Author Archives: ayanacontreras

About ayanacontreras

i love the transportive powers of sound. i am a radio host/producer, DJ, Sound designer, 45rpm collector, and art lover living in the city of wind.

Three the Hard Way: Breaking the feedback loop of time.

three the hard way

Friday July 10th marks the opening of a culminating group exhibition, part of my artist residency at the University of Chicago.

from the show’s description:
“Three the Hard Way” is an exhibition takes its title from a 1974 blaxploitation classic in which three action heroes, Fred Williamson, Jim Kelly, and Jim Brown must save the race from a neo-Nazi organization bent on black genocide. The exhibition features the 2014/2015 Arts + Public Life/Center for the Study of Race, Politics & Culture artists-in-residence Ayana Contreras, James T. Green, and David Leggett, all squarely post-Civil Rights children born after Williamson, Kelly, and Brown saved the world. Although we may breathe a collective sigh of relief, the work of these artists suggests there is much to account for since then culturally, politically, and socially. How do we square nostalgia for a Black Nationalist period with events in the wake of the Trayvon Martin shooting?

My work particularly asks about the dialogue that can exist between older materials (photographs and records, particularly), and the hot-button issues that still haunt us today (police brutality, poverty, racism, et al). It also asks if we are in some sort of feedback loop, where the socio-political progress folks hoped to see come out of the Black Power era has yet to fully manifest itself.

As we draw more and more parallels between this moment’s societal ills and the social issues of previous eras, what ideas can we extract from those earlier times? What can we use to break the feedback loop and to push forward?

Guest curated by Hamza Walker.

Exhibition on view Jul 10–Aug 23, 2015
Logan Center for the Arts / 915 E 60th Street, Chicago.

“Nights at the Museums” Opening Reception: Fri, Jul 10, 6–8pm / Free


All Events located in Gallery

Wed, Jul 29, 6–7:30 pm – Artists in Conversation: Ayana Contreras

Wed, Aug 5, 6–7:30 pm – Artists in Conversation: James T. Green

Wed, Aug 12, 6–7:30 pm – Artists in Conversation: David Leggett

Sun, Aug 23, 2–4 pm – Closing Reception and Catalog Release
Presented by the University of Chicago’s Arts and Public Life, Center for the Study of Race, Politics and Culture, and Logan Center Exhibitions.


Lucky Cordell: The Baron of Bounce… and Chicago Radio Royalty.

lucky cordell2

Moses Lucky Cordell was born July 28, 1928 in Mississippi. His mother died when Lucky was three, and his family moved to Chicago. Cordell graduated from Dunbar High School in 1946. He went on to a long career in Chicago Radio, initially as a disc jockey (known as the “Baron of Bounce”) and by 1970, he became General Manager at the storied WVON.  He also produced records by local artidance crazests such as Heaven and Earth, as well as athis is the woman lesser-known soul group called New Image (1977).

He even released a number of spoken-word records under his own name, which all dealt with themes of love, upliftment, spirituality, and building positive character. The songs had titles like “Happiness”, “You Made a Man out of Me”, “Good Morning Lord”, “A Great Day”, and “This is the Woman I Love” (1969). “This is the Woman I Love” was written and produced by fellow radio disc jockey Richard Pegue. Initially released on Pegue’s Nickel label, the record was picked up for national distribution by Cotillion Records.

Lucky Cordell’s two daughters were also recording artists, releasing two very good records under the name “Pat & Pam” in the early 1970s (click here for more on that).

Cordell was socially engaged and politically minded. He left full-time radio in the 1980s to pursue work with the Chicago Urban League and Operation PUSH.

Cordell died tragically on July 7th of this year at the age of 86 from injuries sustained in a fire at his South Shore home.

According to sources close to the family, he put himself in harm’s way attempting to save his daughter, Pat, who became trapped. The fire began in her bedroom, according to her sister Pamela. The fire was reportedly started by smoking materials.

Under Lucky Cordell’s leadership, WVON became “one of the biggest radio stations in Chicago”, as well as “one of the most influential R&B stations in the country”, according to Here’s a recording of Lucky Cordell in rare form:

Windy City Breakdown: The intersection of black power, culture, & entrepreneurship 60s/70s Chicago.

