Frank Vincent Zappa December 21, 1940 – December 4, 1993
was an American multi-instrumentalist musician, composer,
His work is characterized by nonconformity, free-form
improvisation, sound experiments, musical virtuosity,
and satire of American culture. In a career spanning
more than 30 years, Zappa composed rock, pop, jazz, jazz
fusion, orchestral and musique concrète works, and produced
almost all of the 60-plus albums that he released with his
band the Mothers of Invention and as a solo artist.
Zappa also directed feature-length films and music videos,
and designed album covers. He is considered one of the most
innovative and stylistically diverse rock musicians of
As a self-taught composer and performer, Zappa's diverse
musical influences led him to create music that was
sometimes difficult to categorize. While in his teens,
he acquired a taste for 20th-century classical modernism,
African-American rhythm and blues, and doo-wop music.
He began writing classical music in high school, while at
the same time playing drums in rhythm and blues bands,
later switching to electric guitar. His 1966 debut album
with the Mothers of Invention, Freak Out!, combined songs
in conventional rock and roll format with collective
improvisations and studio-generated sound collages. He
continued this eclectic and experimental approach,
irrespective of whether the fundamental format was rock,
jazz or classical.
Zappa's output is unified by a conceptual continuity he
termed "Project/Object", with numerous musical phrases,
ideas, and characters reappearing across his albums.
His lyrics reflected his iconoclastic views of established
social and political processes, structures and movements,
often humorously so, and he has been described as the
"godfather" of comedy rock.
He was a strident critic of mainstream education and
organized religion, and a forthright and passionate
advocate for freedom of speech, self-education, political
participation and the abolition of censorship. Unlike many
other rock musicians of his generation, he personally
disapproved of drugs, but supported their decriminalization
During Zappa's lifetime, he was a highly productive and
prolific artist with a controversial critical standing;
supporters of his music admired its compositional complexity,
while critics found it lacking emotional depth. He had some
commercial success, particularly in Europe, and worked as
an independent artist for most of his career.
He remains a major influence on musicians and composers.
His honors include his 1995 induction into the Rock and Roll
Hall of Fame and the 1997 Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
In 2000, he was ranked number 36 on VH1's 100 Greatest
Artists of Hard Rock. In 2004, Rolling Stone magazine
ranked him at number 71 on its list of the "100 Greatest
Artists of All Time", and in 2011 at number 22 on its
list of the "100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time".
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