Tribune critic: Black blues clubs essential to art form

Tribune critic Howard Reich points out that Black clubs are essential to the art form


Chicago Tribune music critic Howard Reich, in a long article Nov. 27, 2011,  nudged the arts community toward recognizing and promoting the blues as a Chicago treasure.  HReichTribune.jpg

"How long," Reich's article asks, "can a music that long flourished on the South and West sides — where the blues originators lived their lives and performed their songs — stay viable when most of the neighborhood clubs have expired? How long can a black musical art form remain dynamic when presented to a largely white audience in settings designed to replicate and merchandise the real thing? At stake is a music that gave rise to jazz, gospel, pop, rock, rap, and hip-hop — the pillars, really, of the American sound."

Reich quotes  veteran harmonica player and author Lincoln T. Beauchamp Jr. (aka Chicago Beau): "The consequence of what's happening is that people will play other types of music in order to be paid — not that they ever got paid worth a damn working at Chicago clubs anyway...Places like Kingston Mines will always sell the blues brand...But you can't look to the clubs and the club owners to pursue blues as a culture. It is to them purely a commodity, nothing more than a bottle of whiskey, and how much money you can make off of it."

Poet and critic Sterling Plumpp notes: "I don't know the business of blues, but it seems that the bookings that the North Side blues clubs do is incapable of identifying and nurturing young talent... I'm reluctant to say it, but it's probably true: At some point, the African-American community has been remiss in thoroughly supporting the best of African-American blues. I have to say that. They are not in the clubs... It's going through a phase where the premier (blues) places are not located in the African-American community."

"We need to market this music the way New Orleans and Austin have marketed their musical legacy, says Janice Monti, chair of sociology at Dominican University in River Forest and the driving force behind an international blues symposium there.

"In the South, soul blues is played on the radio. Where is blues played on the radio in Chicago? If you want to create a vibrant climate for the clubs, you have to educate the audience."

Reich concludes, in a call to action: "And you have to build it. You have to ensure that the music hasn't been repositioned to serve conventioneers and expense-account visitors above all others. For without a healthy local audience and a network of neighborhood listening rooms, the blues becomes a shell of what it once was."

see also the accompanying video, featuring club owners and sax man Eddie Shaw:

Leave a comment