WEDNESDAY MUSINGS: SPRING!!!

imageNo words today just pretty daffodils….a field full of them!!!  Enjoy……

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imageAnd in a bouquet in my house.

All photos were taken by Nena with an iPhone.

And to continue to enjoy the first days of spring weather…a yummy dessert, I think with a lovely dessert wine, don’t you agree!

FROM NENA’S RECIPE BOX

THE BEST LEMON BARS

1/2 cup butter

1 cup flour

1/4 cup powdered sugar

Mix and pat in bottom of 8″ square pan. Bake for 15 minutes at 350º.

2 eggs beaten

1 cup granulated sugar

2 Tablespoons flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Grated rind of 1 lemon

Mix and pour over slightly cooled baked crust.  Bake 25 minutes in 350º oven.

Cool and frost with fresh lemon juice, lemon rind, and powdered sugar icing…don’t be stingy with the icing and put enough rind in the mix! Cut into squares while still warm. Any left-over icing makes a lovely dip for fresh strawberries, just saying!!!!

BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS: INSPIRING BEAUTY: 50 YEARS OF EBONY FASHION FAIR EXHIBITION CATALOG

imageThe cover of the Inspiring Beauty: 50 Years of Ebony Fashion Fair exhibition catalog.

It was so exciting that Gayle King talked about her experiences being in the Ebony Fashion Fair shows in yesterday’s profile posting.  Once again, this post has inspired me to (no pun intended!) feature the exhibition in today’s Books, Books, Books review and again in the Fashion Flashback post on Friday.  Unfortunately, we no longer have this awesome book in the Chicago History Museum Store, I did find some listed on Amazon and on eBay, if you don’t already have a copy in your fashion library (and why don’t you!!!!???) it is a must have.  What I find in any exhibition book is that if I have seen the actual costume exhibit I can review it and visualize it at any time, if I have been unfortunate and haven’t seen it in person then I can make-believe by reading the text and seeing all the glorious items featured in the many costume collections around the world.  The costume exhibition books just keep getting better and better…yay!

imageEunice Johnson at work.

Once again, Rosemary K. Adams, Director of Publishing, Chicago History Museum, has edited a truly special, unique, educational volume, along with Joy L. Bivins, Director of Curatorial Affairs, Chicago History Museum, who served as curator of the exhibition with Virginia Heaven, Professor in Fashion Studies, Columbia College Chicago.  Both Joy and Virginia have written superb pieces on Eunice Johnson, Ebony, Johnson Publishing and Fashion Fair and its importance to not only African American life, which is magnificently chronicled, in the book,  by Maxine Leeds Craig, but on the fashion world at large.

The blockbuster exhibition was an extraordinary ode to a one of a kind visionary, Eunice Johnson, whose fashion sense was and is unprecedented quite frankly in any industry and will not, in my opinion, be duplicated anytime soon, if ever!

imageJoy Bivins, in the exhibition.

There so many elements to the catalog and it, in turn, directs you to other publications for further study…I think you know by now, I adore doing research, I guess I always have and when I find any book that expands my knowledge, even when I think I know the subject well (which this one does, for sure!) I learn so much more than I thought I would upon turning to the first page.  Another element of the book and the exhibition, that was particularly intimate to me, was personally knowing and working with several of the designers featured, as well as Mrs. Johnson and her daughter, Linda Johnson Rice, who graciously sanctioned the Show and guided it through its presentation.

imageKarl Lagerfeld for Chloé Fall/Winter Prêt à Porter 1983-1984. I worked with this exact iconic garment ” The Showerhead Gown” when Saks Fifth Avenue, Chicago presented the Chloé trunk show that season.  We had the Chloé trunk shows, both Spring and Fall for several years, unfortunately not with M. Lagerfeld, always to rave reviews by clients and press.

imageMrs. Johnson with Karl Lagerfeld during his Chloé days.

imageAn extravagant ensemble from the creative genius, Bob Mackie, a designer I worked with on many formal extravaganzas.

imageMrs. Johnson working with the extraordinary Yves Saint Laurent at his desk.

