Music of Illinois

Music of Illinois
Music of the United States
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Illinois, which includes Chicago, has a wide musical heritage. Chicago is most famously associated with the development of electric (or Chicago-style) blues music. Chicago was also a center of development for early jazz and later for house music, and includes a vibrant hip hop scene and R&B. Chicago also has a thriving rock scene that spans the breadth of the rock genre, from huge stadium-filling arena-rock bands to small local indie bands. Chicago has had a significant historical impact on the development of many rock sub-genres including power pop, punk rock, indie rock, emo rock, pop punk, and alternative rock.



Chicago blues music was developed as black musicians influenced by Delta blues joined the post-World War II migration to the burgeoning industrial city from the deep south, and, seeking a way to be heard in the raucous clubs, turned to electric guitar and other forms of amplified music. The result was a tough, gritty sound that directly led to the creation of rock and roll. As the style developed, artists added more instruments and diversification of styles. Key early Chicago blues artists included Howlin' Wolf, Willie Dixon, Bo Diddley and Muddy Waters. Chicago would continue to be a hotbed of activity in this genre, with artists including Buddy Guy, Koko Taylor, Junior Wells, Son Seals, and others calling the city home and performing regularly.


Chicago was the first important center of jazz as it left the city of its birth, New Orleans, Louisiana. The name jazz (and its early variations jass or jas) may have first been applied to the music in Chicago in the 1910s, as such hot New Orleans bands as Tom Brown's made a hit up north. New Orleans pioneers together with enthusiastic younger musicians from the Midwest gathered in Chicago. The result has sometimes been called Chicago Style. The saxophone first became a significant instrument in jazz in Chicago, and the city remained the most vibrant and advanced center of the music through the 1920s.

Famous jazz musicians originally from Illinois include Miles Davis (from Alton, Illinois near St. Louis), Benny Goodman, Ramsey Lewis, and Herbie Hancock. One of early jazz's great groups, the Austin High Gang, originated from the western suburbs of Chicago. Sinyan Shen, internationally known for his Shanghai classical repertoire and Shanghai jazz performances based on tonal interests and just intervals, is based in Chicago. Rachael Lee originally from Macon, Illinois has gained international fame while performing in canada and Japan where she made cd's in Japan. Rachael was widely know among the Jazz circuit in chicago and champaign, Illinois. She dedicated her life to Jazz and even taught jazz for a short time at Millikin University in Decatur, Illinois. Due to health issues she retired in 2010 and currently resides in Decatur, Illinois.

Electronic music

Chicago's greatest influence on electronic dance music is its role as the birthplace of house music. The name House music is said to come from the Chicago dance club, the Warehouse, where the legendary Frankie Knuckles DJed. The classic house record label Trax Records was based in Chicago, and put out seminal house records like Jamie Principle & Frankie Knuckles's "Your Love" and Marshall Jefferson's "Move Your Body". Other influential house artists to come out of Chicago include Adonis, Larry Heard, Ron Hardy, Phuture, Robert Owens, and Farley Jackmaster Funk.

Classical music

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra is Illinois' premier symphonic orchestra and has received widespread recognition for its recordings. The orchestra has received 10 Grammys in the classical album category, more than twice the number of any other group. Each summer since 2004, Southern Illinois University Carbondale plays host to the Southern Illinois Music Festival, which presents dozens of performances throughout the region. Classical singer Deborah Voigt was born in the Chicago area. Irwin Bazelon was a successful composer born in Evanston. Professional violinist David Kim was born in Carbondale.

Country music

With the largest country radio station, WUSN in Chicago, Illinois has become one of the leading country music destinations outside the City of Nashville, Tennessee.

