Do you know any famous people from North Carolina? No matter where you are in the state, there’s a good chance that you’re not too far from someone who’s made it big.
From singers to athletes to business tycoons, North Carolina has produced more than its share of notable personalities.
Since my home state is NC and I write a lot about the area, I thought I’d do a little research on the famous people from here! I knew a few of these but many were a surprise.
In this blog post, we’ll take a look at some of the most famous people from North Carolina. Not everyone on this list was born in NC but all of them have strong ties to the state.
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52 Famous People from North Carolina
Celebrities from North Carolina
Andy Griffith was born in Mount Airy, North Carolina in 1926. After attending UNC for music, he started his acting career on Broadway before landing the role of Andy Taylor on The Andy Griffith Show. He also starred in the show Matlock.
The Andy Griffith Show was set in Mayberry which was based on Andy’s hometown. If you visit Mount Airy, you’ll find many tributes to Andy and the show like The Andy Griffith Museum.
Galifianakis is a well-known actor and comedian. He was born in Wilkesboro, North Carolina in 1969 and graduated from North Carolina State University.
Most people know him from The Hangover movie series and his show Between Two Ferns but he’s starred in plenty of other comedies like Due Date, Masterminds, and The Campaign.
Known as one of the most beautiful actresses in history, Ava Gardner was born in Grabtown, NC in 1922. She played small parts in films of the early 40’s until her first big movie, The Killers, in 1946.
She played her last starring role in 1964 while overseas in Spain. Fun fact – she had no acting experience when she started. MGM hired her just for her looks.
Julianne Moore is a famous actress who was born at Fort Bragg in Fayetteville, NC. She started her career on Broadway before moving into TV soaps and then making her way to the big screen in the 90s.
She is definitely one busy actress and stars in an incredible number of movies during the 90s and even during the first two decades of the 2000s.
Aldis Hodge was born in North Carolina in 1986 and has made a name for himself in both TV series and movie roles.
He’s starred in some well-known movies like Straight Outta Compton, Hidden Figures, and Jack Reacher: Never Go Back. He’s also had a recurring role on the TV show Leverage.
Chyler Leigh was born in Charlotte, North Carolina in 1982 and is an actress, singer, AND model. Busy, busy.
She is best known for her roles on the TV shows Grey’s Anatomy and Supergirl. Her career began at age 12 when she modeled for magazines which led to commercials and then television gigs.
If you’re curious about her hometown, there are some great places to stay in Charlotte, NC.
I got a kick out of this one! Anyone a Pawn Stars fan? Well Rick Harrison, one of the shows main stars, was born in Lexington, NC which isn’t too far from where I grew up.
Pawn Stars began in 2009 and is still going strong on the History Channel today. It’s super entertaining if you’ve never seen it.
Bellamy Young is an actress best known for her roles on the TV series Scandal and movies Mission: Impossible III and We Were Soldiers.
She was born in Asheville, NC in 1970 and graduated from both Yale and Oxford. She’s won multiple awards for the role of Mellie Grant in Scandal.
Michael C. Hall
Michael is most famous for his role as the serial killer, Dexter, in the TV show by the same name. This show brought him numerous award wins and nominations including six Emmy nominations.
He was born in Raleigh, NC in 1971 and went to NYU for their Master of Fine Arts program for acting.
Geno Segers has a very interesting story and background. He’s been on popular shows like Yellowstone and Banshee but has also played in the American National Rugby League.
He also is a motivational speaker focused on encouraging youth to make good decisions.
Did you know that this famous Outer Banks actor was from Hickory, NC? He’s also known for his roles in Love, Simon and The Hate U Give.
Drew actually went to Western Carolina University!
Singers & Musicians from North Carolina
I have to say, these top three singers are some of my absolute favorite country stars.
Randy Travis is a famous country singer who was born in Marshville, NC in 1959. He released his first major-label album in 1986 and it shot to the top of the charts.
His popularity continued into the 90s and 2000s and he even broke out into the acting world. Unfortunately in 2013, he suffered a stroke and had to take a step back.
Luke Combs is a country singer and songwriter who was born in Charlotte, NC in 1990 and moved to Asheville when he was 8 years old. He went to college at Appalachian State University but dropped out to pursue a career in music just a month before graduation.
