Tag Archives: Chicago Cultural History

Stony Island (the movie) returns to Chicago!

from siskelfilmcenter.org:

STONY ISLAND
(aka MY MAIN MAN FROM STONY ISLAND)
1978, Andrew Davis, USA, 97 min.
With Richard Davis, Edward Stoney Robinson

At the Siskel Center, 164 North State Street, Chicago

Wednesday April 4th (8pm-9:30pm), Thursday April 5th  (8:15pm-9:45pm)
“Stony Island has been the birthplace of great American music and amazing musical talent, nurturing the likes of my fifty year brother, Herbie Hancock, Chaka Kahn, Curtis Mayfield and Maurice White. I’m also a kid from the South side of Chicago . MUSIC MAKES US ALL ONE AND “STONY ISLAND ” IS A TESTAMENT TO MUSIC BEING THE WORLD’S COMMON LANGUAGE. THIS TIMELESS MOVIE IS FILLED WITH BIG-TIME HEART AND SOUL. From the Gene Barge tenor sax version of “Just a Closer Walk with Thee”, a favorite of Dr. Martin Luther King, to the guitarist’s guitarist Phil Upchurch, one of my all time favorites – this flick is kicking!”
—Quincy Jones

For his first feature, Chicago native Andrew Davis (THE FUGITIVE) made the most of atmospheric neighborhood locations on Chicago’s South Side in this lively, funky, bluesy story of two dreamers pulling together a band from nothing. Multicultural before it was in fashion, and independent before there was a movement, STONY ISLAND became a breakout phenomenon. Richie, a Stony Island guitar player, and his best friend Kevin, recruit their undiscovered talent in Chicago’s dives and alleyways. A venal alderman, an insurance scam, and the state funeral of Da’ Boss are the icing on the cake, but the cake is music, with Gene “Daddy G” Barge, Larry Ball, Ronnie Barron, and more. Also includes appearances by Rae Dawn Chong and Dennis Franz, and the cinematography of Tak Fujimoto (FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF). 35mm. (BS)

Director Andrew Davis will be present at both screenings for audience discussion. He will be joined by Tamar Hoffs, Gene Barge and Susanna Hoffs on Wednesday and by Richie Davis, Tamar Hoffs and Susanna Hoffs on Thursday.

Stony Island comes to DVD April 24th, 2012.

 
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A whole new (art) thing? Chicago’s 2012 Cultural Plan.

CITY OF CHICAGO LAUNCHES 2012 CULTURAL PLAN INITIATIVE
Public Town Hall Meetings Begin Tonight!

The Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE) is asking residents, cultural organizations and community groups for their input in developing the 2012 Chicago Cultural Plan.  The plan will deliver a set of recommendations to support the arts and artists throughout the city, as well as enhance economic growth and Chicago’s reputation as a global cultural destination.
The last cultural plan was developed in 1986 under Mayor Harold Washington.  Since that time, advancements have been made in many areas leading to greater involvement from vested interests.
Ideas that sprang from that plan include the renovation of Navy Pier, the redeveloped Theater Row in Chicago’s “Loop” and the creation of incentives for film projects.

Financially, Chicago has the third largest creative economy in the U.S., with 24,000 arts enterprises, including nearly 650 non-profit arts organizations, generating more than $2 billion annually and employing 150,000 people. Chicago’s creative vibrancy creates jobs, attracts new businesses and tourists, and improves neighborhood vibrancy and quality of life.

Town Halls kick off tonight:

Wednesday, February 15:  Columbia College from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.
Thursday, February 16:  Nicholas Senn High School from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.
Saturday, February 18:  DuSable Museum from 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.
Tuesday, February 21:  National Museum of Mexican Art from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.
Registration is free, but space is limited. Click here to register!
Below, a video recap from one of the hottest visual arts exhibitions in Chicago last year (in my humble opinion), local artist Hebru Brantley’s Yesterday’s Losers. A strong Cultural Plan needs to be in place to help support our artists of all stripes, from all parts of the city, and to make arts and cultural experiences as accessible in the City of Chicago as a bag of Flaming Hot Chips (yes. I said it).

