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Celebrate Black History Month in February 2014 and Beyond

Here are highly recommended suggestions to enjoy some fascinating history, music, people and places.


I Feel So Good: The Life and Times of Big Bill Broonzy – by Bob Riesman

Broonzy was among the first wave of the Great Migration north to Chicago; he became the leading Chicago bluesman of the 1930s by fusing rural blues with electrified urban blues. He influenced blues music around the world until his untimely death in 1958. Yet today his music continues to influence and fascinate blues lovers of all generations. Chicago author Riesman is a noted music historian known for his meticulous research. Forward by Pete Seeger!!

FREE download from University of Chicago Press, for the rest of February only:


I’ll Take You There: Mavis Staples, The Staple Singers, and the March up Freedom’s Highway – by Greg Kot.

Mavis Staples
photo: Jennifer Noble

Chicago Tribune music critic/WBEZ radio host Greg Kot tells the story of the legendary family band that served as the soundtrack to the Civil Rights Movement, marching alongside Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Now in her 70s, Mavis Staples continues to sing, perform and inspire generations. Author Kot “Takes Us There” with behind the scenes stories and little known facts of musical history, such as the time Bob Dylan proposed to Mavis.


Southern Soul-Blues – by Dave Whiteis

Chicago author Whiteis traces the history of Southern Soul and gives us a firsthand look at the performers and venues that created this genre. The book includes interviews and biographies of Latimore, Denise LaSalle, Bobby Rush, Willie Clayton and more. There’s even a chapter on the music’s requisite raunchy lyrics. Foreward by Denise LaSalle.



Queenie Pie Stage shot
photo: Keith Ian Polakoff

March 19, 20, 23: Queenie Pie, a Duke Ellington jazz opera by the Chicago Jazz Orchestra & Chicago Opera Theater at Harris Theater, 205 E. Randolph, Chicago

Celebrate Black History Month with this ambitious collaboration between the Chicago Opera Theater and Jeff Lindberg's Chicago Jazz Orchestra.

Duke Ellington's Queenie Pie blends opera and jazz with musical theater and tells a rivalrous tale inspired by historical, Oprah-like business woman Madam C.J. Walker, who became the first female African-American self-made millionaire thanks to her successful line of hair and beauty products.

The super talented cast of Queenie Pie includes:
Karen Marie Richardson, Anna Bowen, Keithon Gipson and Jeffrey Polk.

We have seen this enjoyable show and are happy to give the superb actor/singers and live jazz orchestra a five star review. The libretto (plot) is corny and dated, but Ellington’s music is first class all the way.


Maxwell Street Jimmy

For a trip back in time to the see the origins of Chicago Blues, check out Chicago Blues Guide’s Black History Month photo essay feature by photographer Tom Smith, Maxwell Street: The Birth Place of Chicago Blues.  

Tom writes:

Chicago is one of the spiritual homes for the blues in America. The sound of that spirit rose from gritty streets of the Maxwell Street Market. It began with the African-American migration from the Mississippi Delta Country to Chicago in the 1920s. Legendary bluesman Big Bill Broonzy (1903-1958) was one of those migrants. He moved to Chicago in 1920 and teamed up with Papa Charlie Jackson (1885-1938) to play on Maxwell Street, an open-air market place for immigrants, vendors, bargain seekers, hustlers, hawkers, preachers and entertainers.



Magic Sam CD

In the age of digital downloads, the neighborhood record store has been going the way of the dinosaur. Nevertheless, the historic Jazz Record Mart has stood the test of time for 54 years and running. Owner Bob Koester-- who heads Delmark Records which recently celebrated its 60th Anniversary in 2013 – moved to Chicago in 1958 and purchased Seymour’s Jazz Record Mart in 1959. Delmark’s and the Record Mart’s fates have been inextricably linked ever since. Itinerant blues artists who were trying to get work in Chicago were welcome to crash on the store’s basement sofa. John Hammond, Charlie Musselwhite, Big Joe Williams and even Iggy Pop spent time sleeping below the record store.


Although the Mart’s location has changed over the years, the current location at 27 E. Illinois in Chicago is like walking into a musical time machine. You can find literally tens of thousands of new and used vinyl LPs, 45s, 78s, CDs, DVDs, cassettes, magazines, posters, postcards and much more. If you are looking for historic blues and jazz recordings, or nearly any roots genre, you will find it here, along with Delmark’s blues and jazz catalogue going back 60 years! You never know who you may run into, either. Robert Plant makes a pilgrimage to the Mart every time he’s in Chicago. Several times a year, the Jazz Record Mart hosts free live music shows by Delmark artists.



Great news! Muddy Water’s longtime South Side home in the North Kenwood neighborhood has been saved from the wrecking ball.  The building had fallen into disrepair and was in danger of being torn down by the city. However, an anonymous buyer has purchased the home, supposedly with plans to transform the legend’s historic dwelling into a museum. No more information is available so far. We’ll keep you posted.



Dominican University in River Forest, IL will host “Blues Impurities: A symposium on the legacy of African American music and the evolving Blues aesthetic” on Friday May 30 and Saturday May 31. The university will partner with Living Blues Magazine to present plenaries and panels featuring an eclectic group of prominent scholars, musicologists, writers, musicians and industry leaders. The conference is open to the public.

Attendees will be treated to live blues music by some of Chicago’s top artists, including Walter Scott & The World Band (on campus) and (at Rosa’s Blues Lounge in Chicago): Blues Across the Generations with Jamiah on Fire & the Red Machine, Cicero Blake, Theo Huff, Claudette Miller, HoneyDew, Sharon Lewis, and more. A photography exhibit, Reaching for the Light, featuring the work of late photographer Susan Greenberg will be on display. Many more events and activities are planned. For details and to register visit:


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