Free vibration of axially loaded rectangular composite beams with arbitrary lay-ups using refined shear deformation theory is presented. It accounts for the parabolical variation of shear strains through the depth of beam. Three governing equations of motion are derived from the Hamilton’s principle. The resulting coupling is referred to as triply axial-flexural coupled vibration. A displacement-based one-dimensional finite element model is developed to solve the problem. Numerical results are obtained for rectangular composite beams to investigate effects of fiber orientation and modulus ratio on the natural frequencies, critical buckling loads and load–frequency curves as well as corresponding mode shapes.