5 Books on Chicago’s Musical Heritage

Although best known for the blues, Chicago music encompasses multiple genres and styles: R & B, soul, the blues, jazz, classical and more. Check out these five books to learn more about Chicago's music heritage. 

Did you know that the television show Soul Train got its start in a small room at the Chicago Board of Trade in 1970? This groundbreaking music and dance show featured primarily Black R & B artists as well as soul, funk, pop artists and more.

You can learn all about it in Love, Peace, and Soul, as well as Don Cornelius, the visionary Black creator and host of Soul Train, in this page-turner of a book enhanced by insider stories and colorful photos. Although the show relocated to Los Angeles after a year, a local version remained in Chicago until 1979.

For many, including Don Cornelius, music was a change agent and source of empowerment. Part social history and part music history, Move on Up: Chicago Soul Music and Black Cultural Power digs into Chicago soul music during a pivotal time, from the late 1950s through the early '80s. The radio station WVON, State Street’s “Record Row,” and songs like “People Get Ready” by the Impressions all are explored in this thoroughly researched book, for which Cohen conducted over 100 interviews.

If you want to hear about the blues from the bluesmen and women themselves, check out Going to Chicago: A Year on the Chicago Blues Scene. This collection of vibrant black and white photos accompanied by blues lyrics also features commentary on the blues from artists including B.B. King, Muddy Waters and Koko Taylor.

Also brimming with photos is Destination Chicago Jazz. Photographer Sandor Demlinger teamed up with jazz historian John Steiner, and together they document the Chicago jazz scene from 1910 through the '60s.

Chicago is fortunate to have a world class orchestra led by the great Riccardo Muti. Chicago was also fortunate to have a world class music critic and commentator in Andrew Patner, the Chicago Sun-Times critic and WFMT broadcaster who died in 2015. A Portrait in Four Movements collects his reviews of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under the batons of four stellar conductors: Daniel Barenboim, Pierre Boulez, Bernard Haitink and Riccardo Muti. But what CSO fans will most relish, I suspect, are the transcripts of conversations between Patner and the four conductors. Subjects range from Barenboim reminiscing about program selection and favorite musicians to Muti reflecting on visits to a juvenile detention facility. The book also includes a 26-page history of the CSO prior to Barenboim and his successors. 

To learn more about Chicago's musical heritage, check out the Music Lives Here website. We're literally surrounded by historic music sites.

Know where else music lives? On the 8th floor of the Harold Washington Library Center. In addition to music books, music scores and vinyl albums, the Arts & Music department is home to six piano practice rooms, as well as a chamber music room. (Just bring a library card or photo ID to use one.)