Opportunity Please Knock Chorus: oscar brown, jr.’s collaboration with the blackstone rangers

In 1967, members of the Blackstone Rangers, a notorious Gang in Chicago, collaborated with singer/composer/playwright/activist Oscar Brown Jr. to create a Musical Revue called “Opportunity Please Knock”. About eight thousand people went to the show during the first weeks of performance (at Chicago’s First Presbyterian Church). Photos in this post are from that first run. The show gave exposure to various teens that had ample talent, but little opportunity.

Oscar Brown Jr., said in a 1996 interview with Rick Wojcik:

I made contact with the Blackstone Rangers, and we began talkin’ to them about some alternative activity to what they were doin’, which was basically gang-bangin’ and terrorizing the neighborhood… The fact that there was this gang presence was bad for business and that’s one of the reasons that I contacted gangs- could we do something for them that would stop them from steppin’ on my hustle! I said we’d do a show for ’em, but they said, “well, we got some talent, can we be in the show?” We wound up doin’ a show called Opportunity, Please Knock, which really changed my life, basically, because it let me see that there was this enormous talent in the black community. This is where all the dances came from; this is where all the popular music comes from; so I began to really concentrate on that. Opportunity Please Knock ran for a little while, with those kids being on the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.

The gang’s involvement seems to counter the completely negative impact that most people assume gangs have on communities. The contradiction was  fleshed out in a 1969 article published in “The Alantic”:

Since the emergence of the Ranger Nation, individual members have been charged with murder, robbery, rape, knifings, extortion of South Side merchants, traffic in narcotics, extortion and intimidation of young children, forced gang membership, and a general history of outright violence, especially against the Disciples who never joined the Rangers. On the other hand, the Ranger Nation has been credited with keeping the South Side of Chicago “cool” during the summer of 1967 and the spring of 1968, following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King. It has been said that they have kept drugs, alcoholics, prostitutes, and whites hunting for prostitutes out of their neighborhoods. They have also been credited with making genuine attempts to form lasting peace treaties between themselves and the Disciples in order to decrease the level of gang fighting on the South Side. They have been alternately praised and condemned by the national press, their community, the United States Senate, the local police, and Chicago youth organizations to such an extent that, if one depends on the news media for information, it is almost impossible to maintain a consistent opinion of the Blackstone Rangers.

James Alan McPherson, from “The Atlantic”, 1969

According to an August 1967 Ebony Magazine article about the Revue, Oscar Brown Jr. further stated:

These kids are angry because they’re being shot through the same grease their parents were shot through, and they understand that it’s impossible for a bootless man to pull himself up by his bootstraps. But 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.

Below is a record I found, released on Ramsey Lewis’ record label, called “All this Talk About Freedom” by the Opportunity Please Knock Chorus. It’s what led me to this story in the first place. It’s also the only audio documentation of this slice of Chicago History. It’s also pretty groovin’. Image below is of the Opportunity Please Knock Chorus.


Sophia Tareen’s Chicago Soul Food Sign-of-the-Times

photo by Southern Foodways Alliance.

Sophia Tareen’s article published in the Huffington Post this month, entitled “Chicago Soul Food Disappearing as Blacks Leave, (excerpted below) brings up a number of over-arching issues as to why these community institutions have had some hard times, but leaves out any solutions, leaving us with sort of a hollow ‘sign-of-the-times’ .

“The sweet aroma of fresh waffles and salty fried chicken – family recipes passed down through the generations – hang in the air. No soda is served, only sweet tea.

But places like [Hard Times] Josephine’s – located in a sagging building off a busy commercial stretch [79th Street] may number only a half dozen now, having gradually given way to fast food, healthy food and imports like Cajun cuisine, along with the pressures of a bad economy. Also, more middle-class residents are moving to the suburbs, some retirees are heading “home” to the South and others are pursuing the economic lures of the Sunbelt, reversing the historic wave that brought southern blacks pouring into Chicago for jobs in industry.

The Chatham neighborhood on the South Side shows the change. The rows of once-classy homes in the black middle-class neighborhood, including a brick cottage that was home to gospel legend Mahalia Jackson, are now pocked with boarded-up windows and vacant properties. Other traditionally black neighborhoods have suffered even more as the population loss and foreclosure crisis have left behind weed-filled lots.

One of the most popular soul food restaurants in town, Army & Lou’s, closed this year.

