In recognition and celebration of Black History Month in February, we have created a series of curated playlists designed to celebrate the voices, innovations, and influence of black artists and musicians across music history.
The first in our series of playlists, titled “Masterpiece,” explores a variety of genres and musical movements traditionally recognized as being driven by black artistry and innovation, genres that provide a space for the voices of black artists to be heard and celebrated. This playlist focuses on key figures in pop, jazz, soul, funk, r&b, and hip hop, spanning from the mid-20th century to the present day.
In addition to this more general playlist, we also created three other playlists that offer deep dives into genres where black voices and influence are often obscured or overlooked: including rock music, celebrating black pioneers in punk, metal, and other rock music movements; folk and country, where black contributions to the evolution of folk and country music into popular culture is centered; and electronic, where we highlight key black contributors to the evolution of electronic music in all its many sub-genres.
Provided in tandem with these playlists are library and freely available resources to aid in the further exploration and celebration of black contributions to contemporary popular music and culture.
Resources for Further Exploration
Archives of African American Music and Culture (AAAMC at IU) - repository of materials covering a range of African American musical idioms and cultural expressions from the post-World War II era
Black Grooves - music review site hosted by the Archives of African American Music & Culture (AAAMC) at Indiana University
The Black Music History Library - a living collection of books, articles, documentaries, series, podcasts and more about the Black origins of traditional and popular music dating from the 18th century to present day.
Beyond the Playlist
As with many of these national commemorations, one month is never enough time to fully honor and celebrate the history and culture of marginalized communities, let alone heal the legacies (and ongoing reality) of harm they've experienced. We recognize that there is much more to be done, that racism and anti-blackness can't be eliminated simply through the creation of resource guides, and that the work of realizing justice won't soon be over. But nevertheless, we keep trying, contributing how we can and building upon the efforts of those who came before us, and we continue to learn from and with one another.
If you'd like to engage more deeply with Black History Month, the IU Libraries Arts & Humanities department has created a number of interrelated resources and features to provide more holistic coverage of this remembering. You'll find those, below:
And for all things Black culture, you can never go wrong with the resources, services, and collections of the Neal-Marshall Black Culture Center Library.
Additionally, throughout the '21 spring semester, our department is hosting an ongoing Racial Equity & Social Justice Challenge. This program encourage participants to engage with items from our collections that will facilitate and deepen their awareness of a variety of social justice issues, and features a number of titles relevant to Black History Month. If you'd like to join us, take a look at the Challenge Guide.
For the other three playlists in our Black History Month feature we will focus on the voices and innovations of black artists in genres where they are often overlooked, or excluded. To start, we present here a curated list of Rock musicians and bands from the genre’s inception to the present day. Here, we illustrate and outline a handful of the black artists who drove the genre forward, keeping it fresh into the new decade, from rock, to punk, to metal, and back again.
Playlist Resources & Further Reading
Continuing in our celebration of contributions and innovations by black artists to genres wherein their voices are often forgotten or overlooked, we present a curated playlist of black songs that have influenced and driven the sounds of folk and country music for over a hundred years.
Playlist Resources & Further Reading
Our final playlist in our Black History Month series explores the contributions and innovations made by black musicians in the rapidly evolving electronic music genre. While much debate exists over the true beginnings of music made entirely with electronic instruments, one thing that is certain is black artists have been at the forefront of exploring the capabilities of electronic compositions, pushing the types of music that can be created entirely with synthetic instruments to new heights with each decade.
Playlist Resources & Further Reading
In recognition of this month's celebration of indigenous history and culture, we present this curated playlist of Indigenous artists from the 20th and 21st centuries. Collected here are artists representing their heritage and identity in musical stylings varying from traditional to contemporary, spanning a spectrum of hip hop, metal, country, and experimental. Listen and explore a sampling of the vast contributions to modern American music by Indigenous peoples.
This list only serves as a diving point into the vast contributions to American and international popular music made by Indigenous artists. Join us in celebrating and exploring these genre defining (and defying) artists. Below the playlist, you'll find a comprehensive discussion of the context and history of the music we've highlighted, as well as a selection of resources for further reading on Indigenous music.
Beyond the Playlist
If you'd like to engage more deeply with the experience of Indigenous people within the context of Turtle Island, we've also curated a list of books, movies, databases, and podcasts to support further curiosity and learning. You can also find that list by clicking on the Indigenous Heritage & History Month box on the left-hand side of this page, in the navigation menu.
