As far as cities with thriving music scenes are concerned, it would be hard to argue that Portland, OR isn't right there at the top of the list and can hold its own amongst big names like NYC, New Orleans, and Nashville. Maybe it’s the gloomy, rainy weather that attracts brooding artists with guitars, or the craft beers and endless food carts that appeal to creatives with alternative tastes, but whatever it is there must be something in the water because Portland is home to an incredible array of musical talent.
Not only is there a ton of homegrown Portland talent but artists from all over seem to flock to and flourish here in the Rose City. Portland and Oregon musicians have been making an impact on the world for a long time, with musicians like Lee Morse, one of the most recorded female jazz singers of the 1920s, and Paul Revere & the Raiders an American rock band with considerable U.S. mainstream success in the 1960s and 70s.
The city has a well-earned reputation as being a hotbed for indie artists, producing groups like The Decemberists and Blind Pilot, but that’s not all the city has to offer. As stated by the Oregonian, "Portland is an indie-rock mecca, the west coast's temple of the blues, a bastion of folk and roots, a hide-out for electronic producers, one of America's hottest metal scenes and a growing hub for hip-hop": whatever your taste, someone out here is making it and has already made a name for themselves in the industry.
We at NiaSounds decided to compile a list of some of these musical greats and their Portland connections, in order to gain a fuller appreciation for this city's long and illustrious musical history –– creating and influencing great talent from a wide array of genres.
Here is a list of some of the best-known musicians and bands with strong ties to Portland, who have found huge success in the music industry:
Famous For: Talented songwriter and musician who died in 2003 at age 34. Smith was nominated for an Oscar nomination for Best Original Song, for his song "Miss Misery", which appeared on the soundtrack for the movie Good Will Hunting.
Portland Connection: Smith lived in Portland for a lot of his life, and his popularity grew significantly during his residence here. You can hear references to Portland in many of his songs. Listen for "Follow me down to the Rose Parade" in the song Rose Parade and "Driving up and down Division Street" in the song Punch and Judy.
Famous For: American indie rock band formed in 1992. The group achieved mainstream success with its fourth album Good News for People Who Love Bad News and its singles "Float On" and "Ocean Breathes Salty".
Portland Connection: Modest Mouse frontman Isaac Brock formed Modest Mouse in a Seattle suburb and moved to Portland after a stint in a small Central Oregon logging town. Since founding his own record label, Glacial Pace, Brock has produced albums for local artists like Mimicking Birds and Talkdemonic, launching them onto the national scene and helping solidify Portland’s reputation in the indie music scene for another generation.
Famous For: American Indie rock band who signed with Capitol Records in 2005, known for their eclectic live shows and chart-topping sixth album The King is Dead. In 2011 the track, "Down by the Water" from the album The King Is Dead was nominated for Best Rock Song at the 54th Grammy Awards.
Portland Connection: The Portland-based act has called the city home since its inception. The band funded its debut "5 Songs" EP with the gig fee from a McMenamins performance. The next year, the band was playing at Lola’s Room for a few dozen friends, with lyrics that referenced the Multnomah County Library and other local landmarks.
Famous For: Indie pop darlings who catapulted into the limelight when their hit “New Slang” was featured in 2004’s hit film Garden State. The band's third album, Wincing the Night Away (2007), was a major success for the group, peaking at number two on the Billboard 200 and earning a Grammy Award nomination.
Portland Connection: Originally based in Albuquerque, N.M., Shins leader James Mercer headed westward in 2002 after touring with Modest Mouse, and built a recording studio in the basement of his Southeast Portland home — incidentally, the same house where late Elliott Smith, recorded his 1994 debut album. The home studio has since birthed records like the Shins’ Chutes Too Narrow and Port of Morrow.
Famous For: This bassist, vocalist, and composer, has won four Grammy Awards and was the first jazz musician in history to garner a Grammy for Best New Artist. Among other accomplishments, she performed for President Barack Obama at the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize Concert.
Portland Connection: Spalding grew up in Northeast Portland and was playing with the Chamber Music Society of Oregon by age 5. The prodigy was mentored by a Portland jazz legend, trumpeter Thara Memory, and spent a stint in Portland State University’s music program before transferring to the prestigious Berklee College of Music.
Portugal. The Man
Famous For: American rock band who signed with Atlantic Records in 2010. The band won "Best Pop Duo/Group Performance" category for their song "Feel It Still" at the 60th Annual Grammy Awards in 2018.
Portland Connection: Originally from Wasilla, Alaska, the group currently resides in Portland, Oregon. The major label group that calls itself "the lords of Portland" is also a staunch community member, whether it's helping a local school or showing up for the Oregon Music Hall of Fame.
Famous For: American indie rock group who has been praised as being one of the essential rock groups of the early 2000s. The group was strongly influenced by the riot grrrl underground feminist punk movement that began in the early 1990s, and the group is known for its feminist and left-leaning politics.
Portland Connection: Although the trio pays tribute to their Washington roots through their band name, Portland can claim some of the punk act's best years. A decade before creating the TV comedy that launched Portland into the national spotlight, Portlandia co-star Carrie Brownstein rolled into town with her Sleater-Kinney bandmates. The group has shown that they have a lot of love for their adopted hometown, known for attending local shows, volunteering at Portland’s Rock & Roll Camp for Girls and dominating weekly trivia at local bar, Beulahland.
