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Baltimore rocks (... and raps ... and scats)


Did you know Tori Amos received a citation from the Mayor of Baltimore for a song about the 1980 Orioles? Or, that before Tupac Shakur was "West Coast," he was "East Coast" and a student at the Baltimore School of the Arts?

Baltimore has been home to a surprising number of musicians in a variety of genres. Some of Baltimore's rockers are tied here by chance -- their parents happened to live in Charm City during their childhood: Frank Zappa, Talking Heads' David Byrne and The Cars' Ric Ocasek. Some, like pianist Amos and avant-garde minimalist Philip Glass, studied at the world-class Peabody Conservatory in Mount Vernon. Others, like Shakur and Cab Calloway, just passed through on their way to celebrity status.

Check out the list below for a glimpse at Baltimore's musical heritage, from rock to classical, and a nod to today's music scene.

Let's rock

Tori Amos

Amos was born Myra Ellen Amos in North Carolina, and moved to Baltimore in 1964 when she was 2. At five she enrolled at Peabody, hailed as a piano prodigy. Legend has it that the Peabody faculty kicked her out at 11 for a radical songwriting venture, though her resistance to learning how to read music may have also factored into the decision. As a teen, Amos stuck to her style of playing by ear and began touring the Baltimore and Washington piano bar circuit. At 17, she recorded her first single, with writing assistance from her brother, Michael. "Baltimore/ Walking With You" displayed little of the angst that surfaced in her more famous work. She sang of the city, "It's all kind of people/Familiar places smiling faces/I'm proud to say I'm a Baltimorean/But the 'Birds are the best/The best of Baltimore."

David Byrne

Byrne's family moved to the Baltimore suburbs when young David was 8 or 9. He attended junior high in Baltimore and went to Landsdowne Senior High School, south of Baltimore. He played in local bands but with no serious musical intentions. In 1970, he headed to art school, first trying out the Maryland Institute College of Art, then moving on to the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), where he met his future Talking Heads bandmates, Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth. RISD proved a poor fit for Byrne, and he returned to Baltimore in 1971. Leaving behind Frantz and Weymouth, he created the duo Bizadi with Marc Kehoe. Both sang, Byrne played violin and ukulele and Kehoe played accordion. Bizadi lived a short life in Baltimore, appearing in various bars from February 1971 to March 1972. In 1972, the pair moved to San Francisco, but their time as California buskers did not last long, either. Byrne quickly returned to Providence and the Talking Heads, first known as The Artistics, were born.

Mama Cass

Ellen Naomi Cohen was born in 1941 in Baltimore. The Cohen family moved to Washington shortly after Ellen's birth. In the mid-1960s, she joined The Mamas and the Papas and became Mama Cass. Before that, she performed in local theater productions.

Jerry Leiber

Jerry Leiber, of famed songwriting team Leiber and Stoller, was born in Baltimore in 1933. Shortly after the end of WWII, Leiber's family moved to the West Coast, where he met Mike Stoller in Los Angeles in 1950. The two went on to write songs like "Hound Dog" and "Jailhouse Rock."

Ric Ocasek

Former Cars front man Ocasek was born Richard Otcasek in 1949 in Baltimore. Ocasek was part of a strict Catholic family who lived in Baltimore until 1965, moving to Cleveland when Ric was 16. Ocasek continues his music career today as a producer, notably for Weezer and Guided by Voices.

Tupac Shakur

Tupac Amaru Shakur was born Lesane Parish Crooks in New York in 1971. The Shakur family moved to Baltimore in June 1986, which is, according to several fan Web sites, around the time Shakur wrote his first rap. In September 1986, Shakur became a student at Baltimore School of the Arts, where he studied dance and theater. His Baltimore tenure only lasted two years. In June 1988, Shakur was uprooted when his family relocated to Marin County, Calif.


Baltimore is responsible for the "Thong Song," or, at least, a Baltimorean is responsible for the 2000 hit that glorified the briefest of briefs. Sisqo, born Mark Andrews in 1978 in Baltimore, first began singing in his church choir. He found musical cohorts during high school at Baltimore City Community College Prep, and gained notice while working with the trio James Green, Tamir Ruffin and Larry Anthony at the Fudgery in the Inner Harbor. The four would sing to entertain customers, and later became known as Dru Hill, paying homage to the Druid Hill Park neighborhood in East Baltimore. The group released its first single, "Tell Me," in 1996. In 1999, the group restructured and Sisqo, with his tell-tale dyed blonde hair, moved to the front.

Frank Zappa

Frank Vincent Zappa was born in Baltimore in 1940 and lived on Park Heights Avenue. His father worked at the Edgewood Arsenal, where mustard gas was made. Zappa was not a healthy child, so the family moved to Florida when Frank was 9 to improve his health.

Zappa made his musical tribute to Baltimore later in life. "What's New in Baltimore" appeared on his 1990 album "Frank Zappa Meets the Mothers of Prevention."

Singing the blues (and jazz)

Eubie Blake

Jazz pianist Eubie Blake was born in 1883 in Baltimore. Also a dancer and composer, Blake highlighted his hometown in the song "Baltimore Buzz."