The end of May 2015 marked the end of my first Art Exhibition: Windy City Breakdown. The solo exhibition illustrated my process and research. The work also explored locally-sourced vintage vinyl records and paper ephemera from my personal collection to reveal aspects of Black Chicago during times of collision among the arts, entrepreneurship, and Black Power. Th happened at the Washington Park Arts Incubator as part of my Residency at the University of Chicago.

Here’s some photos from the show.

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Preserving the Beats at Chicago State University.


BoomBoxRegularThis Saturday, February 28th at 2:15pm, I’ll be speaking on a panel at Chicago State University as part of the Symposium titled:

Preserving the Beats: Collecting Chicago Hip Hop

Here’s a description of the subject matter to be covered:

Collecting is one part of preservation of hip hop. For the history and culture to survive we need wordsmiths who write and publish about Hip Hop in order to document the past and future of the genre. This panel will discuss the importance of publishing for a variety of outlets—scholarly/ academia, blogs, journalism, niche and new media. Additionally, panelists will discuss the current climate of the publishing industry, self-publishing/ promotion via the internet, and the need to preserve the digital content.

Here’s the full list of scheduled panelists:


  • Samir Meghelli; Historian/Writer, Professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
  • Ayana Contreras; Blogger and Host/producer of Reclaimed Soul on Vocalo (Sister Station of WBEZ)
  • Ian Collins; Academic Resident Librarian at the University of Illinois-Chicago
  • Ryan Brockmeier; Director, Producer, Co-Writer, Art/Design of the documentary Midway: The Story of Chicago Hip-Hop

Of course, artful, true-to-life preservation of stories behind music is near and dear to my heart, so I’m glad to be a part of this discussion. More info below….

preserving the beats event flyerClick here to register.

Michael Abramson: Pulse of the Night.


all photos by Michael L. Abramson

What goes on at small clubs is ephemeral by nature: society created and dismantled night after night. A delicate hierarchy composed of drifters, dreamers, and those simply longing to escape. In the mid 1970s, a young white student, Michael Abramson, worked his way into the world of largely black South Side Chicago clubs. He brought his camera along for the ride, capturing images that otherwise would’ve vanished like smoke from a languishing cigarette.

The photos were taken at famous spots, such as Perv’s House (owned by Pervis Staples of the Staple Singers fame), the Patio Lounge, and Pepper’s Hideout. These clubs hosted live music that was a heady mix of blues, funk, and soul by artists like Bobby Rush, Hi-Fi White, Little Mac Simmons, and much more. The current South Side Chicago club scene (in terms of live, homegrown entertainment) is a shell of its former self. That fact makes these photos that much more valuable.


Currently, dozens of Abramson’s photos from this period are on display through Columbia College’s Museum of Contemporary Photography. According to the Museum, “this work earned Abramson a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1978 and launched his successful career as a portraiture photographer and photojournalist. Abramson’s photographs can be found in the permanent collections of the Smithsonian, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Chicago History Museum, the Milwaukee Art Museum, Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, and the California Museum of Photography.”

These photos of grit and gold lamé, born amidst midnight debauchery, are displayed between reference materials at the Columbia College Library. The juxtaposition is not lost on me. Despite their stoic surroundings, they simply hum with electricity.

LadyFanPervs10776The Michael L. Abramson: Pulse of the Night exhibition is located on the second floor of the Columbia College Chicago Library, 624 S. Michigan Avenue. It is on display until December 19th, 2014.

Have you tuned into Reclaimed Soul lately? Newcity apparently has…..

vocalo best of chicago newcity“…Ayana Contreras’ “Reclaimed Soul”… better than anything else on radio in the city…” —Newcity

“Aw, Shucks…” –Ayana Contreras

Media activism is exactly the right phrase for what we aim to do. Jive on.

Do you Remember how to do the Camel Walk?

camel walk

Do the Camel Walk! Last week on Reclaimed Soul, host Ayana Contreras played this rare local Chicago Blues/Soul record by Bobby Rush (not the former Black Panther turned Politician) from about 1968.

In case you were wondering how to do the then-popular dance, here’s a clip of James Brown asking Sammy Davis, Jr. if he “remembers” how to do it. And he does it. And it’s pretty great.

…But, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. James Brown at the time was known for integrating the Camel Walk into his stage show. But the dance had its roots way back in the 1920s as a ragtime dance… So, it was retro even in the 1960s. Good things come back around. Or, so they say. Jive on.


