Baltimore rocks (... and raps ... and scats)

Find out which musicians once called Charm City home.

music & nightlife

August 15, 2005|By Clare Croft | Clare Croft,Special to

Did you know Tori Amos received a citation from the Mayor of Baltimore for a song about the 1980 Orioles? Or, that before Tupac Shakur was "West Coast," he was "East Coast" and a student at the Baltimore School of the Arts?

Baltimore has been home to a surprising number of musicians in a variety of genres. Some of Baltimore's rockers are tied here by chance -- their parents happened to live in Charm City during their childhood: Frank Zappa, Talking Heads' David Byrne and The Cars' Ric Ocasek. Some, like pianist Amos and avant-garde minimalist Philip Glass, studied at the world-class Peabody Conservatory in Mount Vernon. Others, like Shakur and Cab Calloway, just passed through on their way to celebrity status.

Check out the list below for a glimpse at Baltimore's musical heritage, from rock to classical, and a nod to today's music scene.

Let's rock

Tori Amos

Amos was born Myra Ellen Amos in North Carolina, and moved to Baltimore in 1964 when she was 2. At five she enrolled at Peabody, hailed as a piano prodigy. Legend has it that the Peabody faculty kicked her out at 11 for a radical songwriting venture, though her resistance to learning how to read music may have also factored into the decision. As a teen, Amos stuck to her style of playing by ear and began touring the Baltimore and Washington piano bar circuit. At 17, she recorded her first single, with writing assistance from her brother, Michael. "Baltimore/ Walking With You" displayed little of the angst that surfaced in her more famous work. She sang of the city, "It's all kind of people/Familiar places smiling faces/I'm proud to say I'm a Baltimorean/But the 'Birds are the best/The best of Baltimore."

David Byrne

Byrne's family moved to the Baltimore suburbs when young David was 8 or 9. He attended junior high in Baltimore and went to Landsdowne Senior High School, south of Baltimore. He played in local bands but with no serious musical intentions. In 1970, he headed to art school, first trying out the Maryland Institute College of Art, then moving on to the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), where he met his future Talking Heads bandmates, Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth. RISD proved a poor fit for Byrne, and he returned to Baltimore in 1971. Leaving behind Frantz and Weymouth, he created the duo Bizadi with Marc Kehoe. Both sang, Byrne played violin and ukulele and Kehoe played accordion. Bizadi lived a short life in Baltimore, appearing in various bars from February 1971 to March 1972. In 1972, the pair moved to San Francisco, but their time as California buskers did not last long, either. Byrne quickly returned to Providence and the Talking Heads, first known as The Artistics, were born.

Mama Cass

Ellen Naomi Cohen was born in 1941 in Baltimore. The Cohen family moved to Washington shortly after Ellen's birth. In the mid-1960s, she joined The Mamas and the Papas and became Mama Cass. Before that, she performed in local theater productions.

Jerry Leiber

Jerry Leiber, of famed songwriting team Leiber and Stoller, was born in Baltimore in 1933. Shortly after the end of WWII, Leiber's family moved to the West Coast, where he met Mike Stoller in Los Angeles in 1950. The two went on to write songs like "Hound Dog" and "Jailhouse Rock."

Ric Ocasek

Former Cars front man Ocasek was born Richard Otcasek in 1949 in Baltimore. Ocasek was part of a strict Catholic family who lived in Baltimore until 1965, moving to Cleveland when Ric was 16. Ocasek continues his music career today as a producer, notably for Weezer and Guided by Voices.

Tupac Shakur

Tupac Amaru Shakur was born Lesane Parish Crooks in New York in 1971. The Shakur family moved to Baltimore in June 1986, which is, according to several fan Web sites, around the time Shakur wrote his first rap. In September 1986, Shakur became a student at Baltimore School of the Arts, where he studied dance and theater. His Baltimore tenure only lasted two years. In June 1988, Shakur was uprooted when his family relocated to Marin County, Calif.


Baltimore is responsible for the "Thong Song," or, at least, a Baltimorean is responsible for the 2000 hit that glorified the briefest of briefs. Sisqo, born Mark Andrews in 1978 in Baltimore, first began singing in his church choir. He found musical cohorts during high school at Baltimore City Community College Prep, and gained notice while working with the trio James Green, Tamir Ruffin and Larry Anthony at the Fudgery in the Inner Harbor. The four would sing to entertain customers, and later became known as Dru Hill, paying homage to the Druid Hill Park neighborhood in East Baltimore. The group released its first single, "Tell Me," in 1996. In 1999, the group restructured and Sisqo, with his tell-tale dyed blonde hair, moved to the front.

Frank Zappa

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