Add 2, Martin Atkins, Pugs Atomz, Jeff Baraka, Mark Bazer, Lori Branch, Ayana Contreras, Leor Galil, Pat Grumley, DJ Lady D, Commissioner Mark Kelly, Damon Locks, Rob McKay, Rhymefest, Tim Samuelson, and Wayne Williams share their favorite moments in Chicago music history
Rapper, Founder of Haven youth Studio, and Mentor Young Chicago Authors, Add-2 captivates fans’ imagination and critics interest with his unique concepts and lyrics while emerging as one of the most genuine and unique emcee’s of this generation.
Kanye West releases "College Dropout." Back in 2004, a producer turned rapper released a star-studded Hip Hop album that would change music FOREVER. At the time Kanye was known for the beats he made for emcee's like Jay-Z but not for any of his own songs. Once he released “Thru The Wire” which featured a sample from fellow Chicago legend Chaka Khan, Kanye went from producer to bubbling artist (bonus connection: Chaka Khan was married to Hasan Khan who is the uncle to legendary Chicago DJ Twilite Tone who also went on to produce for Kanye).
After this album dropped, not only did it sell 2.4 million copies in the US but it also changed the scope of what it meant to be a rapper in the pop world. He broke the mold. He changed fashion with his pink Polos, he patented a sound which featured sped-up samples and would go on to become a defining sound in music, and the album was focused on fun and personal experiences as opposed to songs about glamorizing the life of the streets. This album opened the lane for future artists such as Drake, Chance The Rapper, Lupe Fiasco, Kid Cudi, and T-Pain.
Martin Atkins joined Johnny Rotten’s Public Image Limited (P.i.L) in 1979. After touring the world with P.i.L and contributing to several more studio albums Martin left the group in 1985.
Over the next five years, he played with and managed Killing Joke and toured with Ministry. In 1990, while on tour with Ministry, he formed his own band, Pigface. He also worked with Nine Inch Nails, performing on the Grammy award-winning “Wish” and appearing in the “Head like a Hole” video.
Martin began working on the business side of music in 1988 when he formed Invisible Records and then Mattress Factory Studios in 1996. Over two decades Invisible has released over 350 albums and has had placements spanning from the original Miami Vice to Showtime’s Queer as Folk to Robert Altman’s The Company.
Atkins wrote his book Tour:Smart in 2007 and has since spoken around the world at major industry conferences, universities, and nonprofit organizations.
Chicago has had a few moments that have resonated around the world.
House Music springs to mind as a HUGE one that I am sure someone else will have mentioned. The Blues, the labels down on Michigan Avenue, and Chess records are also legendary.
The home of so many labels and entities that grew from punk beginnings: Bloodshot Records, Touch & Go, Thrill Jockey, Drag City not to mention the jazz/blues-based Alligator Records. So many independents with lasting impact.
But the moment that hit me is the reason I ended up moving here. I'd spent time in London at the height of PUNK (hell, I was in a band with Johnny Rotten from the Sex Pistols). We moved from London to New York City and then to Los Angeles but it was the sound, vibe, and excitement of industrial music that brought me to Chicago. A kind of hybrid playground for computer nerds and the post-punk experimentalism that slowly dribbled itself across pop and hip hop.
Wax Trax Records (the store and the label), H-Gun video who pioneered a new approach in the new MTV age, along with recording studio Chicago Trax, became synonymous with that scene and created an energy that I hadn't felt since the days of punk in London.
So many studios, labels (my own Invisible records since 1988), and artists were magnetized here: KMFDM from Germany, Chris Connelly from Scotland, and more. This driving new music combined with that Chicago roll-up-your-sleeves work ethic, made me HAVE to make this my home.
Pugs Atomz is a multi-talented MC, fashion designer, and painter who has worked on countless music projects with artists like DJ Vadim, KRS One, DJ Hitek, Bassnectar, Glitch Mob, and Twista. He has also performed at some of the world’s largest music festivals including SXSW and Glastonbury. His work has been featured in publications like Rolling Stone, URB, and Fake Shore Drive, and his track “Got that fire” appeared on the FIFA video game soundtrack.
