Celebrating black Chicago style music legends

By Caryl Clem:

Rhythmic music vibrates as Earth, Wind & Fire starts a song and you feel yourself jumping onto the dance floor.   Since the band first played in 1971 under the direction of Maurice White until today currently playing in Las Vegas, their unique blend of funky disco soul creates a sound you never tire of hearing.  Love experiences were featured in popular chart hits such as “Reasons”, “After the Love Has Gone”, and “Got to Get You into My Life.”  EWF music is often positive and inspiring thus giving you a feel good vibe as you is listening.  EWF has won 6 Grammys.

Love songs that last for decades were born in Chicago.  Lou Rawls rich baritone voice croons, “You’ll Never Find another Love like Mine”   a romantic favorite holding couples together on countless dance floors.  A perfect song for gentlemen wishing to win any lady’s heart was Lou Rawls performing, “Lady Love”.  Lou was born on the South Side of Chicago on December 1, 1933. His paternal grandmother was in charge of his upbringing introducing him to church and singing in the choir by the age of seven. Connections made through his church activities led to meeting influential black musicians Sam Cooke and Curtis Mayfield.  Over 40 million records during 40 years of performances testify to Rawls legendary status.

Curtis Mayfield, a singer born in Cabrini-Green Housing Projects of Chicago born June 3, 1942.   Curtis taught himself to play guitar that he found in a closet when he was about 8 years old and piano at his church. His golden tenor voice was discovered while he sang in his church choir by the founder of the group, The Impressions, Jerry Butler.   He became a song-writer producer with his record label Curtom while performing with this group.

During the 1960’s Curtis advocated civil rights in songs like,” Keep On Pushing”,  and  “ Get Ready”.  By the 1970’s Curtis became a voice to express what black culture felt, personal struggles and successes. He wrote the soundtrack to the 1972 album  “Superfly”. He produced songs with divas Aretha Franklin and Gladys Knight and the Pips. “In the 1990s, the musician inspired two different tribute albums (including 1994’s All Men are Brothers: A Tribute to Curtis Mayfield, featuring Whitney Houston, Elton John, the Isley Brothers and Aretha Franklin)

Over the past several years, his songs have been sampled or covered by a host of performers, from rappers like Snoop Dogg, LL Cool J, Coolio and Dr. Dre to singers like Herbie Hancock, Deneice Williams, En Vogue and Mary J. Blige.” https://www.biography.com/people/curtis-mayfield-9542244

A featured line dance during the 1950’s was The Stroll.  By the 1970’s “ getting the groove on” transformed into lively adaptions titled, The Hustle, The Bump, YMCA, The Funky Chicken, Disco Finger, The Bus Stop, The Robot, The Lawnmower, The Sprinkler, and The Electric Slide.

The absolute star of the 1970’s was produced by Chicago radio star, Don Cornelius. Showcasing 1970’s era style and flair featuring the rock star groups from coast to coast with spectacular dancers appearing on stage, “Soul Train “aired on WCIU-TV. The dancers became a HOOK for developing loyal followers.  As important as the dancers were, they performed without pay in the beginning.

From 1971 until 2006, youth discovered the latest music sensation from home. Five days a week for an hour, professional and amateurs paraded and sang the latest hits. Barry White with his 42 piece Orchestra, The Jackson Five or James Brown could be watched from the comfort of your living room. The excitement of a theatre showing could be enjoyed without tickets or parking worries. Several books describe the various acts and social impact this show made on America, Questlove culled personal memories and full-color photographs in Soul Train: The Music, Dance, and Style of Generation (HarperDesign).

While Love, Peace, and Soul: Behind the Scenes of America’s Favorite Dance Show Soul Train: Classic Moments (Backbeat Books) Ericka Blount Danois is more of a commentary about what happened on this show.   Reliving this time period is easy with pulling up YouTube on your computer while you travel through time.

As February ends, I am thankful for the contributions from our Chicago born black musicians.

