History on Display: Amplified Chicago Blues

On Labor Day, My Own True Love and I indulged in a history nerd holiday and spent the afternoon at the Chicago History Museum’s* exhibit on the blues in Chicago.

Amplified Chicago Blues is local history the way it should be told: placing the local within its larger historical context while still focusing on local details. The exhibit begins with an outline of the history of the blues, tracing its move north as part of the Great Migration of some six million African Americans from the rural south to the urban north. It looks at how the blues changed as it moved north from the Mississippi Delta, through Memphis, St. Louis, Kansas City, and finally Chicago. In St. Louis the blues met ragtime piano to become boogie woogie. In Kansas City, it became jump blues. And in Chicago, blues was transformed by the addition of electric guitars, amplified solos and driving rhythm sections.

The body of the exhibit highlights Chicago performers from the blues scene the 1950s and 1960s. Using photographs from the collection of Raeburn Flerlage, a freelance photographer who recorded the world of the blues from 1959 through 1970, it shows us the physical setting of the blues as well as the performers: the streets, the clubs, the studios.** Interactive exhibits allow the visitor to try their hand at playing the electric guitar, mixing a track, and designing an album cover. There is even a karaoke option for the daring. Music is available in the form of individual headsets.

Amplified Blues Chicago will be on display through August 10, 2019. Well worth seeing, and hearing.

*Previously, and forever in my heart, the Chicago Historical Society.
**Fascinating to see the younger version of performers who I know as elder statesmen (and women) of the Chicago music scene

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