When you think of the term "rap music," who do you think of? Jay-Z? Travis Scott? When you think of "country," does Miranda Lambert or Garth Brooks come to mind?
Yet when it comes to something as broad as locations, how can you not think of Bruce Springsteen when you hear "New Jersey?" When you listen to Childish Gambino, his frequent shoutouts to Stone Mountain, Georgia, make you consider a place you hadn't thought about before. And when you think of pop-rapper Flo Rida, you think of Carol City, Florida, where Flo Rida was born.
We're joking on that last one, but sometimes artists don't need to be born in their hometown to represent it. The great Queen of Disco, Donna Summer, was born in Boston but isn't necessarily the first person who comes to mind when you think of Boston's rich music history. So with that in mind, let's talk about the signature musical acts from every major city, whether they be artists who represents where they came from or just happen to be hometown success stories writ large.
Always the cutting edge of everything from rock (with the Ramones) to rap (with The Notorious B.I.G.) to disco (Chic) to dance (LCD Soundsystem), only a select group of artists truly rep the City That Never Sleeps as hard as Billy Joel does. From his never-ending set of sellout shows at Madison Square Garden and Shea Stadium to his lyrics that depict rich city nightlife like in "Scenes from an Italian Restaurant" and "Piano Man" (to say nothing of his "Oliver & Company" soundtrack contribution "Why Should I Worry," which Joel didn't even write but nonetheless cross-checks numerous NYC locales with panache), the Bronx-born piano player has New York City in his bones and is unafraid to express what The Big Apple means to him in his shows, his songs and just about everything else.
Runner-up: Jay-Z. "I made the Yankee hat more famous than a Yankee can," Jay-Z once boasted. We might disagree but point taken.
Love them or loathe them, the Red Hot Chili Peppers breathe California, largely in part because lead singer Anthony Kiedis cannot go a single album without mentioning California (to say nothing of the monster singles "Californication" and "Dani California"). Yet the surfer-as-funk-rock-poet motif isn't relegated to the band's albums: It carries over into its wild, party-starting shows, which frequently highlight the group's love of a good groove and hazy drinking-on-the-beach vibes. Los Angeles has housed innumerable musical greats, ranging from Herb Alpert to Randy Newman to Metallica to Ry Cooder. But when it comes to the unofficial ambassadors for the City of Angels, how is there any other band up for consideration than RHCP?
Runner-up: Guns N' Roses. The hair metal scene was an L.A. hallmark in the '80s, but it was Axl Rose and Co. who were the undisputed kings of the genre. Welcome to the jungle, baby.
Although born in Louisiana, Buddy Guy has become a champion and arguably even the face of modern Chicago blues, mixing traditional structures with modern rock elements, all blending together with the help of his undeniable talent as one of the world's greatest guitarists. As the in-house guitarist for Chicago-based Chess Records, Guy played on a litany of classic albums before Chess finally gave him his own solo LP in 1967. Yet it was 1991's "Damn Right, I've Got the Blues" that proved to be his commercial breakthrough. Over two decades later, he'd be on stage with Mick Jagger in the Obama White House, actually getting the president to trade lines with him on "Sweet Home Chicago." If that doesn't make you a Chicago legend, we don't know what else will.
Runner-up: Chance the Rapper. Kanye may have once been Chicago's hometown pride, but since his turn to Trumpism, it's now Chance's love of Chicago and notable philanthropic efforts that have made him a true Windy City champion.
While Miami Sound Machine had put out several Spanish-language records in the late-'70s, it was the Gloria Estefan-led band's ninth record (and second in English) to light the world ablaze, mixing conga sounds with dance beats and distinctly Latin grooves, helping bring the Latin pop music sound that was so prevalent in Miami to the masses. The hits were numerous, the albums sold in droves and conga lines soon started forming in dance clubs all over the world thanks to them. Gloria Estefan soon launched her successful solo career right after the breakout success of "Conga," but even if it didn't have "Miami" in the name, the Sound Machine's legacy would forever be tied back to the Florida scene that started it all.
Runner-up: 2 Live Crew. Envelope-pushing with their explicit lyrics, but 2 Live Crew explicitly brought the distinct subgenre of Miami Bass to the masses.
When you think of Detroit's rich music history, you naturally think of Motown, and when you think of Motown, most people think of The Jackson 5, even though they famously got their start in Gary, Indiana. While other great groups like Smokey Robinson and the Miracles come to mind, there is something about the absolute attitude and prowess of The Supremes that cannot be beat. From "Baby Love" and "Stop! In the Name of Love" to their album-length collaborations with fellow Motor City greats The Temptations to say nothing of Diana Ross' inimitable solo career, The Supremes remain an R&B and pop warhorse whose legacy will never be forgotten and will always be tied to Detroit.
Runner-up: The White Stripes. Spearheading the garage-rock revival that shaped much of the early 2000s, Jack White remains one of the only players in the scene still working today.
Even if you don't love country music as a whole, you still probably love Johnny Cash and for good reason. The gravel-voiced heart of country music — beloved by outlaw balladeers and chart-tallying radio stations alike — has become the de-facto country artist of a generation, and he did it in Nashville. From being a roommate with Waylon Jennings in a Nashville apartment to filming "The Johnny Cash Show" in the same city (at the Ryman, of course) to being inducted in the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, Johnny Cash had a deep love for the state he called his home, and despite some trying times in the '80s, The Protestant Vatican loves Johnny right back.
Runner-up: Chet Atkins. Born and bred in Tennessee, "Mr. Guitar" himself helped pioneer what some refer to as "the Nashville sound," and he will always remain one of the city's finest ambassadors.
