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Who Was The Vocalist For Chicago? Who Was The Vocalist For Chicago?


Who Was The Vocalist For Chicago?

Written by: Micaela Maes

Discover the legendary vocalist for Chicago and learn about their iconic contributions to the band's incredible success.

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Chicago, the iconic American rock band, has been captivating audiences with their timeless music for over five decades. Known for their innovative fusion of rock, jazz, and pop, Chicago has left an indelible mark on the music industry. While the band’s instrumental prowess and intricate arrangements have earned them critical acclaim, it is their vocalists who have added a distinct flavor to their sound.

Over the years, Chicago has seen multiple vocalists step into the spotlight, each contributing their unique style and talent to the band’s success. From their early beginnings in the late 1960s to their continued relevance in the present day, the vocalists of Chicago have played a pivotal role in shaping the band’s identity.

Throughout this article, we will explore the different vocalists who have graced the stage with Chicago, tracing their journey from the band’s formation to the present day. We will delve into the distinctive eras of Chicago, highlighting the impact and contributions of each vocalist along the way.

Join us on this musical journey as we dive into the world of Chicago’s vocalists and uncover the stories behind their incredible talent and enduring legacy.


Early Years

The roots of Chicago can be traced back to the late 1960s when a group of talented musicians and friends from DePaul University in Chicago came together to form a band. Originally named The Big Thing, the group consisted of Terry Kath on guitar, Robert Lamm on keyboards, Lee Loughnane on trumpet, James Pankow on trombone, Walter Parazaider on saxophone, Danny Seraphine on drums, and Peter Cetera on bass.

During this period, Chicago primarily focused on instrumental jazz-rock compositions, honing their skills and refining their sound. However, they knew that incorporating vocal elements would add a new dynamic to their music. Thus, they began their search for a vocalist who could bring their compositions to life.

It was during an audition at a bowling alley that the band discovered their first vocalist, Jimi Hendrix-style guitarist Terry Kath. With his powerful and versatile voice, Kath became the primary lead vocalist for the band, adding soulful grit to their music. His raw energy and distinctive vocal style became an integral part of Chicago’s early sound.

As the band continued to develop and evolve, they caught the attention of record label executives and scored a recording contract with Columbia Records. With the release of their debut album, “Chicago Transit Authority,” in 1969, Chicago burst onto the music scene with their ambitious blend of rock, jazz, and horns.

Despite achieving critical acclaim and gaining a loyal following, Chicago faced a setback in the early 1970s when they were forced to change their name due to a legal dispute. They decided to simplify it to Chicago, a name that would soon become synonymous with their groundbreaking sound and success.

Throughout the early years, Terry Kath’s vocals brought a raw intensity to Chicago’s music, complementing the band’s experimental and innovative approach. However, tragedy struck in 1978 when Kath tragically passed away, leaving a void that would be difficult to fill.

The loss of Terry Kath marked the end of an era for Chicago, but it also paved the way for a new chapter in the band’s history. A search for a new vocalist would soon begin, forever altering the trajectory of Chicago’s sound and direction.


Formation of Chicago

The formation of Chicago, originally known as The Big Thing, can be traced back to the vibrant music scene of late 1960s Chicago. The band’s core members, Terry Kath, Robert Lamm, Lee Loughnane, James Pankow, Walter Parazaider, Danny Seraphine, and Peter Cetera, came together with a shared passion for music and a desire to create a unique fusion of rock and jazz.

In the early years, the band honed their skills by performing at local clubs and venues, gaining recognition for their exceptional musicianship. Inspired by the experimental sounds of bands like Blood, Sweat & Tears and Sly & the Family Stone, The Big Thing decided to incorporate horns into their music, a defining feature that would become synonymous with their sound.

With their blend of rock, jazz, and horns, The Big Thing caught the attention of record label executives, leading to their signing with Columbia Records. To avoid confusion with another band named The Big Thing, the group decided to change their name to Chicago Transit Authority, eventually shortening it to simply Chicago.