Rush Street Chicago: Yesterday and today

My aunt always told me that my grandmother Amelia owned part of Rush Street in the early 1900’s. She said it was located near the Rush street bridge. Though I had heard this story as a child, wasn’t sure what to ask and my Aunt died in the late 1990’s. Other family members have never confirmed the reality. That was the first time I heard about Rush Street.

It wasn’t until the 70’s and early 1980’s that I heard about Rush with an invitation to go party and drink. This was the Las Vegas of Chicago even more popular in the early years before I was able to drink.  The most popular places I visited was Faces but I probably spent more time on Division Street at the Original Mothers and Butch McGuires, the latter that opened in 1961.

The following describes some of the popular places on Rush; yesterday and today:

Whiskey Go Go is still a nightclub in California and has opened the doors for many including the Doors, Van Halen and Steppenwolf. The first opened in 1958 at the corner of Rush and Chestnut in Chicago.

The Backroom a great jazz and blues venue and probably one of the oldest jazz club that began in the 1960’s. It continued on into the 70’s and 1980’s. Musicians specializing mostly in jazz but also touching on soul, funk, R&B and blues, play on an elevated stage on the east side of the room and under a most impressive sculpture created from brass horns, to match the column-like structure that looks like a coatrack made of horns near the southeast corner of the room.

The Happy Medium  was built in 1960, located at Rush and Delaware, which was a combination theater and disco. Helen Reddy actually stared at the club. The owners, George and Oscar Marienthal, also owned Mister Kellys, also on Rush and the London House. The London house opened downtown Chicago in 1946 and created the popularity of jazz musicians including Ramsey Lewis.

Punchinellos was a theatre bar and again celebrities such as Barry Manilow and Della Reese would frequent the bar.

Mister Kellys was launched in 1956 and was truly the leading example of night club celebrity elegance, combining music with comedy, which included the beginnings of Bill Cosby, Bette Midler, Woody Allen and Barbra Steisand. Mr. Kellys was restaurant that also featured the best steak and their famous green goddess salad.

Rush up another bar where many talk of meeting Todd Rundgren and Frank Zappa.

Faces opened in the early 1970’s and you could become a member of the club for 50 dollars. I went to Faces a couple of times in the lates 70’s and not sure how I got in, but it was loud though fun for dancing compared to many clubs in Chicago. This was supposedly the best place to meet and greet.

Today,  some of the best bars and restaurants include the following:

Pippins: A great Irish pub with an excellent hotdog, serving from the Downtown Dogs next door, and an extensive beer selection. Pippins has been a part of the Rush Street scene for over 45 years and offers a very authentic Irish experience.

Hugos Frog Bar: Also located in Naperville, Hugos offers excellent mussels and oysters on the half shell including an expansive wine list sharing with the iconic Gibsons Bar & Steakhouse. Gibsons is the first restaurant group to be awarded its own USDA Prime Certification

Tavern on Rush: A great bar and restaurant with a DJ located in the heart of Rush street. They are known for the best calamari and excellent horseshoe bar along with split level seating.

Jellyfish:  Located on the second floor across the street from Hugos and Gibsons, this is a great place for enjoying the cuisines of several countries that include Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia. From 3-6pm, you can experience signature cocktails during happy hours.

If you missed the Christmas Story

Decades ago, my wings were cockeyed and my Mom was not happy. Dad was coming to church that day to see me in the Christmas Pageant. Of course, I was an angel and my first time in the Christmas story. I didn’t have to say anything but just look pretty. Ms. Elaine, who was Mom’s best friend and my Sunday school teacher, adjusted my wings just perfectly. How I loved to perform for Dad. In later years, I played piano solos in the small sanctuary at St Lukes Church in Chicago’s south side. In The Bleak Mid Winter was Mom’s all-time favorite. Dad admired my courage to memorize the notes.

