Musicians Who Permanently Left The U.S.

"If you're brave enough to say goodbye, life will reward you with a new hello," as famed author Paulo Coelho said, and it applies to a number of musicians who've moved out of the United States. The thing is, many of these artists found success in the States, so if you're thinking there had to be a very solid reason for them hightailing it, you'd be right. Some of these legendary artists said their life in America was horrible, and they wanted to put plenty of distance between themselves and their homeland. Others, meanwhile, left solely for career reasons. 

And perhaps you too dream about moving to a new land, but things like family obligations, not having enough dough, and the move simply being unfeasible keep it a fantasy. If that's the case, feel free to live vicariously through these famous folks and read why they left the U.S., where they went, and what they experienced in their new country.

Tina Turner moved for personal and professional reasons

Sometimes you have to go where the most love is. That was Tina Turner's reasoning for leaving the United States and moving to England, as well as Germany, before settling in Zürich, Switzerland. She also bought a house in the south of France. But some may find it hard to believe there wasn't enough adoration for the late superstar in her home country of the U.S. She spoke to Larry King about the Europe move, which had to do with her career and personal life.

"I have left America because my success was in another country and my boyfriend was in another country," Turner said on "Larry King Live" in 1997. "'Private Dancer' was the beginning of my success in England and basically, Europe has been very supportive of my music." Turner then agreed that she was a major artist in the U.S., but not as big as Madonna. In Europe, however, she had the same level of fame as not only the "Material Girl" but The Rolling Stones. 

And that boyfriend? His name is Erwin Bach, and he became Turner's husband in 2013  — the same year she became a Swiss citizen. The legendary singer died in 2023 in Küsnacht, Switzerland, and fans lit candles at her and Bach's home, per The New York Times. Markus Ernst, Küsnacht's mayor, told the Associated Press that Turner loved the Swiss town because she was able to live a regular life there.

Jim Morrison wanted some time off

In 1971, after The Doors finished recording "L.A. Woman," lead singer Jim Morrison hightailed it to Paris, France, to live with his girlfriend Pamela Courson. Far Out Magazine points out that Morrison told his bandmates that he'd been tossing around the idea of taking a vacation. The sabbatical may have been related to the singer being convicted of indecent exposure in 1969, after it was said he exposed himself onstage in Miami. Plus, the self-proclaimed Lizard King was drinking heavily during the "L.A. Woman" recording sessions and thought Paris might be the place to get better.

To add, besides being a rock star, Morrison was a self-published poet, so where better place than Paris for him to go for inspiration, home of a long list of celebrated poets? But sadly, "The Crystal Ship" writer died in Paris in 1971 of heart failure at 27 years old. As the famous story goes, he was discovered by Courson in their apartment bathtub. She died three years later, in Los Angeles, of a heroin overdose at 27. 

In 2021, The Doors' drummer, John Densmore spoke to the Los Angeles Times about Morrison and said his move to Paris wasn't supposed to be permanent. In fact, he was planning a U.S. return after hearing their song "Riders on the Storm" would be the next single off "L.A. Woman."

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Josephine Baker sought freedom

Josephine Baker lived nothing short of a fascinating life. She was born in St. Louis, Missouri, and due to family circumstances, she was a maid by the time she was 8 years old. She moved to Paris and became a huge star there as a singer and dancer in the 1920s, and she remained there until her death in 1975. While she is most known as an entertainer, in France her life took a bit of a turn when she worked with the French Resistance in World War II as an undercover agent. 

The reason for Baker leaving had to do with how she felt about her home country, telling The Guardian in 1974 that she "couldn't stand" the United States, and living in St. Louis as a Black woman had a horrible effect on her. Reportedly, she experienced the 1917 East. St. Louis Race Riot, when hundreds of Black people were killed, and hundreds more left the city for safety. The singer didn't return to play in St. Louis until 1952, as the St. Louis Post-Dispatch shows, because she feared discrimination and racism during segregation's height in the U.S.