He performed in college at bars around Boone and finally released his first major album in 2017. I can remember riding around in high school listening to his first songs that were released pre-2017. Now he’s CMA’s Entertainer of the Year.
We have got some solid country music singers here in NC. Eric Church was born in Granite Falls, NC in 1977 and his debut album, Sinners Like Me, was released in 2006.
Like Luke Combs, he also went to App State and has been awarded as CMA’s Entertainer of the Year in the past. He also puts on one heck of a live show.
I was in elementary school when Clay Aiken was on American Idol and I absolutely loved him. He was born in Raleigh and was the runner-up on the second season of the show.
Recently he started pursuing a career in politics and ran for US Congress.
Roberta Flack is a singer-songwriter and actress who was born in Black Mountain, North Carolina. She is most famous for her hit song “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face”, which won the Grammy Award for Record of the Year in 1973.
She’s actually the only solo artist to win this award two years in a row. There is a mural of Roberta on the side of Black Mountain Brewing which is one of the best breweries in downtown Black Moutain.
Coltrane was born in NC and then moved to Philadelphia after high school. He is widely known for his contributions to Jazz music and was a talented saxophonist.
His impact on the music world was immeasurable and his early death from liver cancer was a shock to many.
Charlie Daniels is best known for his famous hit “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” which was released in 1979. He was born in Wilmington, NC in 1936 and just recently passed in 2020.
He’s been awarded numerous awards throughout his career including Grammy Awards, CMA Awards, and Dove Awards.
With a career spanning five decades and multiple music genres like country, southern rock, blues, and gospel, Charlie Daniels is definitely one of the most famous people from North Carolina.
Here’s yet another country singer – also a talented pianist – who was born in Robbinsville, North Carolina in 1943. He was born blind and attended the North Carolina State School for the Blind.
He rose to popularity during the late 70s and that continued into the 80s and the first few years of the 90s. In addition to receiving numerous awards, he’s also been inducted into the Grand Ole Opry and the Country Music Hall of Fame.
If you’ve ever been to or heard of Merlefest in Wilkesboro, then you probably know who Doc Watson was. He was born in 1923 in Deep Gap, NC right outside of Boone.
Doc was a singer-songwriter famous for his bluegrass and folk music. He won seven Grammy Awards plus was given the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
Ben E. King
Most know Ben King from his hit song “Stand By Me” which was originally released in 1961 then rereleased in 1986.
He was an R&B and soul star and a member of The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. He was born in Henderson, NC and lived there for a bit but moved to Harlem, NY when he was nine.
Kellie Pickler gained fame while on the fifth season of American Idol. She came in sixth place but that didn’t stop her from going on to sign a record deal.
She was born and raised in Albemarle, NC and in addition to her singing career she also hosts a daytime talk show.
Yet another NC resident who gained the spotlight through American Idol. She was the winner of the third season and went is an R&B singer.
She is also an actress and starred in the movie about her own life – Life is Not a Fairytale: The Fantasia Barrino Story.
This is the last American Idol star, I promise. We just have lots of great talent here in NC! He won the tenth season and has gone on to release multiple award-winning country albums.
He is from Garner, NC and known for songs like “The Trouble With Girls,” “Five More Minutes,” and “This is It.”
Earl Scruggs was born in 1924 in Flint Hill, North Carolina. He is most well-known for his contributions to bluegrass music – especially his unique three-finger banjo picking style.
He formed the band The Foggy Mountain Boys with Lester Flatt in 1948 and they went on to record multiple albums and tour around the country. Earl was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1985 and won multiple Grammy awards throughout his career.
Thelonius Monk was born in Rocky Mount, NC in 1917. He started playing the piano at a young age and was known for his improvisation style.
Monk’s unique style of playing the piano has been credited with shaping the sound of jazz music as we know it today. He’s been awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and a Pulitzer Prize.
James Taylor is a singer-songwriter who was born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1948. He moved to North Carolina when he was about three years old and grew up in Chapel Hill.
He wrote his first song at age 14 and has since released over a dozen albums and won multiple Grammy Awards. He’s been inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame and has received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Historical Figures from North Carolina
Born in 1768 in North Carolina, Dolley Madison went on to become the First Lady to the United States’ 4th president. She married James Madison in 1794 and the two became involved in politics.
Dolley was known for her social gatherings at the White House and for being a strong supporter of women’s rights. She died in 1849.
