New Jersey isn’t necessarily known for its music scene – you’d have to go north to New York City or west to Philadelphia for a place like that. Still, New Jersey has produced plenty of movers and shakers in the music world. Everyone knows Bruce Springsteen is from the Garden State, but check out this list of other New Jersey musicians who have graced our ears with their skill and creativity.
Although he was born in Waukesha, Wisconsin in 1915, Les Paul spent many years living in Mahwah, New Jersey. Les Paul’s most famous recordings were produced in the 1950s. His unusual guitar plucking skills, including techniques like licks and trills, captivated listeners. His hit duets with Mary Ford like “How High the Moon” were the first to use multi tracking, a process he invented.
Before Paul, bands had to play altogether in a studio to record and make sure that the microphone was placed precisely so that the musicians’ volumes were balanced. With multitracking, each musician could record separately with the microphone front and center, and each instrumental or vocal part could be recorded on top of each other and played at the same time. This also allowed artists to record on the go, in hotel rooms, tour buses, or in their homes, which Paul and Ford did often.
Les Paul also invented the first solid body electric guitar when he was just a teenager, using a piece of rail from the train tracks near his house. The Gibson Les Paul guitar was named after him to honor his contribution to the art of guitar playing. Paul continued playing well into his old age, performing at the Iridium Jazz Club every Monday night. He joined the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988 and the New Jersey Inventors Hall of Fame in 1996. He won two Grammys and was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2006
My Chemical Romance
Brothers Gerard and Mikey Way, the lead singer and bassist of My Chemical Romance, were both raised in Belleville, New Jersey. Gerard Way formed the band with Matt Pelissier (drummer) in late 2001, inspired by the attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11th. Mikey Way named the band after the title of a book called Ecstasy: Three Tales of Chemical Romance by Irvine Welsh, which he saw on the shelves while working at Barnes & Noble.
The pop punk band gained a cult-like following as well as mainstream hits like “Helena,” “Tennagers,” and “Welcome to the Black Parade,” the last of which reached number 1 on the U.S. Alternative Rock charts. Albums Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge and The Black Parade went Platinum in the United States. Much to the dismay of their fans, MCR disbanded in 2013. Gerard Way and Frank Iero have since embarked on solo careers.
The wildly popular rock band Bon Jovi originated in Sayreville, New Jersey. Bon Jovi reached international audiences with their third album, titled Slippery When Wet. They titled their next album New Jersey before going on a two-year hiatus to work on solo projects. The band returned from their second hiatus in 2000 with the hit single “It’s My Life.”
They’ve sold more than 130 million records and have played almost 3,000 concerts in more than 50 countries. Singer Jon Bon Jovi and guitarist Richie Sambora joined the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2009. The band released the lead single off their newest album “This House Is Not For Sale” on August 12th.
Vocal powerhouse Whitney Houston, the Guinness World Records most awarded woman performer ever, was born in Newark, New Jersey. She sold as many as 200 million records, all of which have achieved gold status or higher. Her video for “How Will I Know” launched her to stardom on MTV.
She was the only artist to produce 7 number one singles in a row and her first self-titled album was the best-selling debut by a woman ever. “I Will Always Love You” won Record of the Year at the 1994 Grammys and was the best selling song ever recorded by a woman. She also had a wildly successful acting career.
Another Newark native, rapper Ice-T produced the first hip-hop album with an explicit content warning. He founded record labels like Rhyme Syndicate Records and bands like Body Count. He’s had a wide range of acting jobs and currently portrays Odafin Tutuola on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.
The Jonas Brothers grew up in Wyckoff, New Jersey and formed in 2005. They rose to fame by touring with Jump5, Kelly Clarkson, Jesse McCartney, Backstreet Boys, The Click Five, Aly & AJ, The Cheetah Girls, and Miley Cyrus, and appearing on networks like Nickelodeon (Zoey 101), Cartoon Network (Fridays), MTV (Total Request Live), and, most notably, Disney Channel (Hannah Montana, Camp Rock and its sequel, and their self-titled series JONAS and Jonas L.A.).
The brothers have sold more than 17 million albums. Their 3 most recent releases went platinum in multiple countries and their 2 most recent reached number one in the United States. Their most successful singles include Busted cover “Year 3000,” “S.O.S.,” “When You Look Me In the Eyes,” “Burnin’ Up,” “A Little Bit Longer,” “Kids of the Future,” “Play My Music,” and “Lovebug.”
Since the band broke up in 2013, Nick Jonas has acheived a successful solo career with hit songs like “Jealous,” “Chains,” and “Close.” Joe Jonas formed a band called DNCE, which has produced the summer smash hit “Cake By the Ocean.” Kevin Jonas appeared on season 14 of The Apprentice, but we haven’t seen him since. We hope he’s okay…
Of course, we can’t forget Ol’ Blue Eyes! Rounding out our list is perhaps the most famous male singer of all time. Born in Hoboken, he sold more than 150 million records and won 11 Grammy Awards during his career. His timeless vibrato, intuitive understanding of music, and excellent phrasing made his voice iconic. He also had a successful film career. We could go on about his best songs, but that would take far too long.
Clearly, New Jersey musicians encompass all genres and have achieved enormous success. We guarantee you’ll find one you love, even if they’re not on this list (We missed quite a few big names!). Make a playlist with these artists and more New Jersey musicians during your next car ride to the shore!