Baker — who became a French citizen in 1937 — spoke to that St. Louis crowd about why she left her hometown, saying, via the Los Angeles Times, "I ran away from [here], and then I ran away from the United States of America, because of that terror of discrimination, that horrible beast which paralyzes one's very soul and body."

Jimi Hendrix was a huge hit

Some musicians are so legendary, even their former groups are well-known. Take The Wailers, which was originally composed of Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer, and a guy named Bob Marley — who you might've heard of. You may also be familiar with The Mynah Birds, thanks to two of its members, Rick James and Neil Young. Jimmy James and the Blue Flames can also be placed in that category, since Jimmy James was actually Jimi Hendrix.

One night, when his group was playing in New York City's Cafe Wha?, he was approached by The Animals' Chas Chandler, who was getting into managing artists. Chandler was so impressed by the relatively unknown guitarist, he flew him to London to break him as a solo act.

Let's just say the plan worked, because the Washington native became a hit in the local music scene, playing at London's Saville Theatre in 1967 and blowing away people in the crowd like Eric Clapton and Paul McCartney. But Hendrix — who died of a drug overdose in London at age 27 — just didn't have music success in England, his personal life also flourished. That's because he fell in love with a woman named Kathy Etchingham, and they lived in Montagu Square in London, where Ringo Starr once resided. Hendrix also lived at 23 Brook Street, which has become a museum.  Per Reuters, he once told Etchingham that 23 Brook was the "first real home" he had of his own. 

Nina Simone felt betrayed

Nina Simone was introduced to the music world with the 1959 remake of George and Ira Gershwin's "I Loves You, Porgy." But after four Black girls were killed in an Alabama church explosion by the Ku Klux Klan in 1963, she began singing protest songs, like "Mississippi G–dam."

Then Simone — who was born in Tryon, North Carolina — moved from the United States and headed to Barbados in 1972, leaving her husband and daughter Lisa in the States. Simone also lived in places like Switzerland, the Netherlands, as well as Liberia, and her daughter eventually joined her. Simone's reason for spending so much time away from her home country had to do with feeling unsafe due to the racial climate she experienced. 

"America betrayed me, betrayed my people, and stamped on our hopes," she detailed in her autobiography, "I Put a Spell on You." While Simone returned to the U.S., which she talked about with The Washington Post in 1980, wanting to be closer to her mother and daughter, the singer and pianist wouldn't stay, however. She eventually moved to Carry-le-Rouet, France, where she lived until her death in 2003.

Shyne was forced to move

Shyne moved out of the United States in 2009, and ended up in his native Belize. But the rapper wasn't homesick; he didn't have a choice, because he was deported. So, what happened? In 1999 Shyne opened fire inside New York City's Club New York and injured three people. He was defending his then-record label boss Sean "Diddy" Combs, who got into an argument with another clubgoer. Combs' girlfriend at the time, Jennifer Lopez, was there as well. 

She was dismissed of any wrongdoing, but Combs was hit with an illegal weapons charge. Shyne, for his part, was charged with three counts of attempted murder and was found guilty of two counts of assault, reckless endangerment, as well as gun possession. He was then sentenced to 10 years in prison. Combs, meanwhile, was acquitted of all charges.

At first, Rolling Stone reported that Shyne's deportation could be temporary, and he'd be working on getting back into the U.S. But that talk soon dried up, and Shyne eventually moved to Jerusalem, changing his name from Jamal Michael Barrow to Moshe Levi. Shyne then made another big change after he left Jerusalem and moved to Belize: He became a politician, and is Belize's opposition leader of the House of Representatives — following in his father Dean Barrow's footsteps, who used to be the country's prime minister. 