In my opinion, an intriguing part of the book is how it is divided into sections and the photos are assembled in the order of the chapter headings “Innovative”, “Glamourous”, “Colorful”, “Revealing”, “Bold”, “Sassy”, “Dazzling” and “Powerful”…any of which could describe the entire collection. I don’t believe we will ever see so much diversity in designers, so much glamour, nor so much Haute Couture in one place all because of the vision of one woman and her determination to bring beauty to her readers and Fashion Fair show audiences.  Our gratitude must go to Eunice Johnson for allowing us a glimpse into this world and to The Chicago History Museum and it’s Costume Council for the foresight to bring it to us in this magnificent exhibition and it’s legacy, this catalog that can live with us forever!

I will detail the exhibition, the gala and other aspects of this special collection in Friday’s Fashion Flashback posting.

Photos are from the book, Inspiring Beauty: 50 Years of Ebony Fashion Fair and courtesy of the Chicago History Museum.

PROFILE: GAYLE KING

imageGayle King’s composite.

Gayle King was one of my go-to models for many years…her professionalism, adaptability, Joie de vie, made her one of the best!  I am delighted to share her story with you, I know you will be enchanted with her journey and I thank her for letting me include her as one of my Monday Profiles. Here are her recollections….

“I started modeling at the age of 16.  I did a fashion shooting for the Gary Post-Tribune.  I remember it well because I wore a red wet-look coat, white pants and a navy and white top.  After this, I knew modeling was something I enjoyed and came naturally for me. When I was still in high school, my best friends mother introduced me to John Johnson, the publisher of Jet and Ebony Magazines.  He and Eunice Johnson met with me and told me I was too young to work for them but they kept my contact info.  I was asked to me a hostess for an Open House of their new building at 820 South Michigan Avenue.  Of course, I said “yes”.  All of the hostesses were told they could audition for the Ebony Fashion Fair.  I was the youngest member of the show that traveled in 1973.  I was 19 and newly divorced!  My ticket out of Gary, Indiana.  I traveled with EFF for 2 1/2 years.

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The mannequin is from the Inspiriting Beauty: 50 Years of Ebony Fashion Fair exhibit at the Chicago History Museum.  It was made with my features, with a change of the shade of skin and hair color.

After this, I went to school and graduated from Roosevelt University with a degree in Business Administration.  It was the fall of 1979 when I decided to get back in the modeling biz.  I interviewed with Susan Glick, upon the encouragement of Diane Hollowell, who also was an ex-Ebony Fashion Fair model.  After doing the market shows at the Apparel Center, I met Susanna Johnson who was just starting a modeling agency and was looking for models to represent.  I quickly started working in Chicago at several stores.  I was sent on a go-see to Saks Fifth Avenue to meet you!  The rest is history.

One of my favorite Saks Fifth Avenue fashion shows was Jacqueline de Ribes on August 4, 1985, for United Way/Crusade of Mercy.  She had a style like no other, her clothes were so detailed, they made you feel like royalty. There were so many great shows at Saks with two of my other favorites, Adolfo and Bill Blass, as well as Pauline Trigere, James Galanos and more.

imageGayle wearing a Jacqueline de Ribes evening piece in an in store Saks Fifth Avenue, Chicago benefit fashion show.

My favorite designer was Adolfo.  He is the kindest, sweetest designer I ever met.  I met him at Saks doing a trunk show.  After doing several shows for Adolfo, he asked me to come to New York for the Spring Shows in 1988.  Nena and I were super excited about the opportunity….New York City!!!! Which leads me to my favorite “behind the scenes story”.

imageGayle wearing Adolfo.

I arrived in New York several days before the Adolfo shows.  The day of the show, I thought I had everything under control.  I stayed with my cousins in Brooklyn, the few days before the show, and my cousin drove me to NYC near the hotel where the show was held.  I had about 2 hours to kill, so I went to a cafe and had a cup of coffee and leisurely made my way to the show with intentions to apply my makeup and prepare for the show.  When I walked in, all of the models were in line and the show had begun!!

