Among the top 10 bands and artists from Maryland, odds are there are a few names that pop out the most as all-time greats that deserve mention. Those would be Philip Glass, Billie Holiday, and Frank Zappa. However, other legends such as Bob Lind, Tori Amos, and Toni Braxton also deserve mention. There were also a few great groups that called Maryland their home at one point in time or another. The list of bands and artists who stood out the most from the Free State earned their place as key movers and shakers in the music industry while they were in their prime. In many cases, even as the best of their recordings were behind them, their star power continued to shine as sources of inspiration for fans and peers alike.
10 Best Bands And Musical Artists From Maryland
#10 – Bob Lind
Bob Lind was born in Baltimore, Maryland on November 25, 1942, to parents who divorced each other five years later. His mother then married a man who served in the Air Force so this meant the family traveled extensively before finally settling in Denver, Colorado. His interest in folk music developed at a young age would serve as his reason to drop out of college and pursue a career choice that was more to his liking. He secured a recording contract with World Pacific Records in 1965 before recording and releasing “Elusive Butterfly” as his first single. At the same time, a cover version was released by Val Doonican in the United Kingdom.
For both musicians, it peaked as high as number five on the UK Singles Chart in 1966. On the US Billboard Hot 100, Lind’s version became a number-five hit as only his was released as a single in that nation. There was also another 1966 cover performance by Jane Morgan and it was her version that became a number nine hit on the US Billboard Adult Contemporary Songs Chart. While with World Pacific, Lind recorded and released two studio albums the first year he was there. Don’t Be Concerned was his most successful overall, which was followed by Photographs of Feeling.
From the first album, there was also Lind’s “Cheryl’s Goin’ Home,” a song that would be covered by a string of notable artists such as the Blues Project, the Cascades, and Sonny & Cher, just to name a few. This was just one of many compositions Lind wrote and performed that would be covered by a few hundred recording artists and the various genres they performed in. He was regarded as someone difficult to work with as the man contended with alcohol and drug-related addiction issues.
By the time 1969 was over, Lind left World Pacific and later signed up with Capitol Records. In 1971, Since There Were Circles was released as an album that earned critical approval but failed to win over enough fan interest to succeed commercially. It was enough for Lind to take a break from the music industry and opt to pursue a career in writing.
The inspiration came from, Lind’s friend, Charles Bukowski, a novelist who developed a character named Dinky Summers for his 1978 novel, Women. Summers was fashioned after Bob Lind and would also be featured in other books Bukowski wrote. By this time, Lind’s substance abuse issues were no longer a factor as he kicked these habits during the summer of 1977. Eleven years later, he moved to Florida. While there, he took up writing himself. Refuge was a screenplay he wrote that won the Florida Screenwriters’ Competition in 1991. It was one of many Lind wrote that became successful. He also became a staff writer for Sun and Weekly World News.
In 2004, Lind decided it was time to return to music that would have him embark on a concert tour. In 2006, RPM Records reissued Since There Were Circles. At the same time, Lind independently released Live at Luna Star, a recording that happened to feature new musical material. These were followed with the 2007 release of the compilation album, Elusive Butterfly: The Complete 1966 Jack Nitzsche Sessions. The impact Lind made as a recording artist influenced the British rock group, Pulp, to name one of its songs “Bob Lind (The Only Way Is Down).” This, along with its cover version of “Cool Summer,” was the group’s personal tribute to a man who served as its source of inspiration.
The Colorado Music Hall of Fame inducted Bob Lind in 2013. Six years later, the Maryland Entertainment Hall of Fame did the same. In 2022, Ace Records released Bob Lind’s eighth album, Something Worse Than Loneliness. With all new material, this was regarded as one of Lind’s best works as a recording artist. It demonstrated even at seventy years young, Lind still has it in him to produce world-class music.
#9 – Jimmie’s Chicken Shack
Baltimore’s Jimmie’s Chicken Shack got its start as a recording artist in Baltimore’s Hound Sound when Chicken Scratch was recorded and released on cassette tapes by Mark Strazza in 1993. It cost them six hundred dollars to do it. This was followed by 1994’s Spin Burger Lottery, a recording made by Mike Forjione. After this, it was 1995’s 2 For 1, which featured the songs from both songs and put into CD format. This was followed by a live album, Giving Something Back.
This one featured a series of live concert recordings the group performed in various venues around town. The start of Jimmie’s Chicken Shack started with an artist from Annapolis, Maryland who named himself Jimi Haha. What he and his bandmates performed was alternative rock.
The most popular single to its credit was “High,” a 1996 release after signing with Elton John’s Rocket Records label. This song came from …Pushing the Salmanilla Envelope, Jimmie’s Chicken Shack’s debut album. It also produced three other songs that became fan favorites, “Dropping Anchor,” “Blood,” and “Another Day.” “High” became a number ten hit on the US Billboard Mainstream Rock Chart while “Dropping Anchor” peaked as high as number thirty-three.
Before leaving Rocket Records/Island Def Jam, Jimmie’s Chicken Shack produced its next album, Bring Your Own Stereo. This 1999 release wasn’t easy to come by as there was a conflict going on between Jimi Haha’s bandmates that resulted in lineup changes. However, Jimmie’s Chicken Shack was able to produce a hit with “Do Right,” a single that peaked as high as number twelve on the US Billboard Modern Rock Chart.
After the release of Bring Your Own Stereo, Jimmie’s Chicken Shack had some trouble with Island Def Jam before Jimi Haha was able to take his band to Koch as its new label. This brought forth 2004’s re.present, before moving on to Fowl Records and releasing 2008’s Fail on Cue, and 2022’s 2esconds. Out of the collection of Jimmie’s Chicken Shack’s nine albums and two EPs, the group released seven singles. Three of them became US Billboard hits as Jimmie’s Chicken Shack’s style of music often toyed with wording like it was an art form.
