Music History Of Milwaukee

Milwaukee Musician Playing MusicMilwaukee has a long history of musical activity. The first organized musical society, called “Milwaukee Beethoven Society” formed in 1843, three years before the city was incorporated. This was later replaced with the Milwaukee Musical Society. The Wisconsin Conservatory of Music was founded in 1899.

The large concentrations of German immigrants contributed to the musical character of the city. Saengerbund festivals were held regularly.

Venues such as Pabst Theater, Marcus Amphitheater, Riverside Theater, The Northern Lights Theater, and The Rave frequently bring internationally-known and critically acclaimed acts to Milwaukee.

Milwaukee has a history of rock, jazz, soul, blues, punk, ska, industrial music, goth, hip hop, electronica and pop music bands. Some musicians who have risen out of the Milwaukee scene to regional and national prominence are Violent Femmes, Coo Coo Cal, Rico Love, Gerald Walker, Jerry Harrison, Woody Herman, Liberace, saxophonist Warren Wiegratz, blues giant Hubert Sumlin, the BoDeans, Maritime, Citizen King, The Gufs, Eyes To The Sky, Fever Marlene, Streetz & Young Deuces, The Promise Ring, Little Blue Crunchy Things, Eric Benét, Al Jarreau, Oil Tasters and Koala Taxi. The city is also home to Beer City Records, a local punk rock label.


Acts such as Violent Femmes, Jaill, BoDeans, Citizen King, Die Kreuzen, The Gufs, Fever Marlene, The Promise Ring, Little Blue Crunchy Things, Woolton Parrish, and Test Pilot have all been based in Wisconsin’s brew city. Indie/punk record label Snapdragon Records was founded in 2002 by Kristan Harris, an ex-member of Subdue.


Milwaukee has a rich history in metal from the now infamous “Milwaukee Metal Fest” (one of the first festivals in the United States to bring international and nationwide metal legends to play for thousands of eager fans) to the current small but thriving local metal community. Often overlooked, the metal community is strong and continues to grow. Unfortunately Milwaukee no longer has the once infamous Metalfest, but there is a largely popular underground metal scene. Bands like “Seven Angels Seven Plagues”, “Lying Still”, the once punk, now metal band “Less Than Popular”, and “Conniption” are all popular local bands still playing today (minus “Seven Angels Seven Plagues”)


Milwaukee has many punk, ska and emo artists, such as Ryan Piemeisel, Arthur Bollis, Max Woods, James Kujawa, Derek Mlaker, Jared Palkowski, Roman Ugowski, Rose Spella, Andy Penkalski, John Boston, Steven O’Neil, Nic Huth, Dave Baggs, Vash, Tony Henry, The Schmidt, Tom Callahan, Booty Tunes, Ewok Resistance, CJ Scerpella, The Promise Ring, Big Green Sofa, Denture Breath, Eighty-D, 5 o’Clock Charlie, Pavlov’s Dogs, SECW(Straight Edge Crack Whores), The Oakwoods, The Response, Bosio, Subdue, Molitor.

Hip hop

Main article: Midwest Hip Hop

Milwaukee’s hip hop scene received national recognition when Black Elephant was featured in the “Unsigned Hype” section of “The Source” magazine. Streetz & Young Deuces was also featured in the “off The Radar” section of “The Source”.

Other Milwaukee hip hop acts include, Tank (American singer), Rico Love, Coo Coo Cal, Gerald Walker, the Rusty Ps, Kid Cut Up, Brew City Ballas and Haz Solo. In 2001, Coo Coo Cal’s “My Projects” became the first commercially successful single by a Milwaukee hip hop act since Arrested Development strung together a set of hits in the early 1990s.

Rico Love, who spent most of his childhood in Milwaukee and claims the city as his hometown, was signed to Usher’s Us Records and releasing his hit single “Settle Down” from the soundtrack to In the Mix.

Milwaukee is also where the Core DJ’s began. Milwaukee native, The CEO of the Core DJ’s & radio DJ, Tony Neal started Core in October 2004. Since then, The Core DJ’s has become the largest coalition of urban DJ’s in the world with over 500 DJ’s worldwide.


Milwaukee’s jazz scene has produced many nationally recognized artists including Al Jarreau, Brian Lynch, Jon Weber, Thom Mason, Carl Allen, Eddie Allen, Lynne Arriale, Billy and Mark Johnson, Russ Johnson, John Sullivan, and Juli Wood. Several other jazz masters have held Milwaukee ties through the years, including Mel Rhyne, Bunky Green, George Braith, Woody Herman, and Rahsaan Roland Kirk. Many Chicago musicians make the trek to Milwaukee to play at the city’s jazz clubs, such as The Jazz Estate and Caroline’s. Some restaurants and hotel bars also feature live jazz. Milwaukee also hosts the weekly Thursday night music series “Jazz in the Park”, which runs from Labor Day to Memorial Day.


Milwaukee’s club scene sees regular bookings of international DJs, such as Richie Hawtin, LTJ Bukem, Mark Farina, Derrick Carter and The Founder of The CORE Dj’s, Tony Neal. In the early 1990s, the city’s rave scene fostered hardcore techno, thanks to Drop Bass; but the scene dwindled after reactions by local authorities. Milwaukee is also a center of the breakcore scene, with labels such as Addict Records and Zod Records.


Milwaukee is host to the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Edo de Waart. Other notable ensembles in Milwaukee include the Milwaukee Symphony Chorus, the Bel Canto Chorus, the Florentine Opera, the Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra, and the Fine Arts Quartet.

Record labels

Milwaukee is the headquarters of Snapdragon Records, which is nationally distributed by Sony/RED/MRI. Its artists have been featured on Van’s Warped Tour, MTV, Fuel, and Fuse Summerfest. Originally a pop punk label that has adapted throughout the years with the genre, it has historically supported several notable Wisconsin artists including Madison’s skacore artist I Voted For Kodos, Pop Rock artist The Starrs, Milwaukee’s The Response. It has also featured Milwaukee artists on nationally distributed compilations, such as Since By Man, Bosio, Subdue, The Response, Red Letter Diaries Temper Temper. SDR also supports the community with its local sponsorship of the Rock for Life blood drives.

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