Groundbreaking Legends of Music
The proof is in the pudding … and New Jersey has a lot of pudding! Get it?! Ok, that’s just a really corny way to say New Jersey has a lot of talent … superstar talent. The kind that breaks barriers, define the times and generations, change the world. Where would we all be without them?
With help from Biography.com, we’ve accumulated some pages to acknowledge those who have paved the way for so many others.
Thank you to New Jersey’s Groundbreaking Legends of Music.
Born on May 10, 1916, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Milton Babbitt learned to play the violin as a 4-year-old and began arranging music by age 7. The highly influential avant-garde composer and teacher was one of the first musicians to create electronic pieces via the synthesizer. Honored with a special lifetime Pulitzer citation in 1982, he died on January 29, 2011, in Princeton, New Jersey.
Count Basie was born on August 21, 1904, in Red Bank, New Jersey. A pianist, he played vaudeville before eventually forming his own big band and helping to define the era of swing with hits like “One O’Clock Jump” and “Blue Skies.” In 1958, Basie became the first African-American male recipient of a Grammy Award. One of jazz music’s all-time greats, he won many other Grammys throughout his career and worked with a plethora of artists, including Joe Williams and Ella Fitzgerald. Basie died in Florida on April 26, 1984.
Musician George Clinton was born in Kannapolis, North Carolina on July 22, 1941. Raised in Plainfield, New Jersey, Clinton began his music career in the 1950’s, while working at a barbershop in Newark, New Jersey. He founded a doo-wop singing quintet he called The Parliaments out of the shop’s backroom. Clinton regularly reorganized musicians in The Parliaments, later known as Funkadelic and then P.Funk All-Stars, to create new sounds. He had a number one hit on his 1983 solo album, Computer Games. When Clinton headed to Detroit in the early 1960s to work as a staff songwriter for Motown, the group stayed in New Jersey but continued to work together long distance.
Bill Evans was born August 16, 1929, in Plainfield, New Jersey. Evans was first taught the piano by his mother, before moving to New York City to play. He moved quickly into the scene after returning from the Army, recording with Miles Davis on the 1958 album Kind of Blue. He continued influencing the jazz pianist scene into the 1970’s.
Born on October 21, 1917, in Cheraw, South Carolina, Dizzy Gillespie, known for his “swollen” cheeks and signature (uniquely angled) trumpet’s bell, got his start in the mid-1930s by working in prominent swing bands, including those of Benny Carter and Charlie Barnet. He later created his own band and developed his own signature style, known as “bebop,” and worked with musical greats like Cab Calloway, Ella Fitzgerald, Earl Hines, Charlie Parker and Duke Ellington. Gillespie’s best-known compositions include “Oop Bob Sh’ Bam,” “Groovin’ High,” “Salt Peanuts,” “A Night in Tunisia” and “Johnny Come Lately.” Gillespie died in New Jersey in 1993. Today, he is considered one of the most influential figures of jazz and bebop.
Lauryn Hill was born in South Orange, New Jersey, on May 26, 1975. In 1998, Lauryn Hill released her solo debut album, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, and became the first woman or hip-hop artist to win five Grammy Awards—for album of the year, best new artist, best female R&B performance, best R&B song (“Doo Wop (That Thing)”) and best R&B album.
Born on August 9, 1963, in Newark, New Jersey, Whitney Houston released her debut album at age 22 and scored three No. 1 singles. Whitney (1987) delivered four more No. 1s and earned Houston her first Grammy, with later albums including I’m Your Baby Tonight (1990) and My Love Is Your Love (1998) as well as soundtracks to The Bodyguard (1992) and Waiting to Exhale (1995). With her marriage to singer Bobby Brown in 1992 and ensuing drug use, Houston’s career got off track. She eventually made a comeback with 2009’s I Look to You and also co-starred in the the film remake Sparkle. Houston died from accidental drowning in a hotel on February 11, 2012.
Born John Francis Bongiovi Jr. on March 2, 1962, in Perth Amboy, New Jersey, Jon Bon Jovi knew in his early teens that he wanted to be a rock star. He formed the band Bon Jovi in the 1980s, which became popular for its power ballads, soaring guitar riffs, and well-crafted melodies. Jon Bon Jovi has also acted in such films as The Leading Man and was a recurring character on TV’s Ally McBeal.
Born on April 9, 1898, in Princeton, New Jersey, Paul Robeson went on to become a stellar athlete and performing artist. He starred in both stage and film versions of The Emperor Jones and Show Boat, and established an immensely popular screen and singing career. Robeson spoke out against racism and became a world activist, yet was blacklisted during the paranoia of McCarthyism in the 1950s. He died in Pennsylvania in 1976.
Born in Newark, New Jersey, in 1933, jazz musician Wayne Shorter gained attention for both his skill on the saxophone and his compositions. In his career, he played with greats like John Coltrane, Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock, and co-founded Weather Report, a noted jazz fusion group. A nine-time Grammy Award winner, Shorter was named a Jazz Master by the National Endowment for the Arts in 1998.
American singer-songwriter Paul Simon has made significant contributions to the American rock tradition. He began his career as part of the duo Simon & Garfunkel with his friend and musical partner Art Garfunkel. He has won 13 Grammy Awards, including the Lifetime Achievement Award and was selected as one of the “100 People Who Shaped the World” by TIME magazine in 2006.
Born in Hoboken, New Jersey, on December 12, 1915, Frank Sinatra rose to fame singing big band numbers. In the ’40s and ’50s, he had a dazzling array of hit songs and albums and went on to appear in dozens of films, winning an Oscar for From Here to Eternity. He left behind a massive catalog of work that includes iconic tunes like “Love and Marriage” and “New York, New York.”
Born on September 23, 1949, in the town of Long Branch, New Jersey, Bruce Springsteen played the bar circuit while assembling his famous E Street Band. His breakout record “Born to Run” united arena rock with human-size tales of working-class America. Springsteen consistently sells out his tours and has long been associated with left-leaning political causes; supporting John Kerry in the 2004 election.
Frankie Valli, born on May 3, 1934, eventually became renowned for his distinctive falsetto as the lead vocalist of The Four Seasons. The group had a wave of major hits during the 1960s, including “Sherry,” “Walk Like a Man” and “Working My Way Back to You,” while also staging a comeback during the following decade. Valli forged a successful solo career as well with singles like “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You,” “My Eyes Adored You” and the title song to the movie-musical Grease. The Tony Award-winning Broadway musical Jersey Boys launched in 2005, telling the story of Valli and The Four Seasons, followed almost a decade later with a movie adaptation directed by Clint Eastwood.
Born on March 27, 1924, in Newark, New Jersey, Sarah Vaughan grew up with a love of music and performing. Winning a talent competition held at Harlem’s Apollo Theater launched her singing career. She worked with bandleaders Earl Hines and Billy Eckstine before becoming a successful solo performer who commingled pop and jazz. At age 66, Vaughan died in Hidden Hills, California, on April 3, 1990.