The Lenape people were the original inhabitants of present-day New Jersey and surrounding areas to the north, south, and west. Social tribal songs were often named after things such as animals, other tribes or groups, and even food. These songs were performed in groups and were usually not long. However, the performances and dancing would linger. A significant amount of this part of Lenape culture was lost as Dutch and later British settlers moved into the region and pushed the Lenape west. Eventually the U.S. Government resettled the majority of the Lenape in Oklahoma.
The Ramapough Mountain Indians and the Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape are Lenape descendants that are recognized as tribes by the State of New Jersey, but not the U.S. Government. The Powhatan Renape Nation are descendants of the Powhatan people of Virginia. A group of the Powhatan migrated to present day southern New Jersey and are recognized as a tribe by the New Jersey, but not Federal, government.
The New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, based at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, the New Jersey State Opera, The Baroque Orchestra of New Jersey, and the New Jersey Ballet are all located in the Newark area. These groups regularly travel to different venues throughout the state to give performances.
The Cape May Music Festival is held every year at the Mid-Atlantic Center for Arts and Humanities in Cape May, New Jersey, featuring classical and chamber music. The South Orange Performing Arts Center in South Orange, New Jersey features classical soloists and ensembles. Other classical music performing groups throughout New Jersey include The Bay-Atlantic Symphony Orchestra, the Garden State Philharmonic, the Philharmonic of Southern New Jersey, and the Princeton Symphony Orchestra. These music groups perform throughout the state, as well as present shows at several universities which serve as home base for some of these groups.
The Folk and Bluegrass scene in New Jersey consists of performances at festivals and small venues throughout the state, mostly in small cities and college towns with more active music scenes. Some of these towns and cities are Montclair, Hoboken, New Brunswick, and Princeton.
There is little information about early folk music in New Jersey. One of the more documented regions for early folk music in the colonial era is from the Pine Barrens and shore regions of southern New Jersey. It was there, in the sandy, dense forests and small shore towns, that the earliest settlers played musical elements of their home countries as well as sang stories of the new land they called home. Some examples ranged from Scots/Irish fiddle tunes to Yiddish and Lithuanian songs. It was in this region that stories were sung and legends like the Jersey Devil were born.
Various workshops, music development institutions, and festivals throughout New Jersey have celebrated folk and bluegrass music for decades. The Folk Project has hosted many folk music singers in the past years including; Richard Shindell, Bob Franke, and Odetta. The New Jersey Folk Festival is held every year at Rutgers University, celebrating a variety of artists, both nationally or locally known. Jim Murphy and The Pine Barons have been playing bluegrass at venues in southern New Jersey for over forty years. The Delaware Valley Bluegrass Festival takes place annually at the Salem County Fairgrounds in Woodstown, New Jersey. The Hurdy Gurdy Folk Music Club celebrates folk music in the northern part of the state. The Irish festival at the Jersey Shore celebrates Irish folk music every summer in Sea Girt.
John Dull, a Rutherford native, is a well known folk artist who has worked with a wide variety of musicians in many genres. Progressive bluegrass band Railroad Earth hails from Stillwater, New Jersey. Hunterdon County, New Jersey native Sharon Van Etten is an acclaimed singer of folk and indie rock music, performing solo as well as with many other famous artists. David Grisman, born in Hackensack, is a celebrated mandolinist and Newgrass composer. Another highly respected New Jersey folk artist is Meg Baird. John Gorka, a leader of the New Folk movement, was born in Edison. New Jersey folk singer and activist Catherine Moon has released several critically acclaimed independent albums. Atlantic City native and folk singer Jim Albertson sings songs that tell stories of South Jersey. The variety of folk and bluegrass music reflects the cultural past of America and New Jersey, including stories of the widely varied ethnic groups in the state, as well as revivalist styles.
In the early 20th century, Newark was an important center for jazz innovation with other smaller New Jersey towns also providing talent. James P. Johnson of New Brunswick and other pioneers helped invent stride. Willie "The Lion" Smith, who grew up in Newark, played stride as well as other styles of jazz piano. Donald Lambert of Princeton was another famous jazz pianist. Jazz alto saxophonist Richie Cole grew up and began playing in Mercer County. Other famous New Jersey jazzmen include bandleader Count Basie, saxmen Hank Mobley, Wayne Shorter and James Moody, vocalist Babs Gonzales, trumpeter Woody Shaw of Newark, trumpeter Johnny Coles of Trenton, and trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie who lived in Englewood from 1965 until his death in 1993.
