Not every musician comes from Los Angeles or New York City. Many come from lesser-known states and small towns too. Even a small state like Connecticut has produced some of the best and brightest musicians the world knows and loves. From their quaint upbringings in industrial suburbia, they were able to rise to stardom.
This list looks at 17 of the greatest and most famous musicians from Connecticut, how they became interested in music, and how they became the musicians we all know and love.
Related: Check out the most influential American musicians here
1. Karen Carpenter (The Carpenters)
Legendary singer and drummer in the Carpenters, Karen Carpenter was born in New Haven, Connecticut in 1950.
She lived in the state until she was 13 years old when her parents moved their family to a suburb of Los Angeles, California.
But, the family didn’t move to Los Angeles to “follow the music.” Carpenter’s father was offered a job there.
It wasn’t until a year after the move that Carpenter joined the school band and found a love for drumming and music and the rest is history.
The Carpenters went on to worldwide success selling over 90 million records with number one hits like Close to You, We’ve Only Just Begun, and Rainy Days And Mondays.
2. John Mayer
Virtuoso guitarist John Mayer was born in 1977 and grew up in Fairfield, Connecticut. He reportedly became interested in guitar after seeing Marty Mcfly’s performance in Back To The Future.
After this experience, Mayer’s father rented him a guitar and he became interested in the blues style of performance and felt eager to learn more. So, Mayer began to take lessons at a local guitar shop.
In high school, Mayer felt ready to perform for the people of Connecticut. He played small venues and bars, growing his love for music until he eventually left Connecticut for Berklee College of Music in Boston.
As of 2022, he’s released 8 studio albums, sold over 17 million records, and won 7 Grammy awards.
3. Michael Bolton
American singer Michael Bolton was born in New Haven, Connecticut in 1953.
Bolton grew up with an interest in music and learned to play the saxophone at only seven years old. By age 11, he was playing guitar and writing songs.
At age 14, Bolton created a musical group called Nomads with his peers. It was such a hit in Connecticut that they were signed by Epic Records, and Bolton left school to pursue a music career.
Since then he’s gone on to have a long and varied career winning 4 Grammy Awards, appeared in a number of films and T.V shows, released 17 studio albums with 9 number one hits and over 75 million records sold.
4. Chris Webby
Rapper and songwriter Chris Webby was born in Norwalk, Connecticut in 1988. He grew up in a musical family with his father, a guitarist, inspiring his love of music at an early age.
With this interest in music, he continued to dive further into music and became very interested in rap, particularly the rapper Eminem.
When he left Connecticut for Hofstra University in Long Island, his peers knew him as a freestyle rapper who went by the name Vindictive.
Since then, he’s released a number of mixtapes, EPs, and 1 studio album.
5. Vinnie Vincent (Kiss)
Born Vincent John Cusano but better known by his stage name Vinnie Vincent was the lead guitarist in the famous rock band Kiss.
Born in 1952, he grew up in Bridgeport, Connecticut. There, he found a love for guitar, particularly in the styles of bluegrass and rock and roll.
This passion for guitar continued to grow, eventually leading Vincent to leave Connecticut to move to Los Angeles. There, he became a songwriter for shows like Happy Days.
Eventually, Vincent was introduced to Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley who would become his bandmates. They had him join the band Kiss as a replacement for their former guitarist, Ace Frehley.
After leaving Kiss in 1984, he formed his own band called Vinnie Vincent Invasion and a few others before leaving the music scene for 22 years.
6. Charles Ives
Famous American composer Charles Ives was born in Danbury, Connecticut in 1874. The Ives family was prominent in Danbury, with Ives’s father, George, directing orchestras, bands, and choirs in the area.
Ives joined his father’s band as a percussionist and continued to learn many instruments throughout his lifetime.
While Ives is considered a renowned composer today, his music did not receive much recognition in his lifetime.
Instead, Ives spent his life working in insurance but continued to experiment with music in his free time, leading to many musical innovations.
7. Willy DeVille
Born William Paul Borsey Jr. but going by the name Willy Deville, was a singer and guitarist, born in Stamford, Connecticut in 1950.
But, despite being born and growing up there, he considered Stamford a working-class industrial area, a place that he needed to get out of.
While in Stamford, DeVille continued his love for music and started many small bands with friends, including Billy and the Kids, The Royal Pythons, and The Immaculate Conception.
He went on to move to a number of different cities, worked with British guitarist Mark Knopfler on “Storybook Love” (the theme song to the cult classic, The Princess Bride), and recorded 16 studio albums either solo or with his band Mink DeVille.
He died in 2009 of pancreatic cancer at the age of 58.
8. Liz Phair
Singer, songwriter, and guitarist Liz Phair was born in New Haven, Connecticut in 1967. But, despite being a Connecticut native she didn’t spend long there as she was adopted by a family who lived in Chicago, Illinois.
At age 23, Phair was introduced to the guitarist of the band Come. This led her down her musical path, and only a year later, she was playing guitar herself and writing her own songs.
She went on to write 7 albums, write two memoirs, and has been nominated for 2 Grammy awards.
9. Jeff Porcaro (Toto)
Famous for being the drummer in the band Toto, Jeff Porcaro was born in Hartford, Connecticut, in 1954.
He came from a musical family with his father being a session percussionist who taught his children how to play instruments at an early age. Porcaro was playing drums by the age of seven.
But, despite being born in Connecticut, the family moved to California when Porcaro was still young so he grew up in Los Angeles.
