Category Archives: Chicago Cultural History

Reclaimed Soul: Cuba / Chicago Connections

 

On my recent trip to Cuba, I learned a lot. But it was a bowl of okra in the hills of Baracoa that tied everything together.
Okra made the Trans-Atlantic journey on slave ships alongside human cargo. The fact that the fuzzy green seed-laden vegetable is eaten by black folk in the United States is a miracle. A vegetable umbilical cord.
But to see okra in Cuba was a metaphor for a very particular shared narrative. One of survival. One of connections.  Okra, hambone, the clave, the percolator and much more tie Black Chicago to Cuba.

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

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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


Blind Man: Little Milton’s hooked and he can’t let her go.

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One of my very favorite Chess Records from the 1960s is “Blind Man” by Little Milton, released on Chess’ Checker subsidiary. Below is a rare televised performance from January of 1966 on a show called “The !!!! Beat”. “The !!!! Beat” was a program that was hosted by Nashville disc jockey Bill “Hoss” Allen.

The song itself was originally released by Bobby “Blue” Bland, who does a jazzier rendition. But Little Milton’s version is all heart and glowing grit. Chess Records session blind-manmen on the Little Milton version put in a characteristically stellar performance, as well. It’s beautifully brassy Chicago blues-soul of the highest order.

Notably, neither version of “Blind Man” was a hit. But the song was covered later in the 1960s by British rock-jazz group Traffic. A live recording of their version was released in 1969, after the original lineup of Traffic broke up.

But this is Little Milton. He’s hooked and he can’t let her go. Of this, I am wholly convinced. Jive on.


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.

 

 


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

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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 chicagoradioandmedia.com. Here’s a recording of Lucky Cordell in rare form:


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.


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. Chicagopatterns.com 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.

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the particulars:

An Evening at the Forum

Wednesday, September 24th

6-9pm

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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