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Chicago’s Musical History

For those of you that have been to Chicago you cannot have helped but notice the wide variety of live music venues that there are dotted all over the city.

The Windy City lives and breathes music be it jazz, blues, gospel or any other form. The reason why Chicago has such a great diversity of musical styles is that the city had a great influx of African-Americans who moved northeast during the Great Migration of the 1900s.

The Great Migration

Chicago today is just as much home to the likes of Lupe Fiasco and Kanye West than legendary jazz and blues artists of the ‘20s and ‘30s. But to understand the depth of Chicago’s musical heritage you need to go back to the start of the 20th Century when Afro-American artists such as Thomas Dorsey and Muddy Waters ruled the roost. And the genres of music that are most familiar with Afro-Americans where also prolific in Chicago. This coincided with the great movement of black people from the south to Chicago, and the city’s music scene would never be the same again.

Blues

Chicago is probably most famous for blues music, and this form of music first hit the streets of Chicago around the first few decades of the 20th Century. The Chicago sound was different to that of the Mississippi or the Delta, it was unique to Chicago due to the expanded range of instruments used. Rather than just acoustic guitar and harmonica, Chicago’s blues bands had electric guitar, piano, drums and amplification. This grew in to a faster form of blues music that is sometimes called boogie woogie.  

Jazz

Another musical genre that came as part of the Great Migration was jazz. And just like blues music, Chicago made its own version of the jazz that came up from the South. Chicago’s sound was far different to the Dixieland jazz that traveled North. It was far more sophisticated and when artists such as Lee Collins and King Oliver started to move to the city in the 1920s they were already adapting their styles. The whole Chicago scene was far more elegant than the Southern scene with jazz being played in elegant ballrooms. This was a faster type of jazz that welcomed the addition of new instruments which were more suited to longer solos. Soon not only black musicians were playing jazz in Chicago, as many white artists saw this new form of jazz and were keen to join in.

Jazz
Jazz

Gospel

Chicago’s third biggest musical influence has to be gospel, and one of the heroes of this highly popular music genre was Thomas Dorsey. Dorsey took the music from the church and applied his own influence on it to suit Chicago. And once again a classic form of music from the South was accepted into the Windy City, changed and made popular for a whole new audience in the big city. The Great Migration was instrumental in Chicago’s musical growth, without these great jazz, blues, and gospel artists arriving in Chicago then we would be listening to a whole different music scene in one of the greatest musical cities of the world.