The Boston Music Awards have been around since 1988, celebrating Beantown bands that break big and those that remain local, with winners ranging from 'Til Tuesday to Big D & the Kids Table. Yet the category of "Outstanding Rock Band," for an astonishing stretch of time, almost always defaulted to Aerosmith. Having sold nearly 150 million albums worldwide, Aerosmith has done its city proud and has frequently come back to play Fenway or, if in a fun mood, to play with The Boston Pops. Often referred to as "The Bad Boys from Boston," they have achieved a rare level of stardom that allows them to play the Super Bowl or have their own Rock 'n' Roller Coaster, and when opportunities like that come their way, they "don't want to miss a thing."
Runner-up: Dropkick Murphys. The Celtic-punk Quincy boys are more than just the song "I'm Shipping Up to Boston" — but we'll be damned if we can't find a more fiery anthem for the city.
With absolutely legendary songs like "Across 110th Street," "If You Think You're Lonely Now" and "Lookin' for a Love" to his name, Bobby Womack has done Cleveland good, but his skills and talents extend so much further beyond his solo career. Womack was initially involved in The Valentinos — a family band also based out of Cleveland and where "Lookin' for a Love" originates — before his group got mentored by Sam Cooke, leading to Womack playing guitar and singing vocals on stage with the legend. Yet Womack's solo career is where he made his name, leading to over two decades of R&B hits and an outstanding body of work, which is why our man from Cleveland currently sits in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
Runner-up: Ohio Players. Sure, the boys may be from Dayton, but the band was so much more than just their name: They were a genuine funk jacket with albums and hits for days.
Not many people know that "John Denver" is a stage name. The "Take Me Home, Country Roads" singer was born Henry John Deutschendorf Jr. in New Mexico and had to come up with a moniker when he realized his surname was cumbersome for an entertainer (to say nothing of the marquees). With his love of Colorado deep in his veins, "John Denver" was chosen, and even though he spent most of his time up in Aspen, Denver did his namesake proud, with songs like "Rocky Mountain High" capturing the beauty and grand expanse of Colorado in all its glory. Even with all the platinum albums and Muppets collaborations to his name, The Mile-High City knows what it has in Denver, anointing him into the Colorado Music Hall of Fame for good reason.
Runner-Up: The Lumineers. They might lean into the "Millennial Whoa" a bit too much, but The Lumineers have proved that there's a giant place for mainstream folk-rock in a post-Mumford & Sons world, and it all came home-cooked right in Cow Town.
Although glamorized by hometown heroes like Too $hort and rhapsodized by the likes of Childish Gambino, Oakland remains a curious California city that serves as a cross-section of progressivism, which is perhaps why in the '90s, a lot of raging teenage ennui was articulated on the world stage by none other than the sarcastic, booger-eating band from the East Bay known as Green Day. One of their most famous songs, "Welcome to Paradise," is about living in the squalor of Oakland specifically, and since then the band has bought recording studios and entered in ownership stakes in resident cafes. The band continues to change and innovate, releasing politically minded rock albums and anchoring popular Broadway shows, but its early, riotous, smarmy brand of pop-punk can be traced back to Oaktown.
Runner-up: The Pointer Sisters. While Motown's reign of R&B and soul very much lasted in the '70s, Oakland's finest family was out there makin' hits on its own in the early '80s. They were The Pointer Sisters, and their songs still pack a kick.
Born in Pomona, Tom Waits got his start in San Diego, honing in on his craft and his unique heart-dragged-through-gravel voice while pairing it with indelible, cerebral songs of love and loss and drinks. While Waits eventually moved to L.A. to pursue his dreams and become a star on his own terms, his edgy, genre-breaking sounds typified what was so great and weird about the dusty Southern California music scene. California would come up in songs like "Hold On" and "Swordfishtrombone", but it was his 1974 record "The Heart of Saturday Night" that gave us one of his all-time classics, "San Diego Serenade." Even better? That album's closing track, "The Ghosts Of Saturday Night (After Hours At Napoleone's Pizza House)," explicitly references the pizzeria he worked at out of National City in his youth. San Diego should be proud of its weird, wonderful poet of a son.
Runner-up: Stone Temple Pilots. Proudly formed in Sun Dog, Californians could relate to "Interstate Love Song" better than just about anyone else.
Was there ever any doubt that Memphis' most prized musical ambassador would be The King? Having spent a good portion of his adult life there, Elvis is Memphis through and through, sometimes to a fault. (Look up the controversial "Memphis Mafia" when you have time.) Yet after cutting his early sessions there, Elvis returned time and time again to record specials, set up his estate known as Graceland and eventually get inducted into the Memphis Music Hall of Fame (as well as the Rock Hall, the Country Hall, the Gospel Hall and even the Rockabilly Hall to boot). Even after his death, Graceland remains a perennial tourist attraction, proving that even beyond the bonds of life, there's a good reason Elvis and Memphis are often mentioned in the same breath.
Runner-up: Otis Redding. The great Stax Records recording studio based in Memphis hosted many great talents, but even before his life was tragically cut short, Otis Redding both made Bluff City his home and did it proud.
