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Let’s try cashing in on our rich heritage

Friday, Jan 20, 2017

* Crain’s

Though Chicago dwarfs New Orleans, Memphis and St. Louis in population and economic might, a weekend in any of those places drives home the missed opportunities back home. All three cities have museums dedicated to telling the music’s story; tours and branded districts where people can walk in the footsteps of legends; airports, parks and streets named in their honor, life-size statues for tourist selfies; and, of course, an abundance of live music clubs that all three cities actively help promote throughout the year.

Chicago’s failure to acknowledge seminal figures who were born or made their most influential recordings here—Muddy Waters, Curtis Mayfield, the Staple Singers, Jimmy Reed, Mahalia Jackson, Louis Armstrong, Chuck Berry, Sam Cooke, Thomas Dorsey and Benny Goodman—has become an opportunity elsewhere.

Memphis brands itself as “Home of the Blues and Birthplace of Rock ‘n’ Roll”; New Orleans claims native son Louis Armstrong with an airport and downtown park named in his honor though he made his most influential recordings in Chicago; and last year St. Louis opened the National Blues Museum, a $13 million, 23,000-square-foot institution revitalizing its downtown riverfront.

Chicago has none of that. No museum, no statues, no official tours, no markers of the vital clubs that existed on 43rd Street, 59th Street, Stony Island Avenue, West Madison Street, Roosevelt Road or Lake Street, most of which the city allowed to be razed; that includes the historic Maxwell Street Market, a fundamental endpoint for the Great Migration where musicians from the South gathered outdoors and the blues were inevitably electrified. Even the Muddy Waters home in Bronzeville is abandoned and in disrepair.

This city that boasts of a world-class image has failed to promote its best-known international attraction, says Janice Monti, a sociologist at Dominican University in River Forest who heads the school’s annual Blues & the Spirit Symposium. “European and Asian tourists come to Chicago, and the first thing they ask is where can they learn about the music, and they’re surprised there is no place to go,” she says. “We never seem to have the collective will to move any of this forward.”

Before it closed, I was a semi-regular at Lee’s Unleaded, one of, if not the last Chicago blues clubs to feature mostly black artists playing for a mostly black crowd. Man, that South Side place was something else. Interestingly enough, a lot of the musicians were from the West Side.

I went to the Underground Wonderbar for New Year’s Eve and had a blast. It’s got a very loyal (and integrated) customer base and never disappoints. They mix in some jazz, but it’s always hot. ADDING: I didn’t see this on the site when I got the link, but the Wonderbar is closing next month. This is a huge loss for Chicago. Ugh.

My brother Devin has played at Rosa’s Lounge, and I’ve seen plenty of good shows there. And there’s always Buddy Guy’s Legends and Kingston Mines, where you’ll see more tourists.

So, there are places to go, but everything is pretty spread out. The city would definitely benefit from a music district like they have in Memphis (and which, according to the above article, has helped spike tourism to a “$3.2 billion industry that attracts 11 million visitors a year and supports 20,000 jobs”). The mayor has spoken about it in the past, but he hasn’t yet made it happen.

- Posted by Rich Miller   19 Comments      


*** UPDATED x1 - Kirk declined to fly with Obama *** Kirk won’t stop saying goofy things

Friday, Jan 20, 2017

* Former US Sen. Mark Kirk attended the Illinois State Society of Washington inaugural ball last night

Kirk said he will “probably” be setting up a firm to do “strategic consulting” for large Illinois employers doing business in Washington and Beijing. He will travel to Beijing next month with other former senators on a Chinese government-sponsored trip. With Republicans in charge of the House, Senate and White House, GOP lobbyists and “strategic” consultants will be in demand.

Kirk remains outspoken. His gaffes got him in political trouble. Asked if he ever got a ride with Obama on Air Force One, Kirk said, “white Republicans really didn’t get to go on that kind of trip.”

*Sigh*

His first client should be himself. Corporate types don’t usually dig public race jokes.

* More

Duckworth was asked if she was concerned about Kirk setting up a consulting shop.

Duckworth, who moved up from the House, said, “I’ve always been worried about those things, and in fact, in the House Armed Services Committee I fought very hard to prevent retiring general officers from leaving the Pentagon and turning right around and coming back to be lobbyists on the Hill. . . . It’s why I voted against the waiver for General [James] Mattis, for example,” a reference to Trump’s pick for Defense secretary, who needs congressional approval for a waiver to be in the Cabinet because he has not been out of the military for the requisite seven years.

Should he reconsider? Said Duckworth, “I think Mark Kirk does want he wants to do.”

Yep.

*** UPDATE ***   From February 9th of last year

Kirk was asked to accompany Obama on Air Force One, but he declined because of Senate votes, said his spokesman, Kevin Artl.

Hat tip: McGrath.

- Posted by Rich Miller   19 Comments      


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