Newark was also the birthplace and home of the jazz singer Sarah Vaughan - one of jazz's most esteemed vocalists. Viola Wells, also known as, "Miss Rhapsody," was a Newark native who began her career singing jazz, blues, and religious songs at clubs in Newark, and eventually throughout the United States and Europe. Bill Evans was born in Plainfield and attended North Plainfield High School. One of the more popular jazz venues in Newark in the first half of the Twentieth century was the Grand Hotel on West Market Street. Savoy Records, an early important jazz record label, was located in Newark. Casa Blanca on Broad Street and The Cadillac Club are just two of the many Newark live jazz venues that have showcased performers in the Twentieth century.
The Institute of Jazz Studies at the Newark campus of Rutgers University has the largest library of jazz and jazz related items in the world. The Newark Museum has annual summer jazz concert series featuring world known artists. Atlantic City, beginning in the 1920s, was a world-famous venue for jazz performers, as well as other music. The Paradise Club on Illinois Avenue was billed as the world's first nightclub and hosted a wide variety of famous artists. Since 1979, Newark has been home to WBGO, the only 24/7 jazz radio station in the New York/Jersey City/Newark metro area.
Other well known jazz instrumentalists from the Garden State include Max Weinberg, drummer for Bruce Springsteen, Leigh Howard Stevens, a marimba musician who re-invented the way the instrument is played by pioneering the "Musser-Stevens Grip, "Nick Lucas, Joe Pass, Jimmy Lyons, Larry Young, Steve Swallow, George Van Eps, Buster Williams, Tony Scott, Bucky Pizzarelli, John Pizzarelli, David S. Ware, Al Di Meola, and Steve Swell. Hundreds of jazz albums for Blue Note Records were recorded in Alfred Lion's home studio Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey.
The Red Bank Jazz & Blues Festival occurs annually. The Liberty Jazz Festival also occurs every year in Liberty State Park in Jersey City. New Jersey continues to be a place that many jazz musicians call home including Steve Turre, Frank Fontaine, Wallace Roney, and Tom "Bones" Malone.
The Shirelles are from Passaic.
Ann Cole is from Newark.
Kool and the Gang is from Jersey City.
Gloria Gaynor is from Newark.
Whitney Houston is from Newark.
Dionne Warwick is from East Orange.
Parliament Funkadelic is from Plainfield.
Faith Evans is from Newark.
Jaheim is from New Brunswick.
City High is from Willingboro.
Total is from Plainfield.
Gina Thompson is from Vineland.
Akon is from Jersey City.
Tisha Campbell is from Newark.
New Jersey hip hop artists & producers: Sugar Hill Gang, Redman, Naughty By Nature, Ice-T, The Fugees, Queen Latifah, Dj Mark the 45 King, Fresh 3 Mc's, Twin Hype, The Awesome Two, P.M. Dawn, Apache, Joe Budden, Outlawz, Outsidaz, Mr. Len, Artifacts, Blvd Mosse, Emskee, Chino XL, Unique, Almighty & KD Ranks, Lady Luck, Gov Mattic, Krown Rulers, Chill Rob G, Lords of the Underground, Jus Allah, Channel Live, Vita, YZ, Poor Righteous Teachers, Hassan 7-11, Dj Cheese, Twin Hype, Real Live, Just Blaze, Illmind, Cardiak, Heather B, Lakim Shabazz, Latee, Double XX Posse, Lord Alibaski, Krazy Drayz (Das Efx), Serius Jones, King Sun, Dj Juice, Shaq, Tony D, Rottin Razkals, Dj Cool-V, Rah Digga, Dj Slyce, Miilkbone, Sam Scarfo, Block Royal and Fetty Wap.