Although Athens, Georgia's, population is relatively small compared to some of the other cities on this list (roughly 125,00, present-day), the musical scene is one of the largest and most diverse in the country. Helping launch everyone from of Montreal to the Drive-By Truckers to Vic Chesnutt to Widespread Panic to Leo Kottke, it's of no surprise that the Athens' hometown glory remains one of the biggest rock bands of the '90s: R.E.M. The band's spry, evolving sound (along with Michael Stipe's collegiate lyrics and plaintive singing style) endeared it to critics first before launching it into outright mainstream success. A few obvious pop songs aside, the band was always wiry and weird; astute melodic craftsmen whose distinct identity and enigmatic presentation ultimately helped define the Athens scene, letting people know that rock music adhered to the rules only when it wanted to, and the rest is up for grabs.
Runner-up: The B-52's. Some associate the band with quirky "party pop," but the B-52's' back catalog is so much weirder and so much smarter than anyone gave them credit for. Their eponymous debut is virtually flawless and could only be born out of a scene as accepting as Athens.
With their religious affiliation right in their name, it's no surprise that when people think of Utah, they think of Mormons. Yet the Mormon Tabernacle Choir is more than just an extension of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: It is a touring, well-rehearsed and award-winning ensemble that has performed at every Republican presidential inauguration since Richard Nixon's in 1969. (It was Nixon who even dubbed it "America's Choir"). It will forever remain associated with Utah and can be seen frequently performing in Temple Square, right in the middle of Salt Lake City.
Runner-up: Ray Lynch. Despite rejecting the idea that he is a "New Age artist" time and time again, he remains one of the most prominent artists of the genre and was born and raised right in SLC.
Charlie Parker lived a relatively short life, dying at age 34, but Bird was nothing short of fierce. A great jazz composer and one of the best saxophone players to have ever existed, Parker helped define bebop as a genre and did so frequently at the clubs in and around his hometown of Kansas City, Missouri (despite, incidentally, being born in Kansas City, Kansas). While an exceptional songwriter in his own right, it was his collaborations with Dizzy Gillespie in the post-WWII era that helped set the jazz world aflame, inspired by other jazz greats who came by the City of Fountains: Buster Smith and Lester Young. Although he died a New Yorker, Bird remains beloved by the town that helped raise him and nurture his talents.
Runner-up: Tech N9ne. Born and raised in Kansas City, you know you've made it when you get to release a branded collaborative beer in your hometown.
For a time in the '80s, people kept referring to "The Minneapolis Sound," which often meant slick and dirty R&B filtered through a tinny LM-1 drum machine with a raw and sensual edge. Of course that scene was largely devised by Prince himself, writing and producing for numerous artists under his own name and various pseudonyms. Yet his star-making turn in the almost-autobiography film "Purple Rain" pointed to numerous locations and locales in his beloved home base of Minneapolis, from First Avenue to Lake Minnetonka. His legendary Paisley Park studio is set up right outside of Mill City, and he even wrote a terrible song in honor of the Minnesota Vikings ("Purple and Gold") which, despite a largely negative reception, still showed how much his hometown heroes meant to him. Prince so strongly identifies with Minnesota that he's become enmeshed in the city's lore and legacy.
Runner-up: The Replacements. The 'Mats will always be 'membered for their brash, smarmy brand of alt-rock that was messy, catchy and filled with surprising moments of both depth and levity. Twin Cities proud.
While a good amount famous artists have stemmed from Oklahoma City (ranging from J.J. Cale to Color Me Badd), few have truly brought their hometown weirdness to the masses quite like The Flaming Lips. From their infamous parking lot experiments (where several cars with several tapes — each with one part of a multipart song — were started at the same time) to Wayne's use of his backyard to film movies, The Big Friendly has always been a part of the band's blood (and sometimes even their lyrics), which is why their big hit "Do You Realize??" was once even in contention to be one of the official rock songs of Oklahoma. It didn't get voted in, but the band did eventually get a street named after it that turned out to be a small alley — which couldn't be more fitting for the weird and wild band of trip-rock dreamers.
Runner-up: Sandi Patty. Oklahoma City's gospel great has been dropping albums since the late '70s, and her extraordinary range has made her known as "The Voice."
When your first major song is "Black and Yellow" and it makes everyone in Pittsburgh go crazy and all the sports team adopt it as their anthem (given the city's official colors are black and gold), you've done a good job of establishing yourself as a hometown hero. Thankfully, Wiz Khalifa's career has become more than just "Black and Yellow," but Pittsburgh loves him all the same, having its own "Wiz Khalifa Day" and the man himself purchasing a home in nearby Canonsburg. What's more, Khalifa helped in making a name for himself in a region that hasn't secured a particularly distinct rap identity. All that is changing in a post-Khalifa world, however.
Runner-up: Anti-Flag. Fiery and uncompromising, the punk-rock Pittsburgh natives have fought against the establishment and proved to be a beating heart of resistance right in the heart of Steel City.
One of Austin, Texas' signature slogans is "Keep Austin Weird," but that slogan likely came up only after the cult success of Daniel Johnston. Although diagnosed with both schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, the innocent wonder of Johnston's lo-fi, "outsider art" songwriting endeared him to musicians of all stripes, especially after Kurt Cobain was seen photographed wearing a Daniel Johnston T-shirt. Documentaries and tribute albums came at the turn of the millennium, and Johnston kept on living his full true life up until his tragic passing in 2019. While Johnston's artistry remains as innocent and listenable as ever, his success in Bat City helped open the doors for many in Texas' counter-cultural locale, and Austin will always be weird because of Johnston's influence.
Runner-up: Spoon. Wry, wise and unapologetic with their indie-rock minimalism, Spoon seems to keep getting better with each new release and remain Austin's star students.
