Though Jax is not widely regarded as a music city, Jacksonville-based artists played an outsized role in popular music in the 20th Century, and have continued to do so in the 21st.
You can start in the first year of the new century, when James Weldon Johnson wrote “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing,” a great introduction to the history of LaVilla, the city’s historically-important Black neighborhood – once called the Harlem of the South – which remained both an incubator of new talent and a hotbed for prominent touring artists throughout the new century. Then you have the Jax-formed Allman Brothers Band, who turned popular music on its ear in the late-60s by melding the improvisational approach of jazz with blues and rock ‘n’ roll. Jax-based producers Jay McGowan (Jay Ski) and Nathaniel Orange (CC Lemonhead) brought Miami bass to the masses as Quad City DJs. And, regardless of your feelings toward them, the Jax-bred Limp Bizkit owned the pop-music landscape for a moment in the late-90s.
As an introduction to the city’s music scene, we’ve compiled a list of seven musical acts with Jacksonville roots, each of whom etched an indelible mark on the history of popular music. From classical to jazz, rock and hip-hop, indie-music and more, if nothing else, this list establishes Jacksonville’s reputation as an eclectic and diverse music city, and lays the foundation for diving deeper into the music of North Florida.
James Weldon Johnson
“It was 1919 when the NAACP first declared ‘Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing’ the official Negro National Anthem; that status has never been challenged. Indeed, the passage of time has only burnished the patina of prestige affixed to the song,” wrote the Jacksonville Music Experience’s Shelton Hull in his piece about the enduring and expanding legacy of Johnson’s song, written in verse by James Weldon and set to music by his brother John Rosamond in early part of the 20th Century, while both were residents of the city. The song stands as the single greatest contribution that Jacksonville has ever made to American culture, and has since been reworked and performed by generations of artists, from sax-master Branford Marsalis’ version in Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing to Beyoncé’s rendition during her Coachella set.
Allman Brothers Band
The most-formative period of the Allman Brothers Band – four passion-, drug- and kismet-fueled months – took place in the spring of 1969, when the pieces of the legendary group came together in Jacksonville’s Riverside neighborhood. Then, poof, they were gone to Macon, Georgia, then on the road, playing famously at places like Piedmont Park in Atlanta, in the studio with Eric Clapton, and of course for Bill Graham at the Fillmore both East and West. Eventually, the Allman Brothers Band sold something like 10 million records. They had hits like “Dreams” and “Revival” — many of which were written or came together during the band’s time in Jacksonville — that turned the late ‘60s music scene on its ear. In 2018, we released “Please Call Home,” a podcast about the band’s stint in Jax (LISTEN HERE). ABB continues to ping JME’s radar, most recently with the release of Alan Paul’s second book about the band (Read an interview with Paul HERE) and when we talked to ABB-guitarist Duane Betts before a recent Jacksonville performance (READ HERE).
While the Allman Brothers Band kicked open the doors for Southern-tinged takes on blues and rock to infiltrate the airwaves, Jacksonville’s Lynyrd Skynyrd (famously named after a coach at Riverside high school) became one of the most-successful rock acts of the classic-rock era. Like their peers in ABB – who lost two founding members in tragic road accidents – Skynyrd was also beset by tragedy, losing seminal members of the group in a plane crash in 1977, including lead vocalist and founding member Ronnie Van Zant.
Quad City DJs
Though they released music under several different aliases, the Jacksonville-based production duo of CC Lemonhead and Jay Ski brought Miami bass to the masses in the ‘90s with hits like “Tootsee Roll,” “C’mon N’ Ride It (The Train)” and the 360-slam-dunk “Space Jam,” on their way to outselling contemporaries – and arguably more renowned – musical acts of the decade.
As much a lightning rod today as they were at the dawn of the new Millennium, when they dominated the pop- and rock-radio airwaves (and MTV’s Total Request Live), the Fred-Durst-led, Jacksonville-founded band Limp Bizkit set the world, and, allegedly, Woodstock ‘99 on fire, blending rap with heavy rock on the forefront of what would be called nü metal. Though they haven’t released a hit in nearly two decades, they were trending as recently as 2021 after a comeback performance at Lollapalooza and their inclusion in a much-talked-about HBO Documentary about “the day the ‘90s died.”
Though they never reached the heights of commercial success attained by the other acts included on this list, the Jacksonville-founded hip-hop quartet Asamov continues to be cited as one of the most influential, if not the best, rap acts to ever emerge from the region. Two of the group’s members are no longer with us, but, in 2023, Asamov finally got its due, as a celebration of the 50th anniversary of hip hop at James Weldon Johnson park in Downtown Jacksonville put the spotlight on the group’s enduring legacy.
In the late aughts, Jacksonville indie-dance-rock band Black Kids went from dancing at local clubs to performing on late night television – and it happened nearly overnight. As more time has passed since they broke out, landed a major label deal and performed on Late Night with David Letterman (also Later… with Jools Holland), the more evident it has become that the Black Kids were an important band during a unique and noteworthy moment for music: a period after Napster upended the music industry but before Spotify and social media wrested control of music distribution and discovery.