The band’s self-titled debut album, “Chicago Transit Authority,” was released in 1969 and was met with critical acclaim. The album showcased their versatile musicianship, intricate arrangements, and bold horn sections. It was a bold statement that announced Chicago’s arrival on the music scene.

Chicago’s early success can be attributed to their ability to seamlessly blend multiple genres and musical elements. Their unique sound stood out from the typical rock bands of the era, captivating audiences and sparking interest in their innovative approach.

Over the next few years, Chicago continued to release a string of successful albums, including “Chicago II” (1970) and “Chicago III” (1971), solidifying their place as one of the most prominent and influential bands of the era. Their music showcased a diverse range of styles, from rock ballads to jazz-infused instrumentals, all held together by their unmistakable horns and powerful vocals.

The formation of Chicago marked the beginning of a musical journey that would span decades and leave an indelible mark on the music industry. By pushing the boundaries of traditional rock and incorporating elements of jazz, Chicago created a sound that was distinctly their own, paving the way for their rise to fame and enduring legacy.


Rise to Fame

After their formation and the release of their debut album, Chicago quickly gained recognition for their unique blend of rock, jazz, and horns. Their distinct sound, coupled with their exceptional musicianship and powerful vocals, propelled them to new heights of success.

Chicago’s breakthrough came with their second album, “Chicago II,” released in 1970. The album showcased the band’s ability to seamlessly transition between different musical genres, featuring hits like “25 or 6 to 4” and “Make Me Smile.” These songs, with their infectious melodies and catchy hooks, resonated with audiences and helped solidify Chicago’s place in the rock music landscape.

Continuing their momentum, Chicago released a string of successful albums throughout the 1970s, including “Chicago III,” “Chicago V,” and “Chicago VI.” These albums produced chart-topping hits, such as “Saturday in the Park,” “Colour My World,” and “Just You ‘n’ Me,” which further cemented their status as one of the era’s most beloved bands.

One of the defining moments in Chicago’s rise to fame was their innovative approach to incorporating orchestration into their music. In collaboration with renowned composer James William Guercio, the band released a groundbreaking double album, “Chicago at Carnegie Hall,” in 1971. This live recording, featuring a full orchestra, showcased the band’s ability to seamlessly blend rock and classical elements, earning critical acclaim and further solidifying their reputation as musical trailblazers.

Chicago’s success was not limited to their studio albums. Their live performances became legendary, with the band’s energy and stage presence captivating audiences around the world. They embarked on numerous tours, selling out stadiums and arenas, and building a dedicated fan base that would remain loyal throughout the years.

As the 1970s progressed, Chicago faced a pivotal moment when founding member Terry Kath tragically passed away in 1978. This devastating loss marked the end of an era for the band and presented a new challenge in maintaining their momentum and sound.

Despite the loss, Chicago persevered and carried on, with Peter Cetera taking on a more prominent role as lead vocalist. The band continued to release chart-topping albums, including “Chicago 13,” “Chicago XIV,” and “Chicago 16,” which featured hits like “Hard to Say I’m Sorry” and “You’re the Inspiration.”

Throughout the 1980s and beyond, Chicago reinvented themselves by embracing a more pop-oriented sound. Their ability to adapt and evolve while maintaining their signature horn-driven style solidified their place as one of the most enduring and successful bands in music history.

The rise to fame for Chicago was a testament to their unique musicality, unforgettable vocals, and commitment to pushing the boundaries of rock. Their impact and influence continue to resonate today, making them a beloved and iconic band that has left an indelible mark on the music industry.


Vocalists in Chicago

Throughout their long and illustrious career, Chicago has been graced by the talents of several gifted vocalists. Each vocalist brought their own unique style and contributed to the iconic sound of the band. Let’s take a closer look at the vocalists who have left their mark on Chicago’s music.

1. Terry Kath (1967-1978): Terry Kath, the original vocalist for Chicago, possessed a powerful and soulful voice that added a raw intensity to the band’s early sound. His bluesy rock vocal style, coupled with his exceptional guitar skills, made him a standout performer. Kath’s tragic passing in 1978 marked the end of an era for Chicago, leaving behind a void that would be difficult to fill.

