hot n Cold. Her next 3 albums all topped the Billboard 200 charts.
The 2010 disco-influenced album Teenage Dream spawned 5 top singles, California Gurls, Firework, Teenage Dream, Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.), and E.T. Her following 2013 record Prism was influenced by her divorce and includes themes of everyday life, self-reflection, and relationships. Kate Perry’s music videos for the songs Dark Horse and Roar reached more than a billion views on Vevo each. In 2017, she released the electro-pop album Witness, featuring the theme of liberation, and her 6 studio album, titled Smile, was released in 2020.
Kate Perry has had 9 Billboard number-1 singles and received a number of various awards, including 5 Billboard Music Awards, 5 American Music Awards, 1 Brit Award, 1 Juno Award, and 4 Guinness Records. Across the globe, she sold more than 125 million singles and 18 million albums. Kate Perry’s halftime Super Bowl show was the best-watched in history, and she also serves as an American Idol judge. Her estimated net worth is around $290 Million.
7. Prince, born on June 7, 1958, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, is recognized as one of America’s most influential musicians, singer-songwriters, multi-instrumentalists, and record producers of his generation. His music spans multiple genres, and he often played the instruments on recordings himself. Prince quit high school prematurely as he was convinced he would be successful in the music industry.
The musical genius had tons of successful albums and has been an inspiration for numerous artists. Prince won an Oscar for Purple Rain for best original song in 1984. In the U.S., Purple Rain sold over 13 million copies and stayed at no. 1 on the Billboard Charts for 24 straight weeks. Prince sold over 150 million records worldwide, ranking him among the best-selling music artists of all time.
The awards Prince received include the prestigious Grammy President’s Merit Award, an Academy Award, Billboard’s Icon Award, the American Music Awards for Achievement, and a Golden Globe. In 2004, Prince was honored with induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In 2006, he was inducted into the United Kingdom Music Hall of Fame, followed in 2016 by his induction into the Rhythm and Blues Music Hall of Fame. The estimated net worth of Prince is $300 Million.
8. Phil Collins, born Philip David Charles Collins on January 30, 1951, in Chiswick, London, UK, quit high school at the age of 17 as he decided to join the British Air Force. Regretting this decision later in his career, he earned his GED diploma.
The English singer, drummer, record producer, songwriter, and actor is probably best known for his performances as the singer/drummer of the legendary British rock band Genesis, as well as his work as a solo artist. In the years 1982-1990, Phil Collins achieved 3 UK and 7 US number-1 hit singles as a solo artist.
Phil Collins’ achievements include 8 studio albums that sold 150 million copies worldwide and 33.5 million copies in the US alone. This puts him among the best-selling recording artists in the world. Collins has won 8 Grammy Awards, 2 Golden Globes, an Academy Award, 6 Brit Awards (he won 3 times for Best British Male Artist), and also a Disney Legend Award. Additionally, the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers, & Authors awarded him 6 Ivor Novello Awards, including the prestigious International Achievement Award.
In 1999, Collins also received a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame and, in 2003, was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. In 2010, he was also inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for being a member of the legendary British band Genesis. In 2012, he was honored with induction into the Modern Drummer Hall of Fame, followed in 2013 by the Classic Drummer Hall of Fame. Phil Collins’ net worth is estimated at $300 Million.
9. Eric Clapton, born on March 30, 1945, in Ripley, UK, quit high school prematurely at the age of 16. The legendary British blues guitarist said in an interview that his interests were more in music than going to school. Clapton is recognized as among the most influential and important guitar players of all time.
Rolling Stone Magazine listed him second in their ranking of the 100 Greatest Guitar Players of All Time. Additionally, he ranks fourth in the Gibson ranking of the 50 Best Guitar Players of All Time, and in Time Magazine’s list of 10 Best Electric Guitar Players (2009), he ranked fifth.
Eric (Slowhand) Clapton was a member of several legendary British bands such as The Yardbirds, John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers, Cream, Blind Faith, before he decided to continue his career as a solo artist. The famous English blues and rock guitar player, singer, and songwriter is the only musician in the world who was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame three times! First as a solo performer, then as a member of the legendary bands Cream and The Yardbirds.
Eric Clapton has won 18 Grammy Awards, 4 Ivor Novello Awards, the prestigious recognition from the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers, & Authors, as well as a Lifetime Achievement Award. He also received a Brit Award for Outstanding Contributions to Music. Clapton sold worldwide, as a solo artist, over 100 million records which ranks him among the best-selling musicians ever. Eric Clapton’s net value is estimated at $250 million.
10. David Bowie, born on January 8, 1947, in Brixton, London, UK, was one of the world’s most influential and successful music artists of the 20th century. Born David Robert Jones, he quit high school prematurely to pursue an acting and music career. He was much acclaimed by musicians and critics for his innovative and creative work in the 1970s.
