“Betcha didn’t know hiphop came from the blues,” said the 60 year old bluesman to the school-age rapper Saturday in Hubbard Park.  

“No, I didn’t know, ” said the boy, who had just showed his talent for rhymes and responses.

“You know now.” 

Generations did not seem so far apart as people of various ages picnicked, checked out tables of health info from local nonprofit organizations, and climbed on playground equipment. They were all grooving to live West Side blues by Larry Taylor and his Soul Blues Healers band—one of the blues and jazz concerts being sponsored in BUILD’s “Light in Night” program.  Community Engagement Director Bradly Johnson made the arrangements for BUILD, and a gracious donor provided the stage.

BUILD’s website terms “Light in the Night” events as “high dosage intervention in public areas perceived or identified by the police department as ‘hot spots.”  The events bring the community together in a family oriented setting to reduce the prevalence of violence,  and connect people with health and wellness programs. A small patrol of police officers kept a watchful eye;  they too could be seen smiling and grooving to the blues on June 30.  (shh dont tell nobody).

“Our goal, with this series of activities, is to have people used to feeling safe in this park so they can have their own picnics and activities,” said Johnson. “Neighbors have told me they are surprised to see so many young children. People were afraid to bring their kids to the park, but you see them now, climbing all over the playground.” 

I was privileged to be in the band led by Larry Taylor, the heritage West Side singer.  Larry’s father Eddie Taylor Sr. was a VeeJay recording artist often found playing with Jimmy Reed in the 1950s and 60s. Howlin’ Wolf and his drummers mentored young Larry, who went on to play drums for 30 years with blues and soul heavyweights like John Lee Hooker, Junior Wells, ZZ Hill and Otis Clay, before forming his own band in 2004.  Ice Mike, also a lifelong West Side musician, kept the pace moving on guitar, with LG on bass, Wes Side Wes on drums and myself on keyboard. Hanah Jon Taylor, music educator from Wisconsin, sat in on soprano sax. Over two dozen boys and girls joined Larry on stage at the end of the show to rap some (clean) rhymes.  Don’t be surprised if they are featured in the next four shows as well.

Elders also stopped by the stage to thank Larry and the band for bringing back the music they heard growing up in Mississippi juke joints or in the Chicago clubs of the mid-20th century  As African Americans flowed into the West Side from the South, in search of industrial jobs during the Great Migration,  the area became a hotbed of blues and soul music.

Larry, the band, and neighbors near and far, will return to Hubbard Park, 4942 W. Hubbard St (between Lake and Chicago Ave)  to light more nights, 7 to 9 p.m. Fridays, July 6, 13, 20 and 27.  Join us—it’s free!  

—”Barrelhouse Bonni” McKeown

Bonni McKeown

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

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