By: Angelyn M. Anderson
“Hang all the mistletoe…I’m gonna get to know you better…”
“We are family…”
If you can honestly tell me that you didn’t finish both of those the sentences singing (and dancing in your seat), I would be completely surprised. And with that, I want to ask you “What’s your earliest memory of music?” What is that one song that you hear that takes you back to childhood or your family reunion or even the house parties your parents may have had while you were growing up? There are certain songs that when I hear them, even today, take me back to my childhood.
Music is an important part of who we are as a people. It runs deep in our souls and DNA. It oozes out of everything that we do in our lives. Music makes its way into the way we dress. The way we walk. The way we talk. Think about all of your important days and life events. I’m sure there is a song that takes you back to that place in time. Do you remember your first kiss and he song that was playing or the song you played when you got home? What about your first breakup? What’s that one song that, when you hear it, you can’t sit still and have to (yes have to) get up and dance? We all have them and that’s what makes life interesting.
But where did this connection come from? Some would like us to believe it came from when Africans were forcibly placed into slavery and that these slave songs began what we now know as music.But this connection to music goes further back. It goes back to those countries and communities that existed in Africa and other communities across the world that served as the home to Black folk. Music is a way that we not only share our experiences; it did and continues to serve as a way to get messages to others; a way to pass time while serving on the chain gangs of the rural south and a way to express our joys, pains, and successes. And Bronzevillle played a huge part in the history of our music.
In an era when Blacks were made fun of and treated badly (the more things change…the more they stay the same), music was the connector between our people. And the coolness that came with our music served and continues to serve as the inspiration for so many things. Bronzeville was the hub of coolness for the Black community. It was also the place where many notables who were not Black came to hang out. Bronzeville was home to so many spaces and places that celebrated our music and provided a place for us to relax, have fun, and hang with our people. Whether it was The Sunset Café/Grand Terrace, The Forum, Gerri’s Palm Tavern or the Regal Theater (yes that Regal Theater was originally in Bronzeville near the site of the Harold Washington Cultural Center), Bronzeville was the place to be. And it makes sense because so many great musicians spent a lot of time here. It was common place to have musicians such as Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, Lena Horne, Josephine Baker, and other notables come through Bronzeville when they were on the road.
And while Blacks could not go to clubs outside of the Black community, the clubs in Bronzeville saw a mosaic of guests and visitors. Why? Because our music and experiences was something that many wanted to experience and copy. Our culture, our music, is the foundation for many of the things we see in “mainstream” culture. The continued Columbusing of our musical trends and influences reach far beyond the Nikki– Miley “what’s good” beef. It is seen in the rerecording of Big Momma Thornton’s Hound Dog by Elvis Presley. And the remake of Earth, Wind & Fire’s September by Taylor Swift. But through it all, the one constant is Black music and culture.
As we sit in the richness of Black Music Month, I dare you to sit back and take it all in. Take in all of the greatness that is in our music and the history that it holds. Take a stroll down 47th Street or past where The Sunset Café/Grand Terrace once stood (at the corner of 35th and Calumet). Stand next to The Forum (43rd and Calumet). Music is an important part of who we are, who we have become, and who we can be and we should not only embrace it we should celebrate it, not just in June but throughout the year. Our music is our story. And our story is important; now more than ever.
Want to take a quick journey through time and Black music, check out the following YouTube video clip: https://www.youtube.com/atch?v=Wt7859sVsew&feature=youtu.b