Additionally, as part of this celebration and remembering, there is also an introduction to Two-Spirit identity and the LGBTQIA Indigenous experience on the Gender Studies Research Guide and an overview of Indigenous Philosophy on the Philosophy Research Guide.
Our playlist moves throughout various points in North American musical history, with artists dating back to the early 20th century. In the early decades of jazz, Mildred Bailey (Cour de’Alene) emerged as a household name. Bailey started her singing career at 17 and went on to perform genre staples of the jazz giants of her time. In the late 1920s, blues music was being recorded and released to great popularity, and among the artists of this blues explosion was Charlie Patton (Choctaw). Hailed as the father of Delta Blues, Patton, of mixed (Black, white, and Indigenous) ancestry, pioneered the driving rhythms and impassioned vocals that became representative of blues music in the delta region and would lay the foundational groundwork for rock n roll musicians to come.
Moving into the 1960s, Indigenous artists had an undeniable impact on popular music despite a lack of commercial success. Buffy Sainte-Marie, born on the Piapot 75 reserve and adopted by a Mi’kmaq family as an infant, gained notoriety in the New York folk scene for her impassioned and fiercely political compositions and performances. She penned hit anthems of the 1960s counterculture scene, including “Unknown Soldier” and “Cod’ine,” though she is seldom given credit where it is due. Further south along the east coast, rock n roll pioneer Link Wray (Cherokee and Shawnee) emerged with the single “Rumble” in 1958. Wray, born in North Carolina,, would change rock n roll forever with his signature heavy and distorted guitar tones, paving the way for punk and metal musicians to follow. Collected here is an example of Wray’s country and Americana roots from his self-titled 1971 album, a pioneering work of the home-recording movement that would carry into the 21st century.
Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Indigenous artists had a profound influence on popular American genres. Often forgotten in the shadow of his contemporaries like Eric Clapton and George Harrison, Jesse Ed Davis (Comanche, Seminole, Muskogee, and Kiowa) was a highly acclaimed guitar player. Born in Oklahoma, Davis played with hugely popular artists of his time, featuring alongside names like John Lennon, Taj Mahal, Jackson Browne, and Leonard Cohen. On the west coast, brothers Pat and Candido Vasquez-Vegas (Yaqui, Shoshone, and Mexican) formed the all Native American rock group Redbone. The brothers penned radio-rock staples for the 1970s with hits like “The Witch Queen of New Orleans” and the ever-lasting “Come and Get Your Love.” Across the nation at this time, acts were popping up on reservations and in indigenous communities, exemplified here by the band Sugluk with their song “Ajuinnarasuarsunga,” a fusion of rock n roll song structure and first nations language.
Moving into the 1980s, singer-songwriter Archie James Cavanaugh (Tlingit) released his yacht rock classic “Black and White Raven.” Born in Alaska, Cavanaugh traveled the west coast assembling a band that included members of Redbone to release his often overlooked album, its fusion of disco and soft rock represented here on “Take it Easy.” In country music, First Nations culture is frequently referenced but seldom represented justly. This was not the case in the music of Buddy Red Bow (Lakota). Red Bow dedicated his career to singing of the plight of Indigenous peoples and the injustices wrought by white colonists. The music of Indigenous artists was also significant in rising genres of the decade like new age. Joanne Shenandoah (Oneida and Onondaga) would become an influential figure in this genre and would go on to set the record for Native American Music Awards won by a single artist.
Moving into the 21st century to the present, Indigenous artists still hold an influential place in modern American genres, driving them forward with ingenuity and expert artistry. Artist Martha Redbone continues in the tradition of rhythm n blues and soul music, fusing these sounds with traditional indigenous music drawn from her heritage of Choctaw, Cherokee, and African American. Artist Samantha Crain melds folk rock, indie rock, and americana with indigenous influence reflective of her Choctaw heritage. Inuk artist Beatrice Deer makes indie rock that is consistently inventive and exciting, earning her the Best Inut/Cultural Album award for her 2005 effort “Just Bea.” In the vein of indie rock, Silver Jackson makes music in numerous groups, performing under this name as well as his Tlingit name. Groups like Cemican and Nechochwen fuse First Nations history and political outcry over unjust treatment of Indigenous peoples with the harsh and aggressive sounds of metal, driving the genre forward still in the 21st century. Doom metal group Divide and Dissolve (Black, Tsalagi, Maori) fuse classical music with doom metal and lyrical outcry over injustices wrought against indigenous peoples to create uniquely political music for the 21st century. Artist Black Belt Eagle Scout furthers the mix of traditional indigenous influence with alternative rock, creating post rock informed by her Swinomish heritage. Artist Tanya Tagaq (Inuk) create music unlike anything heard before, fusing traditional throat singing with ambient soundscapes derived from noise and drone music. In hip hop, First Nations artists bring exciting changes and new voices to the cultural forefront, as is the case with Angel Haze (Cherokee), who raps of their experiences as an individual identifying as pansexual and agender in the hip hop world, as well as celebrating their mixed Indigenous heritage. Groups like A Tribe Called Red fuse electronic genres like dubstep and house with hip hop and traditional First Nations music to create a sound wholly their own in the massive EDM music market.