Somehow, I was an hour off on the ” be there” time.  I thought I would faint from total embarrassment.  Adolfo came up to me and said “don’t worry, you are fine”  But I don’t have on my makeup.  He said, “you look beautiful just the way you are”!  I could have kissed this man!  Needless to say in between each garment I was putting on makeup, lips, blush and eye shadow.  I was totally made up by the end of the show.

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I’ve been a mortgage loan officer for about 24 years now.  While doing informal modeling at Saks, which I did a lot, I met Sharon Rizzo in the beauty salon.  Sharon reminds you of Wonder Woman.  She is about 5′ 10″ and gorgeous.  She too had been a model and asked me what I was going to do once I was finished with modeling.  I told her I had a degree in BSBA and would probably get back into the world of finance as I had interned at Northern Illinois Gas Company one summer in their accounting department.

She was a realtor and suggested I get my license to sell real estate and give her a call when I had done so.  I did exactly that and was hired at American Invsco ERA.  After selling real estate for a few years, I got married and had a daughter, Halle.  I no longer wanted to show property all day and night.  I was then encouraged to be a mortgage loan officer and started working for Koenig and Strey’s mortgage department known as Windsor Mortgage.  I currently work for Associated Bank.

imageGayle in a “glamour” shot last year…still has it wouldn’t you agree!!! Photo credit Ernest Collins

Modeling prepared me for the world.  Through modeling, I traveled to every major city in the United States and many small towns when I was with the Ebony Fashion Fair. We also went to several Islands.  After settling in Chicago and working as a model here, I was exposed to many different people from all over the world.  I did a lot of informal fashion modeling and that helped me develop my sales skills.

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Karen Williams appeared on the cover of Essence Magazine many times during her modeling career.  And Madelyn Oparinde, used to be a full-sized model with Ebony Fashion Fair.  She has since lost over 100 pounds.  We all got together with photographer Ernest Collins.  He wanted to get all the girls from the 80’s together for a photo shoot.  The pictures were published in the Sophisticate’s Black Hair Magazine in the November 2016 edition

After all, I was selling fashion, hair care products, makeup, perfume and myself. That’s what you are doing when you go on countless auditions.  You also develop a thick skin because you learn to take the “no’s” without feeling rejected personally.  So I guess you can say modeling has taught me to be determined no matter what. I’m still selling…mortgages and my word that I will do everything possible to help my clients obtain ‘The American Dream’.” (Nena’s note, I think we can all agree, Gayle achieved hers!)

imageGayle today, still with that memorizing smile and the endearing personality.  Thank you, Gayle, for being you!

All photos courtesy of Gayle King.

FASHION FLASHBACK: ROCK AND ROLL HALL OF FAME AND MUSEUM

imageRock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland, Ohio, designed by I. M. Pei, opened in 1995.

Continuing on this week’s musical theme I wanted to share the two fashion shows I did with the Saks Fifth Avenue store in Beachwood, Ohio.

I was asked by SFA Corporate to coordinate the fashion shows to benefit the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, http://www.rockhall.com the first, to my recollection, was in 2004 and we were presenting the St. John Collection, a huge resource for the store.  My head of production, Deb Gohr, and I flew to Cleveland to meet with the institution’s President and CEO, Terry Stewart and his wife, Sally to see the hotel that we were to present in as well as have a tour of the Hall itself.  I must admit to being totally ignorant about the Hall…I guess I thought it wouldn’t be an upscale place, how wrong I was…it is amazing!!!!  The building, designed by I. M. Pei, sits on the shore of Lake Erie and is in the form of a record player turntable, with a huge outdoor plaza.  Truly a glorious structure. The Stewarts graciously hosted a dinner party for us at their home and shared their own extraordinary memorabilia with us…oh my!

