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Spotlight on Chicago's legendary South Side
The South Side of Chicago holds a sacred place in the evolution of American music, for jazz, blues and gospel blossomed in this part of the city through most of the 20th Century.
Why the South Side? Because great waves of African-Americans migrated here from the Deep South, looking for work and a decent life.
Despite overcrowding and tenement conditions, this population endured, giving the world the searing music of blues pioneer Muddy Waters, the sublime songs of gospel composer Thomas A. Dorsey and the buoyant swing rhythms of jazz singer-pianist Nat "King" Cole, among uncounted others.
To examine and celebrate these achievements, the Chicago Humanities Festival is presenting "Chicago's Legendary South Side," a series of concerts, discussions, interviews and lectures running Nov. 9-11.
As an introduction to the cultural riches of this part of town, here's a glance at a few major landmarks, with phone numbers listed where available:
Pilgrim Baptist Church, 3301 S. Indiana Ave., 312-842-5830. This is the church where Dorsey developed and nurtured modern gospel music, teaching generations of singers and penning indelible compositions, such as "Take My Hand, Precious Lord."
It's not an exaggeration to consider Pilgrim Baptist the birthplace of 20th Century gospel.
DuSable High School, 4934 S. Wabash Ave., 773-535-1100. Under the musical direction of Capt. Walter Dyett, DuSable High School in its heyday turned out more great jazz musicians than perhaps any other in the country, its all-star roster of alums including Johnny Hartman, Gene Ammons, Dorothy Donegan and Von Freeman.
Sutherland Lounge, 4659 S. Drexel Blvd., 773-285-1573. Though it's now an apartment complex, the old Sutherland Hotel once was home to Louis Armstrong. Moreover, Miles Davis spent most Christmas holidays in residence, playing in the Sutherland Lounge, as did everyone from Dizzy Gillespie and John Coltrane to Earl Hines and Erroll Garner. In recent years, South Side jazz trumpeter and cultural activist Malachi Thompson has been presenting music festivals at the Sutherland.
Grand Terrace, 315-17 E. 35th St. Though now an Ace hardware store, the building at the corner of 35th and Calumet once served as the Grand Terrace, where Earl Hines, Carroll Dickerson, Fletcher Henderson, Count Basie and Horace Henderson had long residencies.
Regal Theater, 4719 S. King Drive. On this site once stood the great Regal Theater, which from 1928 until its demolition, in 1973, regularly presented almost everyone who mattered in black music, including Duke Ellington, Lionel Hampton, Jimmie Lunceford, Armstrong, Basie, Davis and Gillespie. An attempt to build a new arts center on the same location is under way, though it has been interrupted by financial and legal battles.
Gerri's Palm Tavern, 446 E. 47th St. In its prime, from the 1950s to the '70s, the performers who starred at the Regal Theater across the street inevitably wined, dined and conversed at Gerri Oliver's Palm Tavern. This is where artists such as Ellington, Basie and Gillespie caught up with each other when basing their Midwest tours in Chicago, but the fabled room was shuttered in July under the City of Chicago's powers of eminent domain.
Checkerboard Lounge, 423 E. 43d St., 773-624-3240. With most of the South Side's legendary blues club having come and gone, the Checkerboard Lounge stands as a survivor of the days when Muddy Waters, B.B. King and Chuck Berry played the room.
The place is too intimate to feature legends these days, but bona fide blues artists from across the South Side (and beyond) still perform here.
Greater Salem Baptist Church, 215 W. 71 St., 773-874-2325. This is the church where the greatest gospel artist who ever sang, Mahalia Jackson, launched her career after moving to Chicago from New Orleans.
West Point Baptist Church, 3566 S. Cottage Grove Ave., 773-538-7590. To this day, West Point Baptist is known as "Albertina Walker's Church," for this is where the gospel legend has sung and worshipped since her childhood.