# 8 – Kix
Kix founders, Donnie Purnell and Ronnie “10/10” Younkins underwent a few different names before finally settling with a name fans would identify with most in March 1977. After performing a few gigs in Hagerstown and Frederick, the duo would expand its roster, bringing in drummer Jimmy “Chocolate” Chalfant, guitarist Brian “Damage” Forsythe, and frontman Steve Whiteman. This marked the classic lineup that earned a recording contract with Atlantic Records and released its debut album, Kix. Fan favorite hits such as “Atomic Bombs,” “Love at First Sight,” “The Itch,” and “Yeah, Yeah, Yeah” were on the tracklist. Upon the release of this recording, fans who hadn’t heard the band live previously got a taste of its cheeky rock music style.
In 1983, Cool Kids was the group’s follow-up album and it featured “Body Talk,” a cover from Nick Glider’s 1981 original. Unlike Kix’s debut album, Cool Kids was engineered as a label pleaser. “Restless Blood” and “Mighty Mouth” were two singles on the album that became fan favorites. At the time, Younkins was briefly out of the lineup and the guitarist who took his place was Brad Divens.
Going into the third album, Dynamite, Younkins was back and Kix focused on returning to the hard rock sound that got the band noticed in the first place. This 1985 release ushered out two hit singles on the US Billboard Mainstream Rock Chart. The first was “Midnight Dynamite,” which peaked as high as number eighteen. The second was “Cold Shower,” which peaked as high as number twenty-three. Two other fan favorites from the album were “Bang Bang (Balls of Fire)” and “Sex.”
The year that witnessed Kix experienced its big breakthrough was 1988. The group’s fourth studio album, Blow My Fuse produced the power ballad, “Don’t Close Your Eyes.” It became a number eleven hit on the US Billboard Hot 100 and it played a key role for the album to become certified platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America. Its title track also faired well, as did “Cold Blood.” All three songs benefited from the 1989 DVD release, Blow My Fuse: The Videos.
Thanks to the commercial success of the album and the DVD, Kix was able to perform in larger venues. This was followed by 1991’s Hot Wire and its single, “Girl Money.” Unlike its predecessor, this failed to win as big of an impression on the fans but Kix’s popularity was still at its peak. In 1993, Kix released Live, an album that featured a performance the group made at the University of Maryland, College Park. It would be at this time Forsythe left the lineup and was replaced by Jiimi K. Bones.
After Kix and Atlantic Records parted ways in 1994, the group signed up with CMC International and released $how Bu$ine$$ as its next album. Its tracklist was loaded with innuendos as the group continued to play tongue-in-cheek, lighthearted rock. After this, the band members of Kix went their separate ways to pursue solo projects. It wouldn’t be until late 2003 that would unite most of the classic Kix lineup again.
Missing this reunion was the band’s co-founder and primary songwriter, Donnie Purnell. Taking his place was Mark Schenker. In 2012, Live in Baltimore was released as Kix’s second live album after signing up with Frontiers Records as its new label. This was followed in 2014 with Kix’s seventh and final studio recording, Rock Your Face Off. Kix continued to perform after this until the roster decided to go their separate ways a second time in 2023.
# 7 – Animal Collective
Out of Baltimore was an experimental pop group known as Animal Collective. Childhood buddies Josh Dibb and Noah Lennox met as second graders and established a solid friendship that lasted even after they were separated from different high schools as teenagers. Dibb remained in Baltimore while Lennox was moved to Waldorf, Pennsylvania. Dibb met and befriended David Portner while the two attended The Park School of Baltimore.
During this time, Brian Weitz moved from Philadelphia to Baltimore County and attended the same school as Dibb and Portner. He became friends with Portner and the two played music together as they shared the same musical interests and a love for horror movies. The two covered music from Pavement and The Cure, as well as Bell Biv DeVoe and Terry Jacks. These two started a rock band with fellow schoolmates, Brendan Fowler and David Shpritz. The young men called themselves Automine and released Paddington Band in 1995.
After experimenting with drugs such as LSD, the band members started to dive into psychedelic rock after they were inspired by bands such as Can, Climax Golden Twins, and Silver Apples. It would be at this time Dibb introduced his childhood friend, Lennox, to his high school buddies, Portner and Weitz. These four would share ideas based on the experiences they learned while performing with other bands. At the time, Portner and Weitz formed a duo act called Wendy Darling. The two developed an experimental sound that was inspired by horror movie soundtracks.
As soon as the men’s high school days were over, Dibb and Lennox went to different colleges in Boston in 1997 while Portner and Weitz did the same in New York City. From Boston, Dibband Lennox debuted with Panda Bear. Meanwhile, Portner and Weitz returned to Maryland every summer to meet with Dibband Lennox to play music together. It would be at this time Portner was working on a record where he asked Lennox to play drums for him. All four band members recorded music for an album that would be released in 2000 as Avey Tare and Panda Bear.
During the summer of 2000, Dibb, Lennox, Portner, and Weitz played music together out of Portner’s apartment in New York City. Together, they’d experiment with different instruments and household objects to establish unique musical sounds. This was all recorded but was stolen when Portner switched apartments and had his car packed up the night before moving. It would be at this time Dave Portner met a university classmate named Eric Copeland.
It was he who helped Portner and his bandmates complete what became Animal Collective’s debut album, Spirit They’re Gone, Spirit They’ve Vanished. Upon the completion of this album, Dibb and Lennox left their colleges in Boston for New York. Together, these men began to sport makeup and masks as part of their act whenever performing before a live audience. This would become the band’s trademark during the first part of its career before feeling it was too gimmicky. However, Weitz continued to wear a headlamp during live performances as this was his signature trademark since the very beginning.
Before Animal Collective became an official name for the band, it was mostly Lennox and Portner who performed as a duo act before Weitz turned it into a trio near the end of 2000. This can be featured on 2001’s Danse Manatee as a live album that was credited to Avey Tare, Panda Bear and Geologist. Sometimes, the three men called themselves Forest Children. It was during this time the trio met with another band, Black Dice, and learned much from them as they toured together in 2001. 2002’s live album, Hollinndagain was a limited-release recording, first by Secretly Canadian, then as a reissue in 2006 by Paw Tracks.