2. Peter Cetera (1969-1985): After Terry Kath’s passing, bassist Peter Cetera took on a more significant vocal role within Chicago. With his smooth tenor voice, Cetera brought a polished pop sensibility to the band’s sound. He played a pivotal role in Chicago’s success during the late 1970s and early 1980s, contributing hits like “If You Leave Me Now” and “Hard to Say I’m Sorry.”

3. Jason Scheff (1985-2016): Following Peter Cetera’s departure in 1985, Jason Scheff stepped in as Chicago’s lead vocalist and bassist. Scheff brought his own distinct sound, seamlessly blending his voice with the band’s signature horn arrangements. His tenure saw the release of successful albums such as “Chicago 18” and “Chicago 19.”

4. Bill Champlin (1981-2009): While not a core member, Bill Champlin joined Chicago as a vocalist and keyboardist in the early 1980s and remained with the band until 2009. Champlin’s gritty and soulful vocals added a rock edge to Chicago’s sound, and his songwriting contributions played a crucial role in shaping the band’s direction.

5. Robert Lamm and other members: Apart from the main lead vocalists, Chicago’s founding member Robert Lamm also provided lead vocals on many of the band’s tracks. In addition, other band members have occasionally taken on vocal duties, showcasing the band’s versatility and collaborative nature.

Each vocalist who has been a part of Chicago has left their own unique imprint on the band’s extensive discography. Their contributions, from soulful ballads to energetic rock anthems, have helped shape the sound and success of Chicago over the years. While each vocalist brought their own style, they all maintained the band’s commitment to musical innovation and the seamless fusion of genres.

Chicago’s vocalists have played an integral role in the band’s evolution, ensuring that their music remains timeless and captivating to audiences around the world.


Peter Cetera Era

The Peter Cetera era in Chicago’s history spanned from 1969 to 1985 and marked a significant shift in the band’s sound and success. As the band’s bassist and one of the primary vocalists, Peter Cetera played a pivotal role in shaping Chicago’s iconic sound during this period.

Cetera’s smooth tenor voice became synonymous with the band’s pop-oriented hits, bringing a polished and melodic quality to Chicago’s music. His vocal range and emotive delivery allowed him to tackle both tender ballads and anthemic rock songs with equal ease.

During the Peter Cetera era, Chicago experienced some of their greatest commercial success. The chart-topping ballads “If You Leave Me Now” and “Hard to Say I’m Sorry” showcased Cetera’s distinct vocal style and became instant classics. These songs, with their heartfelt lyrics and Cetera’s heartfelt delivery, struck a chord with audiences and solidified Chicago’s status as hitmakers.

Cetera’s songwriting contributions were also crucial to Chicago’s success. He penned many of the band’s biggest hits, including “Baby, What a Big Surprise,” “You’re the Inspiration,” and “Hard Habit to Break,” which showcased his ability to craft memorable melodies and lyrics that resonated with audiences.

One of the defining aspects of the Peter Cetera era was the way his vocals blended seamlessly with the band’s trademark horn arrangements. Chicago’s sound became synonymous with dynamic brass sections and Cetera’s vocals provided the perfect balance to the band’s instrumental prowess. This combination created a distinctive sound that set them apart from their contemporaries.

The Peter Cetera era came to an end in 1985 when he decided to embark on a solo career. His departure marked a significant transition for Chicago and brought about changes in their musical direction and lineup. However, the impact of Cetera’s contributions during his time with the band cannot be overstated.

Today, Peter Cetera’s legacy within Chicago remains strong. His memorable vocal performances and songwriting contributions continue to resonate with fans around the world. Cetera’s smooth and emotive voice, alongside his undeniable stage presence, played a significant role in establishing Chicago as one of the most successful bands of their time.

The Peter Cetera era represents a period of commercial triumph and artistic growth for Chicago. His unique vocal style and songwriting prowess became an integral part of the band’s identity, solidifying their place in music history and leaving an enduring legacy.


