Chicago may be known as the “Second City,” but when it comes to the impact Chicago has made on the almost all forms of American music, that “toddlin’ town” on the shores of Lake Michigan takes second place to none. Well, maybe that boast needs to be walked back just a little bit. In 2007, a report on the Chicago music industry by the University of Chicago Cultural Policy Center ranked the city third among metropolitan U.S. areas in “size of music industry” and fourth among all U.S. cities in “number of concerts and performances.”
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But, as the saying goes, “size isn’t everything” and any objective view of Chicago’s importance to our country’s musical legacy cannot ignore the immense contributions that the city and its artists have made over many years. In fact, for decades, Chicago has had one of the world’s most significant music cultures, creating groundbreaking sounds that have transformed music the world over. First, let’s consider the blues. . .
The Chicago Blues came about as a result of the first “Great Migration,” a movement of approximately 1.6 million African-Americans out of the rural Southern U.S. to the urban centers of the Northeast and Midwest that occurred between 1910 and 1930. Afro-American musicians brought traditional jazz and blues to places like the open air market on Maxwell Street. Chicago’s blues musicians may have started in the streets, but they eventually moved up to playing house parties, and finally made their way to more traditional indoor venues.
The first blues clubs in Chicago were mostly in predominantly black neighborhoods on the South Side with a few in the smaller black neighborhoods on the West Side. One of the most famous was Ruby Lee Gatewood's Tavern, known by patrons as "The Gates." During the 1930s virtually every big name artist played there. Notable Chicago Blues artists included Muddy Waters, Junior Wells, Howlin' Wolf, and both Sonny Boy Williamsons.
Then, there’s jazz. The Chicago style of jazz grew out of southern “Dixieland” music that made its way north from New Orleans. Two early stars of Chicago Jazz were King Oliver and Jelly Roll Morton. Its biggest proponent was the legendary “Satchmo” – Louis Armstrong – who came to Chicago in the mid 1920s to record with his Hot Five and Hot Seven bands. Other important musicians in the Chicago style include Jimmy McPartland, Bix Beiderbecke, Eddie Condon, Earl “Fatha” Hines, Benny Goodman, Gene Krupa, Frank Teschemacher, and Frank Trumbauer.
Both Goodman and Hines became nationally known band leaders when Chicago jazz morphed into what became known as “swing” music. Today, the annual Chicago Jazz Festival is among the most important public festivities in the city. Former Chicago Jazz Festival performers include Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, Ornette Coleman, Benny Carter, Ella Fitzgerald, Anthony Braxton, Betty Carter, and Lionel Hampton.
Moving on to soul. . .During the mid-1960s to the late 1970s, Chicago musicians developed a new style of soul music, sometimes called “soft soul,” because it was flavored with a rich mix of gospel and rhythm and blues. Some popular R&B/soul artists from Chicago were: The Impressions, Sam Cooke, Curtis Mayfield, Lou Rawls, The Chi-lites, The Staple Singers, Chaka Khan, R. Kelly, Dave Hollister, Carl Thomas, and Jennifer Hudson.
Gospel music has also played a significant part in Chicago’s musical heritage, thanks largely to “the father of black gospel music,” Thomas Andrew Dorsey, who was the music director at the Pilgrim Baptist Church in Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood from 1932 until the late 1970s. Chicago Gospel originators, including James Cleveland, The Staples Singers, and the Edwin Hawkins Singers have performed there. Dorsey’s best-known composition, "Take My Hand, Precious Lord," was performed by Mahalia Jackson and was a favorite of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
The 1960s also spawned Chicago’s burgeoning pop/rock sound, infused with brass instrumentation. One of the first groups to experiment with this new style was The Buckinghams who recorded their first hits at the historic Chess Studios (where the Rolling Stones, among many others, also recorded several albums). The horn sound was soon expanded upon by the rock band, Chicago, who, in time, became one of the world’s best-selling groups of all time, with more than 100 million records sold. In the U.S., alone, Chicago earned 23 gold, 18 platinum, and 8 multi-platinum albums. Other pop/rock musical styles that have graced Chicago venues in the 1980s and ‘90s included punk, post-hardcore, pop-punk and alternative rock. Punk legend, Patti Smith was born in the city, and alternative icons Eddie Vedder (Pearl Jam), Kim Thayil (Soundgarden), Adam Jones (Tool), and Tom Morello (Rage Against the Machine) all attended school in the Chicago area. Since the late 1990s/early 2000s, Chicago has also become a major force in the American heavy metal scene including deathcore, death metal, hardcore punk, alt-country, noise rock, and industrial metal groups. Chicago is also emerging as a center of hip-hop and rap music. Chicago-born, Kanye West is one of the best-selling recording artists of all time, having sold more than 21 million albums and 100 million digital downloads, in addition to having won 21 Grammy Awards.
Finally, “House Music” originated in a Chicago nightclub called The Warehouse. House musicians use analog synthesizers and sequencers to create and arrange the electronic elements and samples on their tracks, combining live traditional instruments, percussion, and soulful vocals with preprogrammed electronic synthesizers and "beat-boxes." The style was popularized by Frankie Knuckles, a New York-born DJ, who moved to Chicago and developed the hybrid musical style which was originally played in the “houses,” garages and underground clubs of the city. Of course, classical music also has a home in Chicago. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO) is recognized as one the best orchestras in the world. In the summer, many outdoor concerts are given in Grant Park and Millennium Park. The Ravinia Festival, located a few dozen miles north of the city, is the CSO’s summer home and a favorite destination for many Chicagoans.
American poet, Carl Sandburg called Chicago the “City of the big shoulders.” It takes a town this big, perhaps, to have given birth to so many musical styles and fostered so many musical artists over the years. At Bison Disc, we appreciate every musical sound that comes out of Chicago, or anywhere else, for that matter. We love music so much, that we spend most of our time reproducing it by duplicating, and replicating our customers’ music CDs, and then packaging them in one of our custom Jewel cases, Wallet, Sleeves and Digipaks, so that others can enjoy them as much as we do.
Chicago has also made significant contributions to the world of film. It has three of the nation’s top film schools, according to a ranking compiled by the Hollywood Reporter. Northwestern University was the highest, ranked at No. 13, followed by Columbia College-Chicago at No. 14, and DePaul University at No. 21.
All of the following major motion pictures were filmed in the Windy City: High Fidelity, The Untouchables, About Last Night, The Fugitive, The Blues Brothers, My Bodyguard, When Harry Met Sally, North by Northwest, Home Alone, Ordinary People, Road to Perdition, The Dark Knight, Risky Business, and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
When it comes to the business of duplicating and packaging CDs and DVDs, Bison Disc is just like Chicago – we’re second to none. In fact, many members of the music and film industries - bands, recording artists, managers, directors and producers - all rely upon us for customized, professional service. We’re proud of the significant contributions that we have made over the last twenty years providing the products that help film and musical artists get their material in front of the public.
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