Somehow, it all came back to me as I watched the children perform the same story at the First Congregational United Church of Christ in Downers Grove. Joseph surprised me with such character and enthusiasm that you can tell he, actually in real life…. a girl named Ella, is a true, professional actor. Joseph’s brother, Cannon, showed amazing charisma as he sang the final song….a diversion from time and place…We Wish You a Merry Christmas. Mary had a beautiful presence and strong voice while the Christmas Star…a brilliant cloth covered star had a wonderful smile, which was about all I could see of the real person.

And the Angels…..they were dressed in a variety of gowns and white accessories looking their best in song for the hundreds of parishioners watching their performance. The Dads,Moms, Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles, Cousins; so excited to be a part of their lives. Or just friends like me who felt the expressive spirit of the true meaning of Christmas as they described the birth of the baby Jesus.

In later years for me, our church burned downed by arson and though some of us continued on to another church, I remember the blackened sanctuary that was damaged the most. But it could not destroy the memories of beautiful plays, piano recitals,  genuine pastoral sermons of such a close community and most of all, trusted friendships.

First Congregational United Church of Christ  is like that……united in faith, love, service and community. No matter who you are, or where you are in life’s journey, you are welcome. The church offers a wide variety of children’s programs, music opportunities and mission trips. Its a place where questions are answered and you can grow together in respect, trust and build those same family memories. If you can’t attend,check out their service online.

There is always a place there…….. for another angel!

Do you remember the Edgewater Beach Hotel?

My friends father was a stagehand for a few years during the 1940’s. He helped take the stage curtain down to replace, clean and helped with lights for live shows. His father was a kid then and would sometimes also help in the radio booth since a radio program did evolve from the hotel.  It was a strictly formal environment even though he had to get his hands dirty sometimes. He met Zsa, Zsa Gabor, Debbie Reynolds, Vic Damone as well as many other headliners.  The dining room, alone, could seat over one thousand people. He worked there for about four years. My parents also stayed their for relaxation to celebrate the new year and to see my mother’s favorite, the Tommy Dorsey Band. As WTTW tells us, it was a Chicago landmark — a lavish pink resort that stood on the lakefront at Sheridan near Foster for almost half a century. The Edgewater Beach Hotel has been closed since 1967, yet the memories linger on.

The hotel was huge and besides the hotel’s own radio station, a precursor to WGN with the call letters WEBH, there was a heliport, a print shop and a movie theater. It opened  on June 3, 1916 and anyone who was a star sang and danced at the hotel.  In the winter months, the bands played in the Marine Dining Room and, in the summer months, outdoors on the marble-tiled Beach Walk. Many parents of friends celebrated their proms or attended wedding receptions. Many visited taking romantic walks on the massive private beach.

According to Wikipedia, The 1951–54 extension of Lake Shore Drive from Foster Avenue to Hollywood Avenue reduced direct access to Lake Michigan, leading to a reduction in business. After the hotel was cut off from the lake by the new drive, a swimming pool was added in 1953. In 1960, in order to compete with popular downtown hotels, the Edgewater Beach underwent a $900,000 renovation which included the installation of air conditioning. King gave a major address at the conference to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation at the hotel. The hotel closed in 1967 due to financial reasons. Demolition of the hotel complex began in the fall of 1969 and was completed by 1971.

However, a portion of the complex is still available to visit. In 1994, the building was added to the National Register of Historic Places, and also belongs in the Bryn Mawr Historic District. Currently known as the Edgewater Beach apartments, there is still a lush foyer, a small library, a cafe, private gardens and a indoor pool.