By this time, Dibb was now on board that expanded the band’s roster to four. Together, they released Campfire Songs in 2003. After this, it was 2003’s Here Comes the Indian, an album that met with a series of challenges that would continue to plague the band even after it went on tour. This album, as well as Campfire Songs, led the band’s lineup to officially adopt Animal Collective as its monicker before signing up with Fat Cats Records.
Now with a bigger label, Lennox and Portner opted to come up with an album that wasn’t as complex as Here Comes the Indian was. The men composed new musical material before touring around the world before returning to America to have it recorded in 2004 as Sung Tongs. This was before they were joined by Dibb and Weitz to record and release 2005’s Feels. This led to 2006’s People in Australia through its label, Spunk Records, before it was released as an EP worldwide.
Between 2006 and 2007, Animal Collective experienced a combination of events that seemed to keep getting in the way of this group’s ability to fully capitalize on its growing fame. However, on July 4, 2007, released online Strawberry Jam. It received rave reviews from critics and quickly won the attention of fans all over the world, especially for its single, “Peacebone.”
This was followed by 2008’s EP, Water Curses, and its title track as digital releases. After this, it was 2009’s Merriweather Post Pavilion as the group’s next album. This became the Animal Collective’s most commercially successful album as it peaked as high as number thirteen on the US Billboard 200 and sold over two hundred thousand copies. The most popular singles from that album were “My Girl” and “Summertime Clothes.” As a band, Animal Collective made its impact as one of the key influencers of independent experimental rock during the first decade of the twenty-first century.
#6 – Toni Braxton
One of the most popular recording artists from Maryland was Toni Braxton. She was born in Severn on October 7, 1967, as the eldest of six siblings. The children were all brought up in a religious household as the father was a Methodist clergyman and the mother was a pastor, just like her father was. Toni, along with her younger brother and sisters, sang in the church choir while growing up.
When Braxton attended Maryland’s Bowie State University to earn a teaching degree, she was discovered by a talent agent who listened to her sing while filling up for fuel at a gas station. This led to the young woman’s decision to make a career option change that take her out of college and put her on a path that would involve her sisters, Traci Renee, Towanda Chloe, Trina Evette, and Tamar Estine. Together, they formed The Braxtons as they signed up with Arista Records in 1989.
In 1990, the women released “Good Life” as their debut single with Toni Braxton performing as lead vocalist. It wasn’t as successful as hoped but it did win over the attention of an executive named Antonio “L.A.” Reid and record producer Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds. The men recruited Toni Braxton to record a demo of “Love Shoulda Brought You Home,” a song that was written with the intent for Anita Baker to perform for the soundtrack belonging to the 2002 movie, Boomerang. However, Baker was pregnant at the time and it was suggested Braxton record it, which she did. Braxton also recorded a duet with Babyface, “Give U My Heart.”
After the success of the two singles for Eddy Murphy’s hit movie, Braxton’s recording contract with LaFace Records led to the 1993 release of her debut album. This self-titled recording became a number-one seller on the US Billboard 200. It was also very popular worldwide, thanks to its first single, “Another Sad Love Song.” This was a number seven hit on the US Billboard Hot 100 and a number two hit on the US Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles chart.
The follow-up single, “Breathe Again,” also became a huge hit, as did “You Mean the World to Me,” “Seven Whole Days,” and “I Belong to You/How Many Ways.” This recording earned Braxton three Grammy Awards, namely for Best New Artist and two awards for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance. In 1994, it was for “Another Sad Love Song” and in 1995, for “Breathe Again.” She also won Favorite Soul/R&B New Artist and Favorite New Adult Contemporary Artist at the American Music Awards in 1994, then Favorite Soul/R&B Album in 1995. Toni Braxton became a multi-platinum seller across the world, including earning this achievement eight times in the US alone.
After the success of Toni Braxton’s debut, Secrets was a 1996 release as her second album. For the second time, she teamed with Babyface. She also worked with David Foster and this also became one of her most successful albums as it too became certified platinum many times over. This one outsold its predecessor by five million copies and it also gave Braxton more huge hits such as “You’re Makin’ Me High” and “Un-Break My Heart.”
These became number-one hits on the US Billboard Hot 100, as well as many other official music charts worldwide. Braxton would also go on to win additional Grammy Awards, this time for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance for “Un-Break My Heart” and Best Female R&B Vocal Performance for “You’re Makin’ Me High.” She also won two more American Music Awards, namely for Favorite Female Soul/R&B Artist and Favorite Soul/R&B Album.
As successful as she was, Braxton had yet to receive financial rewards for her work. She attempted to file a lawsuit against Arista and LaFace but this failed to give her the results she sought. She wound up filing for bankruptcy which sparked outrage among her fans as soon as they found out about it. It wouldn’t be until 1999 that the dispute she had against LaFace Records would be settled and she’d get all of her possessions back. Despite this drama, Braxton continued to perform. In 1998, she appeared in two Disney Broadway productions, the first in 1998 as Belle in Beauty and the Beast. Braxton made history by becoming the first black woman to hold the leading role of the popular story’s lead character.
In 2000, The Heat was released as Toni Braxton’s third studio album. This was also a LaFace Records production as she signed a new contract with them that was valued at twenty million dollars. This time, she had more say in its content, allowing her to adopt a more urbanized sound. This one became double platinum with the RIAA and sold over four million copies worldwide. Its hit single, “He Wasn’t Man Enough” became another Grammy Award winner for Braxton as she earned Best Female R&B Vocal Performance. After this, she made her debut as an actress in the 2001 comedy, Kingdom Come
. It was an ensemble cast that featured LL Cool J, Whoopi Goldberg, and Jada Pinkett Smith. She also released a Christmas album that year, Snowflakes. It was a mix of original R&B music and remixed versions of seasonal classics that sold enough copies to become certified gold by the RIAA. This faired better than Braxton’s fourth studio album, More Than a Woman. Its 2002 release, along with “Hit the Freeway” didn’t make the kind of impact it deserved as Arista Records ignored a pregnant Braxton’s plea to hold off until after she gave birth to her second child. The album did become RIAA-certified gold, however, as it managed to sell over eight hundred thousand copies in the US. Nevertheless, Braxton had enough and left Arista in 2003 and signed up with Blackground Records.
