Music of Wisconsin

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Wisconsin was settled largely by European immigrants in the late 19th century. This immigration led to the popularization of galops, schottisches, waltzes, and, especially, polkas. Classical composers and conductors from Wisconsin include Hans Balatka, Hugo Kaun, Eugene Luening, Theodore Steinmetz and Sarge Boyd. The Steve Miller Band, with Madison's Steve Miller, had three #1 hits on the Billboard Hot 100 from 1973–82, including "The Joker."[1] The Chordettes, from Sheboygan, had a #1 hit in the US with "Mr. Sandman" in 1954.[citation needed] Bon Iver, the indie folk band from Eau Claire, had a #2 album on the Billboard 200 in 2016. Garbage from Madison had a #4 album on the Billboard 200 with the alternative and electronic rock Bleed Like Me in 2005.[citation needed]


Indigenous music[edit]

German- and Norwegian-American music[edit]

The 1830s and 1840s brought European dances like the schottische, waltz, galop and, most importantly, the polka. The 1840s also saw massive immigration from Germany to Milwaukee, which became known as Deutsche Athen (German Athens). Groups formed, such as the Milwaukee Musical Society, to celebrate ethnic German music. Some important figures from this era include Christopher Bach, Hans Balatka, Eugene Luening and Hugo Kaun.

While Germans moved to Milwaukee, Norwegians moved en masse to south and west Wisconsin, and surrounding areas. Norwegian musicians like the violinist Ole Bull were wildly popular in cities like Madison.

Blues and jazz[edit]

Musical output came from Grafton, Ozaukee County during the 1920s when Paramount Records released a series of blues and jazz recordings by artists from the South.

Drummer Viola Smith, from Mount Calvary, is best known for her work in swing bands and orchestras in the 1930-1940s. She appeared on Broadway, film, and television; including The Ed Sullivan Show on multiple occasions.

Jazz clarinetist, alto and soprano saxophonist, singer, and big band leader Woody Herman was born in Milwaukee.

Karen Borca, born in Green Bay, is an avant-garde jazz and free jazz bassoonist who studied music at the University of Wisconsin.

Pianist, composer, and bandleader Lynne Arriale was born in Milwaukee.[2]

Punk rock[edit]

A cult favorite from the 1980s was the Violent Femmes from Milwaukee. Boris the Sprinkler was from Green Bay. Mindlisp, The Vendors, and The Smerves were all from Ashland. New wave bands from Milwaukee included Couch Flambeau and The Stellas, later better known as hardcore punk band Die Kreuzen. Milwaukee saw some other hardcore action, but the scene soon died out and Die Kreuzen moved on to speed metal. Madison, Wisconsin spawned the Tar Babies and Appliances-SFB. Later, the noise rock band Killdozer became an indie rock group. The most recent punk rock bands from Wisconsin are Tenement, Jetty Boys, Avenues, The Transgressions, Direct Hit, George's Bush, Showoff (lead singer/songwriter lives in Milwaukee) and Masked Intruder.

Heavy metal[edit]

Since the late 1990s, Wisconsin has had an upsurge in heavy and extreme metal bands that have played across the state, often extending into the surrounding Midwest. Luna Mortis from Madison was signed by Century Media Records, Lazarus A.D. from Kenosha, Wisconsin was signed by Metal Blade, Jungle Rot from Kenosha, Wisconsin is currently signed to Napalm Records, and Product of Hate from Kenosha, Wisconsin signed to Napalm Records.

Since 2003, many metal bands in Wisconsin have teamed up in a loose coalition called the Wisconsin Metal Alliance (WMA) which helps to promote and organize bands while giving them a place to congregate and pool resources.

One-man death metal project Putrid Pile (Shawn LaCanne) resides in Racine, Wisconsin. Putrid Pile has sold over 10,000 albums worldwide since the year 2000.

Madison has a vibrant Stoner Rock culture, producing bands such as Bongzilla, Jex Thoth, and Romero.


Bon Iver from Eau Claire and Cory Chisel from Appleton.

Hip hop[edit]

Well-known hip hop artists from Wisconsin include Coo Coo Cal IshDARR Brew City Ballas and Streetz-n-Young Deuces.



Mile of Music - Founded 2013

In 2013, this city hosted the first annual Mile of Music festival, a handcrafted artisan festival featuring among other genres, Americana and folk rock music. The festival draws in tens of thousands of people over four-days and features over 200 artists and 800 performances, encompassing over 60 venues and stretching over a mile of downtown Appleton's College Avenue. This festival is a 'cover free' zone, meaning no cover songs and no cover charges. This is almost a 100% free festival. The city itself has welcomed artists from all over the country and is fast becoming a hot spot for singer/songwriter and folk music.

Appleton also has many summer concert series that go on all through the summer months, including those in its city parks and Houdini Plaza.