Famous For: American electronic music band formed in 2001 known for their trademark punk and lo-fi sounds. In 2007 their musical style streamlined into an Italo disco sound. Their third album Night Drive (2007) was met with critical acclaim, as was their fourth album, Kill for Love, which was released in 2012. Several of the band's songs have been featured in television series such as Bates Motel, Gossip Girl, Mr. Robot, Parenthood, Revenge, Riverdale, 13 Reasons Why, and Twin Peaks, and their track "Tick of the Clock" was featured in the films Drive (2011) and Taken 2 (2012).
Portland Connection: Each of the four members are Portland natives and the group's music is often created and crafted at producer, Johnny Jewel’s Portland studio.
Famous For: André Allen Anjos, better known by his stage name RAC, is a Portuguese DJ and record producer. RAC has created more than 200 remixes in the rock, electronica, and dance music genres for various musical artists, with his work featured in ads from Citigroup and Hulu, among others. In 2017 RAC won the Grammy Award for Best Remixed Recording, for his song "Tearing Me Up."
Portland Connection: Anjos moved to Portland after graduating in 2009. He converted the second bedroom of his condo into a studio where he creates all his best remixes as well as his own original material.
She & Him
Famous For: Indie pop duo consisting of Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward. Since their formation in 2006, the duo has produced six studio albums, including their Christmas album, A Very She & Him Christmas which according to Amazon.com was one of its top three best-selling MP3-albums over the Christmas period in 2011. In 2012 the duo had a Grammy Award nomination for Best Song Written for Visual Media, for their song, "So Long.”
Portland Connection: The Him half of the retro duo, M. Ward, remains a local, and singer Zooey Deschanel's "New Girl" character, Jess, is from Portland. Several of their songs were written and recorded in Portland. When he’s not performing as the “Him” to Deschanel’s “She,” the native Portlander shares the stage with Bright Eyes’ Conor Oberst and My Morning Jacket’s Jim James in indie folk supergroup Monsters of Folk.
The Dandy Warhols
Famous For: American alternative rock band who gained recognition after they were signed to Capitol Records and released their major label album debut, The Dandy Warhols Come Down, in 1997. In 2001, the band rose to new levels of fame after their song "Bohemian Like You" enjoyed extensive exposure due to being featured in a Vodafone advertisement. The Dandy Warhols were the subject of the 2004 documentary film Dig!, along with San Francisco psychedelic outfit The Brian Jonestown Massacre. They have released ten studio albums, two compilation albums, six EPs, and twenty-seven singles to date.
Portland Connection: The band was formed in Portland, Oregon in 1994. Early on in their career, The Dandy Warhols performed in bars throughout Portland and became well known for their nudity-filled live shows. In 2014 Dandy Warhols', Courtney Taylor-Taylor, opened his own wine bar in Slabtown called “The Old Portland”.
Famous For: Rapper and producer whose music has been featured in numerous major motion pictures including but not limited to "The Night Listener", "TATS Cru: The Mural Kings" & the ESPN documentary "Through The Fire", as well as three exclusive Bacardi commercials featuring his song "Only For Today".In past years Miser was also a featured in the final Top 6 of the MTV2 Dew Circuit Breakout.
Portland Connection: Originally from Portland, Oregon, Miser is involved in the hip-hop scene in the Northwest United States and was one of the innovators of Portland’s hip-hop community. He was the lead vocalist and one of the founders of the Portland Hip Hop band Five Fingers of Funk.
Famous For: American musician and songwriter, best known for being the lead guitarist and donning the persona of "The Spaceman" for American hard rock band Kiss, arguably the most influential and visual rock band to come out of the 1970s. Thayer was also the former lead guitarist for the band Black 'n Blue.
Portland Connection: Thomas Cunningham Thayer was born in Portland, Oregon, and grew up in the nearby suburb of Beaverton, Oregon. Thayer played in many local garage and club bands, eventually forming his own group with singer Jaime St. James, which eventually took the name Black 'n Blue. Black 'n Blue played gigs in the Portland area for over a year before making a move to Southern California in early 1983.
Famous For: American Indie Folk band, Blind Pilot made an impact right off the bat. Their debut album, 3 Rounds and a Sound, featured the surprise hit "Go On, Say It," which propelled the album to number 13 on the Billboard Top Digital Albums chart.
Portland Connection: The Portland natives completed perhaps the ultimate tribute to their hometown with their bicycle tour in 2008. The group traveled from Washington to California on bikes, playing concerts and carrying their instruments on their back.
Famous For: Ghanaian drummer and dancer who was one of the first native African musicians to bring the fusion of traditional folk music and Western pop music known as worldbeat to Europe and then to the Pacific Northwest in the late 1970s. In 1996, he became the first native African to win a National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, which is the highest honor in the folk and traditional arts in the United States.
Portland Connection: Addy taught music at Lewis and Clark College for many years before his death in 2012. He also founded the Homowo African Arts and Cultures organization, which sponsors the annual Homowo Festival of African Arts in Oregon. He was awarded a Master's Fellowship from the Oregon Arts Commission and Regional Arts & Culture Council, and the Oregon Governor's Award for the Arts.