Some successful musicians get their start close to their own hometown, fortunate enough to be born and raised near entertainment hubs like Los Angeles, New York, or Nashville. Others come from humble places and work their way towards the U.S. coasts and musical stardom. Whatever the case, it seems many of them never forget their roots – and even return there to live after the peak of their traveling career.
Read on to learn about famous musicians from Pennsylvania. This list comprises talents that have contributed to the genres of pop, rock, rap, and jazz. You may be surprised to learn that your favorite artist has native ties to the Midwest!
Born Alecia Moore, the pop entertainer who goes by P!nk was mostly raised in Philadelphia.
But prior to that, she was born and spent some of her grade school years in Doylestown, where she was known as a troublemaker with a bad reputation.
It would seem that her early struggles contributed to her eventual career, as much of her music deals with themes of being a foul-mouthed outsider and hell-raiser.
Her tour circuits visit Philly regularly, letting her reconnect with her hometown.
2. Taylor Swift
The megastar pop princess might convey Southern charm with her early country tunes, but in reality, Taylor Swift was raised in West Reading.
The track called “Seven” off her recent Folklore album talks about her childhood and growing up in that area, with a folk ballad aesthetic that pillows the nostalgic lyrics.
Swift finally moved to Nashville as a teen to pursue a recording career, but she gives occasional heartfelt nods to her Pennsylvania roots in songwriting and interviews.
3. Mac Miller
The Pittsburgh native and rapper Mac Miller is notorious for dropping mentions of his hometown and home state in his tracks.
These references include high schools he attended, parks and playgrounds where he hung out in his youth, local sports teams, and specific roads and suburb names.
The artist, whose given name was Malcolm McCormick, even used Pittsburgh locations for his music video shoots.
4. Will Smith
“In West Philadelphia born and raised,” begins the Fresh Prince’s theme song, and Will Smith’s life mirrors it.
The uber-successful actor, rapper, and entertainer has garnered several Grammy, Oscar, and Academy Award nods for his work over the past four decades.
His history as a Pennsylvanian goes back generations – both his parents were born and raised in the state as well, which Smith details in his memoir along with regional race issues.
5. George Benson
A former child prodigy, George Benson was born in Pittsburgh.
He launched his career as a guitarist but is also a singer and songwriter in the genre of soul jazz.
Benson holds a great fondness for his hometown and credits it with the formation of his and others’ careers, as Pittsburgh was a popular stop for musicians en route to the bright lights of New York City.
6. Patti LaBelle
A Philadelphia native and musical legend, Patti LaBelle still resides in Pennsylvania.
She earned the nickname “Godmother of Soul” due to her influence on multiple genres, which integrated gospel and R&B.
She was a pivotal figure in the Philadelphia Soul movement of the 1970s.
LaBelle carries her respect for Philly with her to this day, claiming it is the perfect balance of music, culture, and people – enough to make her want to never leave.
7. Billie Holiday
Billie Holiday or “Lady Day” as she was known was a tragic figure in jazz music.
Sold into prostitution as a teen, she lived a life of abuse and hardship until music performance provided her a creative outlet and alternative career.
Holiday is known for the unique way she manipulated intonation and rhythm in her vocals.
She was a native of Philadelphia, where today there is a historical marker erected in her honor.
8. Questlove (The Roots)
Another product of Philadelphia, Questlove (born Ahmir Thompson) is best known as the drummer and frontman of the band The Roots who you probably know as the house band on Jimmy Fallon’s The Tonight Show.
He has also found success as a songwriter, disc jockey, music journalist, and film director.
He maintains close ties to Philly, even taking a role on the board of directors of a local arts partnership, which fosters the education and development of youth in southeastern Pennsylvania.
9. Ray Brown
Famous for his collaborations with Ella Fitzgerald and Oscar Peterson, Ray Brown was an illustrious double bassist in the world of jazz.
He began as a pianist in the jazz hotbed of Pittsburgh before enjoying a thriving music career in Los Angeles.
As well as being a consummate soloist, Brown also standardized the jazz rhythm section and provided a musical foundation for future jazz players, leading him to be inducted into the Jazz Hall of Fame.
10. Stan Getz
Known as “The Sound” for his warm tone, Stan Getz was a jazz saxophonist from Philadelphia.