We only had a limited amount of time to spend and they had an exhibition of Mary Wilson’s (The Supremes!) http://www.marywilson.com/gown-collection costume and memorabilia that I really wanted to visit. Again, not a disappointment….the exhibit was on a separate floor from the main exhibits and was set up like a backstage dressing room.  Having worked with Bob Mackie (a post on him later….) it was super fun to see sets of three of his stage creations up close and personal.  They were exquisite.  Thank heaven she kept them so we could enjoy the glamour of The Supremes in their glory days. It was well worth the trip.

imageThe Bob Mackie gowns from the Mary Wilson Collection at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum.  Photo credit unknown.

For the actual show a few weeks later, as usual, I booked the models but in this instance (all of them were coming from Chicago) I had to book their rooms at the Hotel, their flights to and from Chicago and Cleveland, transportation from the airport and back, arrange food for them for the two days they were there (yes, models do eat!!), etc.  All was fine with a few glitches…some of the models had to cancel and new ones put into place…this meant booking new tickets, even then you had to show ID and your ticket to airport security and to board..fortunately, there weren’t many changes.  The fittings were held at the Hotel the day before the show. All went well with both the fittings and show with Kelly Gray from St. John, in attendance for the luncheon and show and an in-store meet and greet….the store sold the St. John garments in great quantities that was pretty much a given with their wearability.  Yay…

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image Similar looks from another St. John show, this one in the Chicago store. The two photos courtesy of the Nena Ivon Archives at Columbia College Chicago.

In 2006, the Beachwood store was once again asked to work with the RRHF and I was invited back to coordinate it.  This time we were doing a Chanel Fall 2006 ready-to-wear collection in September.  I was thrilled to be working with the Chanel merchandise since we didn’t carry the brand in the Chicago store.  What made it even more special was I had seen the samples being worked on when I was in Paris for the Couture Collections in July 2006…what a pleasure to be in the Chanel workrooms realizing that the seamstresses were fashioning the exact garments, most of which were in black and white, I would be fitting and showing later that season…wow!  I made the trip back to Cleveland to work with the RRHF staff to prepare the event.  We really wanted to do the show in the outside plaza but decided it was cost prohibited and opted to once again show in the Renaissance Plaza Hotel Ballroom.  The same logistics were put in place, booking the 22 models, flying them to Cleveland, hotel accommodations made, fittings planned. In addition, Chanel had their special representative there to do the fittings and supervise the production and we also had a Saks Fifth Avenue Corporate representative to help oversee the event. The fittings took a very long time but since the models were booked for a two and a half day gig they weren’t on the “clock”.  I usually do an hour fitting….this wasn’t an hour! When doing an all one brand/house show I always want to have the models look like the original show, hair, make-up, attitude and this is what happened with this show, just, perhaps, with a little more effort.  The event was a cocktail reception, fashion show, performance by James Hunter and dessert reception. It was a sold out festive evening.  Again, sales were brisk, the point of doing a charity fashion show is, obviously, to raise money for the cause and, of course, drive sales of what you are featuring…both goals were beautifully accomplished.

imageThe front of the evening’s program.

imageimageimageThree images from the Chanel Paris Fall 2006 Runway Show.  Photo credits unknown.

I know one of the questions that I had on my first visit to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum was why in the world is it in Cleveland….well I got my answer (which by the way was explained in detail in the book I reviewed this week, Windy City Blues).  The term “Rock and Roll” is attributed to a DJ who started in Akron, Ohio and moved to Cleveland, Alan Freed…”he liked “race music and jazz” and had an audience of white kids who defied their parents and listened in and he started calling this music “rock n’ roll”, (a quote from the book).  Well, there you have it!  I must say if you are into music, collections of every major recording artist you can think of,  get yourself to Cleveland and visit this one of a kind museum, you won’t be disappointed.

In the meantime, you can visit the current exhibition at Navy Pier, Exhibitionism, The Rolling Stones, http://www.stonesexhibitionism.com  if it is anything like the David Bowie exhibition that was at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago a couple of years ago, we are all in for a major treat.

