10 Of The Greatest and Most Famous Musicians From Rhode Island Of All Time

Written by Dan Farrant
Last updated

Rhode Island may be the smallest state in America, but that doesn’t mean you can completely ignore it. The state actually has a lot to offer, particularly in the music industry.

George M. Cohan, the songwriter of “I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy,” was born in Providence, Rhode Island, but he’s not the only well-known musician from the state. Let’s take a look at 10 of the greatest and most famous musicians from Rhode Island.

1. Pauly D

Born Paul DelVecchio Jr. in Providence, Rhode Island, Pauly D started DJing in local clubs when someone from MTV found him on MySpace. Pauly D thought they liked his music, but they actually liked his look for a reality show they were filming called “Jersey Shore.”

Though that show didn’t revolve around his music, Pauly D got a spin-off show that followed his DJ career while he was on tour. He has since released singles such as the “Night Of My Life” and Back To Love.” He has also opened for acts for other famous singers, such as Britney Spears.

His talents have prompted people to nominate him for “America’s Best DJ,” but he failed to win. He did, however, win the Teen Choice Awards for Choice TV: Male Reality Star two years in a row.

2. Billy Gilman

William Wendell Gilman III, more known by his nickname Billy Gilman, was born in Westerly, Rhode Island, and started singing when he was very young.

He performed in public concerts by the time he was seven and had a record deal when he was only 12. His first Billboard hit, “One Voice,” came out in 2000 and the album went double platinum. When his voice started changing, Gilman stepped out of the spotlight.

In 2016, he auditioned for The Voice with his mature vocals. He performed many timeless hits and was a runner-up for the entire season. These songs are available as singles, but Gilman hasn’t released any original material since childhood.

3. Dicky Barrett

Richard “Dicky” Barrett was born in Providence, Rhode Island. He met a drummer, Joe Sirois, at Bunker Hill Community College, and they went on to form the Mighty Mighty Bosstones.

They are a ska-punk band that released eight studio albums and toured around the world from 1983 to 2003.

At that point, Barrett started working on solo material, but never released an album. He’s made guest appearances on other musicians’ works as well.

The Mighty Mighty Bosstones have performed a few reunion shows throughout the mid-2000s before breaking up in early 2022.

4. John Cowsill

American drummer John Cowsill was born in Newport, Rhode Island. He formed a band called The Cowsills with three of his brothers: Bill, Bob, and Barry. John played drums and the other brothers played guitars and bass.

As the band grew more popular, two other siblings and their mother joined the group to add even more harmonies. By the time the group was complete, the children’s ages ranged from 8 to 19.

Along with their mother, The Cowsills were the inspiration behind the TV show “The Partridge Family.” As he grew older, Cowsill started playing with rock duo Jan & Dean and working as The Beach Boys’ touring drummer.

5. Wendy Carlos

Born Walter Carlos in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, Wendy Carlos is a transgender musician known for her electronic music and her work composing music for films.

She learned piano when she was six and wrote her first song before turning 10. Despite her musical background, Carlos wanted to work with computers and electronics in college. She later combined these passions with a master’s degree in music composition.

She’s a famous composer best known for her film scores. You can hear her work in “A Clockwork Orange,” “The Shining,” and “Tron.”

Though she’s worked a lot with films, Carlos released an album of electronic Bach songs in 1968, which earned her three Grammy Awards. She also released several more studio albums in the late 1980s.

6. Jeffrey Osborne

Singer-songwriter Jeffrey Osborne was born into a musical family in Providence, Rhode Island.

His father was Clarence “Legs” Osborne, a trumpeter who performed with Duke Ellington. By the time he was in his 20s, Osborne had formed a band with his brother, Billy, where they shared the lead singer role.

After some time as a drummer in the band, Osborne wanted a solo career. He released an album in 1982 and two singles hit the Billboard Hot 100. His biggest single, “You Should Be Mine,” hit #13 in 1986.

He went on to perform duets and write lyrics for other singers later in his career, such as Whitney Houston.

7. Bobby Hackett

Robert Leo Hackett, more popularly known by his nickname Bob, was born in Providence, Rhode Island. No one knows much about his childhood, but at the age of 23, jazz musician Benny Goodman hired him to play in a concert.

That led to Hackett getting roles in the Vic Schoen Orchestra and playing for the Andrews Sisters. He also performed on the soundtrack to a Fred Astaire movie in 1940.

Not long after that, Hackett injured his upper lip in dental surgery. It was hard for him to play trumpet, so bandleader Glenn Miller hired him as a guitarist. Hackett still tried to play short pieces or solos on the trumpet and was able to do studio work since he could take more breaks than during a live performance.

He was inducted into the Rhode Island Music Hall of Fame in 2012.

8. Bill Conti

William “Bill” Conti, born in Providence, Rhode Island, was a famous composer and conductor.

Because of his Italian heritage, he started orchestrating pop music by Italian artists. He then started creating scores for Spaghetti Westerns, which introduced him to the film industry. In 1976, United Artists hired him to compose the soundtrack for “Rocky,” as well as for the sequels.

He’s also composed music for a James Bond movie, several HBO films, and TV theme songs. Conti has composed music for more than 60 movies and shows.

He’s also received nominations for countless musical categories within the Academy Awards, Golden Globes, and Emmys. 

9. Jesse Leach

Metalcore singer Jesse Leach was born in Providence, Rhode Island.

He formed his first band in high school and recorded a few extended plays (EPs) during the ‘90s. In 1999, he joined a band looking for a vocalist. They called themselves Killswitch Engage and released their first album in 2000. The band is in the metalcore genre, and Leach was famous for his screaming vocals.

Unfortunately, the stress of screaming with the music would cause Leach to ruin his voice after just a few stops on tour. After a rocky time with the band, Leach left to try different musical styles. He performed with Seemless, a blues-rock band. He also took time writing lyrics for other bands before recently returning to Killswitch Engage.

10. AraabMuzik

Abraham Orellana, more known by his stage name AraabMuzik, was born in Providence, Rhode Island. His mother was a singer, so he grew up around music, learning drums at three and keyboards not much later.

He uses a drum machine to create beats live as if he were actually performing on a drum kit. AraabMuzik’s core genres are EDM and hip hop, but he has performed with artists like Cardi B, Cam’ron, ASAP Rocky, and more.

Final Words On Our List Of Popular Musicians From Rhode Island

For such a small state, Rhode Island spawned a lot of talent. These musicians cover every popular genre and have made a huge impression on the music industry.

From jazz to rock to film scores, Rhode Island has something to offer for everyone.

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Dan Farrant, the founder of Hello Music Theory, has been teaching music for over 15 years, helping hundreds of thousands of students unlock the joy of music. He graduated from The Royal Academy of Music in 2012 and then launched Hello Music Theory in 2014. He plays the guitar, piano, bass guitar and double bass and loves teaching music theory.