More of a hometown girl done good than someone who constantly reps her birthplace, Stevie Nicks is nonetheless a proud product of Phoenix (and even got a home there in 1981 that she had until the mid-2000s). A songstress who, along with partner Lindsey Buckingham, got recruited into the long-running band Fleetwood Mac, it was their tenure in that band that ultimately helped define it, penning era-defining singles full of romance, mysticism and otherworldly lyrical stretches that remain up for interpretation to this day. Nicks eventually forged a striking solo career all her own and remains a living, breathing pop icon who just so happened to rise out of the Arizona desert.
Runner-up: Meat Puppets. One of the more innovative acts in all of punk rock, the Phoenix-born Meat Puppets have influences that stretch to the Red Hot Chili Peppers to Nirvana to Sublime and Pavement.
Washington, D.C. is known for more scenes than just the obvious political ones. There is, of course, Go-Go, the spikey funk/dance style that was prominent in the '70s and had brief mid-2000s revival with the arrival of Amerie's "1 Thing." And of course, there is D.C. punk. Arty and composed in a way other regional punk was not, many great diverse acts came out of the D.C. punk scene, although the one that so often gets mentioned is Fugazi. Born out of the ashes of hardcore greats Minor Threat, Fugazi's self-titled EP (later folded into compilation album "13 Songs") became an instant classic. Lead singer Ian MacKaye's Dischord Records became a seminal gateway for the scene and remains active to this day. Although broken up, the band members all remain DMV residents to this day — godfathers of an uncompromising musical space they helped create.
Runner-up: Bad Brains. Hardcore veterans and reggae stylists in equal measure, D.C.'s Bad Brains are icons all in their own right.
While The Crescent City will forever be in debt to pioneers like the great Allen Toussaint, one can't deny that Dr. John helped blow the voodoo blues sound of New Orleans right into the mainstream. One of the most prominent ambassadors for the Louisiana hub where he both born and died in, The Night Tripper worked with musicians from all walks of life to help bring that New Orleans swing to life, sometimes even near the top of the charts in the case of his legendary hit "Right Place, Wrong Time." He was a composer, arranger, incredible session musician and a guy who never forgot his roots. Dr. John had New Orleans beating in his heart and pumping in his blood at all hours of the day.
Runner-up: The Meters. Mixing New Orleans R&B with a perfect flavor of groove, The Meters — themselves frequent collaborators with Dr. John — have an unquestionable funk legacy.
Beyoncé has been a star since a young age, competing on "Star Search" when she was in the group Girls Tyme, which ultimately morphed into the hitmaking machine that was Destiny's Child, themselves a Houston creation. Yet even after going solo and turning into one of the most famous musicians in the world, Beyoncé always reps Houston. Whether shouting out her hometown on the massive 2017 reggaeton hit, "Mi Gente," or giving over $7 million to the Knowles-Temenos Place Apartments (a place that gave shelter to people displaced by Hurricane Katrina), Houston is always on Beyoncé's mind, and she isn't afraid to let the world know it.
Runner-up: Lyle Lovett. Born right in Clutch City proper, Lyle Lovett's brand of Western swing has proved to be endearing, influential and commercially viable even in this day and age.
San Francisco at the height of the counter-culture revolution? While one's mind immediately goes to tie-dye outfits and lots of drugs, the music explosion at this time was something to be reckoned with. Yet the smooth jam band sounds of Grateful Dead were never so outrageous to ruin anyone's trip. No, the Dead's astoundingly literate and nuanced songs touched on everything from country to garage rock to folk and all built around the San Francisco community that was its home base. It didn't hurt that Jerry Garcia was born and raised there, but the band would go on to play numerous free concerts in Fog City while also selling out stadiums regularly.
Runner-up: Sly and the Family Stone. The band that helped turn "psychedelic soul" into a viable genre founded and formed right in San Fran.
Flashy, glitzy and hollow, when people think of Las Vegas, they think of showgirls, Wayne Newton and probably a magician or two thrown in for good measure. Yet as one millennium turned into another, so did musical tastes, as rock was suddenly back in fashion and Las Vegas' own The Killers launched themselves into superstardom. Their sometimes pompous, often-cheeky brand of neon-accented rock struck an immediate chord with the nation, and their 2004 debut, "Hot Fuss," has turned into a generational classic. While the band has had other hits of varying success, its frequent acknowledgment of its Sin City roots has helped redefine the city's image, and now America's playground has proved home to a new breed of rock titans like Imagine Dragons.
Runner-up: Panic! at the Disco. An acquired taste for some, the flashy emo-rockers have since molded into prominent hit-makers, their career almost stretching into two decades at this point.
Yes, the guy who runs with a crew called The St. Lunatics might be in consideration for a spot on this list. The first shot in the music video for his first single, "Country Grammar"? Him under the Gateway Arch. The second? Him in front of a line of cars wearing a Cardinals jersey. Third shot? Him in a jacket with the St. Louis Blues logo on it. Yeah, Nelly went hard for St. Louis on his first outing, and much like Wiz Khalifa with Pittsburgh, immediately endeared himself to the city. While the St. Lunatics were having trouble getting bookings outside of St. Louis, it was Nelly who instead made St. Louis the new spot for modern hip-hop, and rappers like Akon, Chingy, and J-Kwon all found success in part due to Nelly's boundary-shaking debut.
Runner-up: Donny Hathaway. One of the greatest voices in all of soul music, Donny Hathaway did STL proud. His rendition of "A Song for You" remains the definitive version.
