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Music of Massachusetts

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Music of Massachusetts

Massachusetts is a U.S. state in New England. The music of Massachusetts has developed actively since it was first colonized by Britain. The city of Boston is an especially large part of the state's present music scene, which includes several genres of rock, as well as classical, folk, and hip hop music.

Concert music

Perhaps the most influential early composer of the United States was Lowell Mason. A native of Boston, Mason campaigned against the use of shape-note notation, and for the education in standard notation. He worked with local institutions to release collections of hymns and maintain his stature. Opposed to the shape-note tradition, Mason pushed American music towards a European model.

The Bay Psalme Book (The Whole Booke of Psalmes Faithfully Translated into English Metre) was published in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1640; it was the first book of any kind printed in the English colonies of North America. It became the standard used by New England churches for many years, though it contained no music itself, merely providing psalms and pointing readers to other prominent publications. The Bay Psalm Book was faithful to its source, but did not produce beautiful singing. In 1651, then, a third edition was created, and became known as the New England Psalm Book; this became the standard for many years. By this point, the evolution from the Ainsworth Psalter to the New England Psalm Book had steadily dwindled the number of tunes in use.

Massachusetts was later home to a number of the most prominent members of the First New England School of itinerant singing masters, including Daniel Read (later of New Haven, Connecticut) and Supply Belcher (later of Farmington, Maine). Massachusetts is home to several formal ensembles: Boston Symphony Orchestra, Boston Pops Orchestra, Boston Lyric Opera, and Tanglewood Festival Chorus. Formal institutions for the perpetuation of formal music exist in the state as well: Boston Conservatory, Longy School of Music, New England Conservatory, and Berklee College of Music.

Choral music has been a major part of concert life with two of the oldest choral organizations in the United States based in Massachusetts: Stoughton Musical Society, founded in 1786, and Handel and Haydn Society, founded in 1815.

Sea shanties

As Massachusetts has long maintained a great maritime tradition from the early colonial fishermen to its importance in the whaling industry in the nineteenth century, songs of the sea have been prominent in the state's musical heritage. Traditional English sea shanties were brought to New England and preserved by colonial American seamen. A New England version of the sea shanty Spanish Ladies changes 'England' to 'New England' or, in some versions, 'Boston' or 'New Bedford', and 'British sailors' to 'Yankee Whalermen'.

Folk music

Folklorists who have collected traditional music of Massachusetts include Eloise Hubbard Linscott, whose field recordings from 1938 and 1941 are in the Library of Congress American Folklife Center.[1]

A number of musicians with ties to the American folk music revival have Massachusetts connections. While a teenager living in Belmont, Joan Baez gave her first concert at the legendary Club 47 in Cambridge. James Taylor was born in Boston, but later moved to North Carolina before once again relocating to Martha's Vineyard. He now lives in the town of Lennox. Paul Clayton from New Bedford, best known for his song "Gotta Travel On," was a minor figure in the folk revival. Both Bill Staines, who grew up in Lexington, and Bonnie Raitt, who attended college in Cambridge, were influenced by the folk revival through the concerts at Club 47.

The diverse contemporary Massachusetts folk music scene includes musicians such as David Coffin, who specializes in early music and sea music; Lui Collins, a folk singer/songwriter; Vance Gilbert, a folk singer with a background in jazz; and Aoife Clancy, formerly of Cherish the Ladies, who sings traditional Irish and contemporary folk songs. It also includes Ellis Paul, a singer-songwriter who came onto the Boston music scene in the late 1980s after arriving at Boston College on a track scholarship. Since then he has been the recipient of 14 Boston Music Awards.[2]

According to the New England Folk Network Web site, Massachusetts hosts more than a dozen annual folk music festivals. Of these, the Lowell Folk Festival claims to be the biggest free folk festival in the United States, while the New England Folk Festival, which began in 1944, may be the longest-running festival in the state. Festivals may include folk music from a wide diversity of cultures. For example, the 2007 New England Folk Festival included Bulgarian, Japanese, and Swedish music,[3] and the 2007 Working Waterfront Festival included Portuguese fado music and Mexican norteño.[4]


The Modern Lovers, featuring Jonathan Richman, David Robinson (later of The Cars), and, (for a short time) Jerry Harrison of Talking Heads, came out of Boston, as did more mainstream acts like Aerosmith, The Cars and Boston. The J. Geils Band formed at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Worcester, before adding Peter Wolf and Stephen Jo Bladd from Boston band The Hallucinations to the lineup.