Janet Jackson made a change for her son

In 2013, Variety lauded Janet Jackson as a billion-dollar entertainer and broke down how she made her money. Later, though, other publications like Forbes explained how the singer wasn't actually a billionaire, but had still earned $1.2 billion over her career through things like record sales, touring, and publishing. That number obviously increased as time went on, which means Jackson could spin a globe and choose where she wants to live. But motherhood brought her to London, England, something she spoke about with Allure in 2022.

The "Control" singer explained during that interview that she left the United States because her son, Eissa Al Mana, was born in England. That's despite saying she'd rather live in California, where she grew up. Of course, Jackson had to adjust to the cultural differences in England, but that wasn't all. The former "Fame" actor had to learn to drive again and get used to wheeling around on the left-hand side. Jackson could've easily opted for a chauffeur, but she explained that driving has always been therapy for her. 

"The Velvet Rope" creator was married to businessman Wissam Al Mana while in London as well. That was, until she announced her split from him on Twitter in 2017. That same year, Entertainment Tonight reported that Jackson moved out of the home she shared with her ex and began shopping for her own London digs.

Madonna had two reasons for leaving

Just like Janet Jackson, Madonna's decision to leave the United States had to do with her son, or at least partially. She explained it to Vogue Italia in a 2018 interview, saying that David Banda, who was 12 years old at the time, was deeply into soccer. So, Madonna moved to Lisbon, Portugal, since soccer is bigger in Europe than in the States. But again, that was only half of her reason for the move. The other had to do with not being very fond of her home country then. Madonna is from Pontiac, Michigan, by the way.

"I felt like we needed a change, and I wanted to get out of America for a minute. As you know, this is not America's finest hour," she said to Vogue Italia. "Not that leaving America makes anything different or changes anything. I've lived in other places; I lived in London for 10 years. I like to put myself in uncomfortable situations and take risks."

Madonna  — who made headlines when it was reported that she was leaving Portugal — was married to English filmmaker Guy Ritchie from 2000- 2008, so that explains the London move. Some might recall the pop star being criticized for adopting a British accent during her time there, which she spoke about years later in the UK on her "Madame X Tour," per BBC. Basically, the "Like a Prayer" performer blamed Ritchie for the phony accent.

Yasiin Bey found it hard to create

Brooklyn, New York, rapper Yasiin Bey, also known as Mos Def, made his home in South Africa in 2013. He gave a reason for the move during an interview with Beats by Dre, explaining that it was hard for him to keep his creative tank full in his native land. "America's really a very challenging place for me," Bey admitted. "Sure, there's great business opportunities ... but given the current social, political, economic climate, it's very difficult, unnecessarily difficult, to create to the degree of fullness, the type of robust type of creativity that I like to have; it's very difficult for me to produce that here." 

Bey found success with fellow Brooklyn rapper Talib Kweli with their 1998 debut album "Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star." Bey also wowed critics with his first solo LP "Black on Both Sides." Both albums contain political lyrics from Bey, his solo project even more so, and he's known for taking on the system in his music. So perhaps, the rapper leaving America wasn't a big surprise to those who've listened closely to his songs.

But Bey ran into problems while trying to leave South Africa in 2016, when he was detained after trying to use a world passport. He rapped about it afterward and blasted the authorities for the alleged poor treatment.

Dexter Gordon was able to live comfortably

No one can say the life of late jazz and bebop artist Dexter Gordon was uneventful. From the beginning, he played with some of the best artists in his hometown of Los Angeles, as The New York Times details. Dexter became a bandleader later on, and also spent time in prison. He acted as well, scoring himself an Oscar nomination after playing in 1986's "Round Midnight." 

Dexter's life also included a move to Paris, where he lived in the city's red-light district. He later relocated to Copenhagen, Denmark, and became a Danish citizen. He was in Europe for a total of 14 years, before heading back to the United States in 1976 while on tour. His subsequent signing with Columbia Records and engagements with his new band kept him busy stateside, along with his retirement seven years later and desire for a normal life.