Alison Krauss was part of the revival of bluegrass music in the late 1990s. She grew up in the central Illinois city of Champaign. Suzy Bogguss from Aledo in western Illinois had a number of country hits in the 1990s. Gretchen Wilson of Pocahontas, Illinois charted several top ten hits from 2004 to 2006. Illinois is also a center of the shaped note singing revival with the Midwest Sacred Harp convention taking place yearly in Chicago. David Lee Murphy who hails from Herrin, Illinois had hits in the mid 90's. Joshua Scott Jones, Big Machine Records recording artists, Winner of Season 2 of CMT "Can You Duet" and one-half of the duo "Steel Magnolia", is from the south eastern town of Charleston, Illinois.

Folk music

Burl Ives, hailing from downstate Illinois, helped popularize folk music, with releases beginning in the 1940s.

Chicago was a focal point for the folk music boom of the 1960s and early 1970s. A center of activity was the Old Town School of Folk Music which opened in the late 1950s and helped launch the careers of many folk musicians associated with the city, including John Prine, Steve Goodman, and Bonnie Koloc.

A large influx of Polish immigrants into Chicago in the late 19th and early 20th centuries brought Polka music with them; this music evolved into several local styles. The Polka Hall of Fame is located in Chicago, and is home to the International Polka Association which hosts a yearly convention.

There is a thriving indie folk scene across the state, most notably from Chicago south to Bloomington. Artists such as Chicago Farmer, Jaik Willis, and 2nd Timothy are prime examples of the limitations of folk music being broadened in the state of Illinois.

Sunshine Pop

From the years 1966 to 1967, the Chicago area was a key area in the rise of Sunshine pop, a genre that evolved out of surf-rock and early pop/rock acts such as the Mamas and the Papas. This fad featured bands such as Shadows of Knight, The New Colony Six, The Cryan' Shames, Ides of March, The Mauds, Mason Proffit, H.P. Lovecraft, most notably The Buckinghams, among others. The Buckinghams topped the Hot 100 charts in 1966 with their song 'Kind of a Drag'. The Shadows of Knight's cover of Van Morrison's Gloria is still a classic 40 years later. The Ides of March topped the chart with Vehicle. This was a great period during the 60's where Chicago was a very happening place both musically and nationally with the 1968 Democratic National Convention and the Sly and the Family Stone riot. This fad died with the growth of psychedelia, and so did the popularity of most of these bands.

Rock and roll

Notable Illinois pop and rock bands include, Styx (whose members originally lived in the Chicago suburbs), Chicago (the original members of which were students at DePaul University in Chicago and hailed from the area, though they moved to Los Angeles before becoming famous), Jim Peterik (who founded Chicago-area band the Ides of March and was later a member of Survivor). The Boyzz, or the Boyzz from Illinois, were a hard rock, boogie band from the Fox River Grover area. Power pop four-some Cheap Trick came from nearby Rockford, Illinois and members of REO Speedwagon hailed from Champaign-Urbana. Enuff Z'nuff, who had a couple of minor hits in 1989 with the songs "New Thing" and "Fly High Michelle", hailed from the Chicago suburb of Blue Island. The Southern and South Central Illinois regions have also produced influential rock, most notably Head East. Dan Fogelberg, an influential singer/songwriter of the 70s and 80s, was from Peoria, Illinois. The heavy metal band Mudvayne was also a product of Peoria. The death/doom metal band Novembers Doom are from Chicago. Death metal legends Macabre are from Downers Grove. The rock band Dope from Villa Park was formed in Chicago.

Punk rock

The first punk rock club in Chicago was La Mere Vipere, located near DePaul University. Chicago's first punk rock band was The Crucified, who issued their own self-titled EP in 1977. Hated by the locals, La Mere Vipere "mysteriously" burned down in 1978. A gay club called O'Banion's replaced it, and New Wave bands like Special Effect, The Dadistics, Epicycle and Ono played there. Another gay bar, Oz, soon opened and began catering to the burgeoning hardcore punk scene as local bands like Naked Raygun, Big Black, Strike Under and, most famously, The Effigies, formed. The next wave of Chicago hardcore was more pure hardcore, as opposed to incorporating many different influences, and included Articles of Faith and Rights of the Accused.