Bowie’s career was marked by visual presentations and reinvention, and his stagecraft and music continue to have a considerable impact on today’s pop and rock music. During his lifetime, he sold worldwide more than 100 million records making him one of the world’s best-selling music artists ever. David Bowie was awarded 10 UK platinum, 11 gold, and 8 silver album certifications and released 11 number-1 albums.
In the US, Bowie received 5 platinum and 9 gold certifications, and in 1996, he was inducted into the American Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. After his death in 2016, Rolling Stone Magazine named Bowie the ‘Greatest Rock Star Ever.’ David Bowie’s net worth is estimated at $230 Million.
11. Eminem, born on October 17, 1972, in St. Joseph, Missouri, is among America’s best-selling music artists ever, with worldwide record sales of over 220 million copies. The intelligent rapper, actor, songwriter, and music producer was born Marshall Bruce Mathers III and is known for using interesting rhymes.
Eminem attended Lincoln High School in Warren, Michigan, but as he failed the ninth grade, he quit at the age of 17. Eminem had a deep affinity for language, and that shows in his work.
He won an Academy Award, 8 American Music Awards, 15 Grammy Awards, 17 Billboard Music Awards, and a Europe Music Global Icon Award from MTV. He had 10 number-1 albums and 5 number-1 hit singles. Eminem’s net worth is estimated at $230 Million.
12. Billy Joel, born on May 9, 1949, in New York City, quit high school prematurely to pursue a performing and music career. In 1970, his first solo album was released, titled Cold Spring Harbor. The musician, composer, and singer-songwriter is nicknamed the ‘Piano Man’ after his signature song of that same name, his first big hit.
From the 1970s onward, Billy Joel established a very successful career, and he has released numerous studio albums over the years. He is one of America’s best-selling music stars of all time having sold more than 150 million records worldwide. In the U.S., Joel had 33 top-40 hits, which he wrote himself.
He was nominated 23 times for a Grammy Award and won five, including one for 52nd Street, Album of the Year. In 1992, Billy Joel was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame and in 1999 into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. His net worth is estimated at $225 Million.
13. Frank Sinatra, born on December 12, 1915, in Hoboken, New Jersey, is one of America’s greatest musical superstars. Sinatra is among the most influential and popular artists of the twentieth century. Across the world, Sinatra sold over 150 Million records.
Frank Sinatra was expelled from A. J. Demarest High in 1931 for bad behavior, but that didn’t stop him from becoming one of America’s most famous entertainers and singers ever. Sinatra’s voice is powerful, charismatic, tender, nostalgic, and instantly recognizable, and he is nicknamed The Voice.
Sinatra received numerous Grammy, Golden Globe, Emmy Awards, and is honored with three stars on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame for TV, Music, and Film. He died on May 14, 1998, at the age of 83, and his net worth is estimated at $200 Million.
14. George Michael, born Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou on June 25, 1963, in East Finchley, London, UK, quit high school before graduation to pursue a career in the music industry. The English singer, record producer, songwriter, and philanthropist rose to fame with Wham! to later embark on a great solo career. At the time of Michael’s death in 2016, the superstar had sold more than 115 million record copies worldwide, an achievement that makes him one of the world’s best-selling recording artists ever.
Faith was George Michael’s first solo album, but his first single, I Want Your Sex, got no attention from radio stations because of its evocative subject matter. In the Netherlands, however, the song stayed at a top position for weeks in a row.
His 2nd single, the Faith title track, became one of his most famous songs, and the intro is a part of Freedom, the Wham! classic song, but now played very slowly on a church organ. George Michael won 2 Grammy Awards for his extensive oeuvre. His net worth is estimated at $200 Million.
15. Jessica Simpson, born on July 10, 1980, in Abilene, Texas, is one of America’s best-known and best-paid singers. She is also an actress, author, and fashion designer. As a child, she performed in church choirs as a child, and she quit high school prematurely in 1997 after she signed a deal with Columbia Records at the age of 17.
One year later, she earned her GED diploma. She came to some prominence in the late 1990s as a typical teen idol. Columbia Records used her as the company’s “blonde” response to the success of Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears, who had, in those days, achieved lots of success with debut albums.
Jessica’s 1999 debut album, Sweet Kisses, explores mostly themes such as love, and Simpson said she would stay abstinent until she would marry. After going through a carefully orchestrated, well-planned, and impressive sexy makeover; in 2001, she released her second album, Irresistible.
Later on, she described Tommy Mottola, a record executive at Columbia Records, as abusive because he did everything he could to control her public image. He also told her to ‘get rid of 15 pounds’ after Jessica had signed a new contract in 1997. Jessica Simpson is known for several endeavors, including acting, singing, and fashion design, just to mention a few. The movie The Dukes of Hazzard remains Jessica’s best-earning film. Jessica Simpson’s net worth is estimated at $200 Million.
