You Won’t Believe These 10 Hit Songs by Northwestern Alumni

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If you go to Northwestern, you know that the music kids have a legacy to live up to. Just like the theater kids call Stephen Colbert their idol and the film kids call Seth Meyers their king, musicians at Northwestern have some famous alumni to look up to as well.

1. Pharrell Williams–Happy

Okay, so maybe Pharrell didn’t graduate, but he sure did attend Northwestern for an ambiguous amount of time. What I thought was a Northwestern rumor turned out to be a Northwestern fact. So get “happy” and go ‘Cats with this Despicable Me hit song.

2. Zooey Deschanel–Baby It’s Cold Outside

I know what you’re thinking—Zooey didn’t graduate either—but her post-grad accomplishments really make up for that. Remember that infamous scene from Elf? Even though she’s barely recognizable after dying her hair blonde for the film, you can’t miss her distinct sultry voice in the 2003 hit film.

3. Heather Headley–I Wish I Wasn’t

Sure, Northwestern might be a hookup school, but Headley actually found her New York Jets husband Brian Russo in their Northwestern days. This Northwester alum has been nominated for Grammys for both her R&B single “I Wish I Wasn’t” and her work in gospel music, which she won. 

4. Rachael Yamagata–Worn Me Down

When you hear a catchy, yet emotional, tune on Grey’s Anatomy that becomes your new jam, odds are that Northwest alumni Rachael Yamagata could be behind it. With her Japanese, Italian and German heritage and her prestige education from Northwestern and Vassar, she has diverse experiences allowing hit songs like this one.

5. Andrew Bird–Pulaski

A violin performance grad in the Class of ’96, Bird has been perfecting his craft for some time now. He learned violin like a foreign language through the Suzuki method at age four, which carried him through his time at Northwestern University and through hit songs now in his forties.

6. Cary Brothers–Blue Eyes

Garden State, anyone? If you love Scrubs and Zach Braff (another Northwestern alum), then you’ll surely know this song. And who knew that the artist is actually just one man? (Remember when everyone thought Owl City was a band?)

7. Brian d’Arcy James–You’ll Be Back

We’re talking about the OG King George from Hamilton before it became the inescapable phenomenon it is today. Before Jonathan Groff made the role famous on Broadway, d’Arcy James originated the mad King George III in the musical at the Public Theater. This guy makes us want to be ruled by the British once again.

8. Paul Winter–Appalachian Morning

If you still can’t get over that sax line in “Thrift Shop,” then Northwestern alumni Paul Winter is the guy for you. His saxophone records have won him seven Grammys for drawing from influences such as the environment, Celtic traditions and working with the percussionist from the Grateful Dead. Talk about badass.

9. Eighth Blackbird–Hand Eye

I had the chance to see these guys live at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, and let me tell you, contemporary classical music has never sounded like this. Using elements of spoken word and drama like no other in their songs, the group brings emotion in hit songs even without traditional lyrics. #Musicgoals.

10. August Hotel–Valentine

Plot twist: This band actually still attends Northwestern. Well, one member at least. The alt-pop hit songs brings joy to dancers every year at Northwestern’s Dance Marathon with covers by Walk the Moon along with original performances. Their concerts at venues like SPACE in Evanston, Illinois, and tours across the Midwest show that these guys aren’t messin’ around…even if graduation is right around the corner.

Hi, my name is Meghan and I'm a sophomore at Northwestern University. I've had a passion for creative writing ever since I was creative editor of my high school paper, and now I'm pursuing the creative writing major at the college level. I love writing in my own voice to help other people get through tough times.

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