Post-Peter Cetera Era

When Peter Cetera left Chicago in 1985 to pursue a solo career, it marked a significant turning point for the band. The departure of their primary vocalist and songwriter meant that Chicago had to adapt to a new era and find a way to continue their musical journey without his distinctive voice.

Following Cetera’s exit, Jason Scheff stepped into the role of lead vocalist and bassist. Scheff brought his own unique style and vocal abilities to the band, ensuring that Chicago’s signature sound remained intact. His smooth and soulful tenor voice seamlessly blended with the band’s horn-driven arrangements, allowing Chicago to evolve and explore new musical territories.

During the post-Peter Cetera era, Chicago experienced a resurgence with a string of successful albums. “Chicago 18” (1986) and “Chicago 19” (1988) produced chart-topping hits like “Will You Still Love Me?” and “Look Away,” solidifying Chicago’s continued presence on the pop charts.

Under Scheff’s influence, Chicago began to embrace a more contemporary pop sound while still incorporating elements of their classic rock and jazz fusion roots. This transition gave the band a fresh and modern appeal, attracting new audiences while still retaining their loyal fan base.

It is also worth noting that during the post-Cetera era, band member Robert Lamm took on a more prominent vocal role within Chicago. Lamm, one of the founding members, showcased his distinct vocal style on songs like “25 or 6 to 4” and “Beginnings,” reinforcing the band’s commitment to their original sound and maintaining a connection to their rich musical history.

Chicago’s ability to successfully navigate the post-Peter Cetera era solidified their status as a resilient and adaptable group. They continued to release new music and tour extensively, showcasing their enduring relevance in the ever-changing music industry.

Despite the absence of Peter Cetera, Chicago’s post-Cetera era proved that the band was more than just one vocalist. The collective talent and versatility of the remaining members allowed them to carry on their musical legacy. While Cetera’s departure undoubtedly marked the end of a chapter, it also opened the door to new creative possibilities and continued success for Chicago.

Today, Chicago continues to perform and delight audiences worldwide. The post-Peter Cetera era stands as a testament to the band’s resilience and their ability to adapt and thrive, ensuring that their music remains timeless and loved by fans both old and new.


Current Vocalist

As Chicago’s musical journey continues, the band has welcomed new members while retaining its signature sound. One of the current vocalists for Chicago is Keith Howland. Howland joined the band in 1995 as the lead guitarist but also took on vocal duties, adding a fresh perspective to Chicago’s live performances.

Keith Howland’s vocal contributions have been well-received by fans and have helped preserve the band’s legacy. His smooth and versatile voice seamlessly integrates with the band’s dynamic horn arrangements, staying true to the Chicago sound. Howland’s vocal performances bring a vibrant energy and a renewed sense of enthusiasm to the band’s live shows.

While Keith Howland shares the spotlight with other vocalists in Chicago, his role as the lead guitarist and occasional lead vocalist contribute to the band’s ongoing success. His vocals add depth and variety to their live performances, allowing the band to continue captivating audiences around the world.

It’s important to note that Chicago’s current lineup also includes Robert Lamm, the founding member of the band who has been instrumental in shaping their sound since the very beginning. Lamm, known for his distinctive voice and songwriting abilities, continues to contribute his vocal talents to Chicago’s live performances and studio recordings.

With the addition of Keith Howland and the continued presence of Robert Lamm, Chicago’s current vocalists bring a diverse range of styles and experiences to the band, enriching their performances and keeping their music fresh and exciting.

The inclusion of new vocalists in Chicago demonstrates the band’s commitment to evolving while staying true to their roots. The collective talents of the current vocalists ensure that Chicago’s timeless music continues to resonate with audiences of all generations.

As Chicago enters a new chapter in their storied career, the vocal contributions of Keith Howland and Robert Lamm, alongside the band’s legendary horn arrangements and instrumental prowess, reinforce their enduring legacy and solidify their status as one of the most influential and beloved bands in music history.


