Music of Pennsylvania

Music of Pennsylvania
Music of the United States
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The Philly sound in 1970s soul music, notable performers including Gamble & Huff, The O'Jays, Teddy Pendergrass, Harold Melvin and The Delfonics, is well-known, as are jazz legends like Nina Simone and John Coltrane. Philadelphia gave to the musical world diverse singers such as Mario Lanza, Frankie Avalon, Dee Dee Sharp and Fabian. This city is also the birthplace of American Bandstand, and the home of Cameo-Parkway records and the famed Philadelphia Orchestra.

Following the American Revolution, Philadelphia became especially renowned for musical development and was the home of the esteemed Alexander Reinagle, John Christopher Moller, Rayner Taylor and Susannah Haswell Rowson. Reinagle became the most influential figure in Philadelphia's musical life, organizing a number of concerts, organizations and musical events. Francis Hopkinson, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, was a notable composer of the period. One of his compositions, "My Days Have Been So Wondrous Free", is well-remembered as the first art song from the United States (though this is disputed); it is, however, lacking in originality and innovation to set it apart from European compositions.

During the 19th century, Lawrenceville, Pennsylvania became the birthplace of Stephen Foster, easily the most popular American songwriter of the century.


Religious music in the colonial era

Rural Pennsylvania in the colonial era was home to religious minorities like the Quakers, as well as important Moravian and Lutheran communities. While the Quakers had few musical traditions, Protestant churches frequently made extensive use of music in worship J. F. Peter emerged from the Moravian tradition, while Conrad Beissel (founder of the Ephrata Cloister) innovated his own system of harmonic theory. The Lutheran traditions of Johann Sebastian Bach, Dieterich Buxtehude, Johann Pachelbel and Walther were propagated in Pennsylvania, and the city of Bethlehem remains a center of Lutheran musical traditions today.


The Mennonites, followers of Menno Simons, settled in Germantown after emigrating from the German Palatinate and Switzerland between 1683 and 1748. They were led by Willem Rittinghuysen (grandfather of astronomer and mathematician David Rittenhouse). The Mennonites used a hymnbook from Schaffhausen, reprinted in Germantown in 1742 as Der Ausbund Das ist etliche schöne christliche Lieder.

Ephrata Cloister

The Ephrata Cloister (Community of the Solitary) was founded in what is now Lancaster County on the Cocalico River in 1720. This was a group of Seventh Day Baptists led by Peter Miller and Conrad Beissel, who believed in using music as an integral part of worship. Beissel codified the Ephrata Cloister's unique tradition in his Beissel's Dissertation on Harmony; here, he divided notes into two types. These were masters, or notes belonging to the common chord, and servants, or all other notes. Accented syllables in Beissel's works always fell on master notes, leaving servant notes for unaccented syllables. The Ephrata Cloister's hymnbook was large, consisting of more than 1,000 hymns, many of which were accompanied by instruments including the violin. Many of these hymns were published in the 1740s and 50s.

Moravian Church

Founded in 1457, the Moravian Church originally spread across Moravia, Poland and Bohemia before persecution forced the remaining faithful to Saxony, where they lived under the protection of Count Nikolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf. Zinzendorf wrote hymns, and led the Moravians to America, where they began missionary work in Georgia but with little success. They moved on to Pennsylvania, and founded the town of Bethlehem on the banks of the Lehigh River. A group then left for Salem, North Carolina (now a part of Winston-Salem).

Both in Salem and Bethlehem, Moravians continued to use music in their ceremonies. Instruments included organs and trombones, and voices were usually in choirs. Players generally played on rooftops for most any occasion, ensuring that they could be heard for great distances. A legend has arisen claiming that a group of Native American warriors approached a Moravian settlement during the French and Indian War, but left after hearing a trombone choir because they believed it to be the voice of their Great Spirit. Moravians were devoted to missionary work, especially among African slaves and Native Americans; in 1763, they published a collection of hymns in the Delaware language.