Library & Scholarly Sources
Indigenous pop: Native American music from jazz to hip hop (IUCAT - Book)
Rumble: the Indians who rocked the world (IUCAT - Documentary)
"The Nammys Versus the Grammys: Celebrity, Technology, and the Creation of an Indigenous Music Recording Industry in North America" (The World of Music Journal)
"A Tribe Called Red’s Halluci Nation: Sonifying embodied global allegiances, decolonization, and indigenous activism" (Intersections)
Rumble On: Native American Musicians You Should Know (PBS)
8 Artists Exploding the Concept of Native American Music (Paste Magazine)
Review of 'Native North America (Vol. 1): Aboriginal Folk, Rock, and Country 1966–1985' (Pitchfork)
"Taking it Easy": On Archie James Cavanaugh (Numero Group)
The Evolution Of Angel Haze (BuzzFeed)
Remembering Buddy Red Bow (Indianz)
6 Indigenous Metal Bands You Need To Know About (Metal Injection)
In alignment with the University's 2020 Themester: Democracy, we present this series of playlists, each exploring and challenging the ideas, concerns, and limitations of democracy, both nationally and internationally. Through these songs, we consider and reflect not only on how democracy has been imagined and implemented across time, and on the ways in which groups across the globe have championed the promise of equality and justice under democratic systems, but also how democracies have fallen short of the very ideals that underpin them (and how they've been held accountable for those failures).
US Presidential Campaign Songs
Since the earliest days of American democracy, music has been utilized in political campaigns to draw supporters, create and shape political identity, and hype audiences at rallies. From John Adams’ “Adams and Liberty,” composed in the 1700s for his presidential campaign, to the usage of pop and rock music starting in the twentieth century, music has been a crucial part of a presidential campaign’s progression. The songs chosen are meant to represent a candidate, their ideas and policies, and the attitudes they hope to inspire. Listen to the evolution of the campaign song in American history from its inception to the 2020 election cycle in this list of iconic songs.
Herwick, Edgar B. “Sung Into the Presidency: A Brief History of the Campaign Song,” WGBH, 2016
Campaign Songs (Wikipedia)
Kasper, Eric T. and Benjamin S. Schoening. You shook me all campaign long: music in the 2016 presidential election and beyond (IUCAT)
Presidential campaign songs, 1789-1996 (Musical compilation of campaign songs, IU Libraries)
Music has long been a powerful medium for political expression. This playlist compiles selected examples of American artists exploring and imagining the state of America in song across time and genre. Represented are both the hopes, dreams, and ideals that democracy promises and outcries at the injustice and oppression that nevertheless exist in the reality of America. What holds true across these selected songs is the ability and possibility of expressing many truths and perspectives freely, to cry out at the inhumane and to demand (and strive for) a better tomorrow. Explore how artists express these realities and hope for the equality and justice for all that our democracy promises (and sometimes fails to deliver).
Graff, Gary. “Durand Jones & The Indications Eye a Dim Dawn In 'Morning In America' Video: Premiere.” Billboard, 2019
Hiatt, Brian. “How Rage Against the Machine Created ‘Killing in the Name.’” Rolling Stone, 2020
Moon, Tom. “The Story Of Marvin Gaye's 'What's Going On.'” NPR, 2000
Rojas, Eunice and Lindsay Michie, eds. Sounds of resistance : the role of music in multicultural activism (IUCAT)
Too often in grand narratives (and playlists), many voices are left out. In this playlist, we've centered the voices of women of color across time and genre as they endeavor to speak out against and articulate the injustices and shortcomings of American democracy across history. In this music is both a ferocious condemnation of the various, interlocking systems of oppression that circumscribe the lives of so many and hope for a future defined by equality and justice. Explore how women of color have crafted political anthems that challenge American democracy to be accountable and inclusive.
