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. Among Wisconsin's contributions to rock music were Les Paul, an electric guitar pioneer known as the "Wizard of Waukesha". The Steve Miller Band, with Milwaukee's Steve Miller, had three #1 hits on the Billboard Hot 100 from 1973 to 1982.The Chordettes from Sheboygan, Bon Iver from Eau Claire, and Garbage from Madison all had albums on the Billboard 200.
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 and eastern Wisconsin, Norwegians moved en masse to southern and western Wisconsin, and surrounding areas. Norwegian musicians, such as the violinist Ole Bull, were popular in Madison.
New Glarus and Monroe saw a host of Swiss immigrants settle in the mid-1800s. Much like their German counterparts, these Swiss people established polka societies, many of which are still active today.
Waukesha's Les Paul, enjoyed a long career as a blues, country, and jazz guitarist and musical innovator. known as the "Wizard of Waukesha" for his technological tinkering, was one of the pioneers of the solid-body electric guitar, helping to create the Gibson Les Paul and later the Gibson SG. Among the musicians he partnered with were his wife Mary Ford, with whom he recorded a version of How High the Moon in 1951. He also played with Jim Atkins, Nat King Cole, Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters.
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.
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 Auf Ki, Tenement, Jetty Boys, Avenues, The Transgressions, Direct Hit, Showoff (lead singer/songwriter lives in Milwaukee), George's Bush, Slush, Garbageman, Windpipe and Masked Intruder.
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.
Haywyre resides in Milwaukee, WI.
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.
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 (Justin Vernon graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire), 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.
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 V05 -- nu-disco and funk band. The scene was started and kept alive through the efforts of Sonic Mainline records, Reverence, and the Inferno nightclub.
Wisconsinite Butch Vig (attended the University of Wisconsin), formerly of Fire Town, formed Garbage (originally based in Madison) in 1993 with Steve Marker, Duke Erikson and Shirley Manson. Garbage had a #1 song on the Alternative Songs chart with "Number 1 Crush" in 1997.
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 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.
The Milwaukee area has produced Steve Miller (rock, he attended the University of Wisconsin), Wladziu Valentino Liberace (piano), Al Jarreau (jazz), Eric Benet (neo-soul), Speech of Arrested Development (hip hop) "Mr. Wendal" 1992, Daryl Stuermer (rock), BoDeans (rock) "Closer to Free" 1996 (#3 on Adult Top 40 chart), Les Paul (jazz), the Violent Femmes (alternative) "Blister in the Sun" 1983, Citizen King (alternative) "Better Days (And the Bottom Drops Out)" 1999 (#3 on Alternative Songs chart), Coo Coo Cal (rap), Die Kreuzen (punk), Andy Hurley drummer for Chicago's Fall Out Boy (punk), Eyes To The Sky (hardcore), Rico Love (R&B,rapper), Andrew 'The Butcher' Mrotek drummer for Chicago's The Academy Is... (alt-rock), Showoff (pop-punk), The Promise Ring (emo,indie), Lights Out Asia (post-rock), the Gufs (alt rock), Brief Candles (rock) and Decibully (indie). Milwaukee hosts the annual Summerfest music festival.
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.