The Shirelles, formed in Passaic, were a girl group popular in the early 1960s. The Doughboys are a garage rock band formed in Plainfield in 1965; other New Jersey garage bands included Richard and the Young Lions from Newark, The Galaxies IV from Trenton, The Charlemagnes from South Brunswick, and The Myddle Class from Berkeley Heights. Figures of Light were a proto-punk band formed in New Brunswick in 1970. Bruce Springsteen became the most famous rock star from New Jersey of all time with the release of his third album in 1975. The Feelies were an alternative rock group formed in Haledon in 1976.
Yo La Tengo, elder statesmen of indie rock, formed in Hoboken in the mid 1980s. Donald Fagen of Steely Dan was born in Passaic and grew up in South Brunswick NJ. Rock band My Chemical Romance, formed in Jersey City, New Jersey in late 2001; they had a #2 album on the Billboard 200 with the emo The Black Parade in October 2006. Bass Player for The Hangdogs is JC Chmiel, who is originally from Red Bank; he also plays bass for Ellen Foley of Meat Loaf and The Clash fame, as well as major label solo records.
Twin Gable, up and coming indie juggernaut, formed in Bergen County in 2015, released their first EP: Bonds w/ single, "Forgotten Strangers". In 2016, they finally released their first, full-length album, Qualm.
Pop-metal group Bon Jovi has been one of the most popular bands in the world since the mid-1980s. Beginning in the 1980s, Bon Jovi has experimented with other genres, such as country rock. Skid Row is a New Jersey-based heavy-metal band formed in the mid-1980s and reached the height of its success in the early 1990s. Sebastian Bach, formerly of Skid Row, is a Canadian singer who has lived in New Jersey for almost two decades and still fronts bands. Since the early 1980s, the New Jersey bands Overkill and Hades have been recording and performing thrash metal around the world. Trixter is a glam rock band also from New Jersey. Monster Magnet is a very known stoner rock metal band from Red Bank with releases on labels such as elektra. Ripping Corpse is a well known Thrash Metal band from Red Bank. Blues Traveler was formed in Princeton in 1987.
In the early and mid 1980's the New Jersey nightclub culture realized tremendous popularity with various live acts playing hard rock, heavy metal and dance oriented New Wave music. Some of the more notable acts touring the club circuit were Twisted Sister fronted by lead singer Dee Snider, Streetwalker, Another Pretty Face, Good Rats, Baby Blue, Sin Sity fronted by Mike Edie, Rat Race Choir, Crystal Ship (Doors show), Whiplash, Monroe, Kinderhook, Molly Cribb, Salty Dog, The Watch, Trigger, White Tiger, The Flossie Band, Phantom's Opera, TT Quick, Southern Cross, Sticky Fingers (Stones tribute), E Walker Band, Icarian, Condor, The Game, White Tiger, Harlequin.
In 1984 the Crossover Thrash Metal band, Method Of Destruction was formed with Stormtroopers Of Death former frontman, Billy Milano. The 1987 debut, U.S.A. For M.O.D. was released on NJ based label, Megaforce Records and entered the Billboard Top 200 charts soon after. The Dillinger Escape Plan from Morris Plains and The Number Twelve Looks Like You from Paramus were essential in solidifying the state as a forerunner of the mathcore and experimental metal scenes as well as several of the members of Candiria. New Jersey is also home to the highly acclaimed progressive power metal band Symphony X, and funeral doom metal band Evoken. Brielle native Mark Tornillo was the lead singer for New Jersey metal band T.T. Quick and is now the lead singer for the German metal band Accept. Zack Wylde, the founder of Black Label Society and guitarist for Ozzy Osbourne, was born in Bayonne and grew up in Jackson, New Jersey. Jersey City is the birthplace of both hard rock band Rye Coalition and psychedelic rock group The Black Hollies. New Jersey Stoner rock band Core had success with two albums in the 1990s. Hard rock band The Parlor Mob is from Red Bank. Soulfly guitarist Marc Rizzo grew up in Carlstadt.