16. Christina Aguilera, born on December 18, 1980, in Staten Island, New York, didn’t complete her high school curriculum, but at a very young age, she was already more successful than a lot of people can only dream of in their lifetime. The television personality, actress, singer, and songwriter’s accolades include 1 Latin Grammy Award, 5 Grammy Awards, and a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame. Her self-titled 1999 debut album reached the number-1 position in the US and contained 3 later number-1 singles, Genie in a Bottle, Come On Over Baby (All I Want Is You), and What a Girl Wants.
Though Christina Aguilera has always been a prominent and recognized figure in the teeny pop scene, she was looking to gain artistic control over her music which shows in her 2002 release Stripped and its single Dirrty, which was displaying her sexual orientation clearly.
The 2nd single from the Stripped album, Beautiful, got favorable responses for the song’s empowering lyrics, and it later became an LGBT community anthem. Aguilera also performed in the 2010 film Burlesque and, during 6 seasons, was a coach on NBC’s The Voice (2011-2016). Her net worth is estimated at $160 Million.
17. Steven Tyler (Aerosmith), born Steven Victor Tallarico on March 26, 1948, in New York City, didn’t graduate from high school. He went on, however, to have a highly successful music career as a member of the rock band Aerosmith. The singer, musician, songwriter, actor, and television personality is best known for his role as lead singer and frontman of the Boston, Massachusetts-based rock group Aerosmith. Besides singing, Tyler plays the piano, harmonica, and percussion.
Tyler rose to prominence in the 1970s as the lead singer and frontman of Aerosmith with releases of milestone albums such as Rocks and Toys in the Attic. The band also had a string of top-scoring hit singles such as Sweet Emotion, Walk This Way, and Dream On. Rolling Stone Magazine included Steven Tyler in its list of the 100 Greatest Singers of all time, and he was ranked 3rd on the 100 Best Metal Vocalists ranking published by Hit Parader.
In 2001, Tyler, with Aerosmith, was honored with induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and in 2013, Tyler, together with Joe Perry, his songwriting partner, received the prestigious ASCAP Founders Award to be followed by the induction into the American Songwriters Hall of Fame. Steven Tyler’s net worth is estimated at $150 Million.
18. Ray Charles, born on September 23, 1930, in Albany, Georgia, never completed his high school education. He is one of America’s most successful and influential singers, songwriters, pianists, and composers. Among fellow musicians and friends, he was called ‘Brother Ray.’ In the music industry, Ray Charles was also called ‘The Genius.’
During his childhood, Charles was blinded due to glaucoma, but that didn’t stop him from having an extremely successful career. His 1960 recording Georgia On My Mind was the 1st of his 3 No. 1-hits on the Billboard Charts. Ray Charles has received the Polar Music Prize, the National Medal of Arts, and the Kennedy Center Honors.
He won 17 Grammy Awards (of which 5 posthumously), and in 1987, he received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. 10 of Ray Charles’ recordings were inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. Ray Charles died in 2004 at the age of 74. His net worth is estimated at around $75 Million.
19. Bryan Adams, born on November 5, 1959, in Kingston, Ontario, Canada, is a singer-songwriter who left high school prematurely. The singer, guitarist, composer, music producer, and philanthropist had several number-1 hits across the globe and has sold more than 100 million records worldwide. In Canada alone, Adams had 25 top-15 singles and a dozen or so in the U.S., Australia, and the UK.
Bryan Adams’ 1991 hit Everything I Do, I Do It for You reached the number-1 position in many countries worldwide to become one of the world’s best-selling singles ever with over 15 million copies. Adams won 20 Juno Awards, a Grammy Award (Best Movie Song), was nominated 5 times for a Golden Globe Award, and 3 times for an Academy Awards (for film songwriting) for films.
Bryan Adams was inducted into Hollywood’s Walk of Fame, the Canada Walk of Fame, Canada’s Broadcast Hall of Fame, and the Canadian Music Hall of Fame. In 2010, he received the Governor General’s Performing Arts Award. His net worth is estimated at $6.995 Million.
20. Kurt Cobain, born on February 20, 1967, in Aberdeen, Washington State, never liked school, and when he learned how to play the guitar, he quit school to pursue a music career. The musician, singer, songwriter, and frontman of Nirvana, the famed rock band, opened up mainstream rock music through his anti-establishment persona and angst-fueled songwriting.
Often, Cobain is heralded as the most influential spokesman of Gen X, and he is definitely among the most influential musicians in the world of alternative rock. Cobain wrote quite a few successful songs for Nirvana, such as Smells Like Teen Spirit, In Bloom, About a Girl, Polly, Come as You Are, Lithium” Heart-Shapes Box, Something in the Way, and All Apologies.
Cobain died in 1994 (at the age of 27!), and it was in 2014 that he was posthumously inducted into the American Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Kurt Cobain’s net worth is an estimated $50 Million.
Last Updated on November 9, 2023.