Pop Punk

Screeching Weasel - Methadones Chicago maintains a thriving pop punk scene. Bands such as Rise Against, The Lawrence Arms, The Squids, and Alkaline Trio are prime examples of "second wave" pop-punk musical acts that hail from Chicago. Smoking Popes, another Chicago-area pop-punk band, maintains a small but loyal following throughout the country. The Fireside Bowl provided a venue for many local acts cutting their teeth, and a unique venue for touring bands. Fall Out Boy has been the most commercially successful band to come from the Chicago area in recent years. Celtic punk rock bands Like The Tossers and Flatfoot 56 are also from Chicago.

Though they can be considered Garage rock, Superchick comes straight out of Chicago.

Alternative rock

Growing out of the Chicago hardcore scene was a vibrant industrial rock tradition in the mid-1980s. Industrial musicians from Chicago included members of Ministry, My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult, and Pailhead. The Chicago-based Wax Trax! label put out several key industrial rock recordings during the 1980s.

During the early 1990s, several Illinois alternative rock artists garnered national attention, including Didjits, Disturbed, SOiL, The Smashing Pumpkins, Local H, Liz Phair, Urge Overkill, and Veruca Salt. Members of several notable early 1990s alternative rock groups were originally from the state. Soundgarden's Kim Thayil and Bruce Pavitt, the founder of Sub Pop Records, both were from Illinois and Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder was originally from Evanston, Illinois. The guitarist Tom Morello (of the bands Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave) was originally from Libertyville, Illinois as well as Adam Jones from the band Tool. Kill Hannah, an alternative band from Chicago, Illinois, has gained great popularity over the last few years, and still remains famous in Chicago, playing their annual Christmas show in their hometown. The space rock band Hum originate from Champaign, Illinois. The band Chevelle originated from Grayslake, Illinois. Wilco, a popular Chicago-based indie rock group, formed out of the ashes of Uncle Tupelo, who in turn hailed from Belleville, Illinois. Lucky Boys Confusion is also from Illinois, in Downers Grove and Naperville. Also other bands that come from the Chicago area are The Hush Sound from Dupage County, The Academy is from Hoffman Estates and The Plain White T's whom are also from Dupage County. Doug Pinnick, vocalist and bassist of the hard rock/progressive rock band King's X was from Joliet.

Although not always Alternative Rock or necessarily Chicago area, Champaign, Illinois has a rich local rock scene, mainly because it is a large college town, home of the University of Illinois. Many of the surrounding towns throughout central and southern Illinois have rich local scenes, with a large number of hardcore bands and alternative rock bands. This includes the newly signed Tooth & Nail Records band Icon For Hire, based out of Decatur, Illinois, and the popular Champaign native So Long Forgotten. Illinois is also known for the famous Cornerstone Festival, which is held every year in Bushnell, Illinois on the Fourth of July time period.


Illinois has a thriving indie music scene. Artists including Andrew Bird, singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and Jim O'Rourke, experimental musician.[citation needed] The Indie scene in Chicago has not had as huge an impact as some of the other genres, however, it is on the rise. Evidence of this is the upcoming radio station Region Radio. ( They play lots of local artist such as Steepwater, Crawpuppies, Toronzo Cannon, Marrakesh Express, and Asteria.

Hip hop

Although Chicago has had a hip-hop scene for decades, relatively few artists have broken out and garnered national attention. A few exceptions in recent years have been Kanye West, Common, Twista, Rhymefest, R. Kelly, and Lupe Fiasco. On the underground level, Chicago is home to The Molemen, Gravel Records and Mc juice. William Upski Wimsatt also began writing about hip-hop in Chicago.

R & B

Some memorable Rhythm and Blues bands have come out of Illinois, such as the group Champaign from Champaign, IL with classic hits like "How 'Bout Us".

See also


  • Blush, Steven (2001). American Hardcore: A Tribal History. Los Angeles, CA: Feral House. ISBN 0-92291-571-7.

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