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 of Music, 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.

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.

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.

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, and the 2007 Working Waterfront Festival included Portuguese fado music and Mexican norteño.

Portuguese music

In the United States, the Portuguese singer the most known from Portuguese American communities is indisputably pop star Jorge Ferreira, a Fall River's world music artist now living in Westport. Ferreira is also known in Portugal, but not as much as in the U.S. Performing around the world, Ferreira is the only luso singer in America who distances himself popularly from other luso artists, releasing albums in America, Europe and South America. The world music, rock, dance, pimba music and fado are the genres performed by several luso artists and bands in the area. Portuguese American musicians come from the Azores Islands in majority, and usually are based in Fall River, Westport, New Bedford, Lowell, Somerset, Peabody, Cambridge, Plymouth and Taunton.

Other notable bands and musicians include:


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.

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, 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, Sonic Youth, Buffalo Tom, and Cordelia's Dad, the latter uniquely fusing Appalachian folk music with hardcore punk rock.

Other notable bands and musicians include:

Hip hop

Although not nearly as prolific as the hip hop mecca of New York City, the Boston scene includes MCs such as Guru and Ed O.G., as well as underground rappers Mr. Lif, Akrobatik, Edan, Slaine, and MC/producer duo 7L & Esoteric.


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 SSD (Society System Decontrol). It formed in 1981 and recorded the following year. SSD organized their own shows, not playing at typical venues, such as punk rock mainstay 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 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 still play hardcore, such as Righteous Jams and Bane.

The Boston hardcore scene of the 1990's was led by three hard hitting fan favorites, Sam Black Church, TREE, and Blood for Blood. Other notable Boston area hardcore bands of the 90's include Honkeyball, Scissorfight, 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, Death Before Dishonor, and Forced Coitus.


Metalcore in Massachusetts started from the ashes of the Boston harcore scene and the influence of bands from the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. Bands combined the two genre's and created metalcore a whole new genre of metal in it self. In the middle of this musical renaissance where 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. From the these two bands they would create Killswitch Engage and Shadows Fall two of the best selling bands in metalcore. Some other metalcore bands from Massachusetts include The Acacia Strain, All That Remains, Seemless, Unearth, Converge, Bury Your Dead, This Oceans Weight, Indignus, Burial, Sacrum, perpetual doom, grimlock, pushbutton warfare, and others.

Western Massachusetts scene

More laid-back and less violent than the Boston scene, Western Massachusetts had several notable hardcore bands, including Deep Wound, All White Jury, Brain Injured Unit, Cancerous Growth, Siege, Pajama Slave Dancers, Grey Matter and The 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.

From 1983 to 1987, an eclectic non-hardcore dance band named Circle developed a loyal following in the Amherst/Northampton area. Their original and often improvisational music, captured in a self-produced album, Big Intersection (1986), included folk, rock, reggae, funk, tribal, blugrass and blues influences. They were notable for befriending and performing with local hardcore acts including Dinosaur Jr, Pajama Slave Dancers and The Outpatients, despite having a non-hardcore sound and fan base.

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. Both 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.

Northampton, Massachusetts is home to the psychedelic-folk-jam band Lord Jeff, named after Lord Jeffery Amherst, the nation's first bio-terrorist, who also named Amherst, Massachusetts.

Stockbridge, Massachusetts was also the setting for the infamous American folk song Alice's Restaurant.

Western Massachusetts is still home to a bountiful hardcore scene. Bands such as Cockpunch, Hands In, Shoot to Kill, Scurvy, Chuck Brunswick, Give 'Em Hell, and many others are constantly playing in and out of the area. One previously popular band, The McFeelys, is secretly planning a reunion tour in early 2008.

Eclectic Music

Western Massachusetts has been and remains the home of bands that would rather not write love songs, but songs called "Defreeze Walt Disney", "Problems With Sects", "Spider Goo", "Rabid Beaver Attack", "They Want to Make Me a Clone", and "Don Knotts (Is Mick Jagger's Dad)".

The aforementioned Pajama Slave Dancers (PSD), with their punky sensibilities, spawned Captain Testosterone and the Gypsy Stretch Mark Orchestra led by Steve Westfield. Other PSD offshoots were Chubacabra Jr., and The Uncomfortables. The Hutus and Chicken McHead openly acknowledged PSD's influence on both their lyrics and performance antics. The Rock Gods from Chicopee had a hilarious show pretending they were big rock stars, while the Donut Kings lyrics played the funny versus the silly. The Donut Kings won the 2000 Valley Advocate Grand Band Slam for best Alternative/Eclectic band. Another Grand Band Slam winner that year (for cover band) was Krazee Navel.


  • Blush, Steven. (2001). American Hardcore: A Tribal History. Los Angeles, CA: Feral House. ISBN 0-92291-571-7.

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