Category Archives: Arts & Culture

Maggie Brown on Oscar Brown, Jr. and The Opportunity Please Knock Chorus

Reclaimed Soul’s Ayana Contreras spoke with Jazz vocalist Maggie Brown, daughter of Oscar Brown, Jr. Maggie is passionate about preserving the legacy of her father’s community-engaged artistry.maggiebrown-684x384

The Opportunity Please Knock Chorus (a creative collaboration between singer/writer/playwright Oscar Brown Jr. and the notorious Blackstone Rangers street gang) premiered 50 years ago. Mr. Brown stated in 1967, “They’re not too disillusioned to work hard-if they ever had and illusions at all. It is up to us to give them a better picture of reality.”

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As we look for solutions to quell today’s violence in our communities and to get kids off the streets, this is a notable model of artist intervention from Chicago’s past.

This was recorded at a live event at Thalia Hall in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood.

click here for more on the Opportunity Please Knock Chorus.

Catch fresh installments of Reclaimed Soul Thursdays at 8pm (CST) on vocalo.org or over the air on 91.1fm


Dance Chicago Dance.

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Back in 1980, Chicago was still a national hub for music (like LA, Nashville, and New York are today). During that time, Producer/Promoter/Entrepreneur Eddie Thomas ran the influential Dogs of War DJ record association. Based out of Chicago, they were a record pool famous for breaking a number of seminal disco recordings.

Essentially, a record pool is a service that DJs either subscribe to or otherwise sign up for. New records from participating labels are distributed to the DJs as promotional copies. Dogs of War primarily worked with DJs that worked at black clubs on the South Side of Chicago. In the day, they were frequently mentioned in disco write ups in industry papers such as Billboard.

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picture courtesy / Bernie Howard’s Facebook Page

Together, Eddie & the Dogs of War Association produced a TV program pilot called “Dance Chicago Dance”. According to Director Bernie Howard Fryman:

“The year was 1980 and disco was the thing. This is the pilot of the Chicagoland dance show that I shot and directed in cooperation with executive producer Eddie Thomas and “The Dogs of War DJ Association”.

This show was created to feature new music and was to be shot from various discos in the Chicago area.

This show never aired and was dubbed from a Betamax demo of my show. We even cut in a few commercials for realism.”

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Featuring a theme song by Al Hudson and One Way, and hosted by radio personality LaDonna Tittle (then at WJPC) and Lisa Hunter (a member of the Dogs of War), the program was an all-star affair. This pilot also features two performances featuring Chicago’s own silver lame-clad disco artist Captain Sky. His extravagant costumes are worth the price of admission. The pilot was shot in suburban Naperville (!) at Valentino’s Disco. It features, notably, a racially mixed crew of dancers.

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picture courtesy / Bernie Howard’s Facebook page

The “Dance Chicago Dance” pilot was shot in 1980, well after Steve Dahl’s infamous “Disco Demolition Night” that occurred on July 12, 1979, at Comiskey Park. The disco scene in Chicago was a well oiled machine in many ways because Chicago’s Black music scene had dwarfed the rock and pop scenes for much of the mid-20th Century in terms of record sales, record label prominence, and distribution. It was easy to get the music out there.

From the Electrified Delta Blues of Chess Records to the sweet soul of Brunswick Records and Curtom Records (and many labels in between), the baton was passed to disco, and eventually to house. It’s arguable that the prominence of disco music over rock music (often considered to be “white music”) in Chicago (mixed with some good old fashioned racism & homophobia) churned up the Disco Demolition. By 1979, disco had become a universal juggernaut; but its roots were in black and brown communities, as well as in the gay community (a fact that disco shares with house music).

About 50,000 people showed up to the event, during which radio shock jock Steve Dahl was to destroy audience supplied disco records in a massive explosion on the baseball field. But to illustrate the inherent racism, Vince Lawrence, who at the time worked at Comiskey Park as an usher, noted that many of the records were not disco at all. According to an NPR piece, there were:

 “Tyrone Davis records, friggin’ Curtis Mayfield records and Otis Clay records,” he recalls. “Records that were clearly not disco,” but that were by black artists [from Chicago].

Regardless, this video documents clearly that Disco Demolition Night did not, in fact, demolish disco in Chicago. In many ways, disco was just about to get started as something new: House. And that usher at Comiskey Park during the Disco Demolition Night wound up co-writing what is credited as the first truly House record (as opposed to a disco record played in house music clubs), 1984’s “On and On”.

He picked up a lot of good records that night, too. So Dance, Chicago, Dance. Jive on!


Stretching out the Boundaries of Jazz: 10 years of the Hyde Park Jazz Festival.

