Although frequently overlooked, there is quite a roster of musicians and bands from Buffalo Niagara that either had a significant impact on the music scene of their time or continue to affect it to this very day.

by Max Fisher

Unbeknownst to the uninitiated, many big-name musicians  have called Buffalo Niagara home

It Comes As No Surprise

When you think of cultural hubs for music that have long and reverberating effects on music as a whole, what cities come to mind? Memphis, where Elvis made the first hits that set him down the path of being the first true modern pop star? Seattle, for the grunge explosion that made it cool for everyone to be angsty teenagers again (eventually, it stops smelling like teen spirit and starts smelling like it’s time to move on). Or New York, which has had so many musical movements from jazz in Harlem in the 20s, to New Wave in the early 80s, to the hip hop explosion in the 90s (among many others)?

But have you ever wondered about Buffalo Niagara’s contributions to the great musical canon?

Although frequently overlooked, there is quite a roster of musicians and bands from Buffalo Niagara that either had a significant impact on the music scene of their time or continue to affect it to this very day. Since everyone who’s not from the area seems like they’d rather jump off a bridge than admit any worthwhile musical talent has emerged from here, let’s spotlight some of the most important artists and bands from the area and show those who don’t believe Buffalo Niagara to be a cultural hub for music just how wrong they are!

Rick james

Rick James, of Chapelle’s Show fame

Let’s start it off right with none other than Rick James. Yea, yea, yea, I know the Chapelle’s Show’s iconic skit everyone knows and loves. Truthfully, through a combination of drugs, poor decisions, and comedic genius, the skit has completely overshadowed Mr. James, which is a shame because, despite all the crazy stories you hear about the man, he was a great musician who was very respected in musical circles. A signee of the legendary Motown Records, he was a pioneer bringing raunchy R&B songs to the mainstream with such Classic as “Give It To Me Baby”, “Mary Jane”and “Super Freak”, which McHammer sampled for his 1991 super smash“Can’t Touch This”, and gave James the only Grammy of his career.

Besides having an illustrious career that continued right up until he died in 2004, James also had a successful career as a songwriter and producer for other artists, including Teena Marie, the Mary Jane Girls, The Temptations, Eddie Murphy, and Smokey Robinson. Rick James will sadly always be foreshadowed by the wild life he lived, but for those not put off by what they see on the surface and are willing to dig deeper, they will find an incredibly talented, hard-working musician with plenty to offer.

goo goo dolls

He doesn’t want the world to see him

Humor me for a moment, would you? Pretend like it’s the late 90s early 2000s again? What’s arguably the hottest alternative rock band on the planet? Well, judging by the ringtone on my cell phone (remember, this is the ringtone era, so I’m being really cool), I’d have to say The Goo Goo Dolls! During this time, these guys were on one hell of a hot streak! Where talking hit after hit like“Slide”,“Iris” and “Black Balloon”, and chart-topping albums like Dizzy Up the Girl. Add a Grammy to the mix, and you can start to understand why they were considered one of the quintessential bands of their era and how many in the city still hold them in such high regard. Not bad for a local band, huh?

Griselda

Buffalo Kids, Griselda: Benny the Butcher, Westside Gunn and Conway the Machine (from left). Credit: Universal Music

Buffalo Niagara has never been known for the rappers that call it home, that is until Griselda came on the scene—consisting of Benny the Butcher, Conway the Machine, and Westside Gunn. These three don’t so much as rap as they paint vivid pictures of the hardships of city life. Hip hop has always had a journalistic aspect to it, and if that’s the truth, then these three are something like the Walter Cronkite of the streets of Buffalo. And as such, their music may come up as crass or offensive to some, but in a genre like Hip Hop, where authenticity is cherished, these guys are telling their story without pulling any punches, which is what good journalism is supposed to do. Open your eyes to things you may be ignorant to so open dialogue can be established and move freely.

lance diamond

Lance Diamond

Lance Diamond, a true hometown staple if there ever was one. Diamond’s career spanned over 40 years. Deemed Buffalo’s “best individual vocalist,” “king of charisma,” and best “genre-defying act” by Buffalo’s ARTVOICE, he collaborated on songs with The Goo Goo Dolls and also had an illustrious career as a radio host.

brian mcknight

Brian McKnight

Brian McKnight, one of the undisputed kings of R&B, is indeed from Buffalo! Known for his strong falsetto and wide range, McKnight has been making impactful slow jams and ballads since the late 80s. His first album, Back To One, sold over three million copies. He was an artist with true staying power. If by chance you haven’t heard of him, ask your parents.