Pugs' roots in Chicago's Hip Hop scene run deep, from co-founding the CTA Radio (University of Chicago), to presenting on the TV show “Barbershop Hip Hop,” to his time in the '90s leading the Nacrobats collective. Welcome to the life of the renaissance jet setter with relatable stories, infectious beats, live-show energy.
1969: Gramaphone Records opened 50+ years ago, becoming the go-to shop for house and electronic music; stocked with independents and rare releases. In the '90s, Gramaphone played a big part in the hip hop scene too by curating parties and in-store events. They recently celebrated their storied history in partnership with Redbull Music featuring an all-star cast of house music past present and future.
1970: Donny Hathaway releases “This Christmas,” a standard played every December since. His catalog plays such a strong role in soul music, R&B, and hip hop, from songs like “Someday We’ll All B Free,” “The Ghetto,” to the later hits he would make with Roberta Flack.
1974:The first Jazz Festival in Chicago is established to honor the life of Duke Ellington. A group of Chicago Musicians held the event at the Bandshell in Grant Park and had over 10,000 people come out. This was the template for the later music fest at Grant Park. Attendance has now grown to 160,000 people over the course of the weekend and it brings global talent to Chicago. As a kid I would go with my dad every summer.
1994: Commonreleases “I used to love her” off his classic “Resurrection” album. VH1 called it one of the greatest
rap songs ever written. It's an anthem and important building block in the establishment of Chicago as a place for Hip Hop. It also started the infamous beef between Ice Cube and Common (who later won). The song track has inspired numerous covers and lyrics-references.
1997: Rhymefest beats Eminem at the 1997 Rap Olympics, and Juice beats Eminem at Scribble Jam's rap battle.Often considered one of Hip-Hop’s greatest battles. after 6 rounds Juice was the victor. This also showed the world the freestyle talent and movement that was bubbling in Chicago at the time
Jeff Baraka is a freelance broadcast and digital journalist; his focus is Music, Arts & Culture (usually world music, electronic music, true-school hip-hop, and jazz). He has an extensive urban arts background as an MC/poet & beatmaker.
Many of the greatest moments that resonate most with me (especially regarding Soul Train, Common, and No ID) have already been mentioned here, so I'll point out one that hasn't— Jerry Bryant launching JBTV in 1984. The program still airs, and remains very important to Chicago's music and media landscape; I worked there in 2010.
Mark Bazer is the host and executive producer of The Interview Show, filmed at The Hideout for Chicago's PBS station, WTTW. He is also a Chicago magazine contributing writer.
"Sound Opinions" Launches (1993, or 1998, or 2005): Rock critic Jim DeRogatis says that Chicago, not New York, is where you'll find the best up-and-coming garage rock bands — because in Chicago, people can actually afford garages. Maybe it's that same (reasonably) affordable, down-to-earth quality that's allowed DeRogatis and fellow critic Greg Kot's no-frills "Sound Opinions" syndicated WBEZ radio show and podcast to thrive here. DeRo and Kot have celebrated more great music than most of us will ever hear. And they've done it with — and I think they'd admit this — a bit of a bias for sounds made in local garages.
"Food & Liquor" Is Released (2006): Look, you can't choose just one rap album to represent Chicago. But I can. `debut, released when Lupe was 24, introduced the world to a day-dreaming, romantic rapper who could also deliver searing social commentary. The standout track, of course, is "Kick, Push," about two young skateboarders who find one another while "looking for a place to be." Since then, Lupe's had big hits along with albums that've unfairly flown under the radar. Through it all, he's been for my money the best rapper (among many contenders) to ever call Chicago home.
The Hideout Opens (1996): OK, as someone who has hosted a show at The Hideout for a long time, I'm terribly biased here. But I'm not wrong. The Hideout epitomizes the true, Do-It-Yourself-and-with-Friends rock, comedy and, er, talk show scenes in Chicago. A small dive bar with a performance space in the back, The Hideout has helped launch a thousand careers and music scenes (Neko Case, Andrew Bird, alt-country, etc). Which is great. But it's the spirit of the place — a community where you can be weird or not weird, talkative or silent in the corner, creative or appreciative of others' creativity — that earns The Hideout a spot on this list. And so I don't get corrected by Tim, one of the owners, The Hideout's been a (legal) bar since 1934, but 1996 is when it became what it is today.