Moravians also had a tradition of secular art music that included the famed composer Johann Friedrich Peter, who was a German born in Holland who emigrated to Bethlehem in 1770. He brought with him copies of compositions by Joseph Haydn, Johann Christoph Friedrich Bach, Johann Stamitz and C. F. Abel. After living in Bethlehem for a time, Peter moved to Salem, where he founded the Collegium Musicum (in 1786) and collected hundreds of symphonies, anthems and oratorios. It was during this period that Peter also composed a number of well-respected instrumental pieces for two violins, two violas and a cello; he also composed sacred anthems like "It Is a Precious Thing" and arias like "The Lord Is in His Holy Temple".

The Moravian Church continued to produce a number of renowned composers into the 19th century, including John Antes as well as Francis F. Hagen, Johann Christian Bechler, Edward W. Leinbach, Simon Peter, David Moritz Michael, Georg Gottfried Müller, Peter Wolle, Jeremiah Dencke and Johannes Herbst. Herbst was also a noted collector, whose archives, left to the Salem church after his death, were made public in 1977; these included more than 11,000 pages of content. Salem has gradually become the center for Moravian musical innovation, partially due to the presence of the Moravian Music Foundation.


In 1694, Johannes Kelpius brought a group of German Pietists to the banks of the Wissahickon Creek. These became known as the Hermits or Mystics of the Wissahickon; this 1871 map of Wissahickon Creek notes a Kelpius spring and Hermits Glen. Kelpius was a musician, and he and his followers brought with them instruments that became an integral part of church life. Kelpius was also a composer, and is sometimes called the first Pennsylvanian composer, based on his unproven authorship of several hymns in The Lamenting Voice of the Hidden Love. It is likely that he wrote the text, though the tunes are mostly based on German songs; the English translations in the collection are attributed to Christopher Witt, an Englishman who immigrated and joined the mystics, also building them a pipe organ, said to be the first privately owned organ in North America.


Justus Falckner was the first Lutheran pastor to be ordained within the United States. He was ordained during 1703 as a minister of the Church of Sweden in the Gloria Dei Church. He is commemorated in the Calendar of Saints of the Lutheran Church on November 24. Falckner wrote hymns such as Rise, Ye Children of Salvation (German: Auf! ihr Christen, Christi Glieder) which he composed while a student at the University of Halle in 1697. Falckner's published works include Grondlycke Onderricht which first appeared in New York during 1708. Falckner evidently believed that music was a very important element of missionary work, writing to Germany to ask for an organ, which he said would attract more Native American converts.

Harmony Society

In 1803 and 1804, a group of Christian pietists led by George Rapp arrived from Württemberg, Germany, settled in Harmony, Pennsylvania, and formed the Harmony Society in 1805. The group lived communally, were pacifistic, advocated celibacy, and music was a big part of their lives. The Harmonites (or Harmonists) wrote their own music and even had an orchestra. The Society lasted until 1906, but their final settlement, Old Economy Village (now Ambridge, Pennsylvania) contains archives with sheet music that is still performed at special community events.

Rock and Popular Music

The Sixties and Seventies

As mentioned, Philly Soul became a staple of 1970s R&B with such artists as Gamble & Huff, The O'Jays, Teddy Pendergrass, Harold Melvin and The Delfonics.

Hall & Oates are from Philadelphia and attended Temple University, and Todd Rundgren hails from the Philadelphia suburb of Upper Darby, which is also home of the world-famous Tower Theater.

Rock music from western Pennsylvania tended to reflect a rust belt, white working class sensibility as far back as the mid-1960s. The Vogues from the Pittsburgh area scored with the hit "Five O'Clock World" and several other hits. The Jaggerz (named after a Pittsburgh English term for goofing off) had a hit in 1970 with "The Rapper".

