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A History of Minneapolis: an Overview by Staff at the Hennepin County Library

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Featuring historical photos and items from the collections of the Hennepin County Library, with contemporary photos from the Phototour of Minneapolis by Chris Gregerson.


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Music has no doubt existed in Minnesota for as long as the area has been populated. Traditional Dakota music is made using voice and drums frequently accompanied by dance. The songs are passed down generation to generation, telling of battles, ceremonies, celebrations, and dreams. The drum beat can be continuous between many songs. Some songs are danced by men, some by women; and sometimes both may dance.

In 1889, the Apollo Club sang the opera, "Romeo and Juliet." Among the cast shown above are Dr. A.C. Strachauer, Hal Woodworth, William Heath, and Charles M. Parmelee.
Minneapolis Collection, VF: Music: Clubs and Organizations: Apollo Club

Illustration from the MacPhail School of Music and Dramatic Art Yearbook (1920).
Minneapolis Collection, Programs: MacPhail School

As settlers moved into the area, music became an institution within the communities of Minneapolis and St. Anthony. As early as 1851, the first singing school was organized in St. Anthony. Other schools quickly followed. In 1857, the choir of the Plymouth Congregational Church of Minneapolis began a recreational singing group. The first musical club for women only, the Lorelei Club, was founded in 1892. It soon changed its name to the Ladies' Thursday Musical Chorus. By 1895, the men's Apollo Quartet had been organized. The Thursday Musical Chorus and the Apollo Men's Musical Group have both celebrated their first century of music and performance. In the beginning of the 1900s, forerunners of two of Minneapolis' leading music organizations were formed. The Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra made its debut in 1903 (in 1968 it changed its name to the Minnesota Orchestra). The MacPhail Center for the Arts was founded in 1907 by William MacPhail as the MacPhail School of Violin.

Sculptor Jacob Fjelde's statue of Ole Bull in Loring Park.
Minneapolis Collection, R063

Minnesota Orchestra playing in Orchestra Hall (1975).
Municipal Information Library, Slide Collection, MIL2858.


  Conductors of the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra/Minnesota Orchestra
Oberhoffer, Emil 1903-1922
Verbrugghen, Henri 1923-1931
Ormandy, Eugene 1931-1936
Mitropoulos, Dimitri 1937-1949
Dorati, Antal 1949-1960
Skrowaczewski, Stanislaw 1960-1979
Marriner, Neville 1979-1985
de Waart, Edo 1985-1995
Oue, Eiji 1995-2002
Vanska, Osmo beginning season 2002-2003

Over the years, many of the world's outstanding performers have given concerts to appreciative audiences in Minneapolis. The legendary Norwegian violinist Ole Bull played in Minneapolis and St. Anthony in 1856, 1869, and 1872. By the 1880s many popular national performers and groups like the New York Metropolitan Opera were visiting the city. John Philip Sousa conducted the United States Marine Band in 1892 in Minneapolis. In 1927, he wrote the march Minnesota for the University of Minnesota, and in 1929 he wrote the piece The Foshay Tower-Washington Memorial March for the dedication of the Foshay Tower, Minneapolis' tallest building at the time.

Pence Opera House, designed by architect A.M. Radcliffe, was the cultural and entertainment center for Minneapolis. Its grand opening was in 1867. The building stood until 1952 when it was razed.
Minneapolis Collection, BR0082

First Avenue Nightclub, December 1999.
Photo courtesy of Chris Gregerson

During the rock era, several influential musicians and songwriters spent part or all of their formative years in Minneapolis. Bob Dylan began his career in the Minneapolis folk music scene in the early 1960s. In the 1980s, a host of important alternative-rock pioneers worked in the Minneapolis club scene in the aftermath of the punk and new wave movements, notably Paul Westerberg of the Replacements and Bob Mould of Hüsker Dü.

By far the most influential musician to call Minneapolis home has been Prince Rogers Nelson, know to the world simply as Prince. A native of Minneapolis, a graduate of Central High School, and son of a notable local jazz musician, Prince started his career in the late 1970s. His signature blend of R&B and rock, with prominent synthesizer and bass, came to be known as the "Minneapolis sound", and his further efforts in music, film, and multimedia grew to have a global influence throughout the 1980s and 1990s.

Also notable among the generation of Minneapolis musicians who got their start in the "Minneapolis sound" era of the early 1980s were Terry Lewis and Jimmy Jam Harris. The duo founded Flyte Tyme Productions in 1982, and have continued on to produce over 100 gold and platinum recordings, including 15 number one hits.

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