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
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.
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.”
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
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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 vocalo.org, or tune in to 89.5fm (NW Indy) and 90.7fm (CHI)
I 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.
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
This Summer, on the South Side of Chicago, St. Laurence’s is finally coming down. The grounds, which included a rectory and a school, already suffered through a devastating fire and neglect. the Archdiocese of Chicago closed the church in 2002.
The former parishioner in the above photo came to pay his respects, fittingly, on a honeyed Sunday evening. He attended St. Laurence’s School next door as a child.
It’s hard to express the stunning beauty of this building, even as it crumbled before our eyes. According to Preservation Chicago, the building dates back to 1911. The complex was listed as one of Chicago’s 7 most threatened buildings by Preservation Chicago in 2011, the building’s 100th anniversary. Landmarks Illinois, an organization dedicated to historic preservation, stated that “this collection of buildings is one of Chicago’s most intact and impressive early-20th century religious complexes.” And yet, it’s being demolished. Brick by Chicago brick.
Here’s some more recent pictures of the complex from danxoneil’s Flickr page:
There’s a metaphor here, somewhere. Perhaps it’s like watching a sleeping giant. Or a fallen warrior. Watching this building decay slowly has been surreal. Now that slow decay has been quickened.
I had a student a couple of years ago who didn’t really talk a lot. I asked her one day to sum up the toll an abandoned building puts on a block, on a community.
Her words still haunt me: “They are a black hole in the community”. Of course. Everything dark circulates around them: drugs, crime, strife. Darkness itself is housed within it. Yet, St. Laurence’s still shone bright, especially on sunny, cloudless days. A passerby might almost forget that time was ravaging the building from the inside out. Still, if a building could be proud, despite decay, that building was.
Grand Crossing’s Patron Saint of Building Redemption, artist Theaster Gates, told me not long ago that he had looked into saving it, but it was beyond repair by then. Its days were numbered.
I can’t help but feel as though if this building had been on the North Side (Roscoe Village, perhaps) and not nestled in Grand Crossing, its fate might have been different.
Below is my audio recap of last week’s 100 Saxophones for Sun Ra. It originally aired on the radio program Reclaimed Soul on Vocalo, 89.5fm and 90.7fm here in Chicago. For more about the event click here.
The Natural Four, Natural Four This was released here in Chicago on Curtis Mayfield’s Curtom label in 1974. The Natural Four was a group that came here from San Francisco to record because Chicago was a soul-music center. Unfortunately, aside from scoring a Top 40 hit with this album’s classic lead track, “Can This Be Real,” the group was unable to break through. Natural Four brims with loping strings, aggressive horns, and slinky harmonies.
Andrew Hill, Lift Every Voice I collect old Blue Note albums, and I’m often initially attracted to their covers. This 1970 release features Hill’s face superimposed over stars and violet nebulas, and the record itself is softly stratospheric in its energy. Hill leads a crowd of vocalists and an instrumental quintet that includes Richard Davis on bass and Carlos Garnett on tenor sax. With song titles such as “Love Chant,” “Ghetto Lights,” and “Hey Hey,” the record gently envelops you with a sense of perpetual motion—sometimes it feels like you’re swinging in a hammock, and sometimes it’s like you’re running electrically in the streets.
Sunday Williams, “Where Did He Come From“ Sunday Williams recorded this single in Chicago around 1969 for Bill Meeks’s Alteen label, based on Stony Island Avenue. It did OK locally, mainly thanks to the cheery flip side, “Ain’t Got No Problems” (which features the hook “Know what to do with my man, yeah!”). Really, both songs are stellar. But “Where Did He Come From” has a hauntingly beautiful staccato horn intro, coupled with dreamy vibes and a rock-solid bass line.
Proof positive that I do listen to stuff that’s not from Chicago, sometimes. For the rest of the article, click here.
Chicago’s Chess Records may be best known for its blues artists such as Howlin Wolf, Muddy Waters, and Little Walter. But in the 1960s, they also had a wealth of hip Jazz and Soul artists, many of whom recorded for Chess’ Cadet subsidiary. On this installment of Reclaimed Soul, host Ayana Contreras featured the Jazz-Soul side of Chess, with music from artists including Clea Bradford, The Dells, McKinley Mitchell, Dorothy Ashby, Ahmad Jamal, The Soulful Strings, and much more.
Catch fresh installments of Reclaimed Soul Thursdays at 8pm (CST) on vocalo.org or over the air in Chicagoland on 89.5fm (NWI) and 90.7fm (CHI)
In this installment of Reclaimed Soul (sort of the radio version of this blog), check out host Ayana Contreras’ interview with Reggie Torian of The Impressions (that’s him sitting on the bumper of that antique Rolls Royce). He’s been a part of Chicago’s own Impressions (“Keep on Pushin”, “Gypsy Woman”, etc.) for 40 years. And he’s got a lot to say. He talks about the group, Curtom Records, and more. We also hear some of the music he helped to create.
The Impressions counted Curtis Mayfield as both member and principle songwriter during the 1960s and early 1970s before he went solo. Curtom Records was Curtis Mayfield’s Chicago-based record label that was home to the Impressions for nearly a decade. It was also the one-time label of The Five Stairsteps, The Natural Four, Leroy Hutson, The Jones Girls, Linda Clifford, Rasputin’s Stash, Baby Huey and the Babysitters, The Staple Singers, and more.
Catch Reclaimed Soul Thursdays at 8pm (CST) on vocalo.org or over the air on 89.5fm (NWI) and 91.1fm (CHI)