 

 

Chicago Christmas shows and other magic

  • Nutcracker Ballet  My first experience with the Nutcracker Ballet was actually at the Goodman Theater when I was six not sure who actually performed the ballet. I was taking ballet lessons at the time and was disappointed. I would never be able to stand on my toes like professional dancers. My first experience with the Joffrey Ballet was not in Chicago but in New York in the late 1970’s seeing the Nutcracker Ballet. However,  The Joffrey’s modernization that premiered last year re- imagines The Nutcracker set in a modest Chicago home rather than in a wealthy family’s mansion taking place just a few months before the Columbia Exposition in 1893.
  • Christmas Carol   My first experience with a Christmas Carol ended up with a broken arm and an overnight stay in a hospital. That is what we did in 1966 after I tripped on a step at the Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook; attending The Christmas Carol for my best friends birthday. The play is the heartwarming story of Ebenezer Scrooge’s discovery of kindness, compassion and redemption. Currently, you can purchase tickets at The Goodman Theatre.
  • It’s a Wonderful Life  Not only a wonderful movie with Jimmy Stewart, you can also see the radio play. American Blues Ensemble treats Chicago audiences to a live 1940s radio broadcast and has been the second longest running play in Chicago. The play is about 90 minutes and the production closes on January 5th.
  • Holiday Inn  Based on the classic film,Irving Berlin’s tells the story of Jim, who leaves the bright lights of show business behind to settle down on his farmhouse in Connecticut. Running about two hours and 30 minutes, the plays offers some great dances and songs including Heat Wave, and Blue Skies at the new Marriott Lincolnshire and performances are scheduled until January 6th.
  • Wonderland Express  Always a favorite of mine during the spring and summer, I had no idea that they had an amazing display for the winter holidays; one of Chicago’s top holiday destination. Walking through the Heritage garden, there are beautifully lit trees. You will see a gingerbread village and when you enter Nichols Hall, there are an abundance of trains even Thomas the tank engine. The city of Chicago is in miniature with over 80 buildings. It is also snowing inside though certainly not with frigid temperatures. The snow is 99 percent water with just a touch of vegetable oil so you can safely catch them in your mouth.

Thankful for birthdays

Birthdays! The joy of a new life, a truly momentous occasion for all ages, a new beginning, a new pleasure or just thankful you have lived another year.

Assisting in the kindergarten, the children’s birthdays are the most treasured day of their young lives. In the 1960s, I felt exactly the same way. Even though I can watch my home movies Dad took of my parties in the finished basement and see the real thing, I understand the same feeling the little ones experience today. I remember that incredible nervous feeling waiting for my friends to arrive for my day with presents for me…….no one else. I was extremely fortunate that my parents planned great parties with plates and napkins that matched, a bakery birthday cake decorated with my choice of theme; one year was a carnival cake.  Sometimes, we had noisemakers, hats or bubbles as favors. And always ice cream!

But birthdays lost their sentiment through high school, college, until the dreaded legal one though I don’t remember getting drunk. Throughout my 20s, I taught high school and again..classroom parties were few and far between until I turned 30. That was the age I  finally seemed credible…even as a teacher.

In 1988, my one year old son cried terrifying tears while several guests sang happy birthday to him. It was the first time I had ever seen a child uncomfortable at birthday time. Strange, he still does not like that kind of attention in his 30’s. But it did improve with the birth of my daughter who treasured theme parties to plan such as The Little Mermaid, Pocahontas and parties reserved at places like Let’s Dress Up.

When she was about 10, we passed out tickets, rather than invitations, from the White Star Line to travel on the Titanic where they ate in the Grand ballroom and experienced a surprise sinking of the ship during a sleep over. My son and I handed out life jackets and we told the girls that they had to climb into plastic boats in the backyard. On a beautiful summer night, we drenched them with a hose. They didn’t complain and after drying off, they watched the new movie.

This month is my birthday. It is actually marked on the classroom calendar. November 21 is the day, the day before Thanksgiving this year….a day off of school. One girl asked me how old I was and she was confused. She couldn’t count that high!  Those numbers are still foreign to her. Me too! But she doesn’t care as long as I can still sing and dance. Certainly I have more birthdays behind me than ahead, but I am thankful. I am truly grateful.

And I will celebrate; making my own page for my birthday book in class. We have shared many coloring techniques together and I love to color. They can still sing happy birthday to me without the cha cha cha. They can still give me a hug, a high five, a special handshake,  a completed, detailed job coloring their own birthday artwork for me or just a warm smile. And another wonderful day will be spent with the kindergarten class who still helps me out when random aches and pains strike and they know its time for a chair. Many will sit with me on a bench in the playground during recess. Not afraid to become too close.