Virginia Dare was the first English child born in the colonies of America. She was born in 1587 in Roanoke Island, which is now part of North Carolina.
When Roanoke Island was colonized by the English, her father John White left for England to get more supplies and when he returned three years later, the entire colony had disappeared.
Some say that Virginia and the other colonists assimilated with the Native Americans, but no one really knows what happened to them and they are known as “The Lost Colony”.
This one may be a bit controversial as his exact place of birth isn’t really known AND he always claimed he was from South Carolina. Andrew Jackson was the 7th president of the United States and born in 1767 in Waxhaws on the border of NC and SC.
He served in the military during the War of 1812 and went on to become a successful lawyer and politician in Tennessee. In 1828, he was elected president and served two terms.
Jackson is most well-known for his role in the American Indian Removal Act of 1830, which resulted in the forced relocation of Native Americans west of the Mississippi River.
Andrew Johnson was born in 1808 in Raleigh, North Carolina. He was a politician and served as the 17th president of the United States after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.
He is most well-known for his Reconstruction policies which aimed to rebuild the South after the Civil War. He was impeached in 1868 but was acquitted by one vote. He later died in 1875.
James K. Polk
James K. Polk was the 11th president of the United States and served from 1845-1849. He was born in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina in 1795.
Polk was a Democrat and was known for his strong support of westward expansion. He was also responsible for signing the Act of Congress that established the Smithsonian Institution.
Now for a little more recent history. Henry Frye was born in Ellerbe, NC in 1932. He was the first African American to sit on the North Carolina Supreme Court.
He attended the University of North Carolina law school and later served in the House and Senate in North Carolina. A few other firsts – the first African American assistant to the US District Attorney and first African American to be elected to the NC General Assembly in the twentieth century.
Hiram Rhodes Revels
Hiram Revels was born in 1827 in Fayetteville, North Carolina but moved north in 1844. He was a minister and abolitionist who fought for the rights of African Americans.
In 1870, he became the first African American to be elected to the US Congress. He served one year in the Senate and then came back to Mississippi as president of Alcorn University.
Ronald McNair was a physicist and astronaut who was the second African American to fly in space. He died in 1986 when the Challenger shuttle exploded shortly after takeoff.
He attended college in Greensboro, NC at North Carolina A&T University which is where his ties to North Carolina come from. His legacy continues to inspire people today.
Famous Athletes from North Carolina
I don’t think this one needs any explanation. Michael Jordan is known as the greatest basketball player of all time. He was born in Brooklyn but his family moved to Wilmington in his early years.
He went to college at UNC Chapel Hill before going into the NBA after his junior year. These days he is the primary owner of the Charlotte Hornets and he just became a team owner for NASCAR.
Dale Earnhardt Sr.
For those of you not from North Carolina, NASCAR is huge here as this is where it got its start. Mainly from the bootleggers who ran moonshine toward the mountains.
Dale Earnhardt Sr. was one of the most famous NASCAR drivers who tragically died in a crash in 2001 at Daytona. He was born in Kannapolis and was instrumental in building the NASCAR industry in NC and popularizing it throughout the country.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
The son of Dale Earnhardt Sr., Dale Jr. was born in 1974 in Kannapolis, NC and started racing when he was 17.
In 2017 he decided to step back from racing and is now semi-retired. He is on the broadcast team for NASCAR at NBC, owns JR Motorsports, and won the Most Popular Driver Award for 15 years in a row.
Another NASCAR star, Richard Petty is known as The King. He raced from 1958 to 1992 and has held multiple records in the sport including most wins and most championships.
Petty is now a team owner, serves in multiple organizations related to motorsports, and has been honored in multiple halls of fame.
Vince McMahon is an owner and was CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) until recently. He is a professional wrestling promoter and commentator and was previously a pro wrestler.
He has been credited with making WWE the largest professional wrestling company in the world. He was born in Pinehurst, NC.
James “Catfish” Hunter
Jim Hunter – known as “Catfish” – was a professional baseball player who played for the Oakland Athletics and the New York Yankees. He was born in Hertford, NC in 1946.
His baseball career began in 1965 but he only played until 1979 and left at the age of 33 due to arm issues. Even so, he was still part of five World Series championships and inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
“Sugar” Ray Leonard
“Sugar” Ray Leonard was a professional boxer who won world titles in five different weight classes. He was born in Wilmington, NC in 1956 and started boxing when he was 14 years old.