DJ Lori Branch
Lori Branch, often cited as the first female DJ in Chicago’s legendary house music scene, is featured in several house music documentaries and books, and has held numerous DJ residencies. Lori co-hosts the Vintage House radio program on WNUR 89.3 FM and is a board member of The Modern Dance Music Research and Archiving Foundation. Find out more about her work at LoraBranch.com.
In 1920, Sister Rosetta Tharpe makes her musical debut at 6 years old at Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ at 40th and State Street. Tharp quickly amassed thousands of followers would grow to become an internationally known recording artist with her unique mastery of the electric guitar. She is known as the Godmother of Rock N Roll and was a major influence on many US and international stars.
US Studio aka The Warehouse is opened by Robert Williams in 1977. Widely considered to be the birthplace of House Music, the Warehouse's iconic legacy has inspired a musical movement touching millions across the globe.
1997, Frankie Knuckles wins the Grammy for Remixer of the Year and is officially dubbed as "The Godfather of House Music", although I would contend that House Music has many Godfathers and Godmothers.
Chicagoan Kanye West's first album wins Best Rap Album of the year in 2005.
In 2019, Micah Salkind publishes Do You Remember House? Chicago's Queer of Color Undergrounds. A seminar and comprehensive history of the birth and development of Chicago's House Music Culture and Cannon.
Ayana Contreras is a cultural historian, DJ, and archivist. As a DJ, she's shared the stage with artists including Roy Ayers, Meshell Ndegeocello, and Makaya McCraven. An avid collector of vintage vinyl records, she hosts the Reclaimed Soul program on WBEZ and Vocalo Radio in Chicago. She is also a producer with WBEZ’s Sound Opinions radio program which airs on 125 NPR stations, and a columnist for DownBeat Magazine. Ayana was a 2014/15 University of Chicago Arts + Public Life Artist-In-Residence, and a 2011 Artist-In-Residence at Theaster Gates' Dorchester Projects.
Harold Washington Library opens its first YouMedia lab (2009)
This multimedia creative space opened with the intention to give high schoolers the space, time, and opportunity to work on their creative projects under the mentorship of poet, activist, and educator "Brother Mike" Hawkins. YouMedia encouraged young people to follow any creative discipline, but hip-hop became what it's best known for, and many of the biggest Chicago rappers to break out in the 2010s—Chance the Rapper, Noname, Saba, Mick Jenkins, Lucki Ecks—found their voice at the first YouMedia lab.
Muhal Richard Abrams, Jodie Christian, Steve McCall, and Phil Cohran co-found the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (1965)
It's hard to overstate the importance of AACM, and simply describing it as leading nonprofit in the world of jazz and avant-garde feels like a real understatement. But for more than half a century, Black musicians helped guide untold numbers of important musical figures with AACM, and it remains an important global institution.
La Mere Vipere hosts its first "Anarchy Night" (May 8, 1977)
The gay bar at 2132 N. Halsted St hosts its first punk dance night, quickly transforming the place into a punk disco and planting the seeds for the city's punk scene.
Ken "K-Ill" Wissoker and Patrick Moxy launch their WHPK radio show (1983)
The University of Chicago students co-founded a dance and hip-hop program in 1983, which became a strictly hip-hop show in 1984—the first in the midwest, allegedly. WHPK became a bastion for Chicago's small, overlooked hip-hop community as it began to grow, and maintained its place of importance as the scene broke out nationwide more than 15 years later.
Fireside Bowl begins hosting punk shows (1994)
Before 1994, Chicago's punk scene was a small concern with only a few bands that could draw more than 100 people. But once the Fireside began hosting all-ages shows, it brought together small underground rock bands playing every style of music from across the city and suburbs. The old bowling alley became a destination for nearly every important touring punk band in the midwest and beyond, but the ones most closely associated with it are the locals, including Spanish-language hardcore unit Los Crudos, pop-punk purveyors Fall Out Boy, and powerviolence miscreants Charles Bronson.
Pat Grumley is a partner at the North Coast Music Festival who specializes in marketing and promotions but has filled roles in booking talent and all aspects of event production. He's produced small events and art shows all the way up to festivals that draw 100,000+ attendees.
