arts – Chicago Newstips by Community Media Workshop Chicago Community Stories Mon, 19 Feb 2018 15:45:09 +0000 en-US hourly 1 1963 school boycott Mon, 21 Oct 2013 20:18:17 +0000 Tuesday is the 50th aniversary of the 1963 Chicago school boycott, and a commemoration at DuSable Museum features a panel discussion and a screening of highlights from Kartenquin Films’ documentary-in-progress, 63 Boycott

The panel — on “Lessons from the 1963 Boycott – The Struggle for Quality Education in Chicago Then and Now” – features Rosie Simpson and Fannie Rushing, leaders of the ’63 boycott, along with CTU president Karen Lewis, historian Elizabeth Todd-Breland of UIC, and Jasson Perez of the Black Youth Project.

The free event takes place Tuesday, October 22, from 6 to 8 p.m. at the DuSable Museum, 740 E. 56th Place.

On October 22, 1963, 250,000 CPS students boycotted school and thousands marched downtown.  They targetted the segregationist policies of CPS superintendent Ben Willis, under which students in black schools were crammed into classrooms and mobile units and taught in split shits, while nearby white schools had empty classrooms.  Spending on white schools was 50 percent higher than black schools.

In May, Ben Joravsky wrote about the documentary, giving some background on filmmaker Gordon Quinn’s involvement — and drawing some parallels with public education struggles today.

The People’s World has a retrospective that highlights the role of the Coordinating Council of Community Organizations and the Congress of Racial Equality.  NewsOne credits the Chicago Area Friends of SNCC — a group which held its own commemoration two years ago.

At the time Newstips noted:

“The boycott and a demonstration by thousands of students and supporters in the Loop was a huge success.  The outcome was somewhat limited, though:  Willis was forced to resign, but school segregation continues to this day, [Sylvia] Fischer [of Chicago SNCC] said.

“In 1980 a lawsuit by the U.S. Department of Justice resulted in a court ordered desegregation plan, but by then many white familes had moved to the suburbs, and many others had moved their children to private and parochial schools.  By the 1990s, two-thirds of Chicago’s white students were in private schools.   Today the city has a majority black public school system and a majority white private school system.

“The court order was lifted in 2009 over the objections of civil rights groups and students, who pointed to continuing inequities in Chicago schools.  In a blow to school desegregation, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2007, in a 5-to-4 decision, that using race as a factor in public school admissions is unconstitutional.”

South Shore Opera Company offers African Romances Fri, 07 Jun 2013 21:15:38 +0000 The South Shore Opera Company marks its fifth anniversary with a free program Saturday featuring a one-act opera and a song cycle by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and Paul Laurence Dunbar.

“Dream Lovers” and “Seven African Romances” will be presented Saturday, June 8, at 7 p.m. at the South Shore Cultural Center, with Daniel Black conducting new orchestrations by Peter Slavin and Leon Shernoff.

Both Dunbar (1872-1906) and Coleridge-Taylor (1875-1912) were pioneers in their fields:  with the immense popularity of his poetry, both in black dialect and standard English, Dunbar was the first African American to achieve national prominence as a poet; with the huge success of his choral work, “Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast,” the Afro-British Coleridge-Taylor became the first classical composer of evident African descent to achieve wide popularity.  When he toured the U.S. in 1904, he was received at the White House by President Roosevelt.Coleridge-Taylor’s work features the lush, sweeping melodies of the late romantic period; in his day he was called “the black Mahler.”  After hearing the Fisk Jubilee Singers on a European tour  and meeting Dunbar during the poet’s tour of England in 1897, the composer began utilizing musical material from Africa, the Caribbean, the Black America, including Spirituals.

“What Brahms has done for Hungarian folk music, Dvorak for the Bohemian, and Grieg for the Norwegian, I have tried to do for these Negro melodies,” he said. (At a time when British colonial exploits were at their peak, Coleridge-Taylor was an outspoken proponent of Pan Africanism and a delegate to the first Pan African Congress in London in 1900.)

The composer set seven of Dunbar’s poems to music in 1897, and a year later the two collaborated on “Dream Lovers,” an “operatic romance” featuring a prince from Madagascar.  The short opera is rarely performed today.

Saturday’s performers include Cornelius Johnson, tenor, who’s also artistic director; sopranos Kimberly Jones and Dana Campbell; mezzo-soprano Beena Davis; baritone Antonio Watts; and tenor Jeffrey Burish.

‘Chicago Teacher’ Sat, 15 Sep 2012 21:35:26 +0000 A personal note: I’m proud that I had the opportunity to give a music lesson or two to one of the Rebel Diaz brothers, many years ago.  They offer a unique and important voice – and a first-hand perspective on what’s at stake in the teachers’ strike.


Studs Terkel and Woody Guthrie at 100 Tue, 15 May 2012 20:05:19 +0000 With world attention growing on Chicago protests against this weekend’s NATO summit, the centennials of two cultural icons of American progressive protest are being celebrated here this week.

A series of events is commemorating what would have been Studs Terkel’s 100th birthday, including two events Wednesday, and a concert on Saturday marks Woody Guthrie’s centennial.