2003 marked the release of “Please” as the first single from her album, Libra. This one also became certified gold by the RIAA. Three years later, Braxton took up residency in Las Vegas, Nevada, as Wayne Newton’s replacement at the starring act for Flamingo Las Vegas. The show was titled Toni Braxton: Revealed, and it lasted until 2008, the year she was diagnosed with microvascular angina, a heart-related condition that required the singer to focus on her health first and foremost. Overall, the first decade of the twenty-first century for Braxton met with a combination of financial, legal, and medical issues that really didn’t seem to ease up until 2012.
This was the year she released a standalone single, “I Heart You.” It became a number-one hit on the US Billboard Dance Club Songs chart. After this, Braxton teamed up with Babyface in 2013 to work on the collaborative album, Love, Marriage & Divorce. It was released in 2014 by Motown Records and it received favorable reviews from music critics and was an instant fan favorite. In 2015, it won a Grammy Award for Best R&B Album. As for its hit single, “Hurt You,” this became a number-one hit on the US Billboard Adult R&B Songs chart.
What made Braxton stand out was the versatility of her vocal performances. No matter who the audience Braxton had no trouble winning them over between a string of upbeat dance hits and soulful ballads. Her influence in the R&B genre was enough to achieve superstardom while at the same time winning over members of the hip-hop generation. Overall, Braxton has sold over seventy million records, making her one of the best-selling recording artists of all time. In addition to making a name for herself as a vocalist, she was also noted for her fashion trends as she was often seen wearing dresses that featured high splits. The legacy of Braxton’s music career so far boasts nine studio albums and a collaborative album as a solo artist. She also appeared in seven movies and six television shows.
#5 – Good Charlotte
Out of Waldorf is an American rock group that was founded as Good Charlotte in 1996. Twin brothers Benji and Joel Madden were inspired to form their own rock group after they were inspired by the Beastie Boys. As soon as the boys graduated from high school in 1997, they opted to focus on forming a rock band instead of pursuing college. It would be at this time Joel Madden’s homecoming date was a sister to a bassist named Paul Thomas. The attempt he and his brother made to impress him didn’t work so they moved on and recruited fellow schoolmate, Aaron Escolopio to serve as their drummer. The trio played in clubs in the D.C. area before moving to Annapolis, Maryland. The trio named itself Good Charlotte after the children’s book, Good Charlotte: Girls of the Good Day Orphanage, written by Carol Beach York.
While in Annapolis, Good Charlotte was noticed by a guitarist named Billy Martin. At the time, he was part of Jimi Haha’s Jimmie’s Chicken Shack lineup. Martin befriended the Maddens and had them move in with him after they were evicted from their apartment. These three, along with Escolopio, shared a common interest in an Australian rock group known as Silverchair. Together, they wrote and recorded songs that would soon build a fan base after supporting bands such as Bad Religion, Blink-182, and Lit in concert. In 1999, the group’s first major break took place after leaving a demo of “Little Things” in Philadelphia after opening up for Save Ferris. It received enough attention to earn Good Charlotte a contract with Daylight Records and Epic Records.
In 2000, Good Charlotte debuted as the group’s first studio album that met with positive reviews. It was followed in 2002 with The Young and the Hopeless. It would be this album that would serve as the big breakthrough, thanks to “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous,” “The Anthem,” and “Girls & Boys.” It sold over three million copies and became triple platinum by the RIAA. After this, it was 2004’s The Chronicles of Life and Death, an album that took a much darker turn with its musical content.
This one featured “Predictable” and “I Just Wanna Live.” This new sound didn’t hurt Good Charlotte’s popularity level at all as it achieved platinum status with the RIAA after selling over one million copies. In 2007, Good Charlotte shifted its musical sound again with Good Morning Revival. This was a dance-punk album that became popular enough to become platinum in Australia, gold in Canada and New Zealand, and silver in the UK. It was also popular with the American dance crowd who found “The River,” “Dance Floor Anthem,” and “Keep Your Hands Off My Girl” their personal favorites.
In 2010, Cardiology was next as an album that had Good Charlotte return to its punk-pop format before taking a four-year break from recording. This came about after signing up with Capitol Records and it met with mixed reviews. It also wasn’t quite as commercially successful as the group’s previous albums. In 2016, the group made its big comeback with Youth Authority as this one met with positive feedback from music critics. In 2018, this was followed by Generation Rx.
Altogether, Good Charlotte released seven studio albums and has enjoyed a music career that has earned trophies from the MTV Australia Awards, the MTV Europe Music Awards, the MTV Video Music Awards, and Canada’s MuchMusic Video Awards. The group’s most recognized single has been “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” as it won Best Single with the Kerrang! Awards in 2003 and the Viewer’s Choice Award with the MTV Video Music Awards. Another classic favorite has been “The Anthem,” as its music video won awards in Canada and Japan in 2003 and 2004 as fan favorites.
#4 – Philip Glass
Born on January 31, 1937, in Baltimore was Philip Glass. Fans of this world-famous pianist also recognize him as one of the most influential composers of his time. His musical style often focused on repetitive phrases, a minimalist trademark he used when he founded and managed the Philip Glass Ensemble. Although he no longer performs today, his legacy continues with this ensemble.
Altogether, the man wrote fifteen operas and countless chamber operas and musical theatre productions. He also has fourteen symphonies credited to his name, as well as twelve concertos and nine string quartets. He was also a favorite when it came to composing film score music. All of these achievements came from a man whose upbringing had a record store owner for a father and a librarian for a mother.