Patrick Cowley

Patrick Cowley with Sylvester

Patrick Cowley, known for his contributions to disco and Hi-NRG, was a composer and innovator. He is also recognized as being a pioneer in electronic dance music. His hits include Menergy, a tribute to the gay club scene of the 80s, as well as and “Megatron Man,” which hit #1 and #2 respectively on the Billboard Hot Dance Music/Club Play chart in the early 1980s.

Alexis Spight

Alexis Spight. Photo by Amy Mckie

Alexis Spight, runner-up on season five of the BET singing competition, Sunday Best. She is known as a gospel singer with a powerfully engaging voice. Her 2012 single Imagine Me was on the Hot Gospel Songs Chart, and her first album, 2013 L.O.L landed on the 200 Gospel Albums as well as getting a place on the independent charts as well.

sam noto

Sam Noto

Sam Noto, a journeyman of a trumpeter, has made steady contributions to the Jazz genre for over 50 years, known for his collaborations with Stan Kenton, among others. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more seasoned musician.

We’re More Than Rick James, B****

Buffalo Niagara has never been at the forefront of a musical movement, but that’s not to say that it didn’t make valuable contributions to existing movements. From Rick James’s colorful personality and uniquely raunchy R&B that both disturbed and delighted listeners because of its new take on an old formula (R&B has always had sexual undertones, James just pushed them to the forefront and supercharged them). Making him a household name way before he was the butt of countless jokes, to the Goo Goo Dolls dominating a blend of melancholic lyrics and pop melodies which made them a chart-topping juggernaut in their heyday (and made numerous teenage girls question their boyfriends about why they didn’t write a song like Iris for them), and a constant source of pride and joy for the city and the region to this very day.

And in terms of fresh faces (I’m speaking in relative terms, these guys have been putting in quality work for a while now). You can’t go wrong with Griselda, whose lyrical ability of each member is of the highest caliber, not to mention the excellent beat selection found on all their projects. If you want further proof that Griselda is carrying Buffalo on its back musically at the moment, how many hometown artists get to play the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon?

So don’t let anyone tell you “all Buffalonians have ever had musically was Rick James”. Don’t get mad at this person because they’re just ignorant to the facts. They don’t know that this area has been a host to great talent in the past and undoubtedly great talent in the future. Sometimes the best way to shake someone out of their ignorance is to shock them and let’s just say Buffalo Niagara has enough surprises and mainstays in its repertoire.

It’s hard to stay ignorant for long.

Musicians & Bands from Buffalo Niagara

10,000 Maniacs

Rock

Adolph Deutsch

Composer

Akir

Rapper

Al Copley

Blues

Alexis Spight

Gospel

Andy Kulberg

Rock

Ani DiFranco

Singer/Songwriter

Aqueous

Jam Band

Benny the Butcher

Rapper

Billy Sheehan

Rock

Bobby Militello

Jazz

Bobby Previte

Session Musician

Brian McKnight

R&B

Buffalo Bills

Barbershop Quartet

Cannibal Corpse

Metal

Carlena Williams

Singer

Carol Wincenc

Classical Music

Charles Gayle

Jazz

Chauncey Morehouse

Jazz

Christina Courtin

Singer/Songwriter

Chuckie Campbell

Rapper

Conway the Machine

Rapper

Cory Wells

Three Dog Night (Lead Vocals)