“When you lose your base, your foundation, the next generation isn’t there to keep it going,” said former owner Harry Fleming. “It’s losing a real strong sense of heritage.”

Earlier this year, the South Side lost Izola’s, known for its seafood. The year before it was Edna’s, a West Side establishment patronized by King. Also gone are the longtime Gladys’ Luncheonette, a popular musicians’ hangout with great banana pie, and Soul Queen.”

The article wraps up by stating (among other things):

“Increasing health consciousness has also played a role. Soul food, often fried and made with full-fat ingredients, has gotten a bad rap in recent years.”

Of course… it’s the yams and greens that have made us plump. It COULDN’T be the Fast Food spots on every corner….

These restaurant represent an indelible part of Chicago’s heritage, just like the music discussed on this blog. To me, the younger generation is charged with taking the mantle of this food that came with our ancestors and not letting it die.

The original food that became soul food was as “green” as green could be: fully organic, locally grown, and fresh. Urban transplants did what they could to recreate peach cobbler with canned peaches, but there’s nothing in the world like “Soul Food” the way it’s supposed to be. I, for one, want to see a “Real Food” restaurant, without greyish green beans, but rather the kind Grandma trimmed at the kitchen table.


Army and Lou’s: obituary of an icon.

(above, Common pictured at Army and Lou’s)

How does a person write an obituary for a restaurant? Not just a restaurant, but a place with historical significance. The Sun-Times did a pretty good job:

It was the late Mayor Harold Washington’s favorite restaurant — the booth where he always sat still bears his name. And its storied history goes beyond feeding the grass-roots political movement that elected the city’s first black mayor.

At its original Black Metropolis location, it fed the leader of another movement: the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in the ’60s.

But South Side soul-food legend Army & Lou’s, 422 E. 75th St., thought to be the oldest black-owned restaurant in the Midwest, closed its doors for the last time Sunday.

For 65 years, Army & Lou’s has fed celebrities, politicians, business moguls and others who slid into its red linen-tableclothed booths for greens and ham hocks, catfish, chitterlings and peach cobbler. Celebs ranged from Cab Calloway to Muhammad Ali to former U.S. Sen. Charles Percy.

Washington, a bachelor, would eat there up to three times a week, and was partial to just about everything, longtime staff like waitress Betty Martin recall….

…“It was a fine dining establishment, and the first place that a lot of middle-class African-American families back then were taking their children where there were linen tablecloths and napkins, and there was live music,” McDuffie recounted.

Yes, I can vouch for the cobbler, and lots of other dishes, too.  But, I also know that Army & Lou’s suffered through multiple changings of hands (the last of which occurred in late summer/early autumn of last year). Chicagoans know that when businesses change hands too often, it can spell disaster (can we say Marshall Field’s?).

It’s really unfortunate, and I’ve even heard vegans send up condolences.  But the issue that caused Army and Lou’s to close was not a lack of warm and fuzzy feelings, it was lack of support from the community in the form of dollars and cents.

Another issue was that since Army and Lou’s had relocated from Bronzeville to the Chatham neighborhood in the 1970s, very little had been done in terms of updating the aesthetics.  Since the highest concentration of folks who eat out are 20-45 years old, and they tend to look for ambience when paying over $20 a plate, an overhaul of the dining room area would have been wise.

My vote, and I’m totally not kidding about this, is let’s call Chef Gordon Ramsay (from FOXs Hell’s Kitchen and Kitchen Nightmares) and get him to help them bounce back. He has a pretty good record of revamping restaurants on the brink.  It would be great press, and would breathe new life into a local icon.  Click here for a sample of Kitchen Nightmares’ brand of tough love.


Garland Green: soul and barbecue

Someone who could “never lose” at the South Side Talent Shows that local record execs scoured for fresh talent, Chicago’s own Garland Green made a name for himself in the late sixties as a growling, burgeoning soul star to be reckoned with.  Ironically, he wasn’t discovered at a Talent Show, but playing pool.

