Maryland has roots in bluegrass and jazz, but the state’s modern musical history started with military music. With soldiers bringing back cultural influences when they returned from wars like the Revolutionary War and the French and Indian War, residents began adapting tunes and folding European musical influences into their works to compose songs like Yankee Doodle Dandy.
In fact, Frances Scott Key is the famous Marylander who wrote the lyrics of the Star-Spangled Banner after the Battle of Baltimore in 1814.
In this post, we’ve put together a list of 15 of the greatest and most famous musicians from Maryland to briefly explore their lives and careers.
1. Frank Zappa
Up first we have Frank Zappa who was a composer and guitarist famous in the 1960s and 1970s and known for his anti-war and counterculture philosophies.
Born in Baltimore, he grew up in a house with gas masks because of how close they lived to a chemical warfare facility.
His journey with music started early as he played guitar and drums as a teenager. He quickly learned to compose and conduct with a broad range of influences like classical composer Stravinsky, doo-wop bands, and R&B.
His mix of styles with avant-garde recording techniques made him a major influence on musicians of the time.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inducted him posthumously in 1995, and he received a posthumous Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1997.
2. Philip Glass
Another Baltimore-born musician and composer, Philip Glass, learned the flute and violin as a teenager and went from the University of Chicago to the Julliard School of Music.
He studied in Europe and began composing music, then formed the Philip Glass Ensemble in 1967. His musical style was called minimalism because it relied on simple melodies and rhythms.
A prolific composer, Glass has over 25 songs, over two dozen symphonies and concertos, and multiple film soundtracks, three of which received Academy Award nominations, to his name.
Glass has worked with famous musicians like Yo-Yo Ma and Paul Simon and still performs as a solo artist and the Philip Glass Ensemble.
Sir Robert Bryson Hall II, also known as Logic, is a rapper with two Grammy Award nominations and a platinum debut album called “Under Pressure” from 2014.
Born in Gaithersburg, Maryland, to a black father with a cocaine addiction and a white mother with an alcohol dependency, Logic didn’t graduate high school. Instead, he fell in love with hip hop and rap music when he was a teenager.
He began performing in 2009 and released several mixtapes before he landed a recording contract in 2013. He went on to have a number of top 10 hits like “1-800-273-8255” and ”Homeicide.”
Logic retired briefly in 2021 but returned to performing and recording in 2022.
4. Toni Braxton
Next on the list is Toni Braxton who is a singer, pianist, and songwriter who hails from Severn, Maryland, and a household with four sisters and a religious upbringing.
Braxton performed in The Braxtons, which she formed with her sisters in the 1980s. The sisters signed a contract with Arista Records, and Braxton started a solo recording career in 1993.
She received the Grammy for Best New Artist and two other Grammy Awards for her debut album. She’s won a total of seven Grammy Awards during her career and sold over 70 million albums.
Braxton released several top singles and became one of the most successful female R&B artists in the world.
5. Benji Madden (Good Charlotte)
Another Maryland musician, Benji Madden is known for playing lead guitar and singing backup vocals for the rock band Good Charlotte.
Born in Waldorf, Maryland, Madden has a twin brother, Joel, who’s also in Good Charlotte, the group they formed. He and his twin, as well as another brother and sister, attended school in La Plata.
His musical career started when he learned to play guitar at age 16 and began quickly performing.
Before he and his brother started the pop-punk band Good Charlotte, they launched a clothing line.
Good Charlotte became successful in 1998 with music often called pop-punk and skate punk that features several dance floor anthems including “The Anthem” and ”Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.”
Baltimore-born singer Mark Althavan Andrews goes by the stage name Sisqó.
As a teenager in Baltimore, he formed a quartet with three friends and landed a record deal with Island Records in 1996. He released his first album the same year.
Known for his flamboyant clothes and hair, Sisqó released a solo album in 1999 and had a major hit with “Thong Song” and ”Incomplete,” with the latter hitting #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
His second album, Return of Dragonwent platinum and became the most popular album of his career.
Sisqó has a current recording contract with EMPIRE and still performs as well as writing children’s books.
7. Tamar Braxton
Next is Tamar Braxton who is a singer and the youngest child of the musical and multi-talented Braxton family.
Like her sister, she performed in The Braxtons and went on to have a solo career.
She performed with her sisters and recorded for Arista with the group.
Her first solo album was released in 2000, but she didn’t record another album for 13 years. Her follow-up effort hit #2 on the Billboard 200 chart.