While Will "Big Willy" Smith definitely reps Philly, it was the legendary Roots crew who gave that hip-hop scene its backbone. Constantly featuring new Philadelphia-based artists in its songs, the ever-changing band (which is always anchored by Black Thought and Questlove) constantly refers back to "Illadelphia" in its work in a variety of contexts, and even when it became the house band for NBC's "The Tonight Show," it made a point to put up flags and merchandise by the Flyers and the Phillies on set. Even with their move to New York, The Roots remain one of The City of Brotherly Love's finest exports.
Runner-up: Patti LaBelle. One of the first labels the great Godmother of Soul was signed to was nothing less than Philadelphia International Records, which was a perfect fit for the star vocalist who was born and raised right in Philly.
As tempting as it was to put Meat Loaf in this spot, how could we not cite Dallas' hometown pride as anything but one of the greatest guitar players to have ever lived? Stevie Ray Vaughn was in numerous bands before branching out on his own with his backing group Double Trouble, and his 1983 debut effort, "Texas Flood," showcased not only his blazing fretwork but also his talents as a songwriter, soon winning fans from legends like Mick Jagger and ax-master Johnny Winter himself. While his life was tragically cut short, Vaughn's influence and power crossed lines between blues, country and rock, giving Dallas a superstar who spoke to audiences from multiple walks of life.
Runner-Up: Erykah Badu. D-Town is more than just country, and the boundary-pushing Erykah Badu has not only made Dallas her home base but also gets inspiration to make some of most progressive soul music in existence.
Soul? Rock? Funk? Disco? No matter what you name it, the Isley Brothers can do it. While they eventually moved to the East Coast prior to making some of their legendary hits like "That Lady," the Cincinnati boys still have that Ohio church singing in their veins and have gone on to do their city well. What a lot of people don't know about the Isley Brothers is that after stints at RCA and Tamla, they formed their own record label, T-Neck, and ended up putting out some of their most influential music on their own accord (along with helping usher through releases by upstart artists like Jimi Hendrix). Makes you wanna shout, doesn't it?
Runner-up: The National. One of the most consistent indie rock bands of the new millennium, the brooding group The National even has a hit song called "Bloodbuzz Ohio."
Dig into history all you want, but when most people hear "Seattle," they think of the grunge movement. While Nirvana was certainly one of the defining acts of the era and made the move from Aberdeen to Seattle proper, it was Pearl Jam who was born there and Pearl Jam who still exists today. Their 1991 debut album, "Ten," remains one of the best-selling albums of the modern era, and while they were certainly roped in with the rest of the grunge artists of the era, their sound has changed and evolved so much in the decades that followed, continuing to nod their Emerald City roots whenever possible. They've had pop hits, weird ukulele experiments and oft-covered hard rockers in equal measure, capturing all that's weird and wild about the Seattle rock scene to boot.
Runner-up: Jimi Hendrix. He was born in Seattle and only went on to become one of the most revered musicians in all of rock history. No big deal.
The Portland music scene is full of hard rockers and coffee house folksters alike, but the earnest, near-whispered delivery of Elliott Smith was something else to behold. Building a loyal following through a stream of intimate, vulnerable releases, Smith shot into stardom when his song "Miss Misery" (directed by fellow Stumptown resident Gus Van Sant) was included in the film "Good Will Hunting" and netted Smith an Oscar nomination for Best Original Song. Although born in Nebraska, he grew up in The City of Roses and very much made it his home, his sudden and striking success making him a spokesperson for an entire scene. While his life ended far too soon, he remains a poet of Portland, unafraid in his admissions and unquestioned in his artistry.
Runner-up: The Decemberists. Literate and well-composed almost to the point of parody, The Decemberists were a defining hipster band who evolved from quirky songsmiths into challenging artists. Perfect for Portland.
While some Americans point to Celine Dion, Anne Murray and Justin Bieber as Canada's most famous exports, such a view is narrow-minded and cliched. Real fans know that Toronto has one of the most lively music scenes in the world, with astonishing groups like indie rock kingpins Broken Social Scene setting up shop there. But let's be real: Rush cannot be beat. Whether you're a drummer studying an extended Neil Peart drum solo for inspiration or looking at Geddy Lee's layered bass work, Rush has done prog-rock, done synths — done just about anything you can name. Whether you're a fan of "Moving Pictures" or the post-"Vapor Trails" comeback, Rush proved that Canada could rock just as hard — and just as progressively — as the best band any other country has to offer. The fact that Rush lasted for four decades is nothing short of astonishing.
Runner-up: Drake. Initially dismissed as "yet another" actor-turned-rapper, Drake has become an institution unto himself and arguably the most famous rapper alive today.
Although Leonard Cohen got his start as a poet, it's his contribution to pop songwriting that will remain his legacy, specifically with the creation of "Hallelujah" — that song from the "Shrek" soundtrack. We're joking, obviously: "Hallelujah" has become one of the most covered songs of all time, famous for its renditions by John Cale, Jeff Buckley and Rufus Wainwright, among many others. Wry, literate and abstract, Cohen's smart sense of craft and his increasingly gravelly voice helped endear him to generations of musicians up until his 2016 passing. He would pop up in surprising pop culture corners from time to time (like when his song "Nevermind" ended up being the theme song for the second season of HBO's "True Detective"), but his songs, his words and his style were so frequently referenced but rarely bettered. Born right in Westmont, Quebec, his frequent visits and concerts in Montreal have made him a true French-Canadian legend.
Runner-up: Arcade Fire. Arguably the defining indie-rock band of the 2000s, the maximalist catharsis of this Canadian collective has resulted in numerous masterpiece albums and fan base that's remarkably rabid.