Cade, Maya. “The Black Feminist Movement through Music,” A Tribe Called News, 2015
Hosking, Taylor. “Black women are creating urgent music for this moment. Here are the songs to listen to — and why they matter.” The Lily, 2019
Editors, “15 Top Civil Rights Songs That Promote Freedom and Justice for Black History Month,” Black Enterprise, 2020.
Mohamed, Suraya. “This is How I Feel: A Playlist by Young Black Listeners,” NPR, 2020
Finally, we would be remiss if we didn't consider the significance of music in democratic and revolutionary movements across the globe, outside (but not totally isolated from) the US political context. This playlist encompasses music from various nationalities, tied together by the performers’ involvement in a call for democracy. In South America throughout the 20th century, artists like Os Mutantes, Victor Jara, Mercedes Sosa, and Sol y Lluvia channeled their protest of military regimes into musical cries for democracy. In Eastern Europe, rock musicians played a crucial role in movements for democracy, and songs like “Wind of Change” became anthems for political movements in Russia, Poland, and Germany. In Africa, rock, funk, and jazz musicians used their music to challenge the oppressive systems of colonialism. This tradition carries into political movements of the present day in songs like “I Play the Kora,” a musical rallying point for equal treatment of women in Mali. In Jamaica, musicians used songs to voice their experiences of religious and cultural oppression under colonial rule and the inequality directly following independence. In Asia, performers have used music to further democratic movements as well, from the pioneering rock and folk music of Shin Joong Hyun in the late 20th century to the political anthems of Hong Kong’s fight for democracy recorded by Denise Ho in more recent years.
Jiayang Fan. “Denise Ho Confronts Hong Kong’s New Political Reality.” The New Yorker, 2019
Litchmore, Cam. “Why Mercedes Sosa is a Staple in Any Latinx Household.” Medium, 2020
Martin, Michel. “West African Supergroup Les Amazones D'Afrique Returns With 'Amazones Power.'” NPR, 2020
Redmond, Shana L. Anthem: social movements and the sound of solidarity in the African diaspora (IUCAT)
Inspired by and for Indiana Remixed, here are four Spotify playlists to get your feet tapping, Hoosier-style. Each is a diverse collection of artists, compositions, and recordings from 1920-2020.
There is often an attitude of detachment from your home state, an approach to the place of your upbringing that is sometimes constituted by disinterest in its history even if lived experience is structured by lineages of many kinds. For those of you born in Indiana, perhaps you felt this growing up in a state often overlooked in general primary and secondary school social studies. This project aims to change that for ourselves, and hopefully for you as well. In compiling this list of great Indiana recordings by legendary Indiana artists, we have set out to draw connections from the Hoosier state’s musical past to its present and explore the many ways artists from the state situate themselves into national (and even global) musical movements.
Before talking about the music, it will be important to talk about the process. In deciding what to define as “Indiana music,” we drew from a number of lists and articles, some linked on this page. Generally, the artists here will have been born in or lived a significant amount of their lives in Indiana (at least five years). We have tried our best to limit the song selection to recordings produced in Indiana, showcasing the sound of legendary Indiana recording studios and producers. We have also worked within the parameters of “contemporary music,” defined as spanning from the 1920s to the 2020s.
For further exploration, we have compiled three regional spotlights, highlighting what we suggest are key musical well springs in Indiana history. In closely examining the musical history of Gary, Indianapolis, and Bloomington, Indiana, we can observe consistent communities of artists and musicians carrying the torch of Hoosier music into the new decade across a wide spectrum of genres, including blues, jazz, country, rock ‘n’ roll, hip hop, and electronic music. Though Indiana itself hosts artists from its small towns to its large cities, it is these three localities that stand out over the last century.
There will undoubtedly be many artists we missed, because, as we’ve learned, Indiana’s musical history is much larger than ever imagined. As we move into the new decade, Indiana artists continue to produce exciting contributions to the genres and movements they situate themselves in, and if anything we hope these playlists prove that this has been the case for Indiana for the past century.
To dive in, check out our “master” playlist, with music from the entire series.