Punk rock and hardcore have played an important role in the music of New Jersey, with many contributing artists who have gained popularity. Arguably the most famous and influential punk band from New Jersey is The Misfits founded in 1977 in Lodi, New Jersey, by singer and songwriter Glenn Danzig, who in 1983 broke from the band and formed Samhain and in 1988 Danzig. Among the early hardcore bands was Rosemary's Babies. also from Lodi, whose drummer Eerie Von, would become bassist for both Samhain and Danzig. Adrenalin O.D. is usually credited with igniting the early N.J. hardcore scene at the dawn of the 1980s as is U.S. Chaos for the entire continent of North America for Skinhead and OI Predating as The Radicals in 1978. All Hailing from East Paterson, Bergen and Passaic counties.
Emerging in 1983 after the breakup of three-piece Impossible Task, Metalcore pioneer and hardcore punk band Hogan's Heroes were founded in 1984. Other notable punk and hardcore bands from New Jersey include Bouncing Souls, Mucky Pup, Streetlight Manifesto, The Gaslight Anthem, Titus Andronicus, Lifetime, Ted Leo, Screaming Females, Lou Bitsko, Hidden in Plain View, The Wretched Ones, Senses Fail, Misery Loves Company (band), Saves the Day, Thursday, Midtown, Leathermouth, Man Overboard, and Bigwig. Patti Smith grew up in Deptford Township,Tom Verlaine, founder and frontman of the punk/new wave group Television, is from Morristown, and Richie Ramone, the Ramones' drummer from '84-'89, hails from Passaic. Shana Fitzpatrick, from East Brunswick, is the front woman of the pop-punk folk duo MULVA.
The State of New Jersey has a diverse population that produces a significant number of music institutions, events, and live music venues.
Frank Sinatra (from Hoboken, d. 1998) had at least one #1 Billboard Hot 100 hit with "Strangers in the Night" in 1966. Frankie Valli (who was portrayed in the play Jersey Boys) had 7 #1 Hot 100 hits in the 1960s and 1970s, including "December 1963 (Oh, What a Night)". Kool & the Gang had a #1 Hot 100 hit with "Celebration" in 1981. Bon Jovi had 4 #1 Hot 100 hits, including "Living on a Prayer" in 1987. Whitney Houston (d. 2012) had 11 #1 Hot 100 hits in the 1980s and 1990s, including "I Will Always Love You" in 1992. P.M. Dawn had one #1 hit with "Set Adrift on Memory Bliss" in 1991. Lauryn Hill of the Fugees had a #1 Hot 100 hit with "Doo Wop (That Thing)" in 1998. Akon (who moved to Jersey City) had 2 #1 Hot 100 hits in the 2000s, including "I Wanna Love You" in 2006. Halsey had a #1 Hot 100 hit with The Chainsmokers, "Closer", in 2016.
Radio stations WFMU from Jersey City, WSOU from Seton Hall in South Orange, New Jersey (winner of awards from publications such as Friday Morning Quarterback, the College Music Journal and Album Network) and WPRB from Princeton are three of the most well known independent/college radio stations in America. Newark's WBGO is one of the country's most important independent jazz stations. WRPR in Mahwah has also gained relevance for its rock programming. WDHA-FM "The Rock of New Jersey," is located in the Dover area and has a long history of providing North Jersey with both classic and modern rock. Madison, New Jersey native Eddie Trunk worked at WDHA early in his career. WGHT Radio is located in Northern New Jersey, and is a spring board for a long list on On Air Radio Talent. WGHT, formally known as WKER-AM, has been broadcasting at 1500-AM since the early 1960s. Jimmy Howes is currently WGHT's morning show host and Program Director. WNNJ in Newton, New Jersey, provides rock music to the Skylands Region of the state. WMGM (FM) in Atlantic City broadcasts rock music to South Jersey. WWNJ in Toms River, WWCJ in Cape May, and WWFM at the West Windsor campus of Mercer County Community College all broadcast classical music. The long running free form program Anything Anything with Rich Russo airs on both WDHA-FM and WRAT-FM.
Internet radio stations also contribute to New Jersey's music scene. For example, Blowupradio.com, an Internet station devoted to underground Jersey rock, has been contributing to New Jersey's music scene since 2000. Other internet radio stations in New Jersey that contribute to New Jersey's music scene include ThePenguinRocks.com and AltrokRadio.com and DJJD's Metallicave on NuclearRockRadio.com