Braxton has received four Grammy Awards nominations. She and her sisters also served as an opening act for Toni Braxton during her European tour in 1997.
8. Bill Callahan
Bill Callahan is a singer and guitarist born in Silver Spring, Maryland. He plays several other instruments, including the piano, drums, banjo, and harmonica.
Callahan got his musical start in Silver Spring as an experimental recording artist who used poor equipment and instruments out of tune to create a unique sound.
He performed and recorded under the name Smog for several years, then released a solo album under his real name in 2007.
His songs have appeared in documentaries and Netflix series like “Wild, Wild Country” and “Sex Education.”
9. Gina Schock (The Go-Gos)
Born in Baltimore, Gina Schock played drums in the early 1980s for The Go-Go’s, a group that became one of the most successful female rock bands of all time.
Before her time with The Go-Go’s, she served as a drummer for Edie and the Eggs, a punk band formed as a vehicle for Edith Massey, an actress in the John Waters film “Pink Flamingos.”
The Go-Go’s broke up in the 1980s, but they’ve scheduled a 2022 tour with Billy Idol. Schock was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2021 as part of the group.
10. Greg Kihn
The Beatles were an early influence on Baltimore-born guitarist and singer Greg Kihn. At age 14, he started emulating the group members and eventually played in coffee houses in the Baltimore area.
He won a radio station contest for the most original song when he was 17.
Eventually, he moved to California, got a record deal, and formed The Greg Kihn Band in 1976. His biggest hit came in 1983 with “Jeopardy,” a song that hit #2 in the Billboard Hot 100.
Kihn recorded and performed for several years and eventually became a morning disc jockey in San Francisco and a Bram Stoker Award-winning published horror novelist.
11. Maggie Rose
Country music singer Maggie Rose hails from Potomac, Maryland, and got her musical start in a Bruce Springsteen tribute band when she was 16.
Her songI Ain’t Your Mama” was her biggest hit and helped launch her solo career.
Rose has done everything from performing for US Troops to the Middle East in 2018 to a national tour that spanned 49 states.
She’s also appeared on the Grand Ole Opry Show over 50 times and released her second album in 2018.
12. Ethel Ennis
Jazz singer Ethel Ennis became known as Baltimore’s “First Lady of Jazz” after disillusionment with the spotlight led her to stay off the national stage.
Billie Holiday had encouraged Ennis, who seemed to set for a career rivaling other jazz greats like Holiday.
She performed with a number of famous jazz musicians Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, and many more powerhouse jazz performers at the peak of her career.
Ennis walked away from it in the 1970s with no regrets rather than let the record labels and handlers control her life. She had released several studio albums by that time.
13. Chick Web
Drummer and jazz bandleader William Henry Webb, known professionally as Chick Webb, came from Baltimore in 1905, though the exact year is in dispute.
Webb started playing drums professionally when he was only 11 after being encouraged to play an instrument by his doctor.
He suffered crushed bones in his back from a fall down some as an infant, giving him a hunched appearance, and the doctor thought playing an instrument stairs could help relax his spine.
He led a band in Harlem at the young age of 17, and by 1931, he led the house band of the Savoy Ballroom.
Webb was one of the most famous swing bandleaders during the era alongside Benny Goodman, Count Basie, and Duke Ellington.
14. Bill Clifton
Country singer and guitarist Bill Clifton, whose real name is William August Marburg, grew up on a farm in Riderwood, Maryland.
He loved country music and discovered folk music as a student at the University of Virginia. He and two friends formed the Dixie Mountain Boys while in college, starting his love affair with bluegrass music.
His career paused while he served two years in the Marines, but only a few years later, he organized one of the first bluegrass festivals in the US in 1961.
He released over two dozen albums between 1960 and 2004.
15. Chris Rice
Contemporary Christian singer, pianist, and guitarist Chris Rice started writing songs in college and performing them on the guitar.
He spent 20 years writing and performing for Christian camps and assemblies at conferences and college campuses.
As well as performing, Rice has had a successful songwriting career, with many of his songs performed by artists like Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith, and John Tesh.
As a solo artist, he’s released gospel hymns and instrumental albums.
Summing Up Our List Of Great Maryland Musicians
Many of these famous musicians from Maryland are still alive and making music, but you can enjoy those who are gone, thanks to their music that endures and the many recordings on YouTube and other websites.
Whether you like gospel, bluegrass, country, jazz, rock, or emo instrumentals, Maryland-born musicians offer it all.
We hope you’ve found some music to love in this list.