 

COLLECTIONS: DECORATIVE EGGS

imageNo, not mine, only in my dreams….an Imperial Faberge Easter egg.

It’s Spring, it’s Easter so we must have an egg post….yes, I collect them, not as many as in the past, I have given some away.  When I was a little girl my Father did the most beautiful eggs, hand-painted, wax transfers, all manner of artistic beauties.  Mom and I, of course, dyed dozens of them in solids and watercolors, the Easter Bunny then hid them for my Easter morning egg hunt…it wasn’t unusual to not find one or two until months later…luckily most were blown so didn’t become a smelly problem.  It was always great fun. And then there was the Easter basket filled with treats and little presents (we were always a present giving family…no Faberge eggs, I sorry to say!) In addition, we celebrated both Easters, which I thought very special (this year both are on the same day.)  For Russian Orthodox Easter, Daddy did only red eggs and we had baskets of them.  My Aunt Rose (who was like my grandmother, all my grandparents had died before I was born or when I was too young to remember them) would drive up from her bungalow on the Southwest side for Easter dinner and would always bring a lambie cake.  We alternated between a baked ham or leg of lamb, both of which I adored, still do.

Now for some of my egg collection along with some others…

imageTwo handpainted eggs, a lily of the valley etched Stuben, a malachite and a blue opaline all grouped together on top of an Asian chest.

imageA hand painted lily of the valley Limoges box in an egg shape.

imagePearl and brass lily of the valley encased in a glass egg-shaped dome.

imageGreen enamel with brass detail, it is actually a ring musical box.

imageFrom my friend, Virginia Heaven’s egg collection, she has been collecting for over 40 years…hand painted eggs from Poland from a local grocery store (I want to go to that store!!!)

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Stone eggs that Virginia has acquired from her world travels.

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Virginia’s wooden eggs that her Father made. All three photos from Virgina Heaven.

imageNow here is a collection….how could I not include it….photo credit not known.

imageA Faberge egg covered with precious stones in a micro mosaic pattern (totally different from the micro mosaics I discussed last week that I saw at Somerset House in London), of course, one of the Imperial eggs.

I remember, many years ago, roaming around the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (I always make a trip to the Met when I am in NYC no matter the duration of my stay in the city) and stumbled upon an exhibition of Faberge eggs…in my mind I think it was the Forbes Collection, but really can’t remember the source, just the beauty of the exquisite workmanship and detail.  I was fortunate to see more when I visited Moscow.  To see them where they were created was an extra special delight!  Truly nothing like these miniature works of art, craftsmanship, and opulence given to celebrate the season.

Happy Easter to all my friends celebrating the holiday, Happy Passover to those celebrating their special time and happy spring to all of us.

Since I didn’t post my usual recipe of the week yesterday, I am doing so today with a recipe that will be perfect for your Sunday dinner no matter what you are celebrating.  Enjoy…..

FROM NENA’S RECIPE BOX

ROAST PARSLEYED RACK OF LAMB

2 racks of spring lamb (you can do this year round) about 3 pounds each, have your butcher trim them

Salt and pepper

1/2 cup melted butter

2 Tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley

2 cloves garlic very finely chopped (I use a scant Tablespoon jarred garlic paste, lamb loves garlic)

2 Tablespoon Dijon mustard

2 cups white bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 325º.  Season the lamb with salt and pepper to taste and sear the racks, fat side up, under a hot broiler for 5 minutes (or on top of the stove). Transfer the racks to a roasting pan and cook them in the preheated oven for 35 minutes.

In a mixing bowl with a wooden spoon work to a paste the butter, parsley, garlic, mustard and bread crumbs.  Season to taste with additional salt and pepper.  Take the racks of lamb from the oven at the end of the indicated time and coat thickly with the crumb mixture.  Return them to the oven and continue cooking for 15-20 minutes longer (depends on how you like your lamb, don’t over cook) or until crumb mixture is browned. Let them rest for 10 minutes before carving into portions 2 chops thick for each of 6 servings.