Resources for Further Exploration
100 Best Hoosier Albums Ever – Nuvo list of best albums made in or by Indiana artists
Musical Family Tree – online index of Indiana music
Record Labels of Indiana – index of Indiana record labels, from the 1950s-’70s
Cultural Manifesto – podcast from Nuvo columnist Kyle Long, with episodes on Amnesty, 700 West Studios, and many other Indiana musical legends
Riverwalk Jazz – article on Gennett Records, a blues and jazz label from Richmond, Indiana
Our Indianapolis spotlight starts in the late 1920s with “Kokomo Blues” by Scrapper Blackwell. Blackwell, an Indianapolis native, wrote and recorded this song in reference to Kokomo, Indiana, and the song is notably the basis for Robert Johnson’s iconic “Sweet Home Chicago.” Jumping forward 20 years to 1949, Indianapolis continues to be home to iconic blues artists like Guitar Pete Franklin, who in addition to solo recordings is credited alongside delta blues legends like Tampa Red.
By the 1950s and into the 1960s, pop music shifted to accommodate a growing interest in country, rockabilly, and vocal groups. The Blankenship Brothers of Indianapolis were unique in their blending of rockabilly tempos and rhythms with country-influenced vocal harmonies and traditional fiddle accompaniment, as heard on their 1959 B-side “Lonesome Old Jail.” Vocal groups like the Four Freshman would fade entirely from popular music by the 1960s, but their impact on the future of popular music is undeniable, and the Indianapolis quartet is cited as a major influence by Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys. Bobby Helms, a singer and lifelong Indiana resident, is notable for his place in country music history, contributing to the growing market for country records with singles like 1957’s “My Special Angel” and the 1959 holiday classic “Jingle Bell Rock.” Even lesser known Indianapolis artists like Lattie Moore anticipated the coming popularity of rock ‘n’ roll with upbeat, guitar-driven recordings like “I’m Not Broke, but I’m Badly Bent.”
By the 1950s and 1960s, a surprising amount of jazz artists came out of Indianapolis, revolutionizing the world of jazz in the process. J.J. Johnson, a notable trombonist and Indianapolis native, released the iconic “Blue Trombone” in 1957. Meanwhile, three Indianapolis brothers, Wes, Monk, and Buddy Montgomery, each changed the trajectory of jazz with their mastery of guitar, bass, and piano respectively. Though they are each notable members of independent groups and solo compositions, their chemistry together is undeniable, as heard on tracks like “Bock to Bock” from 1961’s Groove Yard. Wes himself is an icon in jazz, revolutionizing jazz guitar with his unique stylings best represented in the recently released live concert performed in Indianapolis in 1959.
By the late 1960s, rock ‘n’ roll and psychedelic music had fully invaded popular culture, influencing groups across the city to experiment with a fusion of historically popular music and psychedelic studio effects. Garage rock act Sir Winston and the Commons exploded out of Indianapolis with 1966’s “All of the Time,” becoming mainstays in Chicago nightclubs. Southeast of Indianapolis, in the small town of New Palestine, bands were traveling to the home of Moe Whittemore to record at 700 West, an independent recording studio welcoming the experimental artists of Indianapolis. Sessions at the studio produced hours of psych-influenced gems, from the acid-funk of Ebony Rhythm Band and Indianapolis legends Amnesty to the guitar driven Anonymous and proto-metal group Primevil.
The city housed a thriving soul, gospel, and funk scene in the 1970s and 1980s, sparking the formation of LAMP Records, based in Indianapolis. LAMP was home to a plethora of Indianapolis soul and funk groups, the city’s artists producing countless lost hits like the Indy’s “Come See About Her” and P.H.D.s’ “The Way It Used to Be.” Bands like Manchild, an early project of Indiana star Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds, came close to stardom with the hit “Especially for You” released in 1977. Gospel groups like the Stovall Sisters and King James Version made national waves with driving rhythms and powerful vocal arrangements. Into the 1980s, Indianapolis continued to produce iconic recordings reflective of national music trends. Al Hobbs and His Indianapolis Mass Choir released the upbeat and energetic gospel record Let Him Have His Way in 1982. As new wave and power pop grew in popularity across the globe, Indianapolis’ The Late Show released their album Portable Pop in 1980, and though it failed to chart, potential hits can be heard, as displayed on “Take a Chance.”
By the 1990s and into the 2000s, hip hop had taken the nation by storm, and artists in Indianapolis began to release their own contributions to the genre. The city’s early hip hop scene is best exemplified by Mudkids on their 1998 debut 4 Trackmind. Experimental hip hop artists like MAB LAB also came up in the late 1990s naptown hip hop scene, offering a unique blend of beats, samples, live instrumentation, and soul influenced vocalizations on their 1999 track “Fade Back.” Towards the end of the 2000s, instrumental artists like The Sound Defects offered their take on hip hop instrumentation, as heard on 2004’s “Faded Soul.”