With the Beatles being Liverpool's hometown glory, that leaves only a handful of bands to have come out of London that are universally beloved and perfect for this list! We're joking: That handful consists of literally thousands of acts, of course. It's quite literally impossible to pick one, but when you look at its influence worldwide, it's hard to dispute a group like Queen for representing London, given the name, the unabashed Britishness (whoever would've had the fish and chips to release a song as cheeky as "Fat Bottomed Girls"?) and the fact that London would come up time and time again in the band's touring and recording careers, once even performing a free concert right in Hyde Park. Many a great band has come from The Big Smoke, but none has rocked us quite like Queen.
Runner-up: Amy Winehouse. A tragic figure, Amy Winehouse's short life yielded numerous classics that gave the world a perspective that was both contemporary and unabashedly London.
It's not simply the fact that Rammstein managed to find commercial success in the West — it's the fact that the modern purveyors of the Neue Deutsche Härte rock style managed to do so without having to switch over to English lyrics. Wildly subversive, the Berlin-based boys can do grinding hard rock one moment and then appear with feminine mascara in a music video the next, proving to be as artistically viable as they are also wildly popular, even after two decades of existence.
Runner-up: Marlene Dietrich. Although one of the most acclaimed film stars of her era (and a gender-bending icon to boot), Dietrich also had a litany of albums to her name: some studio, many live and many more culled from her film work.
As if there was any question, Edith Piaf remains one of France's most famous celebrities, one of Paris' most prized citizens and one of the world's greatest singers. Even following her passing in 1963, her songs remain as resonant and popular as ever, with Marion Cotillard's performance as her in the 2007 biopic "La Vie en Rose" introducing a whole new generation to her riveting, one-of-a-kind voice. All these decades later, and The Sparrow still sings with incredible power and force.
Runner-up: Johnny Hallyday. Often referred to as the man who brought rock 'n' roll to the French, the Paris-born Hallyday was so famous most people simply said "Johnny" and you knew exactly whom they were referencing.
Where do you even begin with Haruomi "Harry" Hosono? Most famous for leading the group Yellow Magic Orchestra to success and proving to be one of the most influential electronic outfits in history (right next to Kraftwerk), Hosono seemingly has no limits. From dance music to folk-rock to original soundtracks to full-on tropicalia, Hosono remains a musical sponge that absorbs and bends genre to his will. Everyone from Dr. John to Van Dyke Parks to Thurston Moore have sung his praises, and even in 2018 he helped create the score for the highly successful film "Shoplifters." Even at 72, Hosono's influence over popular music stretches far beyond his Tokyo birthplace of Minato; he is truly a living legend.
Runner-up: Ghost. Masaki Batoh's long-running experimental-psych outfit specialized in making rock music that fits in no particular genre but still featured a unique Tokyo twist that lesser groups have failed to replicate.
Despite having formed as recently as 2011, Russia — no doubt upset that this Moscow-formed band is now its most recognizable musical export — has had a difficult relationship with Pussy Riot, especially given that its anti-government message has resonated strongly in the West. When two Pussy Riot members were arrested and sentenced for "hooliganism" following a politically pointed artistic protest, multiple countries weighed in and demanded their release. Even since those events, Pussy Riot's reputation has preceded it, and the band continues to make music that is at times aggressive and nihilistic and at other times surprisingly nuanced. "Make America Great Again" — a striking pop song that predicted the outcome of the 2016 election two weeks before it happened — has millions of plays, and Pussy Riot continues to put out politically motivated songs to this day, its artistic vision never compromised. Honestly? It sounds like it's just getting warmed up.
Runner-up: t.A.t.u. It may have been a Europop flash-in-the-pan, but the Moscow-originating t.A.T.u. remains one of the world's best-selling girl groups (even outselling The Spice Girls in Sweden).
Scotland's Dear Green Place has had a surprisingly fervent rock scene, with great bands like Franz Ferdinand, Primal Scream and Mogwai all forming in the country's most populous city. Yet Travis is cut from a different cloth, obsessing over Britpop instead of post-rock, and, having formed in 1990, helped pave the way for many more soft-pop bands to follow. While its first album, "Good Feeling," was disposable and fun, it was 1999's more mature, "The Man Who," that launched it into the stratosphere, aided by its legendary 1999 Glastonbury performance when it literally started to rain as soon as it started playing, "Why Does It Always Rain on Me?" They may not be the commercial juggernauts they once were in the early 2000s, but they remain on Glasgow's proudest sons.
Runner-up: Belle & Sebastian. Call them twee, call them quirky, call them folk-rock, whatever. Just make sure you call them one of the most quietly influential indie rock collectives of the '90s and 2000s, Glasgow-formed and raised.
When the 2016 Summer Olympics were held in Rio de Janeiro, it's of no accident that part of the opening ceremonies would have a rendition of "The Girl from Ipanema," performed by Daniel Jobim, son of the Marvellous City's hometown pride, Antonio Carlos Jobim. Helping usher in bossa nova to an entire generation, Jobim's momentous 1964 collaborative album with saxophonist Stan Getz ended up winning the first Album of the Year Grammy for a jazz album, and Jobim's affiliation with Latin jazz only continued in the decades that followed.
Runner-up: Cartola. The poet of samba himself, Cartola was born and is buried in Rio de Janeiro with literally hundreds of songs to his name.
Often referred to as "The Sultan of Swing," drummer Hossam Ramzy grew up in a wealthy family and was all but shunned when he insisted on playing the darbouka at a young age. His studies took him to the Middle East and Europe, and his goal as a musician would soon come into focus: to introduce Western audiences to the distinct sounds of Egypt. He did this through countless albums which would soon grab the ears of famous musicians like Peter Gabriel and Jimmy Page, both of whom he would work with extensively. Having passed away in September, his legacy is nonetheless secure, as this Cairo-born boy went on to see his dream come true, which is why music fans from around the world continue to mourn him.