Serve with smashed potatoes, fresh spring peas, asparagus, vodka carrots, fresh mint sauce (and/or mint jelly) and, of course, lambie cake or a favorite lemon dessert or both.  A full bodied red wine, champagne or a lovely rosé.  Yum, Yum, Yum!!!

By the way, it was exactly, to the day, six months ago today that I began my blogging journey.  I hope you are enjoying my adventure as much as I am enjoying sharing my bits and bobs with you…who knows how long I will continue (hopefully a long time!) and what topics I will explore…do stay with me and bring along your friends, I do have some special treats in store!

I want to take a special moment and dedicate this post to Tom Mantel and the rest of my “adopted family”…they know why…love you! 

WEDNESDAY MUSINGS: MUSIC….OOPS!!

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SO SORRY I LISTED THE INCORRECT DATES FOR THIS MONTHS RANDOLPH STREET MARKET…THE REAL DATES ARE SATURDAY AND SUNDAY, APRIL 29 AND 30 FROM 10 TO 5. PLEASE MARK YOUR CALENDARS. 
I have always needed music in the background of my life…I couldn’t study without it, or read, or cook or work or…..now blog!!!!  Both my Mother and Father, while not musical (Daddy did play the violin!) would sing to me as a child and to each other. I can’t remember not having “sound” around me. While I love classical music (mostly the Chicago Symphony, the Lyric Opera and an everyday dose of WFMT!) my favorites would be standards, show tunes, and Jazz! While reading Windy City Blues for my book review this week, I started thinking about my early days of collecting LP’s as well as my lack of a knowledge of the Blues.  Mom, after Daddy died, went to work for a friend who had a gift/record store in the Old Orchard Shopping Mall.  By now, dear readers, you know of my book obsession…I had the same thing for record albums, I had hundreds. While Mom was working at that store, I collected more of my favorites, including, of course, Frank Sinatra who was at the top of the list (still is, but now on my tech devices!!!) No one will ever have his sound.  One of my favorite Sinatra’s is Only The Lonely if you want to have a good cry just play it, it is amazing.  I decided not long ago that I would just play Sinatra and see how much I had…after over 15 hours and no repeats, I had to stop…and I don’t have his entire body of work!

imageOnly The Lonely 1958

In the early 60’s I decided I wanted to build my own record player and enlisted a friend to help me.  We would work a couple evenings a week, after work, in my home in Evanston.  A couple of weeks into this, soldering, figuring out the plans, putting everything together (in my mind I think we got the equipment at Lyon & Healy in Evanston), I said, “why are we doing everything twice”?  Silly us, we were doing a stereo (a new thing!!!) and I wanted a mono system.  We went back to the store and told them our problem and they graciously exchanged it for me…probably shaking their heads not understanding why I didn’t want stereo sound!!! It was great fun and I loved tinkering with it.  I learned so much, how to solder, how to read plans that looked like you were building an airplane and so much more.  My friend was a record geek and you weren’t allowed to have one record drop onto the next…I must admit that when he wasn’t around I piled them on, bad Nena!

When I moved into the City I brought all my LPs with me.  Many years later when cassettes and then CD’s came to be I decided, wrongly, to get rid of all of them and gave them to Chicago House, hoping they would enjoy them.  After putting all my CD’s on my tech devices and several of my friend’s devices as well, I gave them to another friend who doesn’t like technology. Of course, the craze at the moment is collecting vinyl (check out the next Randolph Street Market, April 22 and 23, www. randolphstreetmarket.com, to fill holes in your collection or start building a new one!)

imageThese were my favorite covers, Ella Fitzgerald Sings Gershwin, 1959, with covers by Berard Buffet…I wish I had kept those, they were amazing and matched her renditions of Gershwin’s songs.