Moving into the 2010s and 2020s, new artists have emerged to carry the torches passed on by their musical predecessors. Country, folk, and pop rock are blended together into the sound of Margot and the Nuclear So & Sos, as represented here by “Broadripple is Burning.” Experimental hip hop and electronic music is being pushed to new extremes by artists like Indianapolis’ DMA. Garage and psychedelic rock have seen a resurgence in the last decade as represented by artists like Vacation Club. Indianapolis natives Hoops continue to release soul and funk influenced guitar rock, with a new record due out soon. Hip hop in Indianapolis is more active than ever, led by exciting young artists like Nagasaki Dirt, Oreo Jones, Mark Battles, and Sirius Blvck. These and many more modern Indianapolis artists represent a coalition of the city’s rich musical history, pushing the boundaries of their genres into the new decade and continuing the tradition of leaving powerful cultural artifacts for future generations of naptown artists.
Resources for Further Exploration
On LAMP Records – episode of “Cultural Manifesto” on LAMP Records, out of Indianapolis
700 West Studios – label website for 700 West Studios, out of Indianapolis
Oreo Jones – interview with Oreo Jones about Indianapolis and growing up in Indiana
The Mudkids – interview from NUVO magazine with the Mudkids
Our Bloomington spotlight starts with perhaps the most easily recognized and acclaimed Indiana artist, Hoagy Carmichael. The composition “Stardust” is notable, recorded numerous times by countless artists, but it is this example that is represented here, both sung and performed by Hoagy, a Bloomington native, but also recorded in Richmond, Indiana and released on Richmond label Gennett Records in 1950. Carmichael’s history is represented across town, from his statue on IU’s campus to his burial site in Rose Hill Cemetery to the Stardust bridge on Bloomington’s northwest side.
Jumping ahead to the 1970s we see the emergence of a rich independent music scene in Bloomington, best represented by the labels Bar-B-Q Records and Gulcher Records. The former came to encompass a collective of artists recording music that combined jazz, psychedelic rock, and folk elements into a unique regional sound, as represented by the Screaming Gypsy Bandits on their track “Junior” from their 1973 release In the Eye. Featured on this album is Caroline Peyton, who’s solo albums on Bar-B-Q further evolved this regional sound. Her 1972 effort Mock Up plays on-par with popular female folk artists of the time, fusing acoustic stripped arrangements with peculiar time signatures and jazz instrumentation. Her follow up Intuition, released in 1977, is more embedded in country rock, with full band arrangement and pop accessibility. Labelmate and Lebanon, Indiana native Bill Wilson made considerable contributions to this sound, bringing the influence of the Texas country rock scene with him upon returning to Bloomington in 1972. His 1973 album Ever Changing Minstrel is a perfect harmony of country and rock music, blending country instrumentation and rock structure and drive with powerful lyrics representative of the nation’s climate.
The latter label, Gulcher Records, came to encompass a scene that was radically different. Despite being a small and completely independent label, Gulcher housed recordings and releases by several of punk’s most significant acts, including Indiana natives Zero Boys and the Gizmos. The driving rhythm, distorted instrumentation, and aggressively shouted vocals of Indianapolis’ Zero Boys was heard by punks across the nation, influencing future generations of punk and rock musicians. The scene was a hot spot for artists embodying this aggressive new genre, as heard on The Panics’ “I Wanna Kill My Mom,” released in 1980. The Gizmos were proud torch bearers for the midwest sound happening in Bloomington, as embodied in 1981’s “The Midwest Can Be Alright” (consider this a response to 1980’s “Can’t Stand the Midwest,” a furious punk criticism of Indiana from West Lafayette’s Dow Jones and the Industrials). Gulcher records also housed New Wave acts hailing from Indiana, like Bloomington’s Amoebas in Chaos and MX-80. The Bloomington punk scene became a nexus for experimentation with the punk sound, as represented by a fusion of punk and electronic music heard on E-in Brino’s “Indianapolis and the Dancing Cigarettes” & “Pop Doormat,” both released in 1981.
