The best musical acts from the Chicago area

Slide 1 of 26: The Windy City is not just known for deep-dish pizza and hot dogs without mustard. Its music scene remains one of the most vibrant throughout the world, spanning all genres and consistently paying homage to its past.It's also responsible for some of music's most legendary acts -- some still going strong today. Here's a look at 25 of the best (listed in alphabetical order). Note: Those who will complain that the great Cheap Trick is not on this list, keep in mind the band is from Rockford, IL. Though relatively close to Chicago, that city prides itself on not being considered part of
1/26 SLIDES © Steve Schapiro/Corbis via Getty Images

The best musical acts from the Chicago area

The Windy City is not just known for deep-dish pizza and hot dogs without mustard. Its music scene remains one of the most vibrant throughout the world, spanning all genres and consistently paying homage to its past.

It’s also responsible for some of music’s most legendary acts — some still going strong today. Here’s a look at 25 of the best (listed in alphabetical order).

Note: Those who will complain that the great Cheap Trick is not on this list, keep in mind the band is from Rockford, IL. Though relatively close to Chicago, that city prides itself on not being considered part of “Chicagoland.”

The best musical acts from the Chicago area
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Alkaline Trio

Pop punk is not everybody’s cup of tea. Especially those hardcore punks. Yet, when it comes to the overall scene, Alkaline Trio has enjoyed a certain amount of punk/alternative credibility. With its unique, creative, and often satirical macabre approach to punk, Alkaline Trio, which broke from the Chicago suburbs, has enjoyed a solid career since breaking in in 1998. The campy “Radio” from 2000 and 2003’s Good Mourning record should be considered the highlights of the band’s run. Founder and singer Matt Skiba also moonlights as the guitarist for Blink-182.

The best musical acts from the Chicago area
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The Buckinghams

Back in the late mid-to-late 1960s, The Buckinghams were quite popular in Chicago and eventually enjoyed fame throughout the world. In 1967, the group’s pop sound was responsible for five Top 40 hits. Most notably, “Kind of a Drag,” which reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. Original lead singer and North Sider Dennis Tufano, who attended Gordon Tech High School (now DePaul College Prep), has continued to tour while performing the band’s hits.

The best musical acts from the Chicago area
4/26 SLIDES © Kyle Terada/USA TODAY Sports

Chance the Rapper

From Chicago’s Chatham neighborhood on the South Side, Chance’s father worked for the late Chicago Mayor Harold Washington and then-Senator Barack Obama. Since breaking onto the rap scene in 2012, Chancelor Jonathan Bennett has become an international superstar and multi-Grammy Award-winning artist. He’s also taken his talent and versatility to the screen — big and small. Amid all the fame, Chance still finds time to give back and support Chicago-related causes and programs.

The best musical acts from the Chicago area
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The best musical acts from the Chicago area
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After coming together, while some of its members were attending DePaul University, Chicago blossomed into one of the most successful bands in rock history. Bassist-vocalist and South Sider Peter Cetera also enjoyed a successful solo career. Known throughout the 1970s for classic songs like “25 or 6 to 4” and “Feelin’ Stronger Everyday,” with its prominent horn and brass work, and during the 1980s for pop ballads such as “Hard to Say I’m Sorry” and “You’re the Inspiration,” the group was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2016.

The best musical acts from the Chicago area
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From the South Side neighborhood of Calumet Heights, Common (born Lonnie Rashid Lynn) caught the rap bug while attending Chicago’s Luther South High School. Since then, he’s rose to become one of the biggest entertainers in the world. Common has won multiple Grammy Awards, as well as an Academy and Golden Globe Award for his collaboration with John Legend on the song “Glory,” from the 2014 film Selma.

The best musical acts from the Chicago area
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True Chicagoland music fans are well aware of the freely distributed Illinois Entertainer. A haven for local music news and a place to advertise everything from band openings and to used accordions. It’s also the place where David Draiman answered the ad of three hungry musicians looking for a singer. That was essentially the birth of alternative-metal studs Disturbed, which has put out seven studio albums, five debuting at No. 1 on the Billboard 200. Internationally, the group has sold nearly 20 million records and been nominated for two Grammy Awards.

