Who are the best musicians to ever come out of Dallas-Fort Worth? That's a subjective question. Best-selling artists, however, can be quantified. There's a whole industry that tracks record industry sales, and within it the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) is literally the Gold standard.
The RIAA, which has been around for 64 years, is responsible for certifying albums and singles with Gold, Platinum or Diamond status in the United States. (It tracks U.S. sales only, which account for the majority of sales worldwide.) Those designations are based on units sold rather than a dollar amount, which makes a big difference in the modern era of digital music.
Those technology-induced changes in buying habits means even the RIAA's rankings are, in their own way, still imprecise. Still, in terms of measuring an artist's true reach, notoriety and popularity, singles and album sales are as close to the cold, hard truth as you're liable to find. When tabulating the overall sales of DFW musicians — ranked here based on combined singles and album sales — there are more than a few surprises that show up along the way. These 10, though, are the best of the best.
10. Kirk Franklin (10.5 million)
Albums: 10 million, Singles: 0.5 million
Scoff all you want at the inclusion of a gospel singer on this list, but the fact remains: Religion is big business. And in the era of mega churches and televangelists (not that he deserves to be grouped in with them, mind you), Kirk Franklin is the poster child for the Christian music world. In fact, the Fort Worth native is the second-highest seller all-time among artists whose work is exclusively non-secular (if you don't count Creed, that is). With no fewer than seven Grammy awards to his name, Franklin is one of the most successful and decorated musicians to ever come out of DFW, period.
9. Stevie Ray Vaughan (14.5 million)
Albums: 14.5 million
No matter what folks in Austin might have to say, this one is all Dallas — and, literally, all album sales. Between his work released solely under his name and that with Double Trouble, Stevie Ray Vaughan is the fifth best-selling DFW artist in album sales. It's a good thing, too, because not a, uh, single one of the Oak Cliff native's singles, even the chart-topping "Crossfire," has been certified by the RIAA (which requires at least 500,000 units sold). That's not too surprising, though: As a blues artist who hit it big in the '80s, album sales were bound to be SRV's bread and butter.
8. Demi Lovato (15.5 million)
Albums: 2.5 million, Singles: 13 million
On the opposite end of the spectrum from Stevie Ray Vaughan is Demi Lovato. The Dallas native and Disney alumna owes her inclusion on this list largely to singles sales (though, as you'll soon find out, she's not the most lopsided on the list in this direction). Lovato has no fewer than nine singles that have reached Gold or Platinum status, but working in her favor are the digital sales that the RIAA first incorporated into their certifications in 2004. The number of sales remains the same, but that doesn't account for, say, an iTunes download only costing $1.29. It's by those standards that Rihanna is the best seller of all-time.
7. Norah Jones (17.5 million)
Albums: 17 million, Singles: 0.5 million
Mega album sales are hard to come by these days, and that's before you add the word "jazz" into the equation. So Norah Jones, who barely registers as a singles artist, is a bit of an anomaly on this list — or at the least, the beneficiary of a perfect storm. Her debut album, 2002's Come Away With Me, came at the tail end of the record industry's CD-era salad days, selling 10 million copies. But her albums have continued to sell well since. That's likely due to the nine-time Grammy winner's appeal among older audiences and contemporary jazz fans, for whom albums remain the definitive way to hear — and purchase — music.
6. Kelly Clarkson (22 million)
Albums: 11.5 million, Singles: 10.5 million
Easily the most balanced artist on this list between album and singles sales is Kelly Clarkson. The American Idol alumna also stakes claim to the highest-selling single to ever be released by a DFW musician — but it's not the one you might expect. That honor goes to "Stronger (What Doesn't Kill You)," which has sold 4 million units since its release in 2011, and not the song that kick started Clarkson's career, "Since U Been Gone." That all makes sense, given that the Burleson native has proven to be the most versatile talent in the decade-plus cavalcade of recording artists spawned by reality TV.
5. Leann Rimes (22.5 million)
Albums: 16.5 million, Singles: 6 million
For all the former Disney stars to come out of DFW, there may be no artist on this list more precocious than Leann Rimes. Born in Jackson, Mississippi, Rimes moved to Garland when she was 6 and signed a major label record deal while she was in middle school. Much like current up-and-comer Maren Morris, Rimes cut her teeth playing gigs like Johnnie High's Country Music Revue in Arlington. Coming of age in the late '90s with a country crossover sound that had adult contemporary appeal to spare, she was a consistent hit maker for a decade. Her biggest hit of all, "How Do I Live" — released when she was just 14 — has gone triple platinum.
