Beards in Music: How Your Appearance Sets the ToneBy Jack Shaw (Guest Post) | Last updated 30th October 2023
Music and facial hair are two integral parts of human culture. However, you might not imagine the two coming together. Musicians have sported facial hair for centuries, ranging from mutton chops and handlebar moustaches to bushy beards.
Artists typically write music based on how they feel, whether love, heartbreak, tragedy, triumph or other stages of life. Therefore, it’s only natural for them to do the same with their facial hair.
Your beard can say a lot about you and your priorities. Looking at a musician’s facial hair may tell you a little about their story before they play a single note. How does your appearance set the tone in music?
How Does Facial Hair Affect a Musician’s Reputation?
Music and facial hair are two fantastic ways to express yourself. How have musicians put the two concepts together? How has it affected their reputations?
Microphones and steel guitars weren’t around during the classical music era, so you had to get by with a violin, piano and other orchestral instruments.
In the 19th century, musicians like Johann Strauss II sported large beards because it was the style back then. Strauss II and his Austrian cohorts often grew beards to keep themselves warm in the cold European winters. Beards became synonymous with bravery in the Crimean War, prompting many Austrians to leave their razors at home. You’ll find many classical composers with beards around this time.
However, the enthusiasm for beards was not universal in music. In the United States, for example, finding musicians with beards was less common. Louis Moreau Gottschalk, Stephen Foster and Edward MacDowell are famous composers who had terrific moustaches at most but nothing on their chins. A musician’s facial hair and reputation heavily depend on location and cultural norms.
Rise of Television
Television became a fast-rising medium in the mid-20th century, letting you watch programmes at home. Musicians and TV networks saw this platform as a way to promote artists and entertain viewers with live performances.
The Beatles were among the first to take advantage of TV, appearing on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964. The Fab Four already made a name for themselves in the United Kingdom, and their appearance in a late-night variety show set them up for worldwide success.
However, you won’t see footage of them with beards. Sporting a clean look was essential to being on TV, and this notion extended to musicians. In the 1960s, you’d see other musicians following the same belief. The Who, The Monkees, The Rolling Stones and other groups stayed clean-shaven because growing facial hair would harm their marketability and appeal to the average family.
Start of Rebellion
You can’t keep a man away from facial hair forever. As the 1960s progressed, musicians grew restless regarding their facial hair. This rebellious attitude reflected the significant social shift in the decade, as many people worldwide grew weary of the Vietnam War and other crises of the era.
The Beatles, who rarely showed stubble, let their facial hair evolve with their music. You can see pictures of John Lennon, Paul McCartney and the others in India as they let their beards fly. Other musicians followed the trend into the 1970s, with Mick Jagger, the Bee Gees and other stars putting their razors down for a while.
Into the Modern Era
People have become more accepting of facial hair in pop culture in the last half-century. It was even a rarity in athletics, but athletes have come around to sport beards on the pitch or court. Nowadays, people don’t think twice if they see a lead singer or a drummer with a devil’s fork or a grandfather's beard. As long as their music sounds good, they can do whatever they want with their facial hair.
Societal standards have changed to allow musicians to express themselves more freely. People see things differently than their grandparents and great-grandparents did a century ago.
Social media has also contributed to the beard movement, with online communities supporting facial hair. Experts say there are 4.88 billion social media users, meaning there are plenty of beards to go around for the ordinary musician. Seeing facial hair more often has normalised it, making it more acceptable in music culture. However, that depends on what genre you listen to.
What Genres Are Associated With Facial Hair?
Music can bring passionate lyrics and fascinating rhythms no matter the song. However, the men behind the music vary significantly in their facial hair. Not everyone in each genre is the same, but you may notice patterns in each culture.
Rock is one of the legacy music genres in popular culture. Many people say it’s still their favourite type. Rock music has different categories depending on your country and region, but the facial hair typically includes goatees and full beards. Rock beards tend to symbolise ruggedness and going against the grain of society with thick facial hair.
Did somebody say going against the grain of society? Metal is the ultimate genre of angst and resisting authority. It’s the type of music you blast in your teenage years, only for your parents to yell at you to shut the music off. Metal musicians go all out with their facial hair, growing unruly beards and moustaches. Facial hair is a feature, not a bug, in this genre. You want the audience to see the power in your beard.
