Chicago is, and likely always will be, a prominent place in the music industry. Many great artists have been born or lived in Chicago, but more than that, its prominence comes from being the birthplace of great musical genres. Blues, while not starting in Chicago, have evolved because of the influence from Chicago, the same can also be said for jazz. It didn’t begin in Chicago, it came there because of the Great Migration, but once it landed in the Windy City, it grew and changed. One genre that can trace its very roots back to Chicago is House music. DJ Frankie Knuckles is credited with being the father of House music, and his creation was born in a nightclub called The Warehouse.
Blues music has a deep and storied history and no one would make the argument that it all began in Chicago. That credit belongs to the south. Instead, Blues made it to Chicago because of the Great Migration, when many poor, black southern workers migrated to industrial cities in the north. They brought with them a rich history and a musical style which would come to be known as “Delta Blues”. The term Delta Blues was coined to represent where it all began, the Mississippi Delta, a region of the United States stretching from Memphis, Tennessee, in the north to Vicksburg, Mississippi, in the south and from Helena, Arkansas, in the west to the Yazoo River in the east.
Chicago Blues has a more expansive selection of notes than the standard six-note blues scale; often, notes from the major scale and dominant 9th chords are added, which gives the music more of a “jazz feel” while still being in the blues genre. The subject matter of the music changed as well. Bruce Iglauer, founder of Alligator Records stated that, “Chicago blues is the music of the industrial city, and has an industrial sense about it.” Additionally, recognizing the shift in blues, Chicago blues singer and guitarist Kevin Moore expressed the blues transition stating, “You have to put some new life into it, new blood, new perspectives. You can’t keep talking about mules, workin’ on the levee.”
The Blues has always been a style of music that spoke to the soul, and spoke about the trials and tribulations of life. From the farm, to the country, to the city, the Blues were there and continued to adapt and change with both the time and the people. Some of the most famous Blues musicians of all time have been associated with Chicago; Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Willie Dixon, Otis Span, and Buddy Guy. Their music was so influential that rock and roll musicians were inspired by them. Legends such as; Eric Clapton, The Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, and Guns N Roses.
Like Blues, Jazz began in the south and made its way to Chicago during the Great Migration. Jazz is known for having many “flavors”, or styles, and what came to Chicago was primarily referred to as New Orleans Dixieland. As the name suggests, it became famous in New Orleans and the surrounding area. Louis Armstrong is probably the most famous Jazz player to make his way to Chicago and with his band Hot Five, and later, Hot Seven, he began to change the face of Jazz. No longer were they just playing the original New Orleans jazz, the transition had begun into something that was altogether new and unique, Chicago style. More emphasis was placed on the solo musician, faster tempos, new instruments (the string bass and guitar replaced the tuba and banjo) and some even began to favor a 2 meter instead of 4. It was from this time and era that the Lindy Hop was born.
It is well established, and without dispute, that House music originated in Chicago. It was devised and brought to life by the famous DJ Frankie Knuckles in a nightclub named The Warehouse. To this day, Chicagoans can’t seem to get enough of House music. From the newest clubs to cars at the stoplight…it’s everywhere.
House began as almost a natural evolution of Disco. Disco really started to lose popularity in 1979 and by the early 80’s was dead, by all accounts. However, people visiting the clubs still looked for music that you could dance to, that just called you out to the floor. It was from this atmosphere that House music came into existence. From the minds of some of the hottest DJ’s at the time, collaborations took place. Late at night, in garages, and sometimes spur of the moment in the club, DJ’s began to experiment with taking popular tracks and changing them. Analog synthesizers, slowing down beats, and drum machines began to allow the DJ’s to really express their creative vibes in a way that had never been seen before. In Brewster and Broughton’s book Last Night a DJ Saved My Life, the remark was made “House was a feeling, a rebellious musical taste, a way of declaring yourself in the know.”