15 Influential Music Artists That Shaped Long Island

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(Getty Images)

Long Island has plenty to be proud of, especially in the music scene.

From metal to pop music stars, LI’s unique artists reflect the diverse communities and cultures that are found on the island.

This list is just the tip of the iceberg of influential music artists that have shaped Long Island’s music scene over the years. 

Here are some of the most influential music artists from Long Island. 

Billy Joel

Billy Joel
“Piano Man” Billy Joel bids Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum farewell on Aug. 4, 2015.

A list of the most influential Long Island musicians wouldn’t be complete without the Piano Man. He was raised in Hicksville and has made a name for himself as one of the well-known musicians since he launched his career almost five decades ago. Since the 1970s, he has sold more than 150 albums and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1999. Billy Joel also holds the record for the most solo performances in Madison Square Garden, helping to solidify his position as one of the most famous Long Island musicians. 

Lou Reed 

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L to R: Lou Reed in his later years and in his Freeport High School yearbook photo.

After more than five decades in the rock industry, Lou Reed is one of the biggest names of rock music from the mid-1900s. Reed left his band in Velvet Underground in 1970 but continued on to have a successful solo career. His iconic style of half-sung, half-spoken verses helped to position himself as The Coolest Man In the World.” You’ll recognize his hits “Walk On The Wide Side” and “Satellite of Love.” Reed passed away in 2013 after battling liver disease in his Southampton home. 

Pat Benatar

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The american rock singer Pat Benatar with her Guitarist and husband Neil Giraldo in concert in Beaumont, CA in 2009.

Born Patrician Mae Andrzejewski, Pat Benatar was born in Brooklyn and raised in Lindenhurst. She originally didn’t have musical aspirations, and briefly attended Stony Brook University while pursuing a health education degree. She ended up dropping out to marry her sweetheart and started to perform at Catch A Rising Star, a popular comedy club in New York City. That was her ticket to fame, and Pat Benatar is now winner of four Grammy Awards and a 2020 Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame nominee. 

She and her husband eventually got a divorce, but her musical career was much more successful. Her debut album In the Heat of the Night (1979) included her first hit, “Heartbreaker,” which helped her dominate the charts. In 1980, she released “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” on the album Crimes of Passion, which hit No. 2 for five weeks in a row. For that song, Benatar won her first Grammy Award for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance.

Public Enemy 

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Public Enemy at New Orleans Jazz Fest in 2014. (Photo by kowarski)

Public Enemy completely transformed the hip hop scene in the 1980s. When they first formed, the group was made of members Chuck D and Terminator, both from Roosevelt, and Flavor Flav and Professor Griff from Freeport. Chuck D and Flavor Flav actually had begun collaborating years prior after meeting at Adelphi University in Nassau County. They caught the attention of Rick Rubin, who would later go on to become a legendary producer. 

After the group officially formed in 1986, Public Enemy started to open up shows for the Beastie Boys and released their first album Yo! Bum Rush The Show in 1987. While this album wasn’t a huge commercial success, it paved the way for their next two albums, It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back (1988) and Fear Of A Black Planet (1989). These two albums were more politically charged but still popular with people across the nation. 

Their song “Fight The Power” became a powerful anthem that helped uplift the black community. Thanks to Public Enemy and their outspoken lyrics, they changed the rap and hip hop culture, giving the island a stronger sense of identity and community. 

The Good Rats

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The Good Rats

The Good Rats might be one of the least known names on this list, but they still left a deep mark on the Long Island music scene. In the 1970s, the Good Rats gained a cult following and played alongside bands like Zebra and Twisted Sister. However, they never reached the same level of fame as those other groups. 

The Good Rats music was heavily influenced by blues, with dense vocal harmonies. Their lyrics in songs like “Boardwalk Slash” an “Advertisement in the Voice” both had the makings of smash hits, but never quite reached commercial success. 

Despite the band’s best efforts, they never broke out of the Long Island music scene. They were even once called “the world’s most famous unknown band” by the Rolling Stone. However, their local fame base was extremely loyal, and the Good Rats became the island’s best-kept secret. 

Jon Bellion

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Jon Bellion

Now 28 years old, Jon Bellion has been on the rise since 2011 when he first signed with Visionary Music Group at the age of 21. Despite his young age, he has achieved some big accomplishments. He helped write the hook of Eminem’s hit “The Monster” and assisted in the writing of Jason Derulo’s “Trumpets.” 

Not only has he helped others write smash hits, but he also has written many of his own releases that include vulnerable lyrics and memorable instrument hooks. Some of his best work was on his 2016 record, The Human Condition, which was full of beautiful harmonies, electronic beats, and honest lyrics. 

The native Lake Grove resident is currently on tour with his band, The Beautiful Mind, whose members are all originally from the island as well. Because of his young age, we can assume we will have decades more of music from Jon Bellion and The Beautiful Mind. 

Blue Öyster Cult

Blue Oyster Cult
Publicity photo of the band Blue Öyster Cult issued by Columbia Records in 1977. (Photo by Eric Meola)

Blue Öyster Cult did not have an easy beginning after forming in Stony Brook. Originally called Soft White Underbelly in 1967, the band went through several name changes and even had an entire album shelved by Elektra Records. However, thanks to some hard work and persistence, the rock band got an audition with Columbia Records in New York City and was signed immediately. Now, they’ve been an influential force in rock.

