Darkjive focuses mainly on soul music born and bred here in Chicago during the golden era of Chicago Soul: the 1960s through the late 1970s. Anyone who knows me, however, knows I am passionate about a variety of music that has come out of our city: especially soul, blues, and jazz.
That said, recently an old cover of local titan-of-print Ebony Magazine (from July of 1946!) caught my eye for both the byline and the cover girl:
The cover featured local jazz pianist Dorothy Donegan, and the byline read: “Is Jazz Going Highbrow?”
A graduate of DuSable High School, Donegan studied music with Walter Dyett, as did so much of our homegrown talent (like Nat King Cole). She was noted for her abundance of sass and personality (which was apparent in her stage show, but never really translated to record sales). That personality helped win her a following in Chicago’s South Side club scene which featured spots like the Crown Propeller Lounge where a contortionist named Atlantis (though some say she was called Aquanetta) performed in a fish tank (pictured at left in 1954 with King Kolax… underwater).
That abundance of personality proved to be both a blessing and a curse. The New York Times’ Ben Ratliff once wrote:
“Her flamboyance helped her find work in a field that was largely hostile to women. To a certain extent, it was also her downfall; her concerts were often criticized for having an excess of personality.”
Dorothy Donegan won an American Jazz Master fellowship from the National Endowment of the Arts in 1992. She was 70 years old.
Very sassy, indeed.
Below, Dorothy Donegan performing in 1945. Jive and jitterbug on!
Above, enjoy DuSable High School’s own Johnny Williams with Baby Be Mine, a classically Chicago-styled mid-tempo shuffler. A delicious record, it was recorded at Brunswick Records here in Chicago (1449 South Michigan Avenue, to be exact) for their Subsidiary label, Bashie. Get a whif of those cheering flutes on the tail end. A beast. Pictured at left, Brunswick Records, 1967-late 70s.
Brunswick was originally based in New York, but moved operations to Chicago in the mid ’60s to take advantage of a hotbed of talent that was nationally recognized. Brunswick’s Jackie Wilson (on lifetime contract to the label) immediately found success working with the Chicago operation, hitting with the 1966 classic “Whispers (Getting Louder)”.
The label that ultimately brought us the Chi-Lites, Tyrone Davis, Barbara Acklin, and more also enlisted some of the best producers/arrangers in the city: Sonny Sanders, Carl Davis, Willie Henderson, Tom Tom Washington, and later Leo Graham and James Mack (who taught Tom Tom and Willie Henderson at Crane Junior College). What they created was a sound that was a perfect hybrid of blues and soul. Just like the very best of Chicago.