Studs and Woody had a lot in common.  Both were products of the Great Depression, Studs first finding his voice writing and acting for the WPA; Woody, having hitchhiked and ridden the rails to California, hosting and performing on a radio show for fellow Okie refugees from the Dust Bowl.

Both were prolific, Studs hosting a daily radio show on WFMT for 45 years and writing 18 books, many of them bestsellers, the final one at age 96; Woody writing thousands of songs.  Each created a body of work reflecting their close identification with ordinary people.  And both lent their talents to countless progressive causes, speaking and performing at innumerable protest rallies.

As a disc jockey in the 1940s, Studs was “one of the first to promote artists like Mahalia Jackson, Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, Big Bill Broonzy,” according to his New York Times obituary.

And a Woody Guthrie song helped catalyze Studs’ career as an interviewer.  According to the Times, Studs contacted WFMT and began working there after hearing the station broadcast Woody Guthrie in 1952 and wondering, “Who plays Guthrie records besides me?”

Fittingly, Terkel’s signature sign-off on his radio show came from “Talking Union Blues,” by Guthrie’s Almanac Singers: “Take it easy, but take it.”

The Studs Terkel Centennial Committee holds a 100th birthday party at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday, May 16, at the Newberry Library (60 W. Walton), blocks from the Grand-Wells Hotel where Studs grew up, and across the street from Bughouse Square, where he was schooled by soap-box oraters.  Writers, activists, journalists and historians will share Terkel stories.  It’s free, and there’s cake.

Also Wednesday, at 6:30 p.m., the Chicago History Museum (1601 N. Clark) hosts WFMT critic-at-large Andrew Patner exploring Terkel’s life and legacy through radio and TV clips from his 75-year broadcasting career (from the Terkel tapes archived at CHM, now being digitized by the Library of Congress).  It’s $15, $10 for members.  (Patner’s interview with Terkel is available here.)

There’s more, too: Steppenwolf Theater features a free reading form Terkel’s “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” Monday, May 21, 7 p.m. (1650 N. Halsted), and a Studs Terkel Film Festival will feature clips from “Studs’ Place,” his early-1950s live TV show set in a Chicago diner, at CHM on June 2 and the Cultural Center on June 17.

To honor the pioneer oral historian, the Jane Addams Hull House Museum  has set up a hotline where you can call and record your own Studs Terkel story.  WFMT (98.7 FM), which broadcasts “The Best of Studs Terkel” every Friday at 10 p.m., will feature highlights from his shows on Wednesday from 1 to 7 p.m.

Portoluz is presenting a centennial celebration of Woody Guthrie on Saturday, May 18 at 7 p.m. at Metro, 3730 N. Clark; tickets are $25-$55.  It’s headlined by Tom Morello, of Rage Against the Machine fame, who has often performed to support progressive causes (his appearance Thursday Friday at the National Nurses Union rally in Daley Plaza has already caused some stir).

He’ll be joined by Holly Near, a major figure in the women’s music movement that emerged in the 1970s, whose anthemic songs include “No More Genocide in my Name,” “Hoy Una Mujera Desaparecida,” and “Singing for our Lives,” written after Harvey Milk was assassinated; the Klezmatics, who recorded Guthrie’s little-known Hanukkah songs and songs about Jewish tradition, written while he lived in Coney Island in the 1940s; and Toshi Reagon, who continues and updates the civil rights Freedom Singers music of her mother, Bernice Johnson Reagon.

Also Jon Langford of the Waco Brothers and the Mekons, which performed to support the 1984 UK miners’ strike; Son del Viento, which performs jarocho music, often appearing in support of progressive causes; Bucky Halter, songwriter and historian who performs labor and working-class protest music, including programs of Guthrie’s music; and Kevin Coval, local hip-hop spoken word artist and founder of Louder Than A Bomb, Chicago’s youth poetry festival.

Chris Drew Tue, 08 May 2012 21:33:51 +0000

A federal court ruled against the Illinois eavesdropping law that Chris Drew has spent two years fighting on Tuesday – a day after the activist artist died.

While fighting the eavesdropping law, Chris was also fighting cancer – conducting both fights with remarkable courage, grace, and generosity of spirit.


Photo by Nancy Bechtol

Today’s court ruling allows the ACLU to carry out a project monitoring police conduct during NATO protests later this month.  The felony eavesdropping charge pursued against Chris by State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez was thrown out in March, the judge ruling that the statute criminalizes “wholly innocent behavior.”

That wasn’t the law Chris had set out to challenge.  He’d been arrested in December 2009 protesting Chicago’s prohibitive peddler’s license ordinance, which requires street artists to re-apply every month for a “free speech permit” and restricts them to ten corners in the Loop.

With its new cultural plan, the city should finally listen to Chris and open our streets to artists selling their work, as every other city in the world does.

Chris founded the Uptown Multi-Cultural Art Center over 20 years ago and taught silkscreening to anyone interested, without charge, including a new generation of grafitti artists and taggers.

