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One of the original 13 colonies, the place where the Declaration of Independent and Constitution were signed, and the home of the Liberty Bell, Pennsylvania is a place for history lovers. Composed of farmland, forests, mountains, and more, this state has diverse terrain, which has made way for a variety of settlers, from Amish to mountain folk to urban dwellers. When it comes to music, Pennsylvania is a trendsetter and innovator, due largely to its undeniable history and creative migrant communities. Read below to find out more of how the past translates to the present in this state’s evolving music scene.

Pennsylvania has a 300+ year music history behind it.

Pennsylvania was originally settled by Quakers, a stoic, unmusical group of people. However, as other religious and ethnic groups came to the state, musical traditions and instruments came with them, laying the foundation for America’s musical future. Pennsylvanian music combined Jewish, Greek, Italian, Irish, Swedish, German, African, Scottish, Romanian, Slovakian, Russian, and other migrant music traditions to create a new American sound.

In 1700, Johannes Kelpius—from a group of German, pietist pilgrims—performed the first documented concert in the state. In 1817, Francis Johnson, an African American bugle and violin player, published a set of musical compositions called Collection of New Cotillions. Soon after, he was the first American to lead a band or ensemble on European tour. In the 1830s, the first known parlor songs came out of Pennsylvania. Parlor songs were the predecessor of popular music. These tunes were written for low-skill musicians so that many people could perform in private for family, friends, and small communities. In lieu of recorded music, this popularized certain tunes.

These are just some of the musical foundations laid by Pennsylvanians in early years. Although the 1800s seem far removed from contemporary times, some of Pennsylvania’s ethnic communities still perform the music that has been passed on for generations. Even outside of small spheres of sound, Pennsylvania’s role in establishing the concert tradition and planting the seeds of popular music are immeasurable.

Pennsylvania prides itself on its local artists.

Pennsylvania has countless rising musicians, singers, and bands. Hip-hop flourishes with Chiddy Bang, OCD Moosh & Twist, Lushlife, Zilla Rocca, Group Up, and Chill Moody. Several iterations of indie music are equally involved, with artists like Donora, DRGN KING, New Shouts, Hop Along, Cruiser, Strand of Oaks, and Toy Soldiers on city stages. Rock and punk are alive and well with groups such as Purling Hiss, Spirit of the Beehive, Sheer Mag, The Menzingers, The Districts, and more jamming regularly. Synth pop is produced by City Rain, and New Wave electronic is made by Nicos Gun. Surely, there is no shortage of shows with the amount of performers in Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania’s larger cities have been major voices in popular music over time.

In addition to the previously mentioned original pop songs, parlor songs, that came out of Pennsylvania, the state also created the first national hits in early rock and roll. During the Great Migration, Pennsylvania saw a sharp rise in its black population. With so many migrant communities coming together, exchanges in genres, techniques, and styles flowed. Jazz, blues, gospel, and country borrowed from one another. In 1953 and 1954, recording artists from Philadelphia merged blues, rhythm, and country to make early rock and roll. Jump bands were adapted to rock bands during this time, filling nightclubs, dance halls, and corner bars, particularly in the city’s black neighborhoods. Artists such as Jimmy Preston and Chris Powell led the way. Likewise, country blended R&B to make another riff on rock and roll.

The first ventures into these new sounds of pop and rock occurred on stages, when live performers experimented in from of audiences. Gripping, thrilling, and daring, these risks took off and became something incredible. Concert lovers today should go to Pennsylvania to hear where these revolutionary sounds began.

Many talented musicians have connections with Pennsylvania.

Daryl Hall and John Oates (Hall & Oates), Patti LaBelle, Billy Holiday, Tod Rundgren, Jim Croce, and Frankie Avalon are all Philadelphia natives. Although Chubby Checker was born in South Carolina, he grew up in South Philly, performing with other locals, such as Fats Domino. Chris Kirkpatrick (‘NSync) is from Clarion. Perry Como is from Canonsburg. Poison is a largely Pennsylvanian rock band, with Brett Michaels from Butler and Bobby Dall and Rikki Rocket from Mechanicsburg. Wiz Khalifa and Christina Aguilera are from Pittsburgh. Pink is from Doylestown. Taylor Swift is from a few small towns in Pennsylvania, including Wyomissing. Joan Jett was raised in Wynnewood.

The list could go on and on. With so many world-famous singers and musicians performing their first gigs in Pennsylvania, this state is sure to have some of the best underground, starting out talent out there. Locals and travelers should stop by humble venues to see which star might emerge tomorrow.

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