New Exhibition Explores Chicago’s Blues 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.
“Blues music helped southern black migrants forge connections and transform an unfamiliar, often inhospitable city into a new home,” said Joy Bivins, director of curatorial affairs. “The Chicago blues sound, rooted in the past, reflected the realities of a new life that was taking shape in the Midwest metropolis.”
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 Bivins. “His photographs bring to life the artists who developed and refined the sound as they shared the music in their homes and throughout the city.”
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 chicagohistory.org/blues.
Public programs will take place throughout the run of the exhibition. Programs include “Civic Talk: Chicago Blues,” a discussions 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.
ABOUT THE CHICAGO HISTORY MUSEUM
The Chicago History Museum, a major museum and research center for Chicago and American history, is located at 1601 N. Clark Street. The Museum has dedicated more than a century to celebrating and sharing Chicago’s stories through dynamic exhibitions, tours, publications, special events and programming. The Museum collects and preserves millions of artifacts, documents and images to help audiences connect to the city and its history. The Chicago History Museum gratefully acknowledges the support of the Chicago Park District on behalf of the people of Chicago. The Chicago History Museum is a 2016 winner of the National Medal for Museum and Library Service, the highest award given to these institutions for their community engagement and having an impact on the lives of individuals, families, and communities.