Embryological and genetic studies of mouse, bird, zebrafish, and frog embryos are providing new insights into the regulatory functions of the myogenic regulatory factors, MyoD, Myf5, Myogenin, and MRF4, and the transcriptional and signaling mechanisms that control their expression during the specification and differentiation of muscle progenitors. Myf5 and MyoD genes have genetically redundant, but developmentally distinct regulatory functions in the specification and the differentiation of somite and head muscle progenitor lineages. Myogenin and MRF4 have later functions in muscle differentiation, and Pax and Hox genes coordinate the migration and specification of somite progenitors at sites of hypaxial and limb muscle formation in the embryo body. Transcription enhancers that control Myf5 and MyoD activation in muscle progenitors and maintain their expression during muscle differentiation have been identified by transgenic analysis. In epaxial, hypaxial, limb, and head muscle progenitors, Myf5 is controlled by lineage-specific transcription enhancers, providing evidence that multiple mechanisms control progenitor specification at different sites of myogenesis in the embryo. Developmental signaling ligands and their signal transduction effectors function both interactively and independently to control Myf5 and MyoD activation in muscle progenitor lineages, likely through direct regulation of their transcription enhancers. Future investigations of the signaling and transcriptional mechanisms that control Myf5 and MyoD in the muscle progenitor lineages of different vertebrate embryos can be expected to provide a detailed understanding of the developmental and evolutionary mechanisms for anatomical muscles formation in vertebrates. This knowledge will be a foundation for development of stem cell therapies to repair diseased and damaged muscles.