Eau Claire[edit]

The Eau Claire Municipal Band, founded in 1902, is the city's oldest community musical organization.
Cimmeron Show Review 1976

The Chippewa Valley, especially Eau Claire, has groups and performers in the indie rock, metal/hardcore, hip hop, jam, blues, bluegrass, and jazz genres. Bands such as Bon Iver, The Daredevil Christopher Wright, and Laarks have achieved varying levels of national success. Eau Claire is also the original home of national artists such as Venison, Another Carnival, Peter Wolf Crier and Megafaun, as well as many of the Minneapolis scene's popular acts including Mel Gibson and the Pants, and Digitata. The later 1990s birthed bands such as Under the Surface and No Loving Place.

La Crosse[edit]

The Root Note is a prime venue for indie and underground music in the La Crosse region.

Many bands claim origin to La Crosse and the surrounding area. La Crosse has several venues for different genres of music. The Root Note is the prime venue for indie/underground music; JB's Speakeasy is home to all original live music; the Warehouse is the hotspot for alternative music; and the La Crosse Center is the area's largest indoor venue for concerts often hosting popular musicians. Notable bands from La Crosse are T.U.G.G, Space Bike, Neon, and Shoeless Revolution. Popular musician Stephen Jerzak also lived in La Crosse and attended high school there, although he has since moved to California. Slow Pedestrians were the first known punk band in the early 1980s (later Mighty Deerlick - Milwaukee). Some of the past groups have been The Jesters III who evolved into Christian rock group Hope.


Madison has an active and varied local music scene. Much of the local music caters to the tastes of college students. Compilation albums, such as Mad City Music, have attempted to extend the local music scene beyond Madison. The nationally successful Madison Scouts Drum and Bugle Corps also make their home in Madison.

A number of bands in the electronic and dark sides of music are alive and well in Madison, including Stromkern, Null Device, Caustic and V05nu-disco and funk band. The scene was started and kept alive through the efforts of Sonic Mainline records, Reverence, and the Inferno nightclub.

World music is well represented with such award-winning[3] acts as Reptile Palace Orchestra and Yid Vicious[4] and the yearly "Folkball".

Youngblood Brass Band, founded in Oregon, Wisconsin fuses New Orleans-style brass band music with hip-hop and funk.

Wisconsinite Butch Vig, formerly of Fire Town, formed Garbage (originally based in Madison) in 1993 with Steve Marker, Duke Erikson and Shirley Manson.

Richard Davis, Ben Sidran and weekly performer and world's-most-sampled[5] funky drummer Clyde Stubblefield[6] all call Madison home.

Rock band Stone Bogart was from Wisconsin. It later relocated to Tempe. Arizona and then to Hollywood California. All three of their albums were recorded in Madison. They continued to record at Sleepless Nights after relocating. Their singer Sean Anders[7] wrote and directed the movies Sex Drive, Hot Tub Time Machine, Mr. Popper's Penguins, and She's Out of My League. He also directed the Adam Sandler movie That's My Boy.

Aside from the many summer festivals, Madison hosts a yearly Madison Area Music Awards show, much like Milwaukee's Wisconsin Area Music Industry Awards show.


Main article: Music of Milwaukee

The Milwaukee area has produced Steve Miller (rock), Wladziu Valentino Liberace (piano), Al Jarreau (jazz), Eric Benet (neo-soul), Speech (hip hop), Daryl Stuermer (rock), BoDeans (rock), Les Paul (jazz), the Violent Femmes (alternative), Coo Coo Cal (rap), Die Kreuzen (punk), Andy Hurley of Fall Out Boy (punk), Eyes To The Sky (hardcore), Rico Love (R&B), Andrew 'The Butcher' Mrotek of The Academy Is... (alt-rock), Showoff (pop-punk), The Promise Ring (indie), Lights Out Asia (post-rock), the Gufs (alt rock), Brief Candles (rock) and Decibully (indie).


During the 1970s, Oshkosh was home to the Cimmeron Show Review, a four-piece pop group formed by students that attended the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh. Cimmeron was considered a show band and specialized in vocals and a well rehearsed stage show. Cimmeron was active from 1972 to 1979 and became a headliner early in its conception. It now hosts Waterfest, a summer concert series that brings in National acts from all and is hosted at the Leech Amphitheater.


Notable artists from Waukesha include multi-track recording inventor Les Paul "the Architect of Rock and Roll" and The BoDeans, a Summerfest favorite.


John Altenburgh & Johnny & The MoTones hail from the Wausau, Wisconsin area.

The band AirKraft hail from Wausau as well, having been a regional rock band achieving success throughout the 80's and touring with multiple headlining acts. Their hits included Alien Probe and 85 Miles Per Hour.


  1. ^ "Steve Miller Band > Awards > AllMusic". allmusic. Retrieved July 4, 2016. 
  2. ^ "The Lynne Arriale Trio". Retrieved 12 September 2016. 
  3. ^ [1] Archived March 1, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.
  4. ^ [2][dead link]
  5. ^ "James Brown - the world's most sampled recording artist is back!". 2006-07-14. Retrieved 2015-10-26. 
  6. ^ [3] Archived March 6, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.
  7. ^ "Sean Anders". Retrieved 2015-10-26. 


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

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