Glass’s father earned a reputation in Baltimore as the leading source of modern music. This played a significant impact on Glass’s desire to become a musician. Schubert was among Glass’s personal favorites as the man’s classical piano inspired the young man to become a musician himself. He was also a fan of the string quartet music Beethoven was known for. Classical music was Glass’s first love as he learned to play the flute when he was a small child attending the Peabody Institute of Music.
When he was fifteen years old, he entered a college program at the University of Chicago. While there, Glass studied mathematics, music, and philosophy. In 1954, he went to Paris, France and it would be during his time there that he became a fan of Jean Cocteau’s Bohemian-style film work.
After Paris, Glass attended New York’s Juilliard School of Music where his main musical instrument was the keyboards. Attending the same school with him at the time were Steve Reich and Peter Schickele. Their composition instructors were William Bergsma and Vincent Persichetti. In 1959, Philip Glass earned the BMI Foundation’s Student Composer Award before leaving Juilliard in 1962 for Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. While there, he worked for a school as its residential composer who specialized in various chamber, choral, and orchestra music.
As soon as Glass received a scholarship in 1964, he relocated back to Paris where he continued to study classical music. Glass’s fondness for classical music and French film enabled him to meet a collection of well-established American actors, directors, and visual artists. This sparked his interest in starting an experimental theater group known as Mabou Mines. One of the Americans he met, JoAnne Akalaitis, became Glass’s wife in 1965. After learning and perfecting the art of composing and playing music in France, Philip Glass traveled to northern India in 1966. After meeting with Tibetan refugees, he found himself drawn to Buddhism and became a solid supporter of Tibetan independence ever since.
In 1967, Glass returned to New York and attended the Piano Phase minimalist piece performed by his former schoolmate, Steve Reich. This left such an impression on Glass that he simplified his own music style. By the time 1968 was over, Glass composed nine musical works. 1967’s Strung Out and 1968’s Gradus were among his finest, as was 1968’s Music in the Shape of a Square. The first concert featuring Glass’s new music was held in September 1968 at Jonas Mekas’s Film-Makers Cinematheque.
Strung Out was performed by violinist Pixley-Rothschild while Music in the Shape of a Square was performed by Glass and Jon Gibson. This concert was well-received by the audience as they were taken in by the visual art that came with the music. This was followed by 1+1 and Two Pages in 1969. These compositions had him focus more on minimalism as a technique for his music. He later released Music in Contrary Motion and Music in Fifths later in the year.
During the late 1960s, Philip Glass and his orchestra were on the receiving end of hostility from music critics. However, they were winning a fan base with a younger audience that included David Bowie and Brian Eno. Going into the 1970s, it was Music in Twelve Parts as a four-hour-long performance. This served as one of many examples where Glass stood out as a classical musician who had a knack for compositions that would influence a wide variety of musical genres including ambient, electronic, and rock.
1992’s Low and 1996’s Heroes were themes Glass drew from David Bowie’s eleventh studio album, Low. Bowie’s 1976 recording featured “Heroes,” a song from an album that became the first part of the Berlin Trilogy. Bowie, along with Eno and Toni Visconti, put this album together in France while he struggled to kick his drug addiction.
As a composer, Glass has collaborated with other world-class recording artists such as Leonard Cohen, Paul Simon, and Suzanne Vega. He also remixed tracks from artists such as S’Express with 1989’s “Hey Music Lover” and Apex Twin with 1995’s “Icct Hedral” on his Donkey Rhubarb EP. He also worked and produced works with legends such as Woody Allen, Iggy Pop, and Tangerine Dream.
He also composed music for several films, starting with 1982’s Koyaanisqatsi. In 1997, Kundrun was a movie about the Dalai Lama and it became Glass’s first Academy Award nomination. In 2002, his musical composition for The Hours earned him his second Academy Award nomination. Although he didn’t win either time, Phillip Glass continued to remain a favorite when it came to musical scores for film production.
#3 – Tori Amos
Tori Amos was born on August 22, 1963, in Newton, North Carolina, and was named Mary Ellen. When she was two years old, the family moved to Baltimore, Maryland as her father moved his Methodist ministry there. Tori learned how to play the piano, just as her siblings did, but did so on her own without requiring lessons. Even at two years old, she could play back musical pieces as soon as she heard it once. By the time she was three years old, she was able to compose her own songs.
What Tori Amos became was a child prodigy whose chromesthesia enabled her to see music as structures of light. This made it easy for her to learn at such a young age. Because of this, Tori Amos became the youngest student admitted to the Peabody Institute’s preparatory division. She was five years old. From 1968 until 1974, she studied classical piano until her scholarship was discontinued, and was asked to leave. It was later concluded by Amos the reason behind the termination was because of her interest in popular music and her disinterest in reading from sheet music.
In 1977, Tori Amos won a teen talent contest after singing “More Than Just a Friend.” She also co-wrote “Baltimore” as a song with her brother, Mike Amos. This was a competition held involving the Baltimore Orioles baseball team. Although the song didn’t win the contest, it became her first single that would be pressed and released for family and friends in 1980. It would be after this that Amos took in “Tori” as her stage name after she was told she looked like a Torrey pine tree.
When she was seventeen years old, Amos made demo tapes that would be sent out with the hope of securing a recording contract. This took place with Atlantic Records and in 1984, Amos moved to Los Angeles, California, to further develop her musical career. While there, she formed a musical group in 1986 called Y Kant Tori Read, a name that stated the reality she had trouble with sight reading. One of the members of this group was a guitarist named Steve Caton. It was he who played music on all of Amos’s studio albums until 1999.
There was also Matt Sorum as her drummer and Brad Cobb as her bass player. At the time, Amos encountered a series of issues with the label’s executive team as their interference served as a distraction from being able to compose and play music without interruption. Eventually, Y Kant Tori Read was released as an album in 1988 and it was a project she was happy with at the time. Since then, not so much as it was deemed a commercial failure and it caused her band to break apart.
Moving forward, Tori Amos continued recording as the contract she signed with Atlantic Record was for six albums. There was a demand to have a new album to be ready by March 1990 but Amos met with another string of issues before Little Earthquakes was ready to be released. The tracklist served as an autobiography of Tori Amos that would become her breakthrough as a recording artist.