My love for music hasn’t waned if anything it has grown…my taste is very eclectic just like my reading and the decor of my home.  I like so many genres of music and artists and how lucky we are to be able to have our music in so many ways today.

I have found a Facebook page that is devoted to “lost” Chicago iconic places such as Mister Kelly’s and The London House, it talks about many of the artists who have performed at these wonderful venues.  I can’t even begin to tell you how many evenings I spent in both these places, more at The London House (now the London House Hotel) where I would sit for hours listening to George Shearling and his quintet, loved him.

imageGeorge Shearling and his Quintet playing at The London House late 1950’s-1960’s

imageThe London House in the late 1950’s

First heard Ella Fitzgerald at Mister Kelly’s and of course, would go to The Blue Note for the Blues, Gate of Horn for Folk and on and on.  Now we can still go to Buddy Guy’s Legends on Wabash Avenue for more Blues.  I did a photo shoot in “old” space, down the street from the current location, several years ago.  A place filled with nostalgia, love it! And, of course, The House of Blues, stunning.

imageThe Blue Note in the late 50’s

imageBuddy Guy’s today

Once again I bemoan the fact that so many places are gone and nothing has replaced them.  Where can we hear good Jazz, great piano and where oh where can we go dancing!!!!

imageView from the rooftop bar at The London House Hotel, photo taken by Nena Ivon last summer looking North at some of our fantastic, iconic architecture.

All other photo credits unknown.

http://www.buddyguy.com

http://www.londonhousechicago.com

BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS: WINDY CITY BLUES

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I’ve been a fan of Renee Rosen since I read What the Lady Wants, about Marshall Field’s, followed by White Collar Girl, taking place at a Chicago newspaper, both well written and fascinating combining fact and fiction in historical 20th Century Chicago (she happens to live in Chicago, as many of my favorite authors do!).  Loved both of them.  I was, therefore, quite excited when I learned that Ms. Rosen had a new book this year, Windy City Blues, I immediately put it at the top of my TBR list (where another of her books, Dollface, resides).  I was not disappointed, it is equally well written, actually I would say the best written of the three I have read, although not quite as interesting to me at the beginning…I got over that quickly when I became involved in the lives of the many characters, some real others fiction.

Since we were discussing music in Chicago with Denise McGowan Tracy’s profile yesterday and her wonderful singing career, what better time than to review the book today.

It is the story of the 1940’s, 1950’s and 1960’s and how the Blues came to Chicago through Chess Records and how its many stars such as Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Chuck Berry and Etta James (one of my favorites!) came to be and the struggles the artists and promoters had through those years. The ups and downs…lots of downs, the one night gigs, the constant traveling, the successes dependent upon who would play their records both in the North and South.  How it was mostly a man’s world and certainly one of Black artists. How Rock and Roll began (in Cleveland, if you didn’t know that!) and the main story of a mixed marriage and how it survived through the years and through the early stages of the civil rights movement.  The struggles are all bound together by music, deep in the characters souls.

I have to admit I am more of a Jazz fan than Blues but when you hear any music done perfectly how can you not make it a part of you…as the musicians pour their hearts and souls into the lyrics and the rhythms that come from their instruments.  All this has to come together under the watchful and insightful ears of the promoters and the Chess brothers were the perfect team to know when they had found a rising star and when they were no longer viable. All this, of course, takes place over several decades, nothing happens overnight.  I am a huge admirer of Ms. Rosen’s skill to use authentic historical details (in all her books) to weave this complex story which boils down to love…the deep endearing love of a man and woman, and the many obstacles they face, and love of the music inside them that must be heard.  Having said that I truly believe a musician doesn’t need anything, other than their instrument (and that instrument can be their voice) and a song, an audience is a bonus, and money a necessity.  How privileged we are to be able to share the wonderful legacy these pioneers of a very special music genre that thrives to this day have given us.

I would suggest you read all of Renee Rosen’s body of work, let me know your thoughts by leaving your comments.

http://www.reneerosen.com

http://www.bookcellarinc.com