Runner-up: Hisham Abbas. Born in Cairo and raised in Shoubra, the "Habibi Dah (Nari Narain)" singer has released over a dozen solo albums and remains a national treasure.
K-pop, as it's currently known and referenced as, started in earnest in the late '90s but really started picking up steam in the mid-2000s with artists like BoA and groups like Shinee and Super Junior slowly building up steam. Yet any K-pop group worth its salt bows down to the original champions of the genre: the unstoppable force that is Girls' Generation. Although they were putting out their first songs in 2007, it was 2009's "Gee" that became the bubblegum foundation upon which the following decade was built, that catchy tune becoming Korea's best-selling single of 2009, and it remains one of the genre's most-watched music videos to this day. Since then the hits kept coming: "The Boys," "Run Devil Run," "Mr.Mr.," "Catch Me If You Can", etc. They are an institution unto themselves, and countless groups owe them a massive debt.
Runner-up: Psy. BTS? Blackpink? Twice? The Western breakthroughs all of these artists have made are indebted to the globe-shattering smashes by the goofy, glorious Psy.
Il Festival de la Cancion, 1970. Were you there? Did you see? A hot new singer who goes by the name of José José takes the stage, full band behind him, flowers being thrown on stage by the audience before he opens his mouth. And then he does, singing "El Triste," and suddenly that Clavería-born boy uses his trained tenor voice to hit incredible heights that are imbued with a profound passion. The audience is standing and cheering before he even has a chance to finish the song. Since then José José became one of Mexico's most acclaimed and beloved balladeers, and despite his passing in September, his legacy will live on for decades to come.
Runner-up: Rodrigo y Gabriela. Apologies to the great Café Tacuba, but Rodrigo y Gabriela's distinct and percussive playing style repurposed in a rock song format has given them a hell of a powerful following.
Like K-pop and J-pop, T-pop is a distinct musical entity in its own right, although much of the music is tailored specifically to a Thai audience. While the music may not cross language barriers in the same way K-pop does, there is still a rich musical history to be found in Thailand, and in the big book of Thai pop music, Bird Thongchai is its superstar. Big in the '90s and the early 2000s, Thongchai has moved from music to TV dramas with surprising ease, but his albums and songs remain his calling card, and while he can do dance-pop with the best of them, his earnest ballads remain his signature style. Even with new, younger acts like Yinglee and New & Jiew rising in popularity, for many in Thailand, the Bangkok-born "Bird" will always be the word.
Runner-up: Silly Fools. Thailand has a thriving rock scene, but for the decade that they were releasing music, Silly Fools had the passion, soul, and many (many) guitar solos to push them to the top of the Bangkok pack.
While China by and large plays by its own rules, the Cantopop scene has been one that has taken on many different forms over the years, and so much of it can be traced back to Sam Hui and his band, Lotus. Covering various English hits while actually singing in English, Sam Hui went on to embark on a solo career that involved him serving as the writer and producer for many. His own songs and albums were often lighthearted and working-class appealing, even if occasionally partisan (as on his controversial "Could Not Care Less About 1997," wherein he tells listeners not to worry about the handoff of Hong Kong to China). Hui nonetheless was referred to as "the God of Song" and had a genuine border-crossing appeal. Although he bowed out before the "Four Heavenly Kings" era of Cantopop took over, he still appeared in films and songs from time to time and remains a Hong Kong legend.
Runner-up: Beyond. Adopting a wide variety of song styles during its tenure, Hong Kong's Beyond was unafraid to evolve during its two decades of existence.
Despite the Young brothers being born in Scotland, AC/DC is and will always be considered an Australian band, forming in Sydney before soon taking over the world with Angus Young's fiery, kinetic guitar playing and the band's perpetually horndog lyrics. While the group would find itself based in Australia and would tour there frequently, its influence went wide, especially following Bon Scott's tragic passing in early 1980. While such a tragedy would normally do other bands in, AC/DC got a stiff upper lip and released "Back in Black" with new singer Brian Johnson. That album, as it turned out, went on to become one of the best-selling albums in all of recorded history. In other words: the Squid boys did well for themselves.
Runner-up: Midnight Oil. With singer Peter Garrett's great, gravelly voice drawing people in, Sydney's Midnight Oil became a rock sensation in its own right in the late '80s.
Dubbed "Mama Africa" by her fans, Miriam Makeba has had a forceful, sometimes strained relationship with her homeland. Born in Johannesburg, Makeba became one of the biggest stars of Marabi and Afropop in the late '50s and early '60s, moving out to London and eventually being tutored by none other than Harry Belafonte. However, South Africa prevented her from returning to attend her mother's funeral, so Makeba moved elsewhere and wrote stinging forceful songs about apartheid, which ended up losing her a good deal of her white, Western audience she had accumulated overseas. Yet as time went on, she became one of the quintessential African songwriters, and a new government finally allowed her to return to South Africa in 1990, and she was hailed as a folk hero. Fiery, outspoken and a hell of an artist, Makeba brought African issues to a world stage.
Runner-up: Brenda Fassie. Often referred to as "The Queen of African Pop," anti-apartheid songs like "Black President" helped establish her as a progressive, no-nonsense type of pop star.
