Congressman Danny K. Davis, D-IL 7th, came to the West Side from Arkansas as part of the Great Migration in the 1940s-60s.  Thousands of African Americans moved north to Chicago and other cities, seeking jobs and freedom from Jim Crow servitude and violence. With them they brought many talents. Their very own music—the blues— allowed them to shared their feelings about life’s ups and downs. Emotionally, the music helped the community survive.


The music has spread all over the world since then. Blues morphed into soul, R&B, gospel, rock, jazz, house and hiphop. But is the community that made the blues, and still has the blues, reaping the benefits of its creation?


Not really, says West Side singer and drummer Larry Taylor, who is out to change that situation. Taylor, 60, whose life is being dramatized in the short feature film-in-the-making, The Rhythm and the Blues , produced the music for the movie in the studio last summer, directing his fellow West and South Side musicians.   (Disclosure: the author of this blog is the producer.)


Taylor and his under-promoted fellow musicians seek to be recognized, both inside and outside the community. Political leaders, invited by Davis to an April 3 fundraiser at Ashunti Resource Center, 4350 W. 16th St., are beginning to see the value of these musical talents.  Not only can the musicians help raise the spirits of their besieged neighbors;  their music just might put a new spin on the West Side’s reputation.  Instead of a land of “guns and drugs,” the area’s history can be promoted as the hotbed of “Blues and Soul.”


“We have a lot of talent on the West Side,” Davis told an eager audience on April 3. “It’s just that we’ve been disconnected.”


Tying cultural talent to economic development will be one item on the agenda at the North Lawndale Community Coordinating Council Planning Conference this Saturday, April 16, 11 a.m to 3 p.m. at  DRW College Preparatory High School, 931 S. Homan Ave.  The Arts and Culture Committee discussion is headed by Sheila McNary.   Other groups will ask citizens for views on housing, education and youth development, capacity building (helping businesses, organizations and people adjust to changes brought by development); economic development, transportation, street and building infrastructure, sports, recreation parks, open space, health and wellness.


Lawndale neighbors from places like Austin and Garfield Park are also invited to chip in their 2 cents.  Conference organizer Valerie Leonard wants the process to give citizens the chance to define what kind of community they want to live in. Past planning meetings have often rubber-stamped the centralized imposition of infrastructure on residents, but here is one that intends to start by asking citizens first. 


P.S.   REPORT after conference is HERE


"Barrelhouse Bonni" McKeown, the author of "West Side Blues Blog," has played piano and written about blues music for over 15 years.  She has led classes for young and old on...