Legend has it that a local Barbecue Magnate named Argia B. Collins overheard Green’s distinctive growl while the singer was playing pool, and that he ultimately funded Garland’s turn at the Chicago Conservatory of Music.   Garland went on to record dozens of sides for various record labels, but sadly, only one album (pictured above).  Here’s a clip from my interview with Mr. Green.

and here’s my interview with Argia B. Collins’ daughter (Allison Collins), who keeps her father’s South Side-born creation, Mumbo Sauce, on store shelves (and in barbecue lovers’ hearts).  Argia B. (as he was often called) was a well known businessman in the community who owned multiple Barbecue joints and created the iconic sauce that is still sold today.

Here’s Garland Green with “Angel Baby” from his highly recommended, sole LP, “Jealous Kinda Fella” (pictured above).  Below, an ad for Mumbo Sauce that appeared in Life Magazine.


Whatever it is I think I see, becomes a Tootsie Roll to me…

tootsieNow is the time of year that our minds drift towards fantastical costumes and sugary delights. Above, perhaps the sweetest costume I’ve ever seen.  The Tootsie Roll Baby Bunting costume is made out of a soft brown felt and is available at Target.com.  A bit about Tootsie Rolls (a Chicago based classic):

Tootsie Rolls were first manufactured in 1896. 

The traditional chocolate Tootsie Roll lists among its ingedients orange extract.

Tootsie Roll Industries moved operations to Chicago in the early 1960s (before that, it was based in Hoboken, NJ).

Tootsie Roll has had the same jingle since 1976.  Enjoy, below…and Jive on.


Messing With the Kid

 Kiddieland-8-24-2008-1

After Eighty Years, Kiddieland of Melrose Park closes to the public this weekend.  A rift between two branches of one extended family tore beyond repair, resulting in the closing (one branch owns the park, while one owns the land the park is built on [and didn’t extend the park’s lease]). Many of the rides were well over fifty years old, and all of them in emmaculate condition. What a loss.

In memorium, Darkjive presents Chicago’s own Junior Wells with a 1972 version of “Messing With the Kid”.  Goodbye Little Dipper! Goodbye Tilt-a whirl!

little dipper30

UPDATE: As of Memorial Day Weekend 2010, the original Little Dipper will make its home at Six Flags Great America in Gurnee (North of Chicago).  Hurrah!


Printers’ Ball Tonite!

printersball2009

Chicago is a hotbed for so many fields of creative art: among them printed arts.  From edgy magazines (Alarm, Stop Smiling, et al), to indie book publishers, comics, literary journals, and newspapers, there’s myriad ways to get high on ink!

Celebrate our collective literary history at the Printers’ Ball, organized by Poetry Magazine (an iconic magazine in its own right). 

Thanks to poetryfoundation.org for the info. 

Fifth Annual Printers’ Ball

Ludington Building
1104 South Wabash Avenue
5:00 PM – 11:00 PM
Admission to the Printers’ Ball is free and open to all ages.

 

Sneak previews of Printers’ Ball publications, preparations, and secret invitations are available at the official Printers’ Ball blog, Chicago Poetry Calendar: http://chicagopoetrycalendar.blogspot.com.

Special Attractions:

• Free ink on paper, including magazines, books, broadsides, and more
• Hidden treasures
• Printers’ Ball Library, hosted by the Alternative Press Center and the Chicago Underground Library, which invites you to spend quality time with quality print. Visit the library to browse all publications; learn more about your discoveries, what you might have missed, and where to find it; and connect directly with publishers and organizations through our one-stop mailing list and subscription kiosks.
• Busy Beaver ButtonOmatic
• Papermaking and book-binding demonstrations
• Letterpress, offset, and rubber stamp printing demonstrations
• Silkscreen demonstrations by Anchor Graphics
• Minibook-making lessons from Featherproof Books
• Ratso from Chic-A-Go-Go
• Live interviews by Chicago Subtext’s Amy Guth
• Elevated Diction, presented by Silver Tongue


Stay in My Corner…for a long, long time

dellsThe Mighty Mighty Dells are by far the most enduring music group to ever come out of Chicago (Harvey, to be precise), performing with their original line-up since 1952.  “Stay in My Corner”, their 1968 pop and R&B smash, was one the longest singles ever released at the time, breaking the 3 1/2 minute barrier established by the 45rpm single.  In fact, it was the first RIAA certified million seller single to clock in at over six minutes (the 45rpm version clocks in at around 5 minutes).  The track is loping, larger than life, and beautiful.  Here’s a 1975 live version of the track (check the collars).