And probably the best birthday of all time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gifts for Grandmother; the royal charm bracelet

All my travels, hopes and dreams as a child were recorded in my charm bracelet; a mechanical wishing well that opened and closed for good luck, a pineapple from Florida, a sail boat since I dreamed of having one someday, the Eiffel tower from my uncles trip to Paris, the golf bag symbolizing the days of miniature golf with Dad, the grand piano I was to play as a concert pianist along with the tiny heart you could open though too small to add pictures. Though tarnished and just a little too small, I still smile and dangle the tinkling memories of the past. Though I could never sell, children’s vintage bracelets from the 1950’s and 1960’s can command a solid price at auctions and on Ebay today.

After digging deeper into my jewelry box mess, I found my Mothers charm bracelet which was started by my Dad in the 1940’s; a gold link chain entwined with pearls that fits me perfectly. My father was responsible for the bracelets exquisite remnants; his gift to her to satisfy every occasion. Her first charm was a flat heart of gold with a tiny ruby in the corner engraved with her certificate of marriage to my Dad in 1949. Her second was shaped like a box with her scripted name, the third was a rose placed on a gilded background for her birthday and finally the fourth was my little Queen, their only child, with my name and birthday.  Unfortunately, my father died when I was twelve and that halted the tradition of adding to the bracelet. Though as the years progressed into adulthood, my marriage and own children, Grandma received a necklace with charms including pictures of her grandchildren; still a great gift idea for those that favor neck jewelry.

By the 1970’s charm bracelets lost their luster but became quite collectible in the 1990’s and now in the 21st century, charm bracelets have regained their royal status. Craft your own bracelet by building a family legacy of miniature frames for Grandma’s wrist or create a bracelet that identifies Grandmothers personality. My personal design would  have to include trinkets of books, pens, maybe letters of the alphabet and computers just to name a few.

And while you decide on the perfect gems for Grandparents Day on September 9th, I will be admiring an addition to my tired jewelry collection while wearing my Mom’s classic bracelet, in memory of her, that showcased her charm and the ones she loved. I also found her watch for the other wrist and since that is also supposedly in style once again, my accessories of memories are complete.

Family reunions

WRITTEN BY CARYL CLEM:

Across America, families plan reunions during the summer months.  My Dad was the youngest of 13 living siblings.  I was the youngest grandchild.  On my calendar the 2nd week in August had stars to signal my relatives congregating in southern Illinois for a reunion extravaganza. After the 6 hour car ride, I felt like a time traveler roaming through Grandma’s cozy farmhouse, touching the immense, cool cast iron wood burning stove, examining lace covered carved wood tables and chairs under glowing Gone with the Wind kerosene lamps; exchanging hugs with relatives in every room. Outside, the foul smelling 3 dirt hole bench seat under a decaying sun speckled wood roofed shed was still in use. There was no plumbing until after 1962.

Every family was assigned a dish to bring at either the Saturday or Sunday meal, depending on your arrival time.  Tables and chairs provided by the local church covered the spacious front yard with predominantly red and white checked tablecloths. Large washtubs lined with plastic were filled with ice for the lemonade and tea. Grandmother would not allow any beverage served in a bottle including milk, soda or pop.

All of the family members, without gray hair, took turns passing water buckets from the pump to the porcelain kitchen sinks. No motels or hotels were close. By 7 p.m., caravans of relatives spread out to neighboring family farms to spend the night. Country breakfasts featuring eggs with homemade ham, bacon, sausage, gravy and biscuits would start the next day.

After feasting, musical entertainment was provided by a large assortment of musical instruments forming an impromptu band accompanied by several vocalists. Voting by elected judges would begin on whose fried chicken, pie and homemade ice-cream deserved the “Best” of that year award.  A photographer came on Sunday after our church service to take a photo before the last dinner together. Sisters Aunt Edith (English instructor) and Aunt Inez (culinary chef) compiled a yearly newsletter with a family collection of favorite recipes and stories to give everyone before they left.

