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opbmusic Playlist: Teachers Who Shred


JD McPherson plays at Pickathon in 2015. He taught art at a Tulsa, Oklahoma middle school.

JD McPherson plays at Pickathon in 2015. He taught art at a Tulsa, Oklahoma middle school.

David Christensen/opbmusic

Dean Ivester is a math teacher at a high school in Portland. Michael Nelson is a middle school teacher in nearby Gresham. These two men aren’t just career educators, they’re also professional musicians who were members of the Portland rock band Climber. Nelson has since joined Pacific Mean Time as a keyboardist.

And they aren’t alone. In fact, a surprising amount of top-tier musicians have been teachers.

Rockabilly musician JD McPherson taught art at a Tulsa, Oklahoma middle school until 2011 when he decided to become a full-time touring artist. When OPB Music caught up to McPherson a year later at Bunk Bar, he was riding a wave of buzz from his debut release Signs and Signifiers.

Now, McPherson’s a critical favorite who’s touring the national festival circuit on the heels of a successful sophomore release.    

This month, most of the nation’s schools are reopening after summer break. OPB’s series Greetings From The Northwest goes “Back to School.”

In honor of the educators who are already back at work, here’s a playlist of current and former teachers who quite literally rock.

Who are we missing? Tell us in the comments below.

  • Sam Beam of Iron and Wine (singer/songwriter) – Former professor at University of Miami and Miami International University of Art & Design film schools

  • Brian May of Queen (guitar) – former high school math teacher
  • Possessed By Paul James (singer/songwriter)– current elementary school teacher

  • Gene Simmons of KISS (lead singer/bass) – elementary school teacher
  • Ezra Koenig of Vampire Weekend (lead singer/guitar) – junior high school teacher, Teach For America alumni
  • Greg Gaffin of Bad Religion (lead singer) – current college professor who has taught at Cornell and UCLA

  • Art Garfunkel (singer/songwriter) – math teacher at a private school in Connecticut
  • Paul Simon (singer/songwriter) – taught songwriting courses at New York University
  • Dan Snaiths of Caribou (singer/songwriter) – PhD in math, taught classes while pursuing doctorate
  • Amos Lee (singer/songwriter) – elementary school teacher
  • Martin Atkins of Nine Inch Nails, Ministry, Public Image Ltd, Pigface, Killing Joke (drummer) – college professor who has worked at Columbia College in Chicago
  • Sheryl Crow (singer/songwriter)– elementary school teacher
  • Sting of The Police (singer/guitar) – English teacher at a Catholic school
  • Roberta Flack (singer/songwriter) – junior high school teacher
  • Peaches (singer/songwriter) – taught at a Hebrew school
  • Blake Schwarzenbach of Jawbreaker and Jets To Brazil (lead singer/guitar)– current college professor at CUNY Hunter College
  • Robert Pollard of Guided by Voices (singer/songwriter) – elementary school teacher

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