The Great Migration: Obviously this event started it all and might seem like a cop-out, but you can't talk about great moments in Chicago music history without mentioning this as the catalyst. Jazz and Blues musicians moving to Northern cities like Chicago brought us southern sounds from the likes of Muddy Waters, King Oliver, Louis Armstrong, and more. The start of Chess Records in the '50s gave them a home. Due to the change in environment, the styles continued to evolve and laid the groundwork for Rock n Roll and Hip Hop.
Frankie Knuckles at the Warehouse. Trax Records. The start of House music.
Feb. 2009: Jerry Mickelson of Jam Productions testifies at Senate hearings against Clear Channel/Ticketmaster merger. Chicago is known as a city of independent music and is one of the last standing cities to successfully defend itself against a Live Nation's takeover. Although this is more of a national moment, Chicago's had a strong showing.
Kanye getting signed to Roc Nation as an emcee. We had shining lights for Chicago hip hop prior to this (Common, No I.D., Twista, Do or Die, Crucial Conflict, etc) but in my mind, this was the start of Ye moving into the mainstream which then propelled him to start his own empire at G.O.O.D. I feel like this was the start of Chicago hip hop finally getting worldwide recognition.
Young Chicago Authors in 2010s. MEGA-props to my friend Kevin Coval for cultivating a positive scene of conscious and musically intelligent hip hop. Giving a launching pad to artists like Chance the rapper, Jamila Woods, Noname and more, and counter-balancing the drill scene.
Early 90s alternative + indie scene. More examples of Chicago's independent spirit. In neighborhoods like Wicker Park, artists like Tortoise, Liz Phair, Smashing Pumpkins, Jesus Lizard, Steve Albini. Record labels like Bloodshot Records, Touch n Go, Drag City, Thrill Jockey.
Commissioner Mark Kelly & Tim Samuelson
Mark Kelly is the Commissioner of the City of Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE), which presents and promotes high-quality free festivals, exhibitions, performances, and holiday celebrations each year in parks, the historic Chicago Cultural Center and other venues throughout the city. He was appointed to the post by Mayor Rahm Emanuel in July 2016.
Tim Samuelson is the Cultural Historian of Chicago at the City's Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events.
Samuelson has been instrumental in celebrating and protecting Chicago's past for more than 25 years, especially with his work at the Commission on Chicago Landmarks and the Chicago Historical Society.
May 10, 1927: Louis Armstrong and his Hot Seven blast-out Potato Head Blues at the Okeh Records studio on Washington Street near Franklin. It's a defining recording of 1920s Chicago-style jazz and includes a classic fever-inducing Armstrong trumpet solo. And don't forget the presence of pianist Lil Hardin Armstrong, a primary author of Chicago jazz who never gets the credit she deserves. It's also an early track that explored the possibilities for new electric recording technologies to spread the full power of jazz widely through records.
Late 1931: Theodore Frye and Thomas A. Dorsey establish the first dedicated church choir devoted their new concept of Modern Gospel, which adapts the emotional power of jazz and the blues towards evoking the spirit of reverence in music. The location at Ebenezer Baptist Church - 4501 S. Vincennes - still thrives as a historic Chicago institution. One of Dorsey's compositions, Take My Hand Precious Lord is one of the most widely covered compositions of the modern gospel genre.
January 5, 1949: An otherwise unremarkable record of a harmonica group performing Peg-O-My Heart unexpectedly jumps to the top of the hit charts due to its distinctive echo-like sound. It's the first major commercial use of artificial reverb - forever after a mainstay of recording technology. Credit goes to recording genius Bill Putnam, whose Universal Recording studios were tucked at the top of the Civic Opera House Building. The initial echo-like set-up was done by clandestinely setting up a microphone and a speaker in one of the building's marble-walled restrooms.