UMCAC’s annual “Art of the T Shirt” festival developed into a year-round Art Patch Project.  Chris and his colleagues would set up a silkscreen on the street and create and give away small patches carrying designs and messages – and he would talk to anyone interested about the importance of art and free speech.

Last month Occupy Rogers Park honored Chris by re-naming Morse Avenue “Chris Drew Way.” At the event, Chris called for artists to occupy the corner of Michigan and Randolph this spring to keep the pressure up for a sane policy on street artists.

“The most important thing to say is that Chris died as he lived, fighting all the way for the dispossessed and marginalized among us, for the right of artists to speak their mind and to survive,” commented Lew Rosenbaum, of the Chicago Labor & Arts Festival blog, in a Facebook post. “Chris devoted his life to providing the artistic means for people to discover their creativity and to participate in the transformation of society.”

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Black history: Jazz ‘Awakening’ Fri, 24 Feb 2012 21:16:14 +0000 Ken Chaney’s Awakening with Ari Brown – and an award for longtime jazz advocate Geraldine de Haas – are highlights of a Black History Month program Saturday presented by the jazz staff of WHPK-FM.

Also featuring vocalist Milton Suggs and excerpts from the film “A Great Day in Harlem,” the program starts at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, February 25, at the International House, 1414 E. 59th.  General admission is $10.  Food and drink will be available.

An underground favorite in the early 1970s, featuring hard bop originals with overtones of soul and the musical freedom of the period, Chaney’s band Awakening was a big hit at a 25th anniversary reunion at the 1998 Chicago Jazz Festival and has continued to work together since.

Chaney and Brown, who are among Chicago’s top jazz masters, are original members of the band, and they are joined by the powerful Pharez Whitted on trumpet, Joshua Ramos on bass, and Ernie Adams on drums. This show is highly recommended.

De Haas, known as the “Jazz Lady,” has a long and varied career. In the 1950s she and her brother and sister formed Andy and the Bey Sisters, a popular jazz vocal group, and in the 1970s she began a successful career in theater.  In the 1980s she founded Jazz Unites, which has presented the South Shore Jazz Festival for nearly 30 years.

De Hass will receive the REACH Award from WHPK’s jazz programmers, and she’s expected to talk about her next big project, said Yamaide Ann Morrow, jazz format chief at the station.

WHPK 88.5 (with which I’ve been associated off and on), “the pride of the South Side,” is sponsored by the University of Chicago.  Its jazz shows, programmed by deeply knowledgeable enthusiasts drawn from across the South Side, are really excellent, kind of a people’s jazz almanac that always swings.  And now they can be heard everywhere, streaming live on the web at, weekday evenings and much of the weekend.

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Black history, from quilts to opera Thu, 23 Feb 2012 23:57:52 +0000 A West Side McDonalds will be transformed into a quilting bee, and the South Side Cultural Center will be transformed into a 1963 civil rights rally, in two cultural events exploring black history this weekend.

The North Lawndale African American Heritage Quilting Project is holding a “drive-thru quilting day” in the conference room of the McDonalds at Roosevelt and Kedzie on Saturday, February 25 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Customers will be invited to create a patch for the project’s second quilt, depicting anything they find meaningful including poems or Scripture, traditional African patterns, or depictions of family traditions or neighborhood landmarks or heroes.  People who bring photos or pictures can have them copied and transferred onto a patch.

The project reflects local activist Valerie Leonard’s passion for involving  people in participatory projects and a desire to build community pride.

The group has held quilting sessions at neighborhood churches and senior centers and is working on involving local schools, with students researching and designing patches with historical themes.

At a local church last week, “we had all ages, 3 to 80,” she says.  It’s not just women, either.  “It’s amazing, some of the young guys that do try it, they really get into it,” Leonard said.

On Sunday at 4 p.m., the South Shore Opera Company is presenting “The March,” an opera in development by composer Jonathan Stinson and librettist Alan Marshall exploring events surrounding the 1963 March on Washington.

Artists who’ve performed with the Lyric Opera, CSO, and other top groups will portray characters including Martin Luther King, John F. Kennedy (his aria occurs in a meeting the segregationist senators), Bayard Rustin and Chicago native Diane Nash.  A multimedia portion tells the story of Emmet Till, and Till comes back to life with the aria, “Mama, How Was I To Know?”

The music is “contemporary and accessible,” said SSCO publicity chair Gary Ossewaarde.

The performance launches the company’s fourth season.  Housed in the historic South Shore Cultural Center and led by artistic director Cornelius Johnson, the company features work by African and African-American composers along with standard repertoire.  They’ve had notable performances of scenes from “Carmen” and “Porgy and Bess,” and they hope to mount a production of Scott Joplin’s opera, “Treemonisha,” Ossewaarde said.

The Chicago Park District is co-sponsoring the event, which is free.

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‘The Interrupters’ on WTTW Sat, 11 Feb 2012 18:54:07 +0000 If you missed “The Interrupters” in the theaters, or want to see it again, the documentary (covering the work of three violence interrupters with Chicago’s CeaseFire) will be broadcast on Frontline on WTTW Channel 11 on Tuesday, February 14, at 8 p.m. and Friday, February 17, at 10 p.m.