His widow and manager, Maxine Gordon, once spoke to journalist Marc Myers on JazzWax about her late husband's move to Europe and said he didn't plan to stay as long as he did. "Dexter went to London first as a guest at Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club," Maxine explained. "As he said, 'I went for two weeks and when I looked up, it was 14 years later.' After his first gig in London, he went to Copenhagen. There, he soon realized that he had found a life where he could live comfortably and perform all over Europe. Maxine alluded to her husband's fear that the rampant racism in America during the 1960s, along with the civil rights movement, might have made Dexter, who was also an activist, a target.

Dexter sadly died in 1990 of kidney failure in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He was 67 years old.

Gwen Stefani got spoiled

Gwen Stefani knows what it's like to stroll London's quaint streets as a local because she was a resident of the city's Primrose Hill area. It was during the time she was married to Bush's Gavin Rossdale, although they split their time between London and Los Angeles. The No Doubt singer opened up about living in the English town during a 2010 interview with InStyle and said her life there was far different than her day-to-day in California.

"Usually I'm not working in London, so Gavin spoils me and I get to be really dependent," Stefani said. "I don't drive when I'm there and I like that. It's a different lifestyle to be able to walk to the little village and get milk. I take Kingston to the gym with me, with no nanny or assistant and that would be very rare in Los Angeles — that I could actually go somewhere on my own. Things can get out of hand with the paparazzi, so I don't feel safe."

But perhaps there was one time that Stefani felt unsafe in London, because her home there with Rossdale was burglarized in 2009. "The Voice" judge wasn't there, however, since she was playing a No Doubt show in Singapore, according to the Evening Standard. What's even luckier for the former couple is the criminals only broke the front door, and couldn't get to the section where Stefani and Rossdale actually resided. After the "Don't Speak" singer filed for divorce from Rossdale in 2015, she had already moved back to the U.S. to tape her first season with "The Voice.

Rihanna liked going to the market

Maybe she arrived in the middle of the night without notice. Or, perhaps she did an outstanding job of disguising herself and blending in with the locals. This is Rihanna we're talking about here, who surprised many when it was revealed in 2019 that she was living in London. The reason for the move had to do with her Fenty company, telling The New York Times' T Magazine that she moved to be closer to her design team, since they're based in Paris, France.

Rihanna clearly likes the same thing as Gwen Stefani about London, saying that she enjoys going to the market, despite having to hide her identity when she's out. Plus, the "Lift Me Up" singer talked about getting a lot of pleasure from doing regular, everyday stuff.

"The world can really make you believe that the wrong things are priority, and it makes you really miss the core of life, what it means to be alive," Rihanna explained. "It could literally be walking outside in the sun. That makes me happy. Like going to the grocery store — you know, there's a cute little Jamaican market near where I live right now." In 2020, Rihanna left the London mansion she was renting, after she and her boyfriend-at-the-time Jameel Hassan split up. However, the Barbados-born singer still splits her time between her home country and Los Angeles.

The Roots planted their seed far from home

Hey, you've got to start somewhere when you're trying to make it big. For The Roots, that somewhere was London, England — Kentish Town, to be specific. The band's drummer Questlove broke it all down for The Guardian in 2019, saying they lived above a fish and chip shop in the '90s. Of course, the location came in handy, considering the guys could eat for pretty cheap. HotNewHipHop points out The Philadelphia group spent a year in London working on their first LP "Organix," released in 1993, where they also played a lot of shows. The move turned out to be a huge stepping stone, because the band eventually secured a deal with DGC/Geffen Records, meaning they officially arrived.

From there, they dropped the LP, "Do You Want More?!!!??!" in 1995, before releasing a string of other albums in the following years. The Roots eventually established enough of a following that they were able to leave the U.K. and come back to the U.S., landing a regular gig as the house band for "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon," which was announced in 2008. Three years later, Questlove told The Independent the band's success wouldn't be possible without those lean London days, and he's thankful for them. "We have extreme loyalty to the place where we got our beginnings," he stated.