The best musical acts from the Chicago area
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Earth, Wind & Fire

The influence that the great EWF has had over artists from the likes of Prince to Lenny Kravitz to Beyoncé is truly immeasurable. Formed by the late Maurice White (who played with Ramsey Lewis) in Chicago in the late 1960s, Earth, Wind & Fire delivered plenty of memorable tracks spanning genres from rhythm & blues to soul to funk to jazz to dance. The legacy of this multiple Grammy Award winner and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member includes “September,” “Boogie Wonderland” and “Let’s Groove.”

The best musical acts from the Chicago area
9/26 SLIDES © Rick Wood/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel/USA TODAY

Fall Out Boy

It might be easy to pass Fall Out Boy, formed in the affluent north Chicago suburb of Wilmette in 2001, as pop-punk posers. In truth, Pete Wentz and Co. remain extremely popular and have posted four No. 1 records, in addition to multiple Grammy nominations. There really is no sign of the band going away, as long as high schoolers in Chicagoland and throughout the world are listening. “Sugar, We’re Goin Down” from 2005’s From Under the Cork Tree remains the group’s highlight.

The best musical acts from the Chicago area
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The best musical acts from the Chicago area
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Steve Goodman

Maybe not the most household name when discussing Chicago-based musicians, yet Goodman drew much praise and many accolades for his work during his brief life. A product of Maine East High School in suburban Park Ridge, Goodman won a Grammy for Best Country Song with “City of New Orleans,” which has also been recorded by the likes of Arlo Guthrie and Judy Collins. To many Chicagoans, however, Goodman, who died from leukemia in 1984 at age 36, might be best known for penning “Go Cubs Go,” in celebration of his beloved baseball team and a song that’s still played at Wrigley Field following every Cubs’ victory.

The best musical acts from the Chicago area
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Jennifer Hudson

Brought up in the South Side Chicago neighborhood of Englewood, Hudson attended Dunbar High School, located in the shadows of Soldier Field. Hudson, who continues to interact and give back to her native city and community, is one of the most versatile and successful entertainers in the world. She’s won two Grammy Awards and a Best Supporting Actress Oscar and Golden Globe (Dreamgirls). She has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and tackles the lead role of Aretha Franklin in the 2021 film Respect.

The best musical acts from the Chicago area
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Ides of March

Formed in west suburban Berwyn in 1964, the Ides, which featured singer-songwriter Jim Peterik (more from him later on this list), were a popular local act. However, the band hit it big with the 1970 hit “Vehicle.” The song reached No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and still enjoys consistent play on classic rock radio. After being silent during the 1980s, ’90s, and 2000s, the Ides put out four records last decade.

The best musical acts from the Chicago area
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Chaka Khan

Hailing from the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago, Khan kicked off her stellar singing career at age 11. After a brief stint as a member of the Black Panther party, Khan eventually joined Grammy Award-winning Chicago-based funk band Rufus, in which she made a name for herself through her brilliant R&B stylings. However, Khan’s biggest commercial success came as a solo artist starting in the 1980s. She won one of her 10 Grammys for the popular version of the Prince-penned “I Feel For You.”

The best musical acts from the Chicago area
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Local H

Hailing from far north suburban Zion (near the Illinois-Wisconsin border), Local H, which has played mostly as a two-piece led by guitarist-vocalist Scott Lucas, released its debut record in 1995. One year later, the band earned mainstream success with As Good as Dead — featuring hits “Bound for the Floor,” “High-Fiving MF” and “Eddie Vedder.” The 1998 follow-up Pack Up the Cats also fared well, and Local H continues to enjoy success locally and throughout the Midwest.

The best musical acts from the Chicago area
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The best musical acts from the Chicago area
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Material Issue

One of the more underrated power pop groups of the 1990s, Material Issue was probably more appreciated in the Chicago area than elsewhere. Formed after frontman Jim Ellison and bassist Ted Ansani met at downtown Chicago’s artsy Columbia College and later hooked up with drummer Mike Zelenko, via the Illinois Entertainer, the band enjoyed some solid mainstream success with 1991’s International Pop Overthrow. Spawning the hit “Valerie Loves Me.”

