Iconic Musicians That Were Refugees

Posted by Jolie Peters
(@Jolie Peters)

Most of the preconceived notions people have about refugees, and their assimilation into the nations they now call home, couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, many pop icons that millions worship and adore were once refugees. This musical round-up features some of the most beloved musicians of all time that all share one thing in common — they once obtained refugee status. The list will shock you.

Bob Marley

That’s right, folks. This beloved reggae icon was in fact a refugee from Jamaica. Marley fled to Miami after being shot over political violence in his homeland. He eventually died in the states.


Her first hit, Paper Planes, captured the hearts of millennials nation wide. Her more-recent hit, Bad Girls, gave voice to a young generation of feminists. Sound familiar yet? You might recognize M.I.A for her tracks in the move Slumdog Millionaire, but what you might not know is that this famous singer is from a family of refugees. While she was raised in the states, her family was forced to flee Sri Lanka soon before she was born.

Gloria Estefan

If we learned one thing from the amazing Gloria Estefan, it’s that the rhythm is gonna’ get us (…sorry I had to). This vivacious singer brought Latin Pop to the masses with 80’s hits like Conga and Get On Your Feet. Estefan’s father was a Cuban solider before his family had to flee the country due to the revolution. Upon relocating in Miami, he joined the U.S. military and bravely fought in the Vietnam War. His resilience is what inspired Estefan to pursue her musical dreams later in life.

Wyclef Jean

Predominantly known for his role in the 90’s hip hop and reggae group, The Fugees, Wyclef Jean came to the states as a Haitian refugee. In fact, the band chose the name The Fugees after the word Refugees.

Rita Ora

Born into a family of Albanian refugees, this fierce and fabulous pop singer has taken British and U.S. airways by storm in recent years. Ora traveled from Kosovo to the UK as a refugee when she was just an infant after the country started persecuting ethnic Albanians.

Regina Spektor

Orange is the New Black fans will recognize this name instantly, as the epic show’s theme song was written, produced, and performed by Spektor herself. Before her debut on the popular Netflix series, Spektor had a plethora of indie pop hits such as Fidelity and Samson. This alternative singer and songwriter was forced to flee Soviet Russia at age nine. She now resides in New York City.

Freddy Mercury

When it comes to rock and roll, you’d be hard-pressed to find a figure more iconic than lead singer of Queen, Freddy Mercury. Before settling in the UK where Mercury became a household name, his family resided in Zanzibar (now Tanzania). They were forced to flee in 1964 during the Zanzibar Revolution.

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