Legacy and Impact

The legacy and impact of Chicago on the music industry are undeniable. Throughout their decades-long career, the band has left an indelible mark, influencing countless artists and reshaping the boundaries of rock, pop, and jazz fusion.

One of Chicago’s enduring legacies lies in their innovative use of horns in a rock band setting. They seamlessly blended the power and energy of rock with the sophistication and complexity of jazz, creating a unique sound that set them apart from their peers. Chicago’s horn arrangements became a defining element of their music and inspired many bands and musicians who followed in their footsteps.

Chicago’s ability to seamlessly incorporate various musical genres into their sound contributed to their enduring appeal. From rock anthems to soulful ballads to vibrant jazz-infused instrumentals, the band showcased their versatility and musicianship, appealing to a wide range of listeners.

Chicago also commanded attention with their commitment to intricate arrangements and precise instrumentation. Their songs were meticulously crafted, featuring rich harmonies, complex compositions, and exceptional musicianship from each member of the band. This attention to detail and unwavering musical excellence became a hallmark of Chicago’s legacy.

With numerous chart-topping hits and millions of albums sold worldwide, Chicago’s impact on popular music cannot be overstated. Their songs, from classics like “Saturday in the Park” and “25 or 6 to 4” to power ballads like “You’re the Inspiration,” have become timeless classics that continue to resonate with audiences of all ages.

Chicago’s influence extends beyond their chart success. Their innovative and experimental approach to music opened doors for future generations of musicians. Their fusion of rock and jazz paved the way for other bands and artists to explore new boundaries and embrace musical eclecticism.

Moreover, Chicago’s longevity in the industry is a testament to their enduring appeal and the loyalty of their fans. They continue to perform to sold-out crowds around the world, captivating audiences with their energetic live shows and timeless hits.

Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2016, Chicago’s legacy as one of the most influential bands in music history is firmly cemented. Their impact on the industry, their ability to transcend genres and generations, and their unwavering dedication to their craft have solidified their place in the pantheon of iconic musical acts.

As their music continues to be celebrated and enjoyed, Chicago’s legacy lives on, inspiring future generations of musicians and reminding us of the enduring power of their remarkable sound.



Chicago, the iconic rock band known for their fusion of rock, jazz, and pop, has left an indelible mark on the music industry. From their early beginnings in the late 1960s to their present-day performances, Chicago’s sound and success have been shaped by the talents of their vocalists. Terry Kath, Peter Cetera, Jason Scheff, and the current vocalist, Keith Howland, have each brought their unique style and voice to the band, contributing to their enduring legacy.

Chicago’s rise to fame was propelled by their innovative sound, incorporating horns into rock music and pushing the boundaries of genres. Hits like “If You Leave Me Now” and “Hard to Say I’m Sorry” solidified their place as chart-topping hitmakers, while their intricate instrumental arrangements showcased their exceptional musicianship.

The legacy and impact of Chicago are felt not only through their commercial success and chart-topping hits but also through their innovation and influence on the music industry. Their distinct sound and the legacy of their vocalists have inspired countless artists, encouraging musical experimentation and the blending of genres.

The endurance of Chicago as a band is a testament to their ability to adapt and evolve while maintaining their core sound. Although the vocalists have changed over the years, the band’s dedication to musical excellence and their commitment to creating memorable performances have remained constant.

As Chicago’s legacy continues to grow, their music remains beloved by fans around the world. Their influence can be heard in the countless bands and musicians who have been inspired by their innovative sound and impeccable musicianship.

In conclusion, Chicago’s vocalists have played a vital role in shaping the band’s identity and contributing to their enduring success. From the raw intensity of Terry Kath to the smooth tenor of Peter Cetera and the contributions of Jason Scheff and Keith Howland, each vocalist has left their mark on Chicago’s music. Their collective talents have helped solidify Chicago as one of the most influential and beloved bands in music history.

As Chicago continues to captivate audiences with their electrifying performances, their impact on the music industry remains undeniable. Their iconic sound, memorable hits, and dedication to pushing musical boundaries have made them legends in their own right, and their lasting legacy will continue to resonate for generations to come.

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