I am bothered by tapes that disappear, the same tapes that record our collective story. The sort that get erroneously misplaced, taped over, or buried (true stories, all). It’s happened often in Chicago to bits of media that palpably documented Chicago Cultural History. It seems to have happened too many times for my taste. Here’s a few times that hit especially close to home.
“Our People” (1968-1972) was Jim Tilmon’s groundbreaking public affairs television series that aired on WTTW. For, by, and about Black Chicagoans, the show was deemed completely lost for the ages until someone at WTTW unearthed one lonely “lost episode”.
According to WTTW.com, the episode:
“features guests Harold Washington, then a young State Representative who would later become Mayor of Chicago, author James Baldwin at his outspoken best, State Senator Richard Newhouse, and music by the great jazz vocalist Johnny Hartman.”
Our People premiered the week after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. It was a time frame remembered in Chicago as the days when the West Side went up in riotous flames (and one Darkjive informant told me of more than a few young men “enlisting” the aid of rifles from the Sears on Kostner for protection). It should also be noted that The Loop shut down, paralyzed with fear of such riotous activity spreading downtown (it didn’t).
Each week, Our People dealt with issues the Black Community grappled with… and offered a few solutions, as well. What a remarkable loss.
Below, a clipping from The Hyde Park Herald, Volume 87, 12 February 1969, Page 13.
Dick Gregory, 1451 E. 551h, talks with program producer John Tweedle and host Jim Tilmon on WTTW-Channel 11, Our People, a weekly program focusing on the interests and talents of the black community.
The Infamous Paul Serrano PS Studio Tapes
So, Paul Serrano (left) was a hard bop trumpeter here in Chicago that ultimately became a world-renowned Engineer with his own Studio (PS Recording Studios). He recorded some of the greatest Soul, Gospel, Blues, and Jazz music ever laid down on wax, right here in Chicago. Built in 1966, the independent studio was on-par with Chess Records’ Ter-Mar Studios and even RCA’s massive Midwest Recording Studios.
Artists including Jerry Butler, the Emotions, Natalie Cole, Ramsey Lewis, Peabo Bryson, the Independents, Roberta Flack, Donny Hathaway, Mary Wells, Chicago Gangsters, Oscar Brown, Jr., Deniece Williams, Von Freeman, Ghanaian Highlife Bandleader Dan Boadi, and Captain Sky recorded there.
The Studio (at one time located on East 23rd Street) shut down in the early nineties, but according to the folk at Numero Group, a bounty of master tapes (some never released) were BURIED at the sight of McCormick Place. The world may never know.
Below, a slice of funk recorded in the Near South Side at PS Studios.
“Soul Train Local”
So, most of us Chicagoans know that Soul Train got its start here in Chicago (at Weigel Broadcasting’s WCIU-TV), where sponsors included Joe Louis Milk and Sears. The train moved on to L.A. (Grrrrrrrrrr) in 1971, but time has nearly erased that the local version was aired in Chicago until 1979. Unfortunately, those episodes starring the homegrown talent of Tyrone Davis, The Dells, Curtis Mayfield, Jerry Butler, Gene Chandler, the Chi-Lites, and the Emotions were lost to time, many of them taped over by WCIU…repeatedly. For more on this story, check out Jake Austen’s excellent Chicago Reader article here.
B.B. King on Soul Train Local
I would much rather have any one of these in my personal collection than some of the inane box sets (“Webster”?? Really??) that are being offered up for posterity. Sigh.