It was slow going at first but after “Silent All These Years” was released as a single and music video, the momentum picked up. After this, it was Under the Pink, a 1994 release that met with critical and commercial favor. It sold enough copies to become double platinum with the RIAA, as well as single platinum in the UK. The album was also certified gold in Canada and the Netherlands.
In 1996, it was Boys for Pele and its first single, “Caught a Lite Sneeze.” This was a recording that made history as “Caught a Lite Sneeze” was the first full song that streamed online before its album was released. What made the album stand out was the acoustics of a church in Ireland that Tori Amos took advantage of while there. The critics had mixed reviews about it but the fans in the United Kingdom loved it. So did the Americans as it went on to sell enough to become platinum with the RIAA.
The UK’s BPI certified it gold, as did Australia and Canada. If there was anything Tori Amos learned from this experience was the need to have her own recording studio. As a resident of Cornwall, UK, Amos converted her barn into Martian Engineering Studios. After this, 1998’s From the Choirgirl Hotel and 1999’s To Venus and Back shifted from the trademark acoustic songs Amos was known for in favor of dance and electronica.
After Tori Amos was done with Atlantic Records, she switched to Epic Records and released three studio albums with this label. Scarlet’s Walk came out in 2002 and was followed by 2005’s The Beekeer and 2007’s American Doll Posse. These joined the ranks of her previous albums as fan favorites that made a top ten debut on various album charts, especially in the UK. After this, Amos had the desire to have more creative control over her music and pushed to end her contract with Epic.
She signed a joint venture deal with Universal Republic Records that would see two more albums released, both in 2009. The first was Abnormally Attracted to Sin and the second was Midwinter Graces. After these, it was 2011’s Night of Hunters, an album that made history as the first female-produced album to place a top ten rank on the album charts belonging to alternative, classical, and rock genres at the same time.
Altogether, Tori Amos has recorded and released sixteen studio albums as a solo artist, three compilation albums, and two live albums. She also has six EPs, eight video albums, and forty singles. Among them, “God” from Under the Pink and “Spark” from From the Choirgirl Hotel were the most popular fans of Amos identified with the most when they were released at the time. “God” became the first US Billboard Hot 100 hit for Amos as it charted at number seventy-two. It was a number-one hit on the US Billboard Alternative Airplay chart. “Spark” was the electrified dance number that peaked as high as number forty-nine on the Hot 100. Overall, what made Tori Amos stand out was the sharing of who she was as an artist and as a person to a fan base where many looked upon her as a hero.
#2 – Billie Holiday
She was born Eleanora Fagan on April 7, 1915, in Philadelphia to an unwed teenage couple, Clarence Halliday and Sarah Julie “Sadie” Fagan. A pregnant Fagan was kicked out of her family’s home, which was in Baltimore, Maryland. She moved to Philadelphia as a result and then made arrangements for her newborn daughter to stay with Eva Miller in Baltimore. Sarah Fagan became a single parent after Halliday abandoned her and their daughter to embark on a career as a jazz musician.
Miller was Fagan’s older half-sister who was already married and had a more stable life going on for herself. Even though she married in 1920, it ended in divorce two years later. This didn’t help Eleanora any as it made her childhood a difficult one to grow up in. Her mother was away often as she took on transportation jobs for the railroad. The baby girl was raised mostly by Miller’s mother-in-law, Martha Miller, throughout the first ten years of her life.
On two separate occasions, Eleanora stayed at a Catholic reform school for African-American girls. The first time was in 1925 for skipping school and the second was in 1926 as the victim of an attempted rape. In 1927, at twelve years old, she was released from the school again. In order to help make ends meet, she worked a series of jobs that included running errands for a brothel and cleaning the floors of neighborhood homes. During this time, she listened to records that were playing music from Louis Armstrong and Bessie Smith. In 1928, Sarah Fagan left her daughter behind as she moved to Harlem, New York. Eleanora would move in less than a year later.
Once in Harlem, Eleanora sang in nightclubs under the pseudonym Billie Halliday. The first name came from Billie Dove, an actress Eleanora was a fan of. The second name was after her the man whom she was told was her father. However, she’d later alter the spelling from Halliday to Billie Holiday for the sake of having her own identity apart from his. As a singer, she teamed up with a neighboring saxophonist named Kenneth Hollan. The two performed as a duo from 1929 until 1931 as they performed in different clubs.
It didn’t take long before Holiday’s reputation as a vocalist with star quality grew. By 1933, Billie Holiday had the team of Benny Goodman and John Hammond focus on turning her into a recording star. The first song she recorded was “Your Mother’s Son-In-Law” and the second was “Riffin’ the Scotch.” “Your Mother’s Son-In-Law” became a hit and it was enough for Hammond to realize this was a young woman who was a jazz genius in the making.
Hammond had Billie Holiday signed to Brunswick to record some swing-style tunes with Teddy Wilson in order to get in on the growing trend of the jukebox trade. The two were allowed to improve as they performed so they did. “What a Little Moonlight Can Do” and “Miss Brown to You” were two songs Billie Holiday performed that won over an audience as her first breakthrough as a recording artist. At first, Brunswick Records didn’t care for the recording as the label wanted Holiday to sound like Cleo Brown.
However, it was realized Billie Holiday had it in her to become her own star with her own brand of music. This led to recording sessions between 1935 and 1938 that had Billie Holiday and Wilson prove to be a valuable asset to Brunswick. At the time, Brunswick’s financial limitations had Billie Holiday paid a flat fee instead of earning royalties. While with the label, “I Cried for You” became a big hit for Brunswick as it sold fifteen thousand copies.