The Eighties and Nineties to Present

Pennsylvania had a number of key entries into the music scene of the 1980s and 1990s and on into the 2000s

Pittsburgh's Iron City Houserockers, kicked off the decade with immense critical acclaim for their first three albums (Love's So Tough, Have a Good Time But Get Out Alive and Blood On The Bricks). Associated with the heartland rock subgenre and with artists like Bruce Springsteen, Bob Seger, John Mellencamp and Tom Petty, the Houserockers were regarded by many as both grittier and more kinetic. Although commercial success eluded the group, leader Joe Grushecky and the later incarnation of the band remain popular regional artists. In the Houserockers' wake came a number of other Pittsburgh area bands, including Norman Nardini and the Tigers, whose minor hit "If You Don't Love Me (Someone Will)" put the band briefly on the pop map. More recent entries in the heartland rock scene (sometimes counted as Grushecky proteges) include Bill Toms and Hard Rain and Tom Breiding who have strong local followings.

Donnie Iris, former member of The Jaggerz, had national success in 1980 with "Ah! Leah!" and a string of subsequent minor hits from 1980 to 1984.

The Hooters from Philadelphia broke into nationwide attention when they became the opening band at Live Aid where they performed "All You Zombies," soon to become their first hit single. The album Nervous Night followed with several more major hits like "And We Danced" and "Day By Day" in 1985 and 1986.

Metal band Poison were originally from the Harrisburg area, but as was common with glam metal bands, relocated to Los Angeles before becoming successful.

Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor hails from Mercer, Pennsylvania and drummer Chris Vrenna is from Erie.

Live, who achieved major success with their second album Throwing Copper, hail from York.

The pop singer Jeffrey Gaines is also from Harrisburg.

The alternative band, The Ocean Blue formed in Hershey.

Death metal band Incantation are from Johnstown.

The Clarks, a rock/pop band who achieved major success in the 1990s with the songs "Born too late", "Penny on the floor", "Cigarette", "Better Off", are native to Pittsburgh.

Rusted Root, a jam band who has also had a prolific music career with the songs "Ecstasy", "Heaven", and "Free my soul", also call Pittsburgh home.

Train lead singer, Patrick Monahan, hails from Erie.

G. Love and Special Sauce, who has had a string of successes with songs like "Stepping Stone" and "Recipe", is from Philadelphia.

CKY and The Bloodhound Gang are from the Philadelphia area.

Ween is from New Hope, Pennsylvania.

Critically acclaimed hard rock sensation Breaking Benjamin are based out of Wilkes-Barre. Country and pop artist Taylor Swift hails from Wyomissing, Pennsylvania.

Punk rock

Philadelphia had a flourishing New Wave scene that included local acts The Vels, Executive Slacks and Regressive Aid. Hardcore punk had a significant scene as well, led by Sadistic Exploits along with MCRAD, Electric Love Muffin, Autistic Behavior, dresden and Informed Sources. Later bands like Zen Guerilla and Dead Milkmen gained some national success. Flag of Democracy have released seven albums since 1982 and toured the world.

Harrisburg's The Outrage and Pittsburgh's Real Enemy, Necracedia and Anti-Flag had a local hardcore following as well. Metalcore band, August Burns Red, is from Lancaster.

Friction was a punk rock band from Lewistown, Pennsylvania, which eventually morphed into New York City-based Caesar Pink and The Imperial Orgy. Although Friction enjoyed a large and dedicated following in Pennsylvania, they disbanded while on the verge of signing with a major label, but not before their music was played to a world-wide audience on Radio Moscow in 1987.

Another band to hail from Pittsburgh's punk/rock/pop scene was Damaged Pies. The Pies started at such clubs as The Electric Banana, and The Decade and have gone on to play some of the world's most legendary rock venues, including the Cavern in Liverpool, CBGB in NYC, The Whisky A Go Go in Los Angeles, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland and even the Wheeling Jamboree in Wheeling, West Virginia. The band has recorded at the legendary Sun Studio in Memphis and Trident Studio in London. In addition to these the band has been on the road at venues all over North America and the United Kingdom for the past twenty years.

Hip hop, R&B, and Nu Soul

Hip hop music, R&B music, and Nu soul music are popular elements of entertainment in Pennsylvania, and have earned many different performers within said genres.

See also


  • Blush, Steven (2001). American Hardcore: A Tribal History. Los Angeles, CA: Feral House. ISBN 0-922915-71-7.

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