He continued to practice his drumming skills, and at only 17 years old, he joined Sonny and Cher’s touring band and then went on to play on 100s of albums as a session musician for the likes of Steely Dan, Eric Clapton, Diana Ross and Bruce Springsteen.
Eventually, the Porcaro brothers came together with two childhood friends to form the band Toto, who are famous for their song Africa and sold over 40 million records and won 6 Grammy awards.
10. Horace Silver
Next, we have jazz pianist Horace Silver who was born in Norwalk, Connecticut, in 1928.
Silver’s parents had a love for music and signed him up for classical lessons. He continued his musical practice in his school’s orchestra and band, playing the tenor saxophone and piano.
At only 18, Silver moved to Hartford, Connecticut, to work as a full-time pianist at a nightclub. There, he was able to play for saxophonist Stan Getz, who recruited Silver to go on tour with him.
He eventually moved to NYC where he worked as a sideman with jazz legends like Sonny Stitt, Miles Davis, and he even co-founded the Jazz Messengers with drummer Art Blakey.
He also wrote the famous jazz standard Song For My Father which has become a staple in the jazz repertoire.
11. Mark McGrath (Sugar Ray)
Singer Mark McGrath, best known for his work as the lead vocalist in the band Sugar Ray, was born in Hartford, Connecticut, in 1968. He spent a short time there before moving to Newport Beach, California, at only eight years old.
After meeting his fellow band mates in Orange County, Sugar Ray was formed in 1992. But, despite getting signed to Atlantic records, their first hit Fly didn’t come until 1997.
The next year he was named ‘Sexiest Rocker‘ by People Magazine!
Over the next two decades or so, they recorded seven studio albums and skyrocketed to mainstream fame.
On top of performing with the band, McGrath also worked in television becoming the co host of Extra, a guest judge on American Idol, and lots of other guest appearances and other hosting gigs.
12. Javier Colon
Singer and acoustic guitarist Javier Colon was born in Stratford, Connecticut in 1978. He was exposed to music from a young age as his father worked at a radio station there, inspiring Colon’s love of music.
In high school, Colon began writing songs. This love for music continued to grow, and Colon went on to get his Music Education degree from the University of Hartford.
While there, Colon regularly performed as a vocalist and percussionist in the college band EmcQ. With some success from the band, Colon was signed as a solo artist by Capitol Records.
He then went on to perform with some huge names in the music world including Joss Stone, Adam Levine and Anthony Hamilton.
In 2011, he also appeared on the first season of the T.V. show The Voice and won! He received $100,000 price money and signed with Universal Republic.
13. Laura Nyro
Singer songwriter and piano player Laura Nyro was born in The Bronx, New York in 1947, but spent much of her life in Danbury, Connecticut.
Like many others, she was exposed to music from a young age as her father was a jazz trumpeter and piano tuner, and her mother had a collection of records that Nyro was inspired by.
Nyro taught herself piano as a child and wrote her first composition at age eight. Her love of music continued, and as a teenager, her father helped her to find talent managers.
Nyro sadly died of ovarian cancer at only 49 years old. But, in her relatively short career, she recorded 10 studio albums and influenced a huge number of musicians such as Elton John, Cyndi Layper and Elvis Costello.
14. Katie Stevens
Known for her appearance on the 9th season of American Idol, Katie Stevens is an actress and singer who was born in Southbury, Connecticut in 1992.
She was raised in Middlebury, Connecticut, where she developed a love for performing at a young age. Her first performance was the National Anthem at the age of five, at the home of a local politician.
Throughout school, Stevens had a love for musical theater. She played many different roles, including Sharpay Evans in “High School Musical” and Nellie Forbush in “South Pacific.”
In 2009, Stevens grew to national recognition after earning eighth place on American Idol.
15. Chris Carrabba (Further Seems Forever)
Born in West Hartford, Connecticut in1975, singer and guitarist Chris Carrabba lived there until he was 16 years old.
As a teenager in Connecticut, Carrabba was gifted a guitar by his uncle and he spent most of his free time learning to play.
After his family moved to Boca Raton, Florida, Carrabba continued to pursue his love of music playing in bands throughout college.
After graduating, Carrabba worked full-time as an educator but spent his free time playing with the band Further Seems Forever.
Eventually, he left the band to join Dashboard Confessionals and was able to play music as a full-time career.
16. Cassie Ventura
Singer and songwriter Cassie Ventura was born in 1986, in New London, Connecticut. But, Ventura’s start was not initially in singing but modeling.
She modeled for local department stores in her area, eventually getting cast in the music video for “Just A Friend 2002” by Mario.
Ventura was encouraged to expand her work, so she signed up for vocal lessons. She met singer Ryan Leslie, and the pair wrote the song “Kiss Me.”
The song led Ventura to further discovery, booking her a management deal with Tommy Mottola.
17. Jamey Jasta (Hatebreed)
And finally, known for his work as the lead vocalist in metal band Hatebreed, Jamey Jasta was born in New Haven, Connecticut in 1977.
Hatebreed was form in 1994 with a small demo and EP. The demos gained traction, leading to their mainstream release and the band’s further success.
As their popularity grew, it lead them landing tours supporting some of the biggest metal bands such as Slayer and Deftones.
As well as performing, Jasta also formed the record label Stillborn Records, which signs similar heavy metal bands.
Summing Up Our List Of Great Musicians From Connecticut
After going through this list, you may feel surprised about just how much diverse talent came from Connecticut.
No one ever knows who the next big star will be, and there’s always a chance it’s the person from your small-town high school.
If there’s a musician from Connecticut you love that we missed, let us know and we’ll be sure to add them.