Another powerful asset that boosted Holiday’s career was a saxophonist named Lester Young. He stayed in her mother’s house in 1934 and built a solid rapport with Billie Holiday as she rose to fame. As a singer, Billie Holiday specialized in tunes as a lady having little luck in the romance department. Songs like “I Can’t Get Started” and “Summertime” were among her biggest hits between 1936 and 1937. 1936’s “Summertime” was a 1935 George Gershwin original from Porgy and Bess. After this, Holiday briefly performed with Count Basie and his band in 1937 which produced “I Can’t Get Started” and “They Can’t Take That Away from Me.” While Basie himself wasn’t present in the recording studio at the time, his musicians were.
As a performer, Billie Holiday’s singing rival was Ella Fitzgerald. Despite the two being in competition against each other as performers, they ultimately became friends. In 1938, Billie Holiday was hired by Artie Shaw shortly after she was let go from Basie’s group. This was a historical moment as Billie Holiday became the first black woman to work with a white orchestra. She was also the first black female vocalist to be employed full-time as they toured the segregated American South.
As to be expected, there were racial tensions that often had Shaw stand up for Billie Holiday. However, some members of the audience couldn’t help themselves as they heckled her. However, racism wasn’t just isolated in the South. This was pretty much everywhere she went. It was even felt as a recording artist as her contract with a different label than Shaw’s allowed her to only make one record with him. “Any Old Time” would be it but it wouldn’t be the only time the two recorded music together. When she recorded four songs in New York on July 10, 1936, Shaw played the clarinet for “Did I Remember?,” “No Regrets,” “Summertime,” and “Billie’s Blues.”
There was also “Easy Living” a 1937 recording that joined “What a Little Moonlight Can Do” as one of her most covered songs by singers across America and has both become jazz standards since then. So did 1938’s “I’m Gonna Lock My Heart.” After this, it was 1939’s “Strange Fruit,” a song based on Abel Meeropol’s poem about lynching. This was an emotional number she performed with the memory of her deceased father in mind. Racism was blamed for his true cause of death instead of the fatal lung disorder he was supposed to be treated for.
“Strange Fruit” became one of Billie Holiday’s signature songs. However, the hit music didn’t stop there. She also proceeded to record more classics such as “I Cover the Waterfront,” “I’ll Get By,” and “He’s Funny That Way.” These three featured Teddy Wilson as Holiday’s recording partner. There was also her cover version of “Embraceable You,” a George Gershwin classic written for a 1928 unpublished opera before it was recorded by Ginger Rogers. Holiday’s 1944 version would be one of nine songs inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2005.
All the way up to 1959, Billie Holiday was the voice that graced the ears of so many music fans with her jazzy style. This was the year the world learned she had cirrhosis of the liver, a condition that was brought on due to excessive drinking. On July 17, 1959, she breathed her last breath due to heart failure that was caused by her condition. However, that didn’t put an end to her popularity. There were dedications and tributes that gave the woman the recognition she deserved.
The legacy of Billie Holiday includes receiving several awards and accolades throughout her lifetime and beyond. In 1973, she was posthumously inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. The other eight songs that joined “Embraceable You” are 1937’s “My Man,” 1939’s “Strange Fruit,” 1941’s “(In My) Solitude” and “God Bless the Child,” 1945’s “Lover Man (Oh Where Can You Be?),” 1949’s “Crazy He Calls Me,” 1956’s “Lady Sings the Blues,” and 1958’s “Lady in Satin.” In 1985, there was a statue of Billie Holiday erected in Baltimore. Three years later, the Irish rock band, U2, released a hit song, “Angel of Harlem” as its way of paying homage to one of the greatest singers who ever lived.
#1 – Frank Zappa
There are few rock music fans who haven’t heard of Frank Zappa. The man was born on December 21, 1940, in Baltimore as the eldest of four children in an Italian-American household. His father was a chemist and mathematician who worked in the defense industry. The family moved around often but settled back again in Maryland where his father worked at the chemical warfare facility of the Aberdeen Proving Ground run by the United States Army. Because the Zappa’s home was close to this location and its storage of mustard gas, specialized masks were kept in the home just in case there was an accident.
While growing up, Zappa was exposed to mercury-filled lab equipment that was brought by his father from the job for him to play with. This played a factor in Zappa being diagnosed with terminal prostate cancer in 1990 that would claim his life three years later. As a child, he was sick often as dealt with asthma, earaches, and sinus-related problems. While living in Baltimore, Zappa’s health was deteriorating so he and his family moved to Monterey, California, in 1952, then to San Diego.
It was while in San Diego Zappa took up drumming and joined the Mission Bay High School band. He was also given a phonograph by his parents which played a role in his growing interest in music. He began a record collection that featured musical material from R&B artists such as Johnny “Guitar” Watson and Guitar Slim. He also was a fan of doo-wop groups such as the Channels and the Velvets. There was also music he favored coming from Igor Stravinsky, Edgard Varese, and Anton Webern. Zappa’s musical interests were varied but he especially had a fondness for the modern classical and R&B genres. He also had a fondness for Italian opera as his Italian-speaking grandparents often listened to Puccini.
In 1956, the Zappas moved to Lancaster, a small town in the Antelope Valley of the Mojave Desert that would have the neighboring Sun Village become the subject of his 1973 song, “Village of the Sun.” A highlight of Zappa’s childhood was his mother’s support as he pursued his musical interests. Even though his mother didn’t care for Varese’s music, she still managed to arrange a phone call to New York in an attempt for Zappa to reach the composer when he turned fifteen. However, he wound up talking to the man’s wife and was told to call back after Varese had returned from Europe.
Later, Zappa received a letter of thanks from Varese and was told about a composition he was working on called “Deserts” and invited the teenager to visit him should he ever come to New York. This never happened as Varese passed away in 1965. As for the letter, this was one of Zappa’s most prized possessions as he had it framed and it stayed with him for the rest of his life.
While still growing up in California, Zappa met Don Glen Vliet, a man who would later go by the pseudonym Captain Beefheart. The two men became friends as they shared an interest in R&B music. They often collaborated with each other as both men engaged in musical careers. While in high school, Zappa’s musical interests continued to grow as he learned how to write, arrange, and conduct avant-garde performances for the school orchestra before he graduated.
