David Abolafia

Discover the Music That Houston Made Famous

David Abolafia

While many cities have a music scene – and are heralded as the birth of a particular kind of “sound” – few can claim as diverse and eclectic a musical landscape as Houston. From country and pop to R&B and hip-hop, Houston has seen – and heard – it all.


Some of the biggest musical names to come out of Houston are acts that formed there, with one or two of the members calling the Bayou City home. They include:

  • Destiny’s Child – Formed in 1990 with original members Beyonce Knowles and LaTavia Roberson. They met at an audition and became friends, with Knowles’ father helping the girls develop an act based on their singing and rapping. Beyonce’s cousin Kelly Rowland joined the group in 1992, and they landed an appearance on “Star Search” soon after – when all three singers were just 12 years old. Their first record, “Killing Time,” was included on the soundtrack to the film “Men in Black,” in 1997.
  • ZZ Top – One of the few rock-n’-roll groups that still has all of its original members. Formed in 1970 by guitar whiz (and Houston native) Billy Gibbons – whose fretwork earned a shout-out from none other than Jimi Hendrix – bassist Dusty Hill and drummer Frank Beard. The trio carved out a unique sound that melded rock, blues and grunge, and built a strong following over the years. Then, in the mid-1980s, they found massive success with two albums (“Eliminator” and “Afterburner”), both of which were supported by popular videos on MTV. Well into their fifth decade together, ZZ Top is dedicated to the preservation of the blues, and were instrumental (no pun intended) in the creation of the Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale, Miss.
  • Blue October – Formed in 1996, during the post-grunge boom, by brothers Justin (vocals/guitar) and Jeremy (drums) Furstenfeld, with violinist Ryan Delahoussaye. Their angst-ridden rock played well, with their first independent album selling 5,000 copies in the Houston area alone. The band gained national attention (and a Top 40 hit) when “Calling You,” a song off their third album was including on the soundtrack to the film “American Wedding.”
  • Geto Boys – Controversial gangsta rap group, formed in 1986, that has gone through numerous personnel changes and was nearly sunk before it started when their record label refused to issue their first album because of the disturbing subject matter of one song. The project was rescued by top producer Rick Rubin, who published the disc on his own label, and – thanks to publicity generated by the fight with their original label – became a big hit. The group crumbled in the early 1990s, but not before serving as a springboard for future rap stars Scarface, Bushwick Bill and Big Mike.

Solo Artists

A number of artists born in Houston help put the city on the musical map, in a variety of genres. The most well-known of these performers include:

  • Johnny Nash – The singer-songwriter may no longer be a household name, but his #1 single from 1972, “I Can See Clearly Now,” remains an adult contemporary standard. During his decades-long career, Nash successfully incorporated reggae into his soft brand of pop music.
  • Barbara Mandrell – Considered the “godmother of pop-country,” Mandrell had a string of #1 country hits in the late 1970s and early 1980s, as well as a popular television series. Although primarily known as a singer, Mandrell also played accordion, steel guitar and saxophone.
  • Kenny Rogers – Although he found success as a member of the First Edition and the New Christy Minstrels, superstardom eluded Rogers until the late 1970s, when his song “Lucille” broke through on both the pop and country charts. He continues to perform (acting occasionally, in such fare as a series of TV movies based on his hit “The Gambler”). To date, he has amassed 19 #1 country hits and three Grammy awards.
  • Lyle Lovett – One of the most distinctive and original singer/songweiters to emerge during the 1980s. Not quite a country performer, he combined incisive, witty lyrical detail with an eclectic array of music, ranging from country and folk to big-band swing and traditional pop. Lovett began acting in the 1990s, with appearances in several of Robert Altman’s later films, and made headlines in 1993 with his surprise marriage to actress Julia Roberts. He has earned three Grammy awards, including Best Country Album in 1996 for “The Road to Ensenada.”
  • Patrick Swayze – The popular actor and Houston native scored a #3 hit in 1987 with “She’s Like the Wind,” a song from the soundtrack to the film “Dirty Dancing,” in which he starred with Jennifer Grey. He continued acting until his death in 2009 from pancreatic cancer, at age 57.
  • Hillary Duff – The actress/singer first gained fame as a preteen in films, before making a splash in the Disney Channel series “Lizzie McGuire,” which she parlayed into dual careers as a pop singer and actress. She released an album of holiday standards in 2002, with her first pop album, “Metamorphosis,” appearing in 2003. Today, she can be seen on the TV Land series, “Younger.”
  • Chamillionaire – Born Hakeem Sediki, the rapper was referred to as “the Mixtape Messiah,” and became known for his deep, versatile voice and lyrical ability. Fans of the Weird Al Yankovic song “White and Nerdy” will recognize it as a parody of Chamillionaire’s 2005 hit “Ridin’.”
  • DJ Screw – The Houston DJ – born Robert Earl Davis, Jr. – made a name for himself because of his uncanny mixing style, which found him pitching down his records to a lumbering and eerie pace. An advocate of “syrup sippin’,” a Southern rap phenomenon involving codeine-infused cough syrup, DJ Screw ended up dying of a heart attack at age 30 – the result of ingesting too much of the syrup. Still, his short career was influential enough on the hip-hop and rap genres that the underground music industry dubbed Houston “Screw-ston” in his honor.

To discover where the music takes you – be it Houston or one of our other numerous destinations – give us a call at (888) 269-0182, Mon – Fri 9am to 5pm.

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