He was an influential figure in the development of bossa nova and bebop. In fact, you’ve probably heard him play on the huge bossa nova hit “Girl From Impanema.”
Throughout his extensive career, Getz won five Grammys and toured all over the world with other notable jazz musicians.
11. Jill Scott
Multifaceted talent Jill Scott has seen success in music, modeling, poetry, and acting.
She grew up in North Philadelphia as an only child.
Scott’s impressive music career combines elements of R&B, soul, jazz, opera, spoken word, and hip-hop – an achievement that helped earn her the nickname “The Queen of Neo-Soul.”
She has collaborated with both Questlove and George Benson, other Pennsylvania names on our list.
12. Amos Lee
Amos Lee enjoys a career in demand as a singer-songwriter in the realm of folk-rock and soul.
Originally a schoolteacher from Philadelphia, he rose to prominence as a solo artist for Blue Note Records and has collaborated with Norah Jones, Paul Simon, the Zac Brown Band, and others.
When not recording in Nashville, he makes his current home in Philly.
13. Joan Jett (and the Blackhearts)
Joan Jett was born in a suburb of Philadelphia but moved around to other cities, including Pittsburgh and Erie, saying that she “stayed a Pennsylvania girl.”
She’s even earned herself a tin star on Broad Street.
The singer, who symbolized rebellion, girl power, and rock n’ roll with her signature howl, was the frontwoman of The Blackhearts.
Prior to that band, she led The Runaways with their punk-rock single, “Cherry Bomb.”
14. Bret Michaels (Poison)
Born in Butler, heavy rock icon Bret Michaels has seen a successful career in music, acting, and producing.
He is most famous for his status as frontman for the band Poison but branched out into TV stardom in recent years as a guest judge on Nashville Star, a winning contestant on Celebrity Apprentice 3, and reality shows.
He has spoken openly about his upbringing in central Pennsylvania and loves to visit his favorite local spots when he goes through the state on tour.
15. Keith Jarrett
An accomplished jazz pianist, saxophonist, and composer, Keith Jarrett was classically trained in his youth.
He is famous for his career collaborations with Miles Davis and Art Blakey, as well as the way he revolutionized modern piano playing with his style of classical-infused jazz fusion.
Jarrett is originally from Allentown and currently resides in western New Jersey near the Pennsylvania border.
16. Lee Morgan
A native of Philadelphia, Lee Morgan was a lyrical trumpet player, improviser, and composer within the jazz genre.
He was a key influencer of the hard bop movement in 1950s Philly, creating some of its iconic shapes and sounds.
Morgan toured with Art Blakey at the height of his career, then was fatally shot by his wife at only 33 years old, providing the content for a 2016 documentary, I Called Him Morgan.
17. Michael Brecker
Michael Brecker grew up in Philadelphia, born to a father whose love of jazz influenced his son’s life in a big way.
An attorney but also an amateur jazz pianist himself, Brecker’s father encouraged him to become fluent in clarinet and both tenor and alto saxophone.
Brecker made his mark as a prolific jazz performer and composer through his New York City-based jazz-rock band, Dreams.
He is considered to be the most influential jazz saxophonist of his generation, following in the footsteps of performers like John Coltrane and Wayne Shorter.
18. Art Blakey (and the Jazz Messengers)
In the 1940s, Art Blakey was a prominent name in touring big bands as a drummer and bandleader.
He helped define the hard bop subgenre of jazz and wowed crowds with his extended drum solos.
But Blakey remained always collaborative, providing a performance outlet for other brilliant jazz names (including many on this list!) for several decades.
He began his career in his hometown of Pittsburgh before going on to Boston, St. Louis, and other music hotspots around the nation.
Summing Up Our List Of Great Musicians From Pennsylvania
With two cities in the top 100 most populous in the U.S. (Philadelphia at #6, and Pittsburgh at #68), it’s perhaps no surprise that the state of Pennsylvania has produced some illustrious musical careers.
Its unique blend of East Coast, Great Lakes, and Midwestern influences have contributed to the formation of music – especially foundational jazz – that stands the test of time.
Pennsylvania is proof that there is talent to be found in every pocket of the nation.