Moving into the 1980s, we see the emergence of perhaps Bloomington’s second most notable and easily recognized artist. John Mellencamp, born and raised in Seymour Indiana, had found commercial success in the late 1970s and early 1980s with singles like “Hurts so Good,” “I Need a Lover,” and “Jack & Diane.” At a crossroads in his career, Mellencamp decided to return to his home state, starting what would become a tradition of writing and recording in Indiana that would last the rest of his career. 1983’s “Pink Houses” glorified small town America, harkening to a nondescript image of average American life with accounts of vague American characters. Building on this theme and creating the image for which he is best known for, Mellencamp released Small Town in 1985, with the hit single “Small Town,” an anthem not only for small town America but also for Indiana. Mellencamp, who resides now in Bloomington, remains a proud torch bearer for Indiana music and art into the new decade.
In the 90s, artists began expanding upon the alternative rock explosion in popular culture. As shoegaze, noise rock, and grunge began to take underground and eventually mainstream markets by storm, Bloomington’s Arson Garden released their sophomore effort Under Towers in 1993, an album laden with noisy guitars affected with pitch shifting effects pedals. Horror-punk act The Nevermores released their first and only album Lock Your Doors… in 1991, blending the familiar Bloomington punk sound with Farfisa organ and screamed lyrics. Antenna formed in Bloomington after the dissolution of Blake Babies, releasing guitar driven songs with pop sensibility and distorted riffs inherent to grunge and alternative rock acts, as heard on 1993’s “Shine.”
By the late 1990s and early 2000s alternative rock had splintered and shifted in numerous directions, one towards a genre that would be coined “Emo,” inspiring genre pioneers Early Day Miners. The Bloomington band released Let us Garlands Bring in 2002, and songs like “Centralia” embody the band’s desolate and slow guitar driven compositions, layered with somber strings and whispered harmonies. Bloomington’s Good Luck took a different approach to emo music, fusing the genre’s lyrical frustration with punk’s pace and instrumentation and pop’s accessibility, as heard on 2008’s “Stars Were Exploding,” which specifically references Lake Griffy. Moving into the 2010s, the underground music scene’s of America began to revisit the early rock ‘n’ roll sound of 1960s garage bands. Apache Dropout released “Teenager” on independent label Family Vineyard in 2011, echoing the sound of Bloomington’s original punk scene. Triptides, originally of Bloomington, combines reverb-drenched guitar tones with whispered lyrics and psych-influenced song structure, as heard on 2012’s “Sun/Shine.” Diane Coffee harkens back to bubble gum pop and r&b tunes on tracks like 2013’s “Green.” Bands like Thee Tsunamis are reminiscent of Bloomington’s original punk scene while creating unique garage rock tracks like 2015’s “Drag.” Into the mid 2010’s Bloomington remained a haven for experimental artists as well, like the ambient electronic project Lake Daggers, whose 2015 “Rite II” is built upon a sparse musical landscape consisting of drum machines and droning synth bass.
Bloomington artists continue to build on the traditions of artists before them. Dasher combines punk aggression with effect-laden guitar tones reminiscent of shoegaze and alternative Bloomington bands from the 1990s. T.V. Mike & the Scarecrows produce tight country rock that would fit in the Bar-B-Q Records circa 1975. Indie pop duo Spissy combine the pop sensibilities of 1970s and 1980s rock radio with mellow guitar-driven arrangements that Mellencamp could tap his foot to. Bloomington is also home to a new generation of inspired folk musicians, like Kay Krull, whose distinctly unique recordings continue to evolve the sounds of Caroline Peyton. The Wonderhills also build on the Bar-B-Q Records sound, combining elements of bluegrass and old time into a unique folk-fusion. The Cowboys remain torch bearers for the Bloomington punk scene, bringing a fresh perspective to fast-paced, power-chord driven anthems. Amy-O draws from the same history of Bloomington’s 1990s alternative rock scene, expanding the sound with catchy riffs and beautifully arranged vocal harmonies. Most importantly, however, Bloomington remains a place for artists to blossom and create new music movements, as heard in Durand Jones & the Indications, whose retro-soul revival music is quickly gaining recognition across the nation. As it has always been, Bloomington is a place for artists across Indiana and even the world to come together, influence and inspire one another, and create exciting and timeless music.