He won gold in the 1976 Olympic games, went on to win multiple championships and titles in professional boxing, and then became a well-known commentator. He is an author and has contributed to the film industry and spends significant time on philanthropic efforts.
I went to the same high school that Chris Paul went to for a couple of years and graduated from Wake Forest – where he also went to college for two years. He was born and raised in Winston-Salem.
He is a point guard in the NBA and currently plays for the Phoenix Suns but has played for multiple teams throughout his career. He’s won multiple awards as well as two Olympic gold medals.
Arnold Palmer was a professional golfer who is considered one of the greatest and most influential players in the sport. His ties to North Carolina come from his college years when he attended Wake Forest and played golf.
He helped popularize golf worldwide and was instrumental in making it a mainstream sport. He’s also known for his trademark “Arnold Palmer” drink which is a mix of iced tea and lemonade.
Other Famous People From North Carolina
Billy Graham was a Baptist preacher and evangelist who preached to over 210 million people in 185 countries. He was born in 1918 in Charlotte, NC and grew up on a dairy farm.
He became a minister in the early 1940s and rose to prominence after preaching in Los Angeles in the late 40s.
He continued to preach around the world throughout his life and wrote multiple books on Christianity. He received numerous awards and honors, including being knighted by Queen Elizabeth II, and is considered one of the most influential Christians of the 20th century.
Herman Lay was a businessman who co-founded H.W. Lay Co. as in Lay’s Potato Chips! He was born in 1909 in Charlotte but moved to Greenville, SC by the time he was 11.
He became a salesman at a young age and would sell Pepsi-Colas from his front yard and then peanuts at baseball games a few years later.
H.W. Lay Co. was founded in 1939, merged with Frito Company in 1961, and then Pepsi-Cola in 1965.
Maya Angelou was an American author, poet, and civil rights activist who published seven autobiographies, three books of essays, and several books of poetry.
She became a major figure in the American Civil Rights Movement and worked with Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. She taught at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem for over 30 years.
Thomas Wolfe was a novelist and author who is best known for his novels Look Homeward, Angel and Of Time and the River. He was born in Asheville, NC in 1900 and the Thomas Wolfe Memorial is located here today.
He studied at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and then at Harvard University. He wanted to be a playwright but then moved to fiction writing when that didn’t quite work out.
Wolfe was considered a literary genius and was one of the most important American authors of the 20th century. However, he struggled with personal demons and had a difficult life. He died from tuberculosis in 1938 at the age of 37.
David Brinkley was a journalist and television broadcaster who was born in Wilmington, NC in 1920. He worked for newspapers and magazines in the 1940s before moving to television.
He is most well-known for his work as a co-anchor of The Huntley-Brinkley Report and then NBC Nightly News. He received numerous awards throughout his career, including several Emmys, Peabody Awards, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Bob Timberlake is a world-renowned artist who was born in Salisbury, NC in 1937. He started his career as a watercolor artist and then in 1990 branched out with his own furniture collection.
His work has been exhibited across the US in places like NYC and Washington D.C. and even internationally in Tokyo.
Nicholas Sparks is a world-renowned author who is best known for his novels The Notebook, A Walk to Remember, and The Best of Me.
After graduating college and meeting his wife (now divorced), they moved to New Bern, NC where Nicholas still lives today. Many of his novels are set in North Carolina as well.
Eleven of his novels have been turned into movies and fifteen have been No. 1 New York Times Bestsellers.
Not only was the founder of Lays from NC, but also the inventor of Pepsi! Caleb was a pharmacist in New Bern where he ran a drug store that had a soda fountain inside.
In 1893 he started selling his newly-invented drink as “Brad’s Drink” and didn’t name it Pepsi-Cola until 1898.
Wrap Up: Famous People from North Carolina
North Carolina has been home to some of the most famous and talented people in history. From singers and musicians to artists and athletes, this state has produced legends in every field.
I loved learning more about these famous people from North Carolina and I hope you did too! There were quite a lot of them.
I’m truly proud to call NC my home and I’m sure many of these famous North Carolinians were too. We’ve got so many unique things to offer here and fun history.
Many of them are from great places to visit in North Carolina.