4. Meat Loaf (23 million)
Albums: 21 million, Singles: 2 million
Does Meat Loaf really get his due in the annals of legendary Dallas musicians? If you take a look at his album sales, probably not. In fact, Loaf's major-label debut, 1977's Bat Out of Hell, is the highest-selling full-length to ever be released by anyone from Texas, much less Dallas, having sold 14 million copies to date. (It beats out Steve Miller Band's Greatest Hits and the Dixie Chicks' Wide Open Spaces for top honors in the Lone Star State.) Then again, Bat Out of Hell is very much a piece of its time and place, which was 1970s New York City, and by the time Loaf — born Marvin Aday — had started writing it, he'd already left his hometown for good. Bat out of where, you say?
3. Steve Miller (26 million)
Albums: 24.5 million, 1.5 million
More than any other artist on this list, there's room to refute Steve Miller's inclusion here. The band responsible for all of Miller's entries in the RIAA data, the Steve Miller Band, never staked any claim to DFW. They're from San Francisco. Even Miller's own ties here are shaky, as he was born in Milwaukee and left Dallas after he'd finished high school and never looked back. But the years Miller spent in North Texas were important ones, as he learned to play guitar here and formed his first band, the Marksmen, here as well. Still a mainstay of classic rock radio, Steve Miller Band's Greatest Hits has sold 13 million copies and is the 38th best-selling album in U.S. history.
2. Selena Gomez (28 million)
Albums: 2 million, Singles: 26 million
Selena Gomez may be all grown up now, but her high standing on this list has a whole lot to do with her past life as a PG-friendly teen star. Her first stint as a musician came under the guise of her band the Scene, but for all intents and purposes it was a vehicle for Gomez — and the Scene's singles sold no fewer than 15 million units. The Grand Prairie native is approaching those numbers as a solo singer, which gives her double the sales of the next-best-selling singles artist from DFW, Demi Lovato. Gomez benefits disproportionately from the "inflation" of digital sales, but that's more a fault of the times than it is hers: While both of her solo albums went to No. 1, they've sold less than a million copies between the two of them.
1. Dixie Chicks (32.5 million)
Albums: 30.5 million, Singles: 2 million
Ask a country fan why they feel betrayed by the Dixie Chicks, and they might not tell you that it all had to do with Natalie Maines' comments about a certain Texan president. No, the Chicks' crime was more serious: They turned their backs on country music. Those fans have good reason to feel that way, too: The trio's status as DFW's best-selling musical act of all time is emphatically thanks to their early work as a true-blue country outfit, with Wide Open Spaces and Fly selling 22 million copies alone between them. But no matter how you feel about the Chicks today, those numbers put into context just how staggeringly popular the group was at the height of their career.
At this point, you're probably thinking there are some pretty obvious omissions from this list, but the numbers say otherwise. Denton's Sly Stone is arguably the most influential musician this side of Bob Wills to ever come from the area, but his work with Sly & the Family Stone has only sold a combined 10 million units — bringing him up a half million short of making the cut for this list. An even bigger surprise is the exclusion of Vanilla Ice who, while still the biggest-selling rapper to ever come from Dallas, also came up short with a combined 9 million sales. The same goes for the top-selling metal group, Pantera, who much like Stevie Ray Vaughan never got a certified single, but have sold 7 million albums.
Several other it-artists from DFW also came up short, in spite of their current popularity and/or status as local legends. Erykah Badu, for example, also has 7 million in sales, which comes up far short in matching her influence on contemporary hip-hop and R&B. Post Malone has already achieved 2 million in sales, thanks to his viral song "White Iverson," even though he's yet to release a full-length album. Fellow buzz-worthy artists like Leon Bridges and Grammy winner St. Vincent, meanwhile, have failed to get a certified album or single to their names.
A couple other big-selling names have close ties to DFW, but don't really qualify as being local. Don Henley is often cited for his connections to Denton, and he currently lives in Dallas, but the Eagles founding member — who's sold 12 million units as a solo artist — originally hails from Linden. Serial hit maker Usher was born in Dallas, but never actually lived here, which is too bad; he's sold over 30 million albums and singles combined, enough to give the Dixie Chicks a run for the No. 1 spot.
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