The best musical acts from the Chicago area
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Led by the versatile and talented Al Jourgensen, who relocated to Chicago from Denver and attended the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), Ministry was one of the pioneers of the industrial rock/metal movement that gained steam in the 1980s and enjoyed plenty of success throughout the ’90s. Jourgensen and a revolving cast of characters put out the band’s first record in 1983, and it’s been nominated for six Grammy Awards. Its 1993 effort Psalm 69, might be the group’s most praised project.

The best musical acts from the Chicago area
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Naked Raygun

In addition to being a major influence, starting in the early 1980s, on many a punk band, Naked Raygun (hailing from the Beverly neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side) also happened to be the first act Dave Grohl saw play live at the Cubby Bear — kitty-corner from Wrigley Field — in 1982. While the band, which has put out eight studio albums, never earned much mainstream success, it still holds legendary status among punks in the Chicagoland area and throughout the Midwest to this day.

The best musical acts from the Chicago area
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Rise Against

Since the early 2000s, Chicago-based Rise Against has enjoyed considerable success on the punk scene. While it’s not really easy to categorize Rise Against’s overall sound (pop hardcore, melodic hard rock — if there are such categories), the group, also known for its advocacy and social awareness projects, has a rather dedicated following and is considered one of the better live bands within its genre. Check out “Satellite” from 2011’s Endgame release.

The best musical acts from the Chicago area
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A true classic rock staple, Styx was formed in the South Side Chicago neighborhood of Roseland, when singer-songwriter Dennis DeYoung hooked up with brothers John and Chuck Panozzo in the early 1960s. Through the years, the band has delivered timeless arena-rock classics like “Lady,” “Come Sail Away” and “Renegade.” Though longtime leader DeYoung had a falling out and is no longer part of the band, Styx continues on with James “JY” Young and Tommy Shaw leading the charge.

The best musical acts from the Chicago area
20/26 SLIDES © Ron Holman for USA TODAY

Smashing Pumpkins

There weren’t many bands bigger during the 1990s than the Pumpkins. Led by singer-songwriter Billy Corgan (born in Chicago and attended high school in west suburban Carol Stream), the group dominated the alternative music scene with its first three albums Gish, Siamese Dream, and Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. Corgan, with original guitarist James Iha (who attended high school in Elk Grove Village) and drummer Jimmy Chamberlin (from nearby Joliet), reunited in the late 2010s and continue to tour.

The best musical acts from the Chicago area
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Remember when we discussed the Ides of March and Jim Peterik? Following the initial break up of that band, Peterik eventually hit it even bigger with Survivor. Teaming with fellow Chicagoan and guitarist Frankie Sullivan, Survivor broke out with the iconic “Eye of the Tiger.” The group took on a more pop sound during the mid-1980s and enjoyed continued success with hits like “The Moment of Truth” and “The Search Is Over,” with the late Jimi Jamison on vocals.

The best musical acts from the Chicago area
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Urge Overkill

Nash Kato and “King” Roeser met at Northwestern University (across the Chicago city limits in Evanston) and formed Urge in 1986. The rest is alt-rock history. The band put out six studio albums from 1989-2011, with 1993’s Saturation (with the hit “Sister Havana”) serving as the highlight. However, it’s probably best known for the popular cover of Neil Diamond’s “Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon”, from the blockbuster film Pulp Fiction.

The best musical acts from the Chicago area
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Veruca Salt

Led by the twin vocal-guitar attack of Nina Gordon and Louise Post, who were introduced in Chicago by mutual friend and popular — Windy City-area native — actress Lili Taylor in the early 1990s, Veruca Salt enjoyed respectable success with the alternative/120 Minutes crowd. Starting with 1994’s American Thighs, spawning the hit “Seether,” and three years later with the underrated Eight Arms to Hold You. The band put out its most recent album in 2015.

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