Folk music blends honouring tradition with musicians who want to break it. The beards in this genre vary greatly, with men paying homage to the facial hair customs of those around them. For example, Norman Blake grew up in the mountainous regions of east Tennessee. He recently celebrated the 50th anniversary of his debut album, sporting his iconic mountain man beard on the cover.
On the flip side, there are some genres where you don’t see as much facial hair. However, they still find a niche in particular genres. For example, beards have become more prominent in hip-hop, allowing artists to make a name for themselves. Can you imagine Rick Ross or Drake without their beards? They almost look like different people when they don’t have hair on their chin. Hip-hop is another genre where facial hair can give you an edge with attitude.
Pop music is an excellent example of musicians typically keeping minimal or no beard. This genre is popular because it appeals to a broad audience. Thus, the musicians are more likely to look clean-shaven wherever they go, even on tour. When your audience includes children and families, you’re better off shaving to lessen the chance of seeming intimidating.
Jazz is older than every genre on this list, yet it’s maintained a steady perception of facial hair in its history spanning over a century. You don’t see beards in jazz because people have viewed it as a high-class genre. Jazz performances typically include a suit and tie, prompting the musicians to shave beforehand. Louis Armstrong, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and others rarely, if ever, grew out their facial hair.
What Musicians Have the Most Iconic Facial Hair?
You won’t see many jazz musicians here, but plenty of artists have had memorable facial hair. Here are seven examples of famous musicians with equally prominent beards.
Johann Strauss II
Here is a picture of Strauss II, who was mentioned before. Look at that majestic beard! You won’t hear Strauss II on the radio anymore, but your local orchestra may play some of his famous works. He’s known for “The Blue Danube” and “Kaiser-Walzer,” among other works.
The most iconic beards in modern music come from ZZ Top. This American-based rock band featured Dusty Hill, Billy Gibbons and Frank Beard. Ironically, Frank Beard was the only member without a massive beard on his chin.
In 2012, Gibbons revealed Gillette offered him and Hill $1 million (£638,000) to shave completely. However, they both declined, with Gibbons saying he wouldn’t shave for any compensation.
Once he left the Beatles, John Lennon quickly carved his own fame in the music industry with songs like “Imagine” and “Give Peace a Chance.”
He also decided it was time to grow out his beard and demonstrate his inner feelings. Lennon wrote songs inspiring a generation of peace-seekers, and his facial hair represented a willingness to go against the opposition.
Dave Grohl embodies the dad look with his facial hair, which is only appropriate if he’s your father’s favourite musician. The former Nirvana member and Foo Fighters founder has an iconic full beard he rarely goes without. It’s become integral to his identity, so he keeps a nice beard on his chin.
Growing moustaches required terrific grooming with moustache wax because facial hair was still not mainstream for celebrities and public figures. However, the facial hair led to the iconic Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club band. After this album, Harrison kept rocking the look until his death in 2001.
Aubrey “Drake” Graham has been in the public eye since his role in “Degrassi: The Next Generation” and his rise to stardom in the music business. In his younger years, Drake kept a clean face for TV. However, you’ll typically see this famous hip-hop artist with a well-groomed beard on his chin. You can tell Drake uses beard balm to keep his tidy appearance wherever he goes.
There’s a reason Jerry Garcia has an ice cream named after him. The San Francisco native founded Grateful Dead and became integral to the antiwar and social movements of the mid-20th century. You can see the counterculture in Garcia’s giant yet well-groomed beard. His beard would be just as majestic if he were still around.
Growing a Beard Like a Crescendo
Give any man a microphone and a beat and he’ll croon the feelings in his heart. Let a man grow his beard to get a glimpse into his brain. Music and facial hair go together, even if people don’t realise it. The music you hear on the radio or Spotify is one of the greatest forms of artistic expression nowadays. Every note and lyric provides a clue to the author’s feelings.
One way musicians express themselves is through beards. Facial hair has long roots in music dating back to classical. However, modern artists didn’t embrace their beards until the late 1960s and 1970s, when rebellion became the name of the game.
Since then, people have become more accepting of beards in music for most genres. However, I wouldn’t try a career in jazz with facial hair unless my name was Duke Silver.
Jack Shaw is a writer, editor and grooming enthusiast. His explorations of men’s health, fitness and fashion can all be found on Modded, a men’s lifestyle publication on which he serves as the senior writer.