He also learned how to play guitar which would enable him to perform various gigs at local coffee houses. It was while one semester in college he met Terry Kirkman and played some of those gigs with him. While still living in California, Zappa moved out on his own in 1959 and headed for Los Angeles. While there, he met and married Kathryn J. Sherman in 1960 after the two moved to Ontario. It was a marriage that lasted until 1964 that would have him move into a studio and pour even more focus into his production of music.
The earliest examples of Zappa’s recordings as a professional musician are found in The World’s Greatest Sinner and Run Home Slow. These were soundtracks for the low-budget films that were released in 1962 and 1965. This marked the beginning of Zappa becoming more financially prosperous, allowing him to further upgrade his musical ventures as an artist.
Throughout the first half of the 1960s, Zappa wrote and produced songs for other local artists as he often teamed with singer-songwriter Ray Collins. This was also during a time when Zappa teamed with Captain Beefheart to form Soots. This act, as well as another Zappa group, Mothers of Invention, were rejected by some of the record labels when it was suggested he and his team of musicians had no commercial potential. This was exposed after Zappa’s 1966 album, Freak Out! The album itself featured tracks that shared Zappa’s experiences from his high school days to events as recent as the police raiding his recording studio after it was believed he was making illegal pornographic content.
While Freak Out! served as Frank Zappa’s debut album while with the Mothers of Invention, record producer Tom Wilson worked with him on what became the second rock double album to be released. The first was Bob Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde, which was also released in 1966 but on June 20th. Zappa’s album was released seven days later.
What this album did was prove labels such as Columbia Records wrong that Zappa and the Mothers of Invention had no star potential. It also displayed Zappa’s stance against a social structure as one of the pioneers behind the counterculture movement that swept across the nation going into the second half of the 1960s. During this time, he met Adelaide Gail Sloatman, a woman who became his second wife in 1967. The two had four children and stayed together as a couple until Zappa’s cancer claimed his life on December 4, 1993.
After Freak Out! was 1967’s Absolutely Free became the Mothers of Invention’s second studio album. The songs in the tracklist were more diverse and its lyrics featured content that struck a blow to the herd-like mentality of American Society, regardless of which side of its cultural influences people were on. This was made evident in songs such as “Plastic People” and “Brown Shoes Don’t Make It.”
Between 1966 and 1967, Frank Zappa and his Mothers of Invention were invited to play in some of the venues in New York City. This prompted a move to the Big Apple as Zappa and the band worked together to offer more than just a musical performance. Zappa used hand signals to direct the concerts as he focused on each band member’s specialized talent as a musician. It was also in 1957 that Zappa was offered a contract to produce commercial music for Luden’s cough drops. This resulted in a Clio Award for filmmaker Ed Seeman’s ad for Best Use of Sound.
As a musical artist, Frank Zappa wasn’t shy to use satirical humor and tongue-in-cheek lyrics whenever it came to singing about the hippie movement and the flower power phenomena. While running Studio Z, he sampled a variety of music as well as performed parodies of previously recorded hits. 1968’s Cruising with Ruben & the Jets witnessed Zappa take a different direction that focused on doo-wop songs instead of his usual eclectic sound.
At first, fans and critics weren’t sure if Zappa was exercising humor again or performing a tribute. In addition to performing music, Zappa also appeared on television. This included starring with the Monkees. The first was in 1967 when he destroyed a car with a sledgehammer with “Mother People” playing during the scene. The second was in 1968 for the band’s movie, Head. He made a cameo with a line as he led a cow, “The youth of America depends on you to show them the way.”
The second half of the 1960s witnessed Frank Zappa developing as a businessman as he continued to flourish his musical career. In addition to Studio Z, he also formed Bizarre Records and Straight Records as a means to increase creative control for himself and other recording artists. These labels worked with companies like Warner Bros. Studios that would feature recordings such as Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica in 1969. Other stars benefiting from Zappa’s influence included Alice Cooper, the GTOs, and the Percussions.
As a musician, Zappa is still regarded as one of the most influential electric guitar soloists of all time. The improvision techniques he exercised were more reliant on upstrokes than most other guitarists as they seemed to prefer using downstrokes. He also had a knack for compositions that ranged from lighthearted to serious material in a manner that kept listeners wondering what was going to happen next.
This was how he was as a person as he purposely chose not to take sides as doing so meant catering to social conformity. This was not in his nature and it showed in both his personal and professional lives. This often put him in the spotlight as someone often embroiled in controversy. This played a role in the two-time rejection into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame while he was still alive. It wouldn’t be until 1995 that this would finally happen. Ten years later, the National Recording Preservation Board selected We’re Only in It for the Money into the National Recording Registry.
Among the collection of Zappa’s greatest works is the 1986 release, Jazz from Hell. In 1988, in won a Grammy Award for Best Rock Instrumental Performance by Orchestra, Group or Soloist. Its title track also received a nomination that year, namely for Best Instrumental Composition. In 1996, he posthumously won another Grammy, this time for 1994’s Civilization Phase III for Best Recording Package – Boxed. Two years later he earned the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. Zappa’s legacy as a recording artist features sixty-two albums that were released while he was still alive. His family has since released sixty-four more after his death.
As far as singles go, there were thirty-nine of them where two stood out the most as chart hits. The first was 1979’s “Bobby Brown” and the second was 1982’s “Valley Girl.” “Bobby Brown” was a number-one hit in Norway and Sweden. It was a top-five hit in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland. “Valley Girl” became a number thirty-two hit on the US Billboard Hot 100, a number twelve hit on the US Billboard Modern Rock Chart, and a number eighteen hit in Canada. However, “Rat Tomago” was a fantastic instrumental rock performance featured on Zappa’s 1979 album, Sheik Yerbouti. It borrowed from his 1976 song, “The Torture Never Stops” that came from the album Zoot Allures. There was also “Dancin’ Fool,” a song that also came from Sheik Yerbouti as it mocked the disco culture of the 1970s.
10 Great Bands And Musical Artists From Maryland article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2023
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