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The Hyde Park Jazz Festival celebrates its 10th Anniversary with three dozen performances and programs on 11 stages across the neighborhood this weekend. Many of the performances, to their credit, lack easy categorization, and truly exemplify the spirit of Jazz from the South Side of Chicago (multi-layered, collaborative, and connected to the community). A few highlights:

The South Side of Chicago has a rich history of Jazz music, and the Hyde Park Jazz Festival’s schedule represents keepers of that flame, like Maggie Brown (pictured, who is a daughter of the iconic Oscar Brown, Jr. and an electrifying vocalist in her own right); as well as younger creators such as the Thaddeus Tukes / Isaiah Collier Duo.

Stretching out the boundaries of traditional Jazz programming are a restaging of Supreme Love (a live music and tap dance performance set to John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme). In collaboration with dancers from M.A.D.D. Rhythms, musicians on the set include Isaiah Spencer on drums and Junius Paul on bass.

Also as part of the festival, Marvin Tate will present The Weight of Rage, which was initially presented at the Hyde Park Art Center earlier this year The visual component is an exhibition of work developed in classes in the Prison and Neighborhood Arts Project at Stateville Prison. The show brings together work from incarcerated artists and teaching artists and writers (including Marvin Tate) in the Prison + Neighborhood Arts Project (PNAP) at Stateville Correctional Center in Joliet, IL to explore the question, “how does the state identify you?” There will be a music performance by a sextet as part of Saturday’s presentation of The Weight of Rage, as well.

The Festival also announced a new partnership with the Hyde Park Art Center that commissioned visual artists to install site-specific artwork on Midway Plaisance.

Three main projects have been selected for this inaugural year: Juan Angel Chavez, “Gramaphone”; Jeremiah Hulsebos-Spofford and Faheem Majeed, “Floating Museum”; and Sabina Ott, “Mountain Variation.”

And, the Hyde Park Jazz Festival Story Share Project continues this year, in which visitors are invited to share stories about their relationship to Jazz (particularly Jazz on the South Side of Chicago).  All stories are archived for the Hyde Park Jazz Society, and select stories will be made available via an dedicated web platform that is currently in production.

For more on the Hyde Park Jazz Festival (including a full calendar), click here.

Jive on!

 


This is Our (Chicago) Love Story.

Darkjive, dear readers, is strictly a labor of love: simply put, if I love a song from Chicago (or am enamored by a story) I’ll share it.

This is no different.

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“This is Our Love Story” (by the Harvey Allison Experience featuring The Whole Truth) is a luscious soul record that lacks a lot of info on the label. A man and a woman serenade one another, voices intertwined like ivy.

Printed on the Truth Is Records release, the year listed is 1980. No city. I suspected that it was at least from the Midwest. No smoking gun collaborators, though. No usual Chicago suspects. No Willie Henderson. No Carl Davis. Not even a Jim Porter.

But one day, hopping around YouTube, I found the following early ’80s music video recorded at the CopHerbox II, which was pronounced “Copper Box” located in….wait for it… Chicago! 117th and Halsted to be exact. The club had a local variety TV show called the Chicago Party.

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And so, I present to you: Mr. Ken Allison and Diane Harvey (Harvey Allison Experience, get it?) with “This is Our Love Story”. Watching them perform makes me love the song more. And, dig that scene!  In case you want more: local label Numero Group has apparently put out a compilation featuring the music and the visuals of The Chicago Party.

Jive on.

 

 


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

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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?

impressions
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

Programming:

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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The House That Jive Built.

house that jive builtI collect records. All sorts of records. That includes eighty year old records that I play on my Victrola. Often, I am just as interested in the physical state of the record as I am in the music itself. For instance, the label affixed to this label is interesting. First off, it lets me know this 78rpm was bought during World War II (1942) in the heart of Bronzeville (4712 S. Parkway) at the Groove Record Shop (“The House that Jive Built”). Awesome. Interestingly enough 4712 S. Parkway was (and is) the location of an actual house. To be more precise, it’s the location of a Greystone two-flat.

Pretty cool. Also, Griff Williams played at the Stevens Hotel in Chicago, so there’s a rock solid Chicago connection.

The Groove Record Shop was located directly across the street from the original Regal Theater, a legendary venue that featured movies as well as marquee talent. The theater opened in 1928. Artists from Louis Armstrong to Jackie Wilson performed there. Today, another theater in Chicago bears the name “Regal”. Sadly, the original was demolished in 1970.

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Photo of Regal Theater: “Movie theater, Southside, Chicago, Illinois” (1941, Library of Congress)

The African-American Cultural Center (AACC) at UIC is currently presenting a Chicago Blues Museum exhibit “The Soul of Bronzeville.” See more images of the “Black Metropolis” and learn about how the Regal Theater played a significant role in the neighborhood development.

Now through August 2014
Time: Monday – Friday 10am to 5pm
Saturday and Sunday by appointment only
Where: UIC African-American Cultural Center,
Addams Hall, room 207
830 S. Halsted
Chicago, IL 60607