Illinois’ rich musical heritage dates back to the mid to late 19y Century with Chicago being a center for the development of widely popular modern music genres. She is best known for developing the highly acclaimed electric blues (or Chicago style).
The music scene in Illinois grew dramatically during the early part of the twentieth centuryy century, and by 1950, musicians from Illinois began topping Billboard’s music charts. Since then, the Illinois music scene has produced many award-winning musicians. Let’s delve into the lives and careers of some of these notable personalities in this post. Let’s get into it:
Born in Champaign, Illinois, Christopher Brian Bridges, better known as Ludacris, spent his formative years in Atlanta.
He has been inclined to hip-hop music since a young age, starting to rap when he was just nine years old.
After graduating from high school, Ludacris went on to study at Georgia State University, where he completed his degree in Music Management.
In 1998, he made his rap debut on hip-hop producer Timbaland’s hit single “Fat Rabbit”.
He reached the height of his music career in 2006 when he won a Grammy for his album “Release Therapy”.
2. Bob Creator
Bob Cortor is a Chicago blues veteran and one of the most sought-after traditional blues harmonica players in the industry.
Coritor completed her Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from the University of Tulsa and later pursued an informal education in music.
He got his big break at the age of 23 when he performed alongside the likes of Lewis and Dave Myers.
Bob has received several awards, including a Blues Music Award and a Grammy Award nomination. These days, Bob hosts his radio show “Those London Blues” on KZZ.
3. Miles Davis
Miles Davis, referred to as “The Man Who Changed Music” by Rolling Stone, played a crucial role in the development of jazz.
He was born in Illinois, where he graduated from high school and then traveled to New York to study music at Juilliard School.
The famous jazz musician released the popular album, kinda blueAnd Many consider it the greatest jazz album in history.
His memorable quote sums up the impact he has had on music, “The way it changes and helps music is by trying to invent new ways of playing.”
4. Verden White (Earth, Wind and Fire)
Coming from a well-educated family in Chicago, Illinois, Verden White went against his parents’ wishes to pursue a career in music.
From a young age, the legend of earth, wind and fire developed an interest in learning straight bass.
During his teenage years, White performed at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. From there, he transitioned into the role of a professional electric bass player.
Throughout his career with the EWF, he has received numerous awards including, eight Grammy Awards and four American Music Awards.
5. Patti Smith
Patti Smith is a world famous singer, songwriter, and producer. Born in Chicago, Patti grew up as a teenager in New Jersey, where she studied and became interested in jazz and poetry.
The New York Times dubbed her the “punk godmother” because of her contributions to the genre.
In 2007, it was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum.
6. Benny Goodman
“The King of Swing,” as he is more commonly referred to, Benny Goodman was a famous clarinetist and conductor.
He gained great popularity in the 1930s when he led the first vocal group at Carnegie Hall.
He has attributed much of his success, as a clarinetist, to his childhood teacher, Franz Schwepp, a member of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
In 1986, Goodman received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award for his services to classical jazz.
7. Herbie Hancock
Born in Chicago, Illinois, Herbie Hancock started his love affair with music at a young age.
When he was 11 years old, Herbie played the piano for the Mozart Concerto with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and shocked everyone with his immense talent.
During his tenure with Donald Byrd’s trumpeter group in New York City, Herbie toured alongside jazz icon Miles Davis.
In his illustrious career spanning five decades, he has won 14 Grammy Awards.
8 – Alison Krause (Union Station)
Alison Krause began learning classical violin at the age of five and eventually moved to bluegrass.
She soon entered the role of violinist and won the Illinois State Fiddling Championship at the age of 12.
She won her first Grammy Award for her third album only. I have this old feeling.
Fast forward to 2012, Krauss earned 24y Grammys for her album with Union Station – the band with which she has shared many awards.
9. Donnie Hathaway
“The Legend of Soul,” as Rolling Stone magazine called it, Donnie Hathaway was one of the biggest names in soul music in the early 1970s.
In 1971, he teamed up with fellow Howard University classmate Roberta Flack, and the two went on a gold race, producing hit-by-hit hits.