As the de facto leaders of the Prague underground rock movement, The Plastic People of the Universe was Czechoslovakia's premier experimental rock outfit, playing covers of Velvet Underground songs and incorporating banned poet Egon Bondy's work into its lyrics as a way of "smuggling" him into the country. So provocative the band was, the government arrested the members for "organized disturbance of the peace" simply to make an example out of them, leading to protests. All of this still obscures the fact that their music could turn on a dime, going from orchestral one moment to jazzy the next, giving a cross-section of Czech interests and showing that despite the controversies, this Prague powerhouse's artistic expression would be undeterred.
Runner-up: Eva Olmerová. Entirely self-taught as a singer, Prague's Eva Olmerová would become known as Czechoslovakia's greatest jazz and pop icon despite the government frequently limiting her speech and travel abilities.
Born blind and able to read music from Braille, Tete Montoliu would become one of Barcelona's greatest jazz artists, with the young Montoliu obsessing over the records of Art Tatum and eventually striking up a collaborative relationship with celebrated vibraphonist Lionel Hampton. This led to Montoliu touring and spreading the good news of hard bop throughout the '70s. His 1983 live set, "Body & Soul," might go down as his best work, showcasing a fluidity and power that has led him to become an internationally recognized Spanish treasure.
Runner-up: Jarabe de Palo. Whether it be his Brazilian-affected funk styles or his straight-ahead rock numbers, Pau Donés Jarabe de Palo is one of Barcelona's most famous rock exports.
When picking the signature artist from Madrid, it certainly doesn't hurt that Julio Iglesias is only one of the best-selling artists of all time. In Spain alone, he has moved some 23 million records, making him the country's most popular recording artist, and it's easy to see why. Mixing soft pop, traditional balladeering and even the occasional upbeat dance number, Iglesias' style touched Spaniards of all walks of life, and his legacy has only amplified with the success of his famous son Enrique. As if that wasn't enough, Julio even played as a goalkeeper for Real Madrid Castilla in the Segunda División, endearing him to Madrid and making him one of the biggest stars to ever come out of Spain.
Runner-up: Alejandro Sanz. Only one artist has ever won the Latin Grammy for Album of the Year three times, and that just so happens to be Madrid's Alejandro Sanz, one of the biggest Latin pop crossover artists in history.
Where do you even start when talking about the influence of Ennio Morricone? Born in Rome, Morricone grew up into being one of the world's premier film composers, initially getting roped into the Spaghetti Western genre and composing the legendary theme for 1966's "The Good, The Bad and the Ugly." While he's composed for TV and pop acts alike, his film scores will always be his calling card, with some of his most pivotal works being for '80s films like "The Mission" and "The Untouchables." Morricone has lived in Italy his entire life and still doesn't give interviews in English, but his output speaks for itself, including in 2016 when he finally (finally) won the Oscar for Best Original Score for his work on Quentin Tarantino's "The Hateful Eight."
Runner-up: Claudio Baglioni. Rome's one-time-actor-turned-singer lit up Italian charts in the 1970s for his longing, romantic ballads, releasing albums at a constant clip but proving his worth as one of Italy's top live concert draws.
Where do you start with U2? They are one of the biggest rock bands to ever exist and continue to record and tour to this day, with seminal albums like 1987's "The Joshua Tree" and 1991's genre-bending "Achtung Baby" establishing them as critical darlings with massive global appeal. Yet this Dublin-born band remains tied to its Irish roots, with the seminal 1983 single, "Sunday Bloody Sunday" directly referring to the 1972 Bogside Massacre and the 2014 album track "Raised By Wolves" commenting on the 1974 bombings perpetrated by the Ulster Volunteer Force. U2 proudly represents Ireland in so much of what it does, and at the rate the band is going, will still be a force to be reckoned with for years to come.
Runner-up: Sinéad O'Connor. Ever the magnet for controversy, Sinead O'Connor remains a standout star, especially in the U.K., although that immortal Prince cover of "Nothing Compares 2 U" will always be her calling card.
Perhaps it's a bit unfair to put a classical composer such as Mahler as the signature artist on a list that's so full of various pop and rock acts, but given that his influence stretches from the late 1800s to the early 1900s, his legacy continues to grow even a century after his passing. Vienna runs through his blood, having taught, lived and conducted there at various points in his life, sometimes even in the face of anti-Semitic scorn. Although a fervent composer, many of his symphonies were liked by the public but rejected by critics and tastemakers at the time, his weird and emotional compositions viewed as a quirky side-project to his day job as a conductor. Only in the middle of the 1900s had champions like Aaron Copland and Leonard Bernstein come to revive his reputation critically, now leading him to be recognized as one of the greatest romantic composers to have ever lived.
Runner-up: Fennesz. Vienna's premier ambient artist has worked in glitch, IDM and other formats to produce an electronic body of work that continues to innovate to this day.
Was there going to be any other choice? Mohammed Rafi didn't invent the art of playback singing, but he very much became the master of the genre, with his voice and his range allowing him to cover for a wide variety of on-screen performers, which is why he is considered the greatest singer in the history of Hindi Cinema. Although he was no stranger to controversy (like his royalty dispute with the great Lata Mangeshkar in the 1960s), Rafi made himself invaluable because he was capable of singing in a multitude of Indian regional languages, one time even recording an album entirely in English. Although he passed away in 1980, his influence remains unparalleled, often cited as one of Bombay's true treasures.
Runner-up: Arijit Singh. As of this writing, Singh is in his early 30s but is already considered one of the best playback singers in the world, moving to and living in Mumbai while he sings, produces and remains one of India's most sought-after musical freelancers.
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