Some of their hit classics include “Don’t Fear the Reaper,” “Godzilla,” and “Burnin’ For You.” While they aren’t as popular as they once were, they still paved the way for many other artists in a variety of genres like psychedelic rock, hard punk, and jam bands. 

Harry Chapin

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Harry Chapin at Veterans Memorial Auditorium in 1980. (Photo by Cindy Funk)

This Grammy-winning songwriter was born in New York City but still has earned his spot on this list because of his love for Long Island. Harry Chapin’s rise to fame included hits like “Taxi,” “Cat’s in the Cradle,” and “W.O.L.D.” Unfortunately, he died at the age of 38 in a car crash on the Long Island Expressway. 

Chapin’s influence is still felt on the island. He was not only a musician but also a humanitarian who was passionate about various Long island causes. He even founded Long Island Cares, a charity that was dedicated to ending hunger. 

LL Cool J

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LL Cool J. Getty Images.

Hip hop wouldn’t be hip hop without LL Cool J. The Bay Shore native has released more than 13 albums, which included some of his most influential songs like “I Can’t Live Without My Radio,” “The Boomin’ System,” “Mama Said Knock You Out,” and many more. 

Now, LL Cool J has branched out beyond the music scene and has appeared in different films and TV shows, including To Too Deep, Any Given Sunday, and Edison. Now, he is the host of Lip Sync Battle on Spike and stars on NCIS: Los Angeles. 

Mariah Carey

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Carey during a concert of her Caution World Tour at the Ziggo Dome in Amsterdam, Netherlands, June 14, 2019. (Photo by Filipe Vicente / Setor VIP)

Mariah Carey, one of the biggest pop stars, is originally from Huntington. Mariah has had a long and award-filled career since she released her first album in 1990. To date, she has sold more than 200 million records worldwide, had 18 No.1 hits on Billboard—second only to The Beatles, who hit it big with songs like “Let it Be” (played with Hofner “Violin” Bass), “Hey Jude,” and “Come Together.” 

Mariah also held the record for the longest time at No.1 with her and Boyz II Men’s song “One Sweet Day,” which was at the top of the chart for 16 straight weeks. Two decades later, Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee tied that record in 2017 with the hit song “Despacito.” However, her record still stayed until earlier this year when Lil Nas X surpassed Mariah’s record with his song “Old Town Road.” 

Despite losing her title, Mariah still owns Christmas with her iconic song, “All I Want For Christmas.” 

John Tesh

John Tesh

After 10 years as the co-host of Entertainment Tonight, John Tesh decided to quit and pursue a career in music. The Garden City native found success easily and became an accomplished pianist and composer. After releasing three gold albums and securing two Grammy nominations, Tesh is now the host of the radio show The John Tesh Radio Show, which has millions of listeners in the US, UK, and Canada. 

Vanilla Fudge

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Vanilla Fudge at a fan meet-up at Abbey Road on the River in 2018. (Photo by Carter Lennon)

This Long Island band is perhaps best known for their ability to influence other musical acts like Styx and Deep Purple. After the band formed in the 1960s, Vanilla Fudge has been seen as one of the founding players of the genre of hard rock. Their biggest hit was their cover of The Supremes’ “You Keep Me Hangin’ On.”

Taking Back Sunday

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Taking Back Sunday at Tower Theater on April 13, 2014 (Photo by Alexandra Healey)

Taking Back Sunday, formed in 1999, is originally from Long Island. They experienced commercial success with their breakout mainstream album, Louder Now (2006), which included the popular song “MakeDamnSure.” Before that album, their music didn’t get much attention, but since then, they have sold hundreds of thousands of records and launched them into the mainstream.

Ashanti Douglas


Born in Glen Cove, Ashanti has become a well-known singer-songwriter and actress. She has collaborated with many famous artists since making her debut in 2002. She was featured on Fat Joe’s “What’s Luv?” and Ja Rule’s “Always on Time,” which were both two of the biggest songs of 2002. Ashanti was the first female artist to hold the top two positions on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart when those two songs came out. 

Her first album won many awards, including a Grammy for Best Contemporary R&B Album, and went on to sell more than six million copies worldwide. On that album was her song “Foolish,” which became another instant success and reached No. 1 on the Billboard. After The Beatles, Ashanti became the second musical artist to have their first three chart entries in the top 10 on the Billboard at the same time. 

Since the early 2000s, Ashanti has had multiple other hit songs that reached the top of the charts and was nominated for other Grammy Awards as well. She branched outside the music industry in 2005 and starred in Coach Carter, The Wiz, John Tucker Must Die, and Resident Evil: Extinction.  

Laura Branigan

Laura Branigan

The late Laura Branigan rose to fame in the 1980s with her hit single “Gloria.” The song stayed on the Billboard Hot 100 for a record 36 weeks, which was a first for a female artist. Some of her other hits include “Self Control” and “How am I Supported to Live Without You.” However, by the end of the 1980s and early 1990s, her success started to fade, and she retired from public life. 

Starting in the early 2000s, she began to perform again and starred in the off-Broadway musical Love, Janis. Laura was planning a comeback and was recording new music when she died unexpectedly in her East Quogue home from an undiagnosed cerebral aneurysm. 


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