Cute Is What We Aim For

Rock

Danimal Cannon

Chiptune

Dave Schulz

Producer

David Fridmann

Producer

David Lucas

Producer

David Shire

Composer

Dodo Greene

Jazz

Don Menza

Jazz

Donnie Elbert

Soul

Dr. Dirty John Valby

Comedy Rock

Dr. Lonnie Smith

Jazz

DW Drouillard

Singer/Songwriter

Ray Goetz

Composer

Edna Indermaur

Opera Singer

Elizabeth Swados

Composer

Emile Haynie

Producer

Eric Herman

Children’s Music

Every Time I Die

Metalcore

Florian-Ayala Fauna

Ambient

Frankie Dunlop

Jazz

Gary Baker

Songwriter

Gary Mallaber

Session Musician

Girlpope

Rock

Glen Benton

Metal

Goo Goo Dolls

Rock

Grabbitz

EDM

Green Jellÿ

Comedy Rock

Grover Washington Jr.

Jazz

Gurf Morlix

Singer/Songwriter

Handsome Jack

Rock

Harold Arlen

Composer

Harry B. Smith

Composer

Herbert Witherspoon

Opera Singer

It Dies Today

Metalcore

Jack Yellen

Lyricist

Jackdaw

Rock

Jackson C. Frank

Folk

Jason Vieaux

Classical music

Jim Hall

Jazz

Joanie Sommers

Pop

Joe Kraemer

Composer

Joe Public

R&B

Joey Giambra

Jazz

John Stevens

Pop

John Trivers

Singer/Songwriter

Johny Chow

Stone Sour

Jordan Kyle

Producer

Jud Strunk

Country

Juini Booth

Jazz

Julie Byrne

Singer/Songwriter

Julius Eastman

Composer

Kristen Pfaff

Hole

Lance Diamond

Lounge singer

Laura Aikin

Opera Singer

Lejaren Hiller

Composer

Lemuria

Indie Rock

Leonard Pennario

Composer

Lisa Kindred

Folk

Lou Courtney

Soul

Lucky Peterson

Blues, R&B

Lukas Foss

Composer

Marc Scibilia

Singer/Songwriter

Marcus Goldhaber

Jazz

Mel Lewis

Jazz

Mercury Rev

Indie Rock

Michael Angelakos

Passion Pit

Michael Pisaro

Composer

moe.

Jam Band

Morton Feldman

Composer

NicePeter

Comedy Rock

Nina Morgana

Opera Singer

Nino Tempo & April Stevens

Pop

Ookla the Mok

Filk

Pamela Z

Composer

Patrick Cowley

EDM

Patrick Wilson

Weezer (Drummer & Co-Founder)

Paul Moravec

Composer

Paul Siebel

Folk

Peter Case

Singer/Songwriter

Process & the Doo Rags

R&B

Raven

Rock

Ray Chamberlain

Jazz

Ray Henderson

Songwriter

Ray Kennedy

Country

Richard Ray Farrell

Blues

Rick James

R&B

Robert Kinkel

Trans-Siberian Orchestra

Ronnie Foster

Jazz

Sam Noto

Jazz

Scary Chicken

Rock

Seth Horan

Rock

Sherrie Maricle

Jazz

Sidney Flanigan

Singer/Songwriter

Snapcase

Hardcore

Spyro Gyra

Jazz Fusion

Stacy Clark

Singer/Songwriter

Stan Szelest

Rock

STEMM

Metal

Steve Nathan

Session Musician

Stevie J

Producer

Terence Boylan

Singer/Songwriter

The Bunny the Bear

Hardcore

The Modernaires

Vocal Group

The Reign of Kindo

Indie Rock

The Road

Rock

Tina Parol

Singer/Songwriter

Tom Hambridge

Rock

Tommy Tedesco

The Wrecking Crew

Tony Terran

The Wrecking Crew

Venetta Fields

Singer

Vic Dana

Pop

Westside Gunn

Rapper

Willie Nile

Singer/Songwriter

Willis Conover

Jazz

What do you think of our list of musicians & bands from Buffalo Niagara? Know a musician or band from the area that we missed? Who on the list did you see live last?  Let us know.

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