Paul Pena was born in Hyannis and attended Clark University in Worcester. He played gigs at the Holden experiment with Bonnie Raitt and other Worcester folkies. He went on to play with T. Bone Walker and wrote the 1970s hit Jet Airliner. Also from the North Shore were the Nervous Eaters, who's fourth member was often one of the better guitar players in Boston at that time. They were managed by the Rathskeller Club in Kenmore Sq and released two 45's on the RAT label. They still play gigs within the New England area. To date they have released 3 albums, 5 CD's and many 45's records.

Alternative rock

The earliest alternative rock bands in Massachusetts hailed from Boston and included Salem 66, Volcano Suns and Mission of Burma. Later bands from eastern Massachusetts included Pixies, Honest Bob and the Factory-to-Dealer Incentives, Morphine, Chip Goddard, Galaxie 500, Swirlies and the Pernice Brothers. Farther west, in Amherst, the dissolution of the legendary hardcore punk band Deep Wound spurred the foundation of future legends Sebadoh and Dinosaur Jr. from its ashes. Amherst and neighboring Northampton also spawned the Scud Mountain Boys, Buffalo Tom, Lo Fine, and Cordelia's Dad, the latter uniquely fusing Appalachian folk music with hardcore punk rock.

Other notable alternative music bands and musicians include:

Hip hop

Although not nearly as prolific as the hip hop mecca of New York City, the Boston scene includes the late rap legend Guru of Gang Starr, A-Trigga, Delishus, legendary rap/hip-hop producer Statik Selektah,Lou Armstrong, Ed O.G., Big Shug, Mr. Lif, Akrobatik, Masspike Miles, Singerpore Kane, Sam Adams, The Maestro Z.O.O.M., Sonny Shotz, The Dean's List, Smoke Bulga, Benzino, Roc Dukati, Millyz, Dre Robinson, Moufy, Daney Foxxwoodz, Slaine, MC/producer duo 7L & Esoteric, Mark Wahlberg, and up-and-coming Lawrence MCs Termanology, and Reks.


The R&B group New Edition is from the Roxbury neighborhood of Boston.


As the hardcore underground hit Boston, a few new wave bands like Pastische, Lou Miami and the Kosmetix, Human Sexual Response, DMZ—who were to Boston what the New York Dolls were to New York City and who evolved into garage rock revivalists Lyres; The Real Kids, The Neighborhoods, The Turbines, and The Neats played any form of punk. The founder of the Boston hardcore scene was Allan Barile from Lynn, Massachusetts. Barile saw Minor Threat in Washington, D.C. and brought hardcore home with him, intensifying DC's skinhead and straight edge subcultures. Boston also developed an active hardcore zine culture by 1980, most influentially including Forced Exposure.

Barile's first band was The Rat, because those clubs served alcohol. They rented out Knights of Columbus halls in areas such as Cambridge and Newton, and insisted that the performances be "all ages shows". Violence was common at these concerts and many people felt they made the punk scene violent. Mostly this was felt by older punks on the scene and casual fans. Other bands soon joined. In contrast to Barile's SSD, many of these bands were from suburbs of Boston including best known Gang Green, heralding from Braintree, DYS, The FU's, Jerry's Kids, Siege, The Freeze and Last Rights; Stranglehold, and The Proleteriat from Fall River. Barile's Crew was known for being for the first major group of skinheads in the city of Boston. One of the most notorious of these straight edgers was Choke, who was actually attending Emerson College at the time. Choke played in a series of legendary bands including Negative FX, Slapshot and Last Rights. The Boston crew were a tight group of skinheads who were intensely loyal to one another and very territorial.

Unlike most hardcore bands, Boston's scene included heavy metal fans. Barile himself was a fan of AC/DC, while DYS, SSD and Gang Green all eventually made the switch to speed metal. The death of hardcore in Boston is said to have occurred in 1984, when Jerry's Kids announced at a show that "this is the end of hardcore. We started it and we're ending it here today." However, there are still many bands based out of Massachusetts that play hardcore, such as Righteous Jams and Bane.

The Boston hardcore scene of the 1990s was led by several hard hitting fan favorites, Sam Black Church (band), TREE, Wrecking Crew and Blood for Blood. Other notable Boston area hardcore bands of the 1990s include Honkeyball, Scissorfight, Tapes Don't Skip, Corrin, Converge, Fall From Grace and Brawlpark.