January 6, 1958: Chuck Berry records his legendary Johnny B. Goode at the equally legendary Chess Records studio at 2120 S. Michigan Avenue. It starts with what's arguably the most recognizable electric guitar lick intro of all time and then launches itself into rock immortality. But talk about things launching, it was not only an international sensation. It also has the possibility of becoming an intergalactic sensation. It was included on special disks launched into space by the twin Voyager spacecraft in 1977, presenting representative sounds of Earth to whatever entity in space encounters it. At last word, they have journeyed out of our solar system,
February 7, 1963: In the early 1960s, the black-owned Chicago record label Vee Jay concentrated efforts to diversify and globally expand their offerings beyond what was largely an African-American customer base. After signing-up the pop group The Four Seasons, Vee Jay tried to broker a deal with a London-based record company to handle their recordings. The London company countered with the requirement that Vee Jay handle the distribution of one of their own recorded musical groups in the USA. Vee Jay was initially not happy to be responsible for distributing records of the unknown group - but as a result, they issued the recordings of the Beatles in the USA in February 1963.
EXTRA FROM TIM
In the early 1900s, John C. Deagan, a North Side manufacturer of xylophones, chimes and other percussion instruments, was frustrated by the fact that music had no standardized pitch to coordinate tuning of musical ensembles and individual instruments. So he actively lobbied for A=440 hz. to be the standard pitch, and succeeded in getting the American Federation of Musician to adopt it in 1917, and the United States Bureau of Weights and Measures in 1920 (100 years ago!). It became the standard tuning pitch of the USA, then migrated globally. The advocacy for standard A=440 tuning started right at the Deagan factory at 1770 W. Berteau (still there) and is a component of almost any kind of music that you hear.
Darlene Jackson aka DJ Lady D, has been hailed as “Chicago’s House Music Queen” by Chicago Magazine, has toured North America, Europe, Asia, and Russia as DJ, producer, remixer, and in 2004 became a music publisher when she launched her independent record label and marketing brand, D’lectable.
A renowned DJ, she has been featured in numerous print, television, and film media including the music documentaries Girl, The Godfather of Disco, and Slipcue. Her story also is captured in the books, Do You Remember House, How To DJ Right, and Disco Demolition: The Night Disco Died
Jackson has also been published in various media outlets including the Chicago Tribune, URB, Discoid, Chicago Public Media, Vocalo.org, NPR, and BBC radio. You can currently hear her on Vocalo.org 91.1 FM-Chicago the last Friday of every month.
Mavis Staples, one of the 100 Greatest Singers of All-Time according to Rolling Stone, is born in Chicago in 1939.
Queen of the Whistle Register (5-octave Range), Minnie Riperton, born in 1947 in Chicago, creates one of the most enduring songs in musical history, Loving You in 1973, changing black music forever.
Singer Chaka Khan, the recipient of 10 Grammy Awards, a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and estimated sales of 70 million records worldwide during her over five-decades career is born in Chicago in 1953.
American soul icon Loleatta Holloway becomes the voice of disco and house music with releases such as Run Away, Hit & Run, Crash Goes Love, and her 1980 hit, Love Sensation, which is sampled by Mark Walhberg for his Marky Mark & The Funky Bunch 1991 smash, Good Vibration.
Damon Locks is a Chicago-based visual artist, educator, vocalist/musician. He attended the School of the Art Institute of Chicago where he received his BFA in fine arts. Since 2014 he has been working with Prisons and Neighborhood Arts Project at Stateville Correctional Center teaching art. He is a recipient of the Helen Coburn Meier and Tim Meier Achievement Award in the Arts and the 2016 MAKER Grant. He operated as an Artist Mentor in the Chicago Artist Coalition program FIELD/WORK. In 2017 he became a Soros Justice Media Fellow. In 2019, he became a 3Arts Awardee. Currently, he works as an artist in residence as a part of the Museum of Contemporary Arts' SPACE Program, introducing civically engaged art into the curriculum at the high school, Sarah E. Goode STEM Academy.
In May of 1965, The AACM (Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians) was founded and ever since has been fostering Great Black Music in Chicago that influences the world.
In 1931, Mahalia Jackson moved to Chicago and began her journey to become the world’s greatest gospel singer.
August 17, 1970, Soul Train premiered on WCIU-TV. This music and dance show became a cultural staple as well as a way Black music, dance, fashion, and culture were transmitted into living rooms across the U.S.
In 1945, Sun Ra moved to Chicago. He and his Arkestra were here for just 16yrs but the reverberations of his presence in music, philosophy, visual aesthetic & presentation can still be felt in Chicago today.