An Evening at the Forum: Jive and Jitterbug on!

evening at the forum event flyer

I’ll be spinning a very special set on Wednesday, September 24th in Chicago’s Bronzeville Community. All 1920s through 1950s music (with a few copacetic newer tracks sprinkled in). All vinyl. Actually, I’m trying to figure out if I’m bringing my Victrola. Then it’d be vinyl and shellac.

Lil Green Chicago

The event is titled “An Evening at the Forum”, and I am very excited that this building, and all the culture it represents, will be celebrated. That’s especially true because, not long ago, The Forum building nearly perished.

The Forum was built around 1900, and was slated for demolition in 2011. That’s when Bernard Loyd’s final bid for the property was accepted. That’s also when the work to restore the building (that’s suffered from decades of neglect) really began. did a really though job documenting some of the history, imagery, and narratives surrounding the space. I highly recommend that you check out their work here.

from the organizers of the event:

“On September 24, The Forum will pay homage to the Golden Age of Bronzeville with An Evening at The Forum, a retro-themed block party. The evening will revive key elements of the era – notably music and dance – while drawing the attention of locals and visitors to major redevelopment projects slated for historic 43rd Street.

The event will feature sounds from the 20’s through the 50’s by DJ Ayana Contreras, dance lessons by Big City Blues, historical tours by Chicago Patterns, classic children’s tales by Jason Driver, old fashioned games for children & adults, prohibition-era “mocktails” and hors d’oeuvres, and a preview of CRib Productions‘ “Juke Joint” a short which was recently filmed at Forum Hall, the iconic centerpiece of The Forum.


the particulars:

An Evening at the Forum

Wednesday, September 24th


The Forum

318-328 E 43rd St, Chicago, Illinois 60653

UPDATE! Here’s a couple of images from the event, courtesy of Urban Juncture.

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Reclaimed Soul: A Thin Line Between Chicago Soul and Gospel.

Reclaimed Soul Host Ayana Contreras explores the thin line between the Gospel and Soul scenes in Chicago during the 1960s and 1970s, and plays cuts that dip into each genre. Featuring music by The Salem Travelers, Gospel Clouds, Brother Samuel Cheatam, The Independents, and much more.187256-001

Just to illustrate the ties that bind Chicago Soul and Gospel, Samuel Cheatam rose through the ranks of both the Tabernacle Church of Prayer Choir and the Mount Pleasant Choir before self-releasing his first solo work, a working of the classic “Troubles of the World” on the Cora label in 1969. His single was produced by none other than Chuck Bernard. Chuck Bernard was a Chicagoan by way of St. Louis. He was a hip, gritty soul singer, playing in clubs and recording in the late 60s on St, Laurence, Satellite, and Zodiac. Cheatam’s Bernard-produced 45 sold well enough, leading to a reissue by West Side Chicago-based label One Way Records. A subsequent 1977 album was called “Stranger In The City”. This give-and-take was very common in Chicago, despite the historical chasm between the secular world and the sacred.

For fresh episodes of Reclaimed Soul, listen in Thursdays at 8pm CST on, or tune in to 89.5fm (NW Indy) and 90.7fm (CHI)

Reclaimed Soul: Blues + Soul in Chicago, The 4 Brothers Story

Chicago is known worldwide for its electrified Delta Blues. Chicago’s also known for its sweet Soul Music. And during the 1960s, those musical traditions combined at Four Brothers, a tiny record label based at a famous West Side Chicago record shop called Barney’s One-Stop. This podcast features  some of the hip, soul-flavored blues from the Four Brothers label. Plus, we hear soulful blues from all corners of the city.

A bit about 4 Brothers:

The label existed from 1965 through 1967. Its sister label was Bright Star.
Willie Barney, Jack Daniels (A&R / Production), Granville White were the principal “brothers”. The fourth “brother” might have been Harold Burrage (or maybe someone with business interests that preferred not to be named dot-dot-dot.)

In the late 1960s, Jack Daniels, along with Johnny Moore (another 4 Brothers/Bright Star associated artist and writer) cut a number of hard hitting soul records. In fact, Jack Daniels co-wrote Tyrone Davis’ blockbuster soul record “Turn Back the Hands of Time”. Tyrone Davis had recorded for 4 Brothers under the name Tyrone the Wonder Boy.

For fresh episodes of Reclaimed Soul, listen in Thursdays at 8pm CST on, or tune in to 89.5fm (NW Indy) and 90.7fm (CHI)


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