Resources for Further Exploration
Arson Gardon – article about Arson Garden, an art rock project out of Bloomington, from Nuvo Magazine
Caroline Peyton – piece on folk artist Caroline Peyton, from Numero Group
Gulcher Records – write-up about Gulcher Records and the Bloomington punk scene
Bill Wilson – article from Nuvo Magazine about Bill Wilson, a Bloomington cosmic country artist
Our Gary, Indiana spotlight starts in 1954 with the Spaniels’ third single “Goodnight Sweetheart,” released on Vee Jay records. Vee Jay, founded in Gary in 1953, would go on to become one of the most important r&b labels in the nation, paving the way for the rock ‘n’ roll explosion in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Early examples of rock ‘n’ roll can be heard on The El Durados’ “At My Door (Crazy Little Mama),” released in 1957. Vee Jay was also home to Jimmy Reed, who moved from Mississippi to Gary in the 1940s. Reed brought with him the sound of delta blues and combined that with the sound of early rock ‘n’ roll acts on Vee Jay’s catalogue, creating a unique and driven version of the blues that would influence countless rock ‘n’ roll acts into the late 1960s, as heard on tracks like 1958’s “Ain’t That Lovin You” and 1960’s “Big Boss Man.”
Moving into the late 1960s, we see the emergence of Gary’s most notable stars, the wildly popular Jackson 5. The child soul group quickly rose to international fame and created the star that was Michael Jackson. Provided here are the original 1967 recordings from the group, the first known studio sessions actually recorded in Gary. Known as the Steeltown sessions, the band’s harmonies backing Michael’s already powerful and distinct voice can be clearly recognized on tracks like “Big Boy,” the band’s first successful single, which received considerable airplay in the Gary and Chicago area. Gary is also home to r&b legend Denice Williams, whose landmark single “Free,” released in 1976, is a significant contribution to the genre. Williams would go on to have a successful solo career that would last well into the 1980s with the single “Let’s Hear it for the Boy.” The 1980s would also see Michael Jackson rise far above the commercial success he had with his brothers on his solo release Thriller in 1982, an album that would go on to become the best selling album of all time. Though the Jacksons had left Gary for the west coast by this time, the monumental success of their collective careers make them perhaps the most significant Indiana artists with regards to international cultural impact.
By the 1990s, r&b had evolved to incorporate elements of 1980s pop and the increasingly popular hip hop movement. Janet Jackson made significant strides in pioneering this genre-blending type of r&b, as heard on 1993’s “That’s the Way Love Goes.” Janet became an icon upon the release of this album, exploring sexuality from the female perspective and setting herself apart from her brothers and their musical legacy to create her own. The album’s sound was fully evolved on her 1997 follow up The Velvet Rope, featuring some of Hip Hop’s biggest names. Though Janet left Gary in her earliest years, her sound was massively influential to a number of artists in Gary during the 1990s. Among these artists is r&b duo Trina & Tamara, whose 1999 eponymous debut had all the makings to be a chart topping hit, as heard on the single “What’d You Come Here For?” Equally inspired by the Jackson’s legacy was Trina and Tamara’s older brother Jesse Powell, whose 1996 single “You” would rise to critical acclaim, topping the r&b charts and earning him a grammy nomination.
Gary is now home to several torch bearers for the region, particularly in the world of hip hop. Freddie Gibbs has perhaps received the greatest amount of recognition, emerging in the early 2010s with tracks like “Eastside Moonwalker” that explore life in Gary. Gibbs carried the representation of his home city into commercial success on his revolutionary 2014 release Pinata. The collaboration with producer MadLib contains tracks like “Harold’s,” a partial ode to Harold’s Chicken in Gary, Indiana, and “Thuggin,” an ode to Gibbs’ upbringing in the city. Gibbs’ 2019 effort Bandana evolves the artists sound further, and tracks like lead single “Flat Tummy Tea” firmly establish Gibbs as one of the most important names in contemporary hip hop. Gary is also home to Will $crilla, whose 2017 Fresh Out the Joint Buzz Builders recounts the artists arrest and release from prison and explores life in Gary. Keeping in the tradition of experimentation and genre-expansion, Gary footwork artist Jlin releases works that fuse dance, techno, and hip hop into unique instrumental compositions. These artists carry the city’s tradition of pioneering artists into the 2020s, maintaining Gary’s legacy of being a hot spot for inventive artists with the potential to impact the international music scene.
Resources for Further Exploration
The Rise and Fall of Vee-Jay Records – NPR article on Vee-Jay Records, founded in Gary, Indiana
Interview with Freddie Gibbs – interview with the hip-hop artist on his hometown of Gary
Interview with Jlin – interview with the footwork artist on Gary
Jackson 5 Homecoming – news story about the Jacksons returning to Gary