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Amplified: Chicago Blues Explores City’s Music Legacy


Explore how blues music was electrified and amplified in Chicago where it captured the attention of musicians and music enthusiasts worldwide, in the immersive and interactive exhibition, “Amplified: Chicago Blues,” that opens on Saturday, April 7 at the Chicago History Museum.

“The blues was the soundtrack for the journey of southern black migrants as they made their way to Chicago and tried to forge a new life here,” said John Russick, vice president of interpretation and education at the Chicago History Museum. “The traditionally acoustic music was electrified and amplified to compete with the cacophony of the city.”

The photography of Raeburn Flerlage, a local record distributor and photographer of the city’s music scene, provides the foundation for the interactive exhibition. His images documented the streets, clubs, homes and studios of the 1950s and ‘60s where a community of musicians defined the Chicago blues sound.

“Flerlage captured a critical moment in the development of Chicago blues,” said Russick. “He was welcomed into the homes, studios, practice spaces and clubs of Chicago’s blues community when it was at its influential apex.”

Interactive experiences provide ample opportunities for visitors to experience the blues hands-on. Visitors are invited to write and sing their own blues song, or belt out a blues classic in a club setting that pays tribute to the live performances that energized south and west side Chicago clubs. Visitors can design their own album cover, drawing inspiration from Flerlage’s collection of album photography; an interactive mixing board demonstrates how recording engineers helped shape the Chicago blues sound; while a  digital guitar interactive guides visitors through basic blues chords and scales to play rhythm or lead guitar.

Most Chicago blues musicians of the period arrived and brought their musical traditions during the Great Migration, the large-scale movement of African-Americans from the South to the urban North. Images, text, audio and an animated film, tell this story.

Artist spotlights will feature some of the originators and practitioners of the Chicago blues sound, including Howlin’ Wolf, Little Walter, Willie Dixon, Koko Taylor and Muddy Waters. Deeper explorations of the artists and their music are available on the museum’s complimentary iPod touches, or by downloading the CHM Media app on personal devices.

A collection of over 45,000 photographic images and papers related to Raeburn Flerlage’s life and professional career is now available to the public through the Museum’s Research Center, which holds the Museum’s archives, manuscripts, prints and photographs and more. A curated collection of more than 1,000 of Flerlage’s photographs are accessible online at Chicago History Museum Images.

Admission to the exhibition is included with regular Museum admission ($19 adults/ $17 seniors and students, and free for children 12 years of age and younger and Illinois residents 18 years and younger). The exhibition will run through August 10, 2019. For more information on “Amplified: Chicago Blues,” visit

Public programs will take place throughout the run of the exhibition. Programs include “Civic Talk: Chicago Blues,” a discussion with Joy Bivins and legendary blues harmonica player and singer Billy Branch; the Blues Bus Tour that stops at Chess Records; and a three-part Blues Community Concert Series in Fall of 2018.

As part of the Museum’s dedication to accessibility, sign language interpreters are available by request and special tours for people who have low vision or who are blind will be available by request beginning in June.

“Amplified: Chicago Blues” is supported by an IncentOvate grant from the City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, Education Sponsor BMO Harris Bank, and the Chicago Community Trust. Established in part by The Elizabeth Morse Charitable Trust and Elizabeth Morse Genius Charitable Trust, the “Exhibition Innovation Fund” has provided additional funding for this exhibition. Digitization of the Raeburn Flerlage Photography Collection supported by The Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation.


The Chicago History Museum is situated on ancestral homelands of the Potawatomi people, who cared for the land until forced out by non-Native settlers. Established in 1856, the Museum is now at 1601 N. Clark Street in Lincoln Park, its third location. As a major museum and research center for Chicago and U.S. history, the Chicago History Museum strives to be a destination for learning, inspiration and civic engagement. Through dynamic exhibitions, tours, publications, special events and programming, the Museum connects people to Chicago’s history and to each other. To share Chicago stories, the Museum collects and preserves millions of artifacts, documents, images and other items that are relevant to the city’s history. The Museum gratefully acknowledges the support of the Chicago Park District on behalf of the people of Chicago. 

Chicago History Museum Sharing Chicago Stories