Skip to Global Menu Skip to Page Content Skip to Footer

Indiana Pop & Rock

February 24, 2021




A long list of pop and rock stars have come from the Hoosier state – there is of course Gary’s famed Jackson Five (founded in 1964), among the first “boy bands” and fronted by Michael (1958-2009), the undisputed “King of Pop.”


Formed in 1964 in Gary, Indiana, the five brothers who formed The Jackson 5 performed in talent shows and the “chitlin’ circuit” before signing a record deal. They released two songs with Steeltown Records before signing with Motown Records in 1969. Fronted by Michael Jackson, the eighth of ten children, the group was the first one of the first African American groups to attain a crossover following with seventeen Top 40 hits. By 1972, the brothers had disbanded. Michael went on to have a successful solo career. 



The Ink Spots perform around a single microphone in four-part harmony.

Hoosiers like to harmonize in groups too – the Ink Spots got their start as a doo-wop quartet on Indiana Avenue in the 30s before striking it big as a crossover group.






The all-male ensemble of Straight No Chaser pose wearing tuxes and smiles.

And, of course, a capella group Straight No Chaser started at Indiana University in 1996.







Spotlight: Four Freshmen



The Four Freshmen, who heavily influenced later pop stars like Brian Wilson, formed at Butler University in 1948. Organized at Butler University in 1948, The Four Freshmen revolutionized vocal harmonic groups by moving away from the barbershop-quartet style to jazz harmonies. Their recording of “It’s a Blue World," as heard here, became their first charted single. However, it was almost not recorded. Capitol Records had rejected it as a single and dropped the group! Bandleader Stan Kenton, a fan of the quartet, demanded that Capitol return the demo tapes so the group could self-promote the song. They got the song on the radio and Capitol re-signed them. The quartet still performs today, albeit with a new group of singers. 






 Listen to the Great Indiana Songbook playlist




Neal Doughty plays his keyboards for a concert.

Neal Doughty (1946-), born in Evansville, is the keyboardist and last remaining founder of arena rock legends REO Speedwagon.







Izzy Stradlin holds a cigarette and plays his guitar while Axl Rose stares beyond the camera.

Axl Rose and Izzy Stradlin (both 1962-) grew up together in Lafayette before moving to Los Angeles to start the groundbreaking hard rock band Guns N’ Roses in 1985.







Spotlight: John "Cougar" Mellencamp



And no list of Indiana rockers would be complete without singer-songwriter John Mellencamp (1951-).  A founding member of Farm Aid, John memorialized his hometown of Seymour with blue-collar hits like “Jack & Diane,” “Small Town,” “Pink Houses,” and “R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A.”


Born in 1951 in Seymour, Indiana, John Mellencamp formed his first band when he was 14. He moved to New York City to pursue a career in music after graduating from Vincennes University. His musical style, dubbed “heartland rock”, is a straightforward  style that shows concern for the working class. It is strongly influenced by early country acts like Hank Williams, folk acts such as Woody Guthrie, and early rock bands like The Rolling Stones. Mellencamp has had 22 Top 40 hits including “Small Town” which he wrote in the laundry room of his old house. 





Learn more about Hoosier artists