Leaving suburban Chicago to jump into haystacks, feed livestock, eat finger-picking good potluck dinners followed by sleeping with 8 or more cousins in one big room was a summer highlight until Grandma, 98 years young, died in 1965. The attendance started to drop with grandchildren putting careers first.

After 10 years, the original 4 who did the organizing were aging and tried to find a younger core group to keep the reunion going. However,with no success. A property developer wanted to build a subdivision along the winding creek.  Just before the farm was sold, the final reunion was held with over 125 members, all wearing name tags with ages. Progress also brought hotels to provide lodging. Currently, sections of the family living near Windsor County, Illinois still unite on the 2nd Sunday in August to eat and celebrate another year.

My brother’s wife’s family includes me in their family reunions as an “outlaw” with privileges.  Each year celebrates new members, honors those who have passed, as we eagerly exchange photo albums and stories of the past years events.  The elephant gift trade is hilarious.  Hotels provide lodging but meals are at family members’ homes.  At the close, there is the T-shirt with a landmark picture to wear through the year.

Family love is the strongest when shared; the magic feeling of a reunion keeps me looking forward to the next one.

Lemonade stands, summer theater and art fairs for charity

I never liked lemonade…..too sour! So my childhood friends and I upgraded one summer on our porch in Chicago. We had been to an excellent ice cream shop in Old Town so we briefly tried to do the same by making sodas. We called our shop Sip and Stir with a big sign and tissue flowers, made out of Kleenex, brightening the red brick of the porch. My Moms bathroom was blue and my girlfriends was pink so we had a colorful combination of flowers. We had a small cooler with vanilla ice cream, metal cups and a couple of cans of 50/50 soda. My father’s glass shop was across the street from Canfields factory and we got free soda.

We lasted about an hour. The flowers kept falling down. The ice cream began to melt. And no one showed up.  Not one person bought a soda out of the goodness of their heart…even our Mom’s were not that interested. And the day we chose was hot.

So, the following summer, we decided to forget the stands of drinks and be much more creative. We would plan an event in advance and sell tickets. We were a little older, more responsible and invited many to be in a play that we wrote together about Betsy Ross sewing the American flag. I don’t remember the details but I directed and played a part. We held the play in my basement where it was nice and cool. We actually had costumes that was supplied by a friends Mom. It would be many years later that I acted and directed in plays as a student and high school teacher.

In the 1990’s, my own had their plays and stand but took it one step further. They created their works of art to be displayed outdoors at our organized summer art fair for Luries Children’s Hospital. Eleven by fourteen paintings, splashed in watercolor or acrylic, hung on the fence for all to see.  Prior to the event,  we then took each drawing and framed them with the right color to highlight each design while finally dressing them in plastic just in case of a sudden rain.

Once all the artwork was submitted and framed, a panel of judges intently studied the variety of floral bouquets, favorite pets as well as trains, planes, automobiles and a selection of rainbows. Each category produced a first, second and third place winner with the appropriate ribbon displayed on the frame. Honorable mention was awarded to those without a ribbon And we collected over a 100 dollars and the children were in the newspaper.

Creating a charitable legacy is the foundation for every success story and starting the early teachings of charity at home is one of the grandest gifts that we can offer to our young. Help them now so they can continue to build their own world rich in selfless endeavors.

Gather your grandchildren, advertise at their school or community center, talk to your neighbors and friends about hosting an art fair with prizes for your favorite cause; a wonderful way to inspire the art of charity in your grandchildren’s hearts.

 

 

Reflections song

POETRY BY CARYL CLEM:

Just a note unlocks a memory

A mix of love and mystery

Holding on, then letting go

Loves continual ebb and flow

In just a note, magic returns

Remembering passions burn

Time heals, the music plays on

Finding desire embraced in a song.