Indiana’s Playlist and Jukebox Heroes

The greatest musicians Indiana has ever produced, with expert picks for their must-listen albums.

Plug in your headphones and listen to Indiana’s 200th Birthday Playlist as you read along. 

Stratusphunk (1960)

David Baker jazz composer and cellist

Crispus Attucks grad, IU faculty member

“[George] Russell took Baker’s complete band and rehearsed with them in Indianapolis, and this culmination of their efforts shows some of the early avant-garde experimentation. Baker’s solo on ‘Kentucky Oysters’ is a classic.” —Monika Herzig, jazz musician and IU lecturer


Faure/Franck/Debussy: Violin Sonatas (1989)

Joshua Bell violinist, prodigy

Attended IU, where he still lectures

“When I put this album on I was transported into a world of French impressionist music that to this day moves my soul from one end of the room to the other.” —Zach De Pue, Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra concertmaster


Mosaic (2004)

Angela Brown soprano

Attended Crispus Attucks and IU

“Brown was a formidable opera star when she decided to tackle African-American spirituals. She takes nothing for granted, bringing fresh perspective to standards such as ‘This Little Light.’” —Michael Toulouse, Classical Music Indy program director


The Nearness of You (2011)

Hoagy Carmichael songwriter, pianist, bandleader

Born in Bloomington, attended IU

“I’m so fond of Shannon [Forsell, The Cabaret artistic director]. This disc of Hoagy tunes captures her way with a lyric. She doesn’t disappoint in delivering these songs the way most like to hear them.” —Steven Stolen, WFYI host


Tender Lover (1989)

Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds R&B singer-songwriter and producer

Attended North Central High School

“This album highlighted how versatile he was as a singer and how talented he was as a songwriter; it was also the slightly transgressive, yet still-PG slow jam you wanted at junior-high dances.” —Melissa Locker, Vanity Fair music writer


Something Beautiful (2007)

Bill and Gloria Gaither gospel singer-songwriters

Gloria attended Anderson University, Bill grew up on a farm in Alexandria

“It captures a very special time, not only in the Gaithers’ career but the history of gospel music.” —Deborah Evans Price, country and gospel writer for Billboard and others


Explosion! The Sound of Slide Hampton (1962)

Slide Hampton jazz trombonist

Played Indiana Avenue, taught at ISU

“A great collection of Hampton’s early breakthroughs and work with collaborators. Hampton was voted Best New Artist in DownBeat Magazine in 1962 together with David Baker. This record documents why.” —Herzig


Slow Turning (1988)

John Hiatt singer-songwriter

Born and raised in Indianapolis

“What seals Slow Turning is the track ‘Icy Blue Heart,’ which for my money is one of the best country songs ever written. It’s a staple on my mix tapes and playlists.” —John Strohm, entertainment lawyer and indie rocker (Lemonheads, Blake Babies)


Red Clay (1970)

Freddie Hubbard jazz trumpeter

Played in Arsenal Tech High School band

“Hubbard had already changed his sound from his Blue Note and Impulse work of the early ’60s and his Atlantic work in the late ’60s. Red Clay represented where jazz was going in the 1970s.” —Matthew Socey, WFYI host/producer, The Blues House Party


The Jacksons Story (2007)

The Jackson 5 Motown pop group

Family home located in Gary

“The Jacksons were a singles band, and this compilation collects all the early hits, along with lesser-known but excellent later ones like ‘Lovely One’ and ‘Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground).’” —Anthony DeCurtis, Rolling Stone contributing editor, IU Ph.D.


Control (1986)

Janet Jackson pop singer

Born in Gary

“It’s her most enduring and influential. It shaped a generation of pop music and then some—the music was genre-spanning but also relatable at a time when mainstream pop was pretty bland.” —Jonathan Cohen, Live Nation TV executive producer, former music booker, IU grad


Off the Wall (1979)

Michael Jackson pop singer

Born in Gary

“Obviously, Thriller is a must-have. But the sleek, sophisticated R&B of Off the Wall made clear what Michael Jackson was capable of achieving.” —DeCurtis


J.J. Inc. (1961)

J.J. Johnson jazz trombonist

Native and late-life Indianapolitan

J.J. Inc. showcases Johnson’s strong trombone skills—plus he’s playing with Freddie Hubbard (trumpet), Clifford Jordan (tenor saxophone), Cedar Walton (piano), Arthur Harper (bass), and Albert ‘Tootie’ Heath (drums). Not bad company at all.” —Socey


Uh-Huh (1983)

John Mellencamp singer-songwriter

Seymour native, Indiana resident

“He stepped into his own skin (it was the first time he used his real last name) and rocked his ass off. It kicks off with ‘Crumblin’ Down,’ ‘Pink Houses,’ and ‘Authority Song.’ Any time you find an album that hits that hard off the top, please let me know.” —DeCurtis


Boss Guitar (1963)

Wes Montgomery jazz guitarist

Born in Indy, played on Indiana Avenue

“The finesse of his playing, which never changed, is featured in songs that were recollections to his 1950s work (‘Fried Pies,’ ‘Besame Mucho’), and his spin on popular songs (in this album’s case, a cover of ‘Days of Wine and Roses’).” —Socey


Simply Cole (2005)

Cole Porter songwriter

Born and raised in Peru

“The Cole Porter disc I listen to most often is sung by Tim Noble [distinguished professor of voice at IU’s Jacobs School of Music]. Tim’s heart for Porter’s songs is strong and real.” —Sylvia McNair, two-time Grammy-winning singer and Jacobs School faculty


Appetite for Destruction (1987)

Axl Rose rock singer

Born and raised in Lafayette

“Axl was at the top of his game here [with Guns N’ Roses]—dangerous and groundbreaking. As its video demonstrates, ‘Welcome to the Jungle’ is a powerful example of what happens when an Indiana farm boy hits the ground running in La La Land.” —Cohen


1984 (1984)

David Lee Roth rock singer

Born and grew up in Bloomington

“Hands down. I used to sneak out of family dinners so I could watch the videos from the album premiere on MTV. [Van Halen’s] 1984 is everything I love about rock ‘n’ roll distilled into 33 minutes.” —Cohen