In 1956, the Chicago Children’s Choir began in Hyde Park in direct response to the Civil Rights Movement. From then till now, CCC has grown from one choir into a vast network of in-school and after-school programs serving 5,200 students across the city of Chicago.
Rob McKay is a social entrepreneur, urban planner, gallery owner, label owner, event producer, music producer, and father with the Silver Room and Connect Gallery.
1931: Thomas A. Dorsey ushers in gospel music at the Baptist National Convention and begins working with Mahalia Jackson Thomas Dorsey put Chicago on the map and pushed the boundaries of how the music is presented and made Chicago the home of Gospel Music as we know it today. Throughout the world our Gospel style is studied and copied, there are workshops and conferences held all over the world about this sound. There is Gospel and there is Chicago Gospel, and the father of the sound is Thomas A. Dorsey.
1946: Bill Putnam starts Universal Recording in Evanston, relocated to Chicago in 1947 Went on to become the center of Chicago music business, developing many studio firsts in technology.
1950: Chess Records Founded
1971: Soul Train TV show first airs
1977: Frankie Knuckles begins his DJ residency at The Warehouse club known as the birthplace of House music
As a world traveler, prolific writer, artist, community organizer, and teacher Rhymefest has shattered countless negative stereotypes in hip hop.
He won his first Grammy for co-writing the mega-hit “Jesus Walks” with his childhood friend, Kanye West, and went on to win another Grammy for co-writing “Glory” with Common & John Legend which also garnered them a Golden Globe and an Oscar.
His award-winning documentary “In My Father’s House” details a journey to redeem his relationship with his estranged alcoholic father who’d been homeless for over 30 years.
Rhymefest has expanded his artistic expression to acting as well. He Co-Stars in “The Public” written & directed by Emilio Estevez. He maintains a profound passion to teach and pass his experiences to new generations of youth and artists.
Che Rhymefest Smith lives by the example and mantra that, “The Only True Power, Is The Power To Empower Others.”
2014: The first year of AAHH! Fest
Common's hip hop festival in Union Park featured an unbelievable lineup of performances by Common, Kanye West, Twista, Lupe Fiasco, Dave Chappelle, Jennifer Hudson, De La Soul. MC Lyte, DJ Wayne Williams, Jay Electronica, and more.
In a career spanning more than four decades, Wayne Williams (the Ambassador of House) has helped define what’s next in popular music, from his days as an architect of Chicago house music to nurturing award-winning artists at major labels to producing the world’s premier house music festival.
As a teenage DJ in 1970s Chicago, he was the first to bring disco from the city’s gay, underground dance clubs to a receptive young audience on the South Side. Seeing an opportunity in the exploding demand for his services, Wayne founded the Chosen Few Disco Corp. (later renamed the Chosen Few DJs) in 1977, bringing on board other young DJs – Jesse Saunders, Terry Hunter, Tony Hatchett, Alan King, Mike Dunn, and Andre Hatchett. The crew’s skills and passion would help shape the sound that became house music.
Since then, Wayne has kept his finger on the pulse of music as a DJ, producer, and A&R executive. His DJ career spans residencies and appearances at clubs and festivals around the world. As a record company executive – he was the first A&R rep at Chicago’s first house music label, Trax Records, before serving long tenures with Jive RCA Records – Wayne’s work with a wide spectrum of artists has generated millions of albums sold, hundreds of award nominations and wins, and more than 60 gold and platinum plaques. His musical expertise extends to producing, remixing and arranging, with more than 100 house, hip-hop and R&B titles to his credit, as well as Grammy nominations and a 2015 NAACP Image Award. Since 2016, Wayne has managed A&R for DJ Terry Hunter’s T’s Box Records, a House Music label that has produced several #1 releases.
In addition to music production and management, Wayne and the Chosen Few DJs have produced the Chosen Few Picnic & Festival, which attracts more than 40,000 House Music fans to Chicago each July. Started in 1990 as a small reunion of friends, the internationally renowned celebration is believed to be the oldest and largest event of its kind, and was the only music festival ever recognized by a sitting President of the United States when the Honorable Barack Obama, 44th president of the United States, commemorated its 25thanniversary in 2015.