The state of Massachusetts is well-known for its institutes of higher learning, especially Harvard University. Massachusetts was also the location of the infamous Salem witch trials that took place in the late 1600s.
However, Massachusetts also has a thriving music scene, particularly in Boston. The city is home to the Berklee College of Music and the Boston Conservatory.
The birthplace of many musicians, Massachusetts has brought us a range of musical talent. We have put together a list of the top ten famous musicians from Massachusetts.
Related: Learning about American musicians? Check out our post here.
1. James Taylor
Born in Boston, James Taylor is a singer, songwriter, and guitar player who started his first band in the late 1960s which was called the Flying Machine.
He later signed with Apple Records which was created by the Beatles and released his self-titled debut record in 1968. But, it was his second album, Sweet Baby James, that brought him great success.
Taylor is well known for his hit songs “Fire and Rain,” “How Sweet It Is,” and “Carolina in My Mind.”
His folk-rock music is loved by many and he has sold over 100 million albums and in 2020, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
2. Donna Summer
Singer and songwriter Donna Summer was born in Boston in 1948 and spent her childhood and teenage years there before moving to New York City to start her music and acting career.
Her debut album Lady of the Night was released in 1974 and featured the song “The Hostage.” The following year she came out with her second Love to Love You Baby which included the hit song by the same name.
Summer has sold over 100 million albums with some of her hit disco-style songs including “I Feel Love,” “Hot Stuff,” and “She Works Hard for the Money.”
She has won five Grammy Awards including Best R&B Vocal Performance for Last Dance. She was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2013.
3. Rob Zombie (White Zombie)
Born in Haverhill where he grew up and attended high school, Rob Zombie is a singer and songwriter best known for his horror-style music and theatrics at his live shows.
Zombie was the frontman for the band White Zombie which released its debut album Soul-Crusher in 1987. His first solo album Hellbilly Deluxe came out in 1998.
He has been nominated for several Grammy Awards including Best Metal Performance and Best Hard Rock Performance.
Zombie’s heavy metal music includes hits like “Dragula,” “Living Dead Girl,” and “Superbeast” and, as a solo artist, he has sold over 15 million records.
In addition to his music career, he is also a film director and producer.
4. Joe Perry (Aerosmith)
Next up we have Joe Perry who is the lead guitarist and singer with the rock band Aerosmith. Born in Lawrence, Perry spent much of his childhood in Hopedale.
Aerosmith released their self-titled debut album in 1973 with some of the band’s hit songs including “Walk This Way,” “Livin’ On The Edge,” and “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing.” To date, Aerosmith has sold over 150 million albums.
Perry also formed the band the Joe Perry Project in 1979 and more recently, he formed the band Hollywood Vampires in 2012 along with Alice Cooper and actor Johnny Depp.
5. Mike Gordon (Phish)
Born in Sudbury, singer-songwriter Mike Gordon plays bass guitar and banjo and is best known for his role in the band Phish.
In 1983, Gordon formed the band and they released their debut album Junta in 1989. The band’s hit songs include “You Enjoy Myself,” “Bouncing Around The Room,” and “Divided Sky.” To date, they have sold over eight million records worldwide.
In addition to his role in Phish, he also has a band that goes by his name, Mike Gordon which has been active since 2015. His music can be classified as rock, bluegrass, folk, and pop.
6. Leonard Bernstein
Next on our list, we have legendary American composer Leonard Bernstein who was also a pianist, and conductor.
Born in Lawrence, he later attended Harvard University in Cambridge, eventually going on to become the assistant conductor with the New York Philharmonic.
He later became their music director in 1958 and won a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1985.
Bernstein is famous for composing the musical West Side Story which opened on Broadway in 1957 with some of his songs from this play included “One Hand One Heart,” “A Boy Like That,” and “I Feel Pretty.”
7. Black Francis (Pixies)
Guitar player and singer-songwriter for the Pixies, Black Francis was born in Boston. He also spent time living in Westport and Marblehead and attended university in Amherst.
The Pixies are an alternative rock band that released their debut album Surfer Rosa in 1988 with some of the most popular songs including “Where Is My Mind,” “Gigantic,” and “Bone Machine.”
The group disbanded in 1992 but got back together in 2004. To date, the Pixies have sold around two million records worldwide.
As well as the Pixies, Francis also had a solo career for 20 years beginning in 1993.
8. Bo Burnham
You probably know the next person on our list Bo Burnham as a standup comedian. But, if you’ve seen any of his act, you’ll know that he’s also a fantastic singer, keyboardist, and guitar player.
His music can be described as a satirical critique of current society and features elements of musical comedy, hip-hop, and pop.
Burnham was born in Hamilton and later attended Catholic prep school in Danvers. He started uploading his music to YouTube in 2006 and released his first album Bo fo Sho in 2008.
Popular Burnham songs include “Welcome to the Internet,” “Art is Dead,” and “All Eyes on Me.” In 2021 he won three Emmy Awards for his musical comedy Inside which was shown on Netflix.
9. Joyner Lucas
Born and raised in Worcester, Joyner Lucas is a rapper and songwriter who gained recognition in 2017 with his single I’m Not Racist.
The music video has had over 145 million views on YouTube and was nominated for a Grammy Award.
Lucas released his debut album ADHD in 2020, followed by an EP entitled Evolution later that year. Some of his other hits include “Stranger Things” and “I Love.”
Heavily influenced by Eminem, he has collaborated with him on the 2018 album Kamikaze. He has also worked with other artists including Chris Brown, Logic, Timbaland, Ashanti, Will Smith, and G-Eazy.
10. Chick Corea
Born in Chelsea, Chick Corea was a jazz pianist, keyboardist, and composer. While his main musical genre was jazz he also played classical, Latin, and rock.
His debut album Tones for Joan’s Bones was released in 1968 and later that year Now He Sings, Now He Sobs was released which brought Corea greater fame.
In the early 1970s, he formed the band Return to Forever. Corea also had a solo career, a short-lived band called Circle, the Chick Corea Elektric Band, and other musical groups.
Two of Corea’s better-known songs are “Spain” and “500 Miles High” and over his long career, he won 25 Grammy Awards for his music.
Final Thoughts on Musicians From Massachusetts
Whether you’re a fan of hip-hop, classic rock, or musical comedy, you’ve likely enjoyed the music of a Massachusetts native.
Our list of ten great musicians from this state includes a range of styles. There’s something for everyone to enjoy when it comes to Massachusetts music.