Despite his successful career, Hathaway struggled with mental health issues, being found dead in his New York home in 1979.
10 – Peter Setera (Chicago)
Peter Setera, born in Illinois, was the lead singer of the popular pop/jazz and rock band Chicago.
During his time with the band, he appeared on 17 albums, three of which went platinum, and almost the rest went gold.
After leaving the group due to musical differences, Cetera went on to produce several Grammy-nominated albums.
His popular single “Glory of Love” from the sequel to the original Karate Kid continues to be a fan favorite.
11. Eddie Vader (Pearl Jam)
Eddie Vader grew up from the small town of Evanston, Illinois, to become the lead vocalist for the Seattle-based rock band Pearl Jam.
In 1994, Pearl Jam won a Grammy Award for its hit single, The black circle rotates.
In 2007, Eddie made his solo debut with a soundtrack for the movie and was a huge hit, pushing his career to new heights.
He published his second solo album, ukulele songs, in 2011.
12. Ray Menzarek (The Doors)
Ray Manzarek, originally from Chicago, moved to Los Angeles in 1962 to study film at the University of California.
In 1965, Manzarek with singer Jim Morrison, guitarist Robbie Krieger, and drummer John Dinsmore formed The Doors.
As a group, The Doors has received many awards. In 1993, they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
After an uphill battle with gallbladder cancer, the Dors keyboardist passed away in 2013.
13. Bruce Johnston (The Beach Boys)
Bruce Johnston, best known as the guitarist and keyboardist for the Beach Boys, was born on June 27, 1942 in Illinois.
Although he was born in Illinois, his family moved to Los Angeles where he grew up and studied classical piano with local bands.
He released several albums and singles, all of which contributed to his success. Bruce has had a notable career as a pop artist and is popularly associated with The Beach Boys.
14. Curtis Mayfield
Curtis Mayfield was a guitarist, violinist, singer, songwriter, and music producer.
He began his musical career with The Impression as a vocalist and guitarist and became the first African American to establish his own music company. In 1970, he left The Impressions to work as a solo artist.
After an accident, his entire body under his neck was paralyzed. This incident did not stop his growth, as he continued to act and was awarded a Grammy Award in 1995.
15. Mini Ripperton
Minnie Riperton went to Lincoln Center in Chicago to learn music and became an opera singer.
At the age of 15, she became associated with “The Gems” as the lead singer.
In 1970, she released her solo album, Come to my Garden. However, it was not a huge success.
Four years later, her album Perfect Angel was released, co-produced by her husband and a huge commercial success.
16. Robbie Steinhardt
Born in Chicago, Robbie Steinhardt worked as a violinist and vocalist for the rock band known as Kansas. However, he soon left the Kansas Band to form his own group.
Between 1990-1996 Steinhardt worked in the band Storm Bringer.
Furthermore, in 2020, he started working on his solo album with Michael T. Franklin, which was released posthumously in 2021.
17. Burleigh eves
Burl Ives was an actor, singer, and radio host. Initially, he was a popular singer with his debut single called Lavender Blue in 1949.
Eve has recorded albums for Britannica Films. During his late fifties, he released a large number of albums.
Later, his interest shifted to country music, with country music gaining a huge amount of success. It won a Grammy Award for Best Western Recording.
On April 14, 1995 he died of oral cancer.
18. Jennifer Hudson
And last, but by no means, we have Jennifer Hudson who is a famous singer and actress who was born in Chicago in 1981.
At the age of seven, she began singing for church choirs, and in her teens, she performed at music theaters and local talent shows.
In 2001, Jennifer studied music at Kennedy King College, and eight years later, she received a Grammy Award for her album Rhythm and Blues.
During 2017 and 2018, Jennifer performed as a trainer in a TV singing show known as “The Voice”. She is, to date, making significant contributions to the music industry.
Summing up our list of great musicians from Illinois
Although it is not the most globally recognized state that the United States has to offer, there have been quite a few notable musicians living within its borders.
We hope you now have a deeper appreciation for these musicians and their history.
If you notice a notable Illinois musician missing from our list, let us know!