Cab Calloway

The jazz singer and scatman was born in New York, raised in Baltimore, attended Douglass High School and moved to Chicago during the late 1920s, when he was in his early teens. Before heading west, Calloway -- who is best known for songs such as "Minnie the Moocher" and "You Gotta Hi-De-Ho" -- was known to occasionally join Baltimore bands as a drummer and an emcee. His older sister, Blanche, was also a popular singer.

Ethel Ennis

Born in Baltimore in 1932, Ethel Ennis is a local institution, sometimes referred to as "Baltimore's First Lady of Jazz." In 1982, she and her husband Earl Arnett were appointed Cultural Ambassadors to the City of Baltimore. Not content to focus only on her own career, Ennis opened a music club, "Ethel's Place," across from the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall in the 1980s.

Billie Holiday

Details of Holiday's early life are rather sketchy. She concocted numerous stories about her upbringing, but she evidently spent part of her adolescence in Baltimore, working as a maid and errand-runner at Alice Dean's brothel. She had definitely left Baltimore by the 1930s, when she began appearing as a singer in New York City clubs.

Chick Webb

Jazz bandleader and drummer Chick Webb lived his short life (he died of congenital tuberculosis at age 30) in Baltimore. Perhaps his greatest contribution to music came when he hired Ella Fitzgerald as his band's lead vocalist; she was just a teenager at the time. Fitzgerald gave Webb his biggest hit with the song "A-Tisket, A-Tasket."

Keeping it classical

Philip Glass

The postmodern musician was born in 1937 in Baltimore, where he began music lessons at age 6 and started playing the flute seriously at 8. His true introduction to classical music came in his father's radio shop where he heard old albums of symphonies; Shostakovich was one of the young musician's favorites. Glass became a student at the Peabody Conservatory, where he studied until the age of 15, when he left to attend the University of Chicago.

Not-so-apparent traces of Glass' connection to his hometown surface in his compositions: Glass is a huge fan of one of Baltimore's most famous artists, Edgar Allen Poe. Glass created an operatic version of "The Fall of the House of Usher" and a dance/theater piece based on Poe's "Descent into the Maelstrom."

Hilary Hahn

Hilary Hahn is a native Baltimorean and a recent Grammy winner. She began her classical training on the violin at Peabody at age 4. She went on to study abroad and at Philadelphia's prestigious Curtis Institute, graduating at 19. As a professional, she has made recordings with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and one of her first recitals occurred as part of Washington's Phillips Collection Concert Series.

Baltimore bands

Time may erase some of these bands from memory, but for now they're keeping Baltimore's music scene alive. For more on the local music scene, Towson University's WTMD 89.7 regularly showcases local music and interviews local musicians.

Agents of the Sun

Agents of the Sun is a rock/pop band that came together in 2003 in Baltimore. Brothers Ray (vocals) and Dave (drums) Dobson, who grew up in Maryland, met West Coast transplants Ralph Rodriguez (guitar) and Frankie Hernandez (bass) when the two pairs were rehearsing in the same Baltimore studio. Guitarist Jason Fubler rounds out the band. Agents' debut album "Aurora" came out in October 2003.

All Mighty Senators

All Mighty Senators are well known on the Baltimore and D.C. circuits. Their blend of jam band style with a Motown/funk sound has made them a favorite opening act for everyone from The Pretenders to Medeski, Martin and Wood. Their latest album "Music is Big Business" hit stores in July 2003.

Black-Eyed Susan

This rock band calls Baltimore home, but understands the need for touring. Criss-crossing the country for small gigs helped them to create a wide fan base, particularly in Vermont. Their most recent album "Rudbeckia" was their third studio release.

Jimmie's Chicken Shack

Annapolis-based band Jimmie's Chicken Shack hits stages around Baltimore with a manic energy and an eclectic musical repertoire. Frontman Jimi HaHa sings to music from guitarist Che Colovita Lemon, bassist Sipple and drummer Call.

Joanne Juskus

Juskus struck a different path from many contemporary musicians. She moved from New York City to Baltimore. The pianist, vocalist, songwriter records her own music and hosts other local musicians at the monthly concert series "The Bottom Floor" at St. John's United Methodist Church.

Kelly Bell Band

The Kelly Bell Band keeps the blues in Baltimore. Fronted by -- you guessed it -- Kelly Bell, the group has been churning out a hard-driving blues sound up and down the East Coast since 1995.

Lake Trout

This five-member band calls Baltimore home, although they spend so much time touring the U.S. in their van, they're rarely here. They were originally considered part of the jam band scene, but as they become increasingly eclectic, with the help of computers and multi-instrumentalist Matt Pierce, their music has become difficult to categorize.

Todd Butler Group

Towson grad Todd Butler fronts this jazz ensemble. Butler, who plays trumpet, is joined by Kyle Coughlin on sax, Darius Scott on piano, Jeff Reed on bass and Mike Kuhl on drums.


These folksy newcomers debuted in 2001, releasing their first album "Life in Dead Trees" in 2002. They play often in the Baltimore area, but have to begun to play gigs around the Mid-Atlantic and in New York City.

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