In recent years many hardcore bands have included metalcore elements to their music. These bands have been considered the rebirth of hardcore in Boston and the surrounding areas, and bands include Black My Heart, On Broken Wings, Shere Khan (which features several members of the two previously mentioned bands), Shipwreck A.D., Death Before Dishonor, Forced Coitus, and MOB HIT (with ex-Wargasm drummer Barry Spillberg).

Western Massachusetts hardcore

Perhaps a bit less violent than the Boston scene, the early Western mass hardcore scene had several notable bands, including Deep Wound, All White Jury, Brain Injured Unit, Cancerous Growth, Pajama Slave Dancers, Grey Matter and Outpatients. Of these, Deep Wound was the most important, spawning pioneering alternative rock groups like Dinosaur Jr and later Sebadoh, after the breakup of Deep Wound.

The late 80s to mid 90s saw many hardcore bands with a wide range of sounds. The 80s side included bands like Bloodbath, G Man, Wishful Thinking and Rumble Puppy. Many of these bands also had connections with the NYHC scene. During the early to mid nineties the scene contained acts ranging from heavy bands like Roachgrind, to punk bands like Wish and Maude, emo bands like Spoke and the abstract performance group Gutters. Most bands of the era released their own demo tapes and put out vinyl on Mark Dargie's Community Chest Records or Vandal Children Records run by Charlie Krich in Willimantic, Connecticut. Along with Mass. and Conn. basements, shows of this era happened at the Greenfield Grange, First Baptist Church of Northampton, Katina's, Pearl Street Nightclub, and even the middle school hangout Club Soda. Many of these bands also appeared at one time or another at the annual Northampton High School battle of the bands.

In the late 1990s several bands in Western Massachusetts (centered around the five colleges in Northampton/Amherst) helped establish an indie rock scene. These included such bands as Apollo Sunshine, the Warren Commission, New Jersey Fairplan, Waterpistol, Psara, Delvic, The Right, Pixies and Noah's Dove. Waterpistol and Psara appear on Deep Elm Records's The Emo Diaries compilation. The Warren Commission released several albums on the Boston label Espo Records. This was followed by a second wave of Western Massachusetts music, with emo and indie rock bands including I Am Disaster, Saveyourself, and the El to Addison. Many of these bands moved to the Boston area, where they have found some success or have broken up and formed new bands.

Western Massachusetts is still home to a bountiful hardcore scene. Bands such as, Fishercat, Fieldmaster, Limbs Bin, Lord Jeff, Buick Hands In, Shoot to Kill, Scurvy, Chuck Brunswick, Give 'Em Hell, Failures, Ampere, Orchid, Worms, Throwing Aces, Bloodwar, and many others are constantly playing in and out of the area.


Metalcore in Massachusetts started from the Boston hardcore scene and the influence of bands from the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. The bands combined the two genres and created metalcore, a whole new genre of metal in itself. In the middle of this musical renaissance, were two bands from Massachusetts that would form the way metalcore sounds today. Aftershock and Overcast are known to some as the godfathers of this genre. Following the breakup of these two bands, two other metalcore acts spawned from a number of their members, namely Killswitch Engage and Shadows Fall, two of the best-selling bands in metalcore. Other best-selling Massachusetts metalcore bands are The Acacia Strain, All That Remains, Unearth, and Within the Ruins. Other well-known Boston metalcore bands are Diecast, The Red Chord, Corrin, and Bury Your Dead.

Experimental Noise

There is a vibrant Experimental Noise scene in Western Massachusetts, including such bands as Fat Worm of Error, Egg Eggs, Zebu, Flaming Dragons of Middle Earth, etc. The label and record store of Northampton, Feeding Tube, provides a venue for many of these bands.


  • Blush, Steven. (2001). American Hardcore: A Tribal History. Los Angeles, CA: Feral House. ISBN 0-922915-71-7.
  • Most, Doug. (2013). "Boston Globe: Emerson’s WERS cancels ‘Rockers’ and ‘88.9@night’. Boston, MA:
  1. ^  
  2. ^ NPR Music. Ellis Paul: Approachable And Charismatic NPR website, Feb. 16, 2010.
  3. ^  
  4. ^ "Featured Guests". Retrieved 2008-01-18. 

External links

  • Connecticut/MA Music - Western Massachusetts Music News
  • American Music Preservation - Massachusetts Music
  • New England Folk Network
  • New England Music Exchange Network
  • New England Open Mic E-zine with listings
  • Surf For Local Music E-zine with listings
  • The Bay State Hotel (Northampton) -- a music scene memorial
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