Deep Dive into Minneapolis Music History

Music was an integral part of development and advancement of culture in Minneapolis dating back to when the Native American’s called St. Anthony Falls home. As settlers began to move west and establish formal towns, music became part of the history that formed St. Anthony and Minneapolis. As early as 1850, groups like the Glee Club and Quintette Club formed to provide entertainment at churches and social halls. Some of these early groups, including the Apollo Club and Thursday Musical are still performing today. What began as an informal way to pass the time grew into a network of singing and musical schools that produced local talent to fill seats in formal musical groups such as the Minneapolis Orchestra and the Philharmonic Club. Minneapolis did not want the reputation of being a wild frontier by eastern elites and fought to prove they were high class citizens of culture through weekly concerts and performances. Music began moving beyond entertainment into a viable profession.

A number of early concert halls were built starting with Barber’s Hall at the corner of 2nd Avenue and Washington Avenue South. A famous concert with Ole Bull and Adelina Patti was held there in 1856. Ole Bull, a composer who often visited Minneapolis, was commemorated with a statue in Loring Park in 1897, still standing today. Other early halls included Woodman’s Hall No.1 and 2, Stanchfield’s (1858), Hawe’s (1859), Harrison’s (1862), and Harmonia Hall (1865).

With each new concert hall came advancements in the entertainment experience. Harmonia Hall (200 1st Avenue North) was considered the forerunner of Minneapolis theaters when it was built in 1865 because it had a balcony and stage settings. The Pence Opera House in 1867 was considered the first real theater in Minneapolis, but was replaced by the Academy of Music building in 1872 which had the first Grand Piano. The Grand Opera House, built in 1882, was considered the most luxurious theater in the Northwest and was the first to move the stage from the upper floors to the first floor.

Music continued to advance and grow in the early 20th century. By the 1950s, early versions of rock music hit the scene with national artists, including, Elvis Presley who played at the former Minneapolis Auditorium (replaced by the Minneapolis Convention Center) and local groups like Bobby Vee. The Minneapolis music scene exploded in the late 1950s and early 1960s with all types of music including rhythm and blues, folk, soul, gospel and R&B, new wave, big hair bands, and of course the “Minneapolis Sound”. Acts like Bob Dylan (who played keyboard for Bobby Vee after high school) and Prince helped put Minneapolis on the map, along with chart topping songs like “Liar Liar” by the Castaways and “Funkytown” by Lipps Inc.

Endless buildings, both standing and demolished, have some relation to Minneapolis music. Over 100 buildings have been mapped so far by the City of Minneapolis as part of their effort to document the places that developed the city into a music hub. They are undertaking an engagement campaign to hear from the public about what they feel is important and to document their stories. To participate, visit their website, take a survey, or attend one of the following public engagement events:

  • March 20, 2018: Capri Theater Tour and Engagement Event (6 pm to 8 pm at Capri Theater 2027 West Broadway)
    • We hope to see you at the Capri Theater to hear a little bit about the building, learn about the music history project and where we are headed, and to give us your thoughts
  • March 29, 2018: Happy Hour at Inbound Brewery (4:30 pm to 6:30pm at Inbound Brewery 701 N 5th Street)
    • Come have a pint and discuss Minneapolis music at Inbound Brewery, located in the Minneapolis Warehouse Historic District


This guest blog post was prepared by Stephanie Rouse.

Stephanie Rouse is a City Planner for the City of Minneapolis. She is a certified planner with the American Planning Association and meets the Secretary of the Interiors qualifications as an Architectural Historian. In her current work she completes land use and heritage preservation reviews of projects throughout the city and is currently a project manager for the grant funded Minneapolis Music History project. She has an undergraduate degree in architecture and a Masters of Community and Regional Planning, both from the University of Nebraska.