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, thus we have put together a list of 10 of the greatest and most famous musicians from Massachusetts. Read on to learn who they are!
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. However, 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. 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 album, 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.”
Over her career, 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
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.
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.
He has been nominated for several Grammy Awards, including Best Metal Performance (“Superbeast” and “I’m Your Boogieman,” for instance) and Best Hard Rock Performance (“Lords of Salem”).
4. Joe Perry
Next up, we have Joe Perry. Born in Lawrence, Perry spent much of his childhood in Hopedale. Later on, he would co-found The Jam Band, which would eventually become Aerosmith.
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
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, Gordon 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 in 1918, 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 including “One Hand One Heart,” “A Boy Like That,” and “I Feel Pretty.”
7. Black Francis
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 is an alternative rock band that debuted in 1988 and is known for the songs “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.
After the Pixies first disbanded, Francis went on a solo career a year later. This spanned two decades, with songs like “Los Angeles,” “Hang On to Your Ego,” and “Headache” hitting the top 10 of Billboard‘s Alternative Airplay chart.
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 acts, 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. Meghan Trainor
Born in Nantucket in 1993, singer-songwriter and musician Meghan Trainor has been passionate about music from a young age. A multi-instrumentalist, she plays guitar, ukulele, keyboards, trumpet, and piano.
Singing and songwriting, however, is her passion—she wrote, recorded, and produced three independently released albums between the ages of 15 and 17.
Trainor first gained mainstream recognition with her debut major-label studio album, Title, in (2015). The album debuted at #1 on Billboard 200 and produced the hit “All About That Bass.”
This song was a viral hit, earning the Grammy Award for Best New Artist for Trainor and catapulting her into international stardom.
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.
Summing Up Our List Of Great Musicians From Massachusetts
In wrapping up, we’ve had a fantastic time exploring the musical talents that hail from Massachusetts with you. From James Taylor to Meghan Trainor’s infectious pop tunes, it’s clear that Massachusetts has given us some real gems.
Thank you for joining us on this musical journey! We truly hope you found it as fascinating and fun as we did and found new favorites along the way.
If there’s a Massachusetts music star you love who we missed, please let us know so we can add them here for you. Happy listening!