Throughout her life, Chi-Chi Nwanoku, MBE, has been followed by an adjective that is as vexing as it is apt: unlikely. Nwanoku is a professor at the Royal Academy of Music and co-founder of period instrument ensemble the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. She has long been thought of as one of Britain’s most well known and accomplished double bassists. Her skill puts her in a distinct minority of the nation’s classical musicians—as does her race. She is the daughter of a British Nigerian and an Irishwoman, married together in the conservative 1950s. Last week, after a stint in Detroit judging the Sphinx Competition for minority classical musicians, she paid a visit to the South Side for a screening of a documentary about her life, Tales from the Bass Line, as well as a talk and bass master class at the University of Chicago—events organized in part by writer, film impresario, and WHPK DJ Sergio Mims. I sat down with Nwanoku to discuss the experiences of minorities in the classical music world and access to music education. Continue reading
A selection of adaptations that inspired director and Court Theatre resident artist Ron OJ Parson’s staging of Samuel Beckett’s absurdist play Waiting for Godot are singled-out on a large poster hanging in the Court Theatre’s lobby. Two of these stagings—a 1957 Broadway revival starring Geoff Searle, Mantan Moreland, and Geoffery Holder and a 2006 show by the Classical Theatre of Harlem placing the characters in a flooded, post-Katrina New Orleans—featured, as Parson’s staging does, an all-black cast, a move Parson says sits well within the tradition of draping changes over the play’s bare-bones structure to imbue it with particular meanings for particular communities. Continue reading
Anton Cermak, Chicago’s first immigrant mayor, was elected in 1931 after a mayoral race that, at its worst, captured much of the ugliness of the city’s early racial tensions. “Big Bill” Thompson, the incumbent and the city’s last Republican mayor, was defeated soundly—but not before mounting a vicious attack on Cermak’s Czech ethnicity. Continue reading
Before his death, one might have reasonably referred to Michael Abramson as a “celebrity portrait photographer,” although this wouldn’t have been strictly true. While he spent most of his career jetting around the world as a photographer to the stars, it seems likely that, in the current moment, Abramson will not be remembered for his shots of Oprah Winfrey or Steve Jobs or Steven Spielberg or Ron Howard or Michael Jordan. His legacy now resides in a series of photographs submitted as his graduate thesis before his professional career began in earnest. Unlike those of his later work, the subjects of these portraits are anonymous, defined only by the period and places in which they met Abramson and his camera—the nightclubs of the South Side in the mid-1970s.
It has become commonplace to say that Chicago’s Lower West Side is changing. But even as an influx of students, young professionals, and creatives continues to raise the rents and profiles of Pilsen and the area’s other neighborhoods, the economic realities faced by many residents have changed little. Over a quarter of the Lower West Side’s households are below the poverty line. The majority of the area’s employed works in the service and construction industries, fields where, particularly for the undocumented, disputes over workers’ rights and compensation can be as contentious as they were over a century ago, when factory jobs brought German, Irish, and the first crop of Mexican immigrants to the area. It’s a mix of conditions ready-made for leftist politics, and leftist politicians. Continue reading
Yusho serves up food from an imaginary Japanese street—one where the food carts play New Pornographers tunes from humble boom boxes and all the brick-and-mortar establishments have hired interior designers.
Rashanah Baldwin is perhaps the busiest person in Englewood. She is the co-founder of the Residents Association of Greater Englewood (R.A.G.E.), a group of residents who work to further civic engagement, development, and education in the neighborhood. She also runs Shop Talk, a monthly speaker and town-hall series based out of an Englewood barbershop, and What’s Good in Englewood, a brief weekly radio show that highlights positive happenings in the community. All this work has recently culminated in a flurry of citywide and national media attention for both Baldwin, who goes by Shanah B, and her neighborhood—a place with more positive stories to tell than what, in most places, gets heard. I recently sat down to talk with Baldwin at Englewood’s Kusanya Café about her work. Continue reading
On primary day, sixteen candidates will take part in a down-ballot scrum for the chance to contest positions in an administrative body few people have even heard of. Continue reading
The announcement late last year that Charlie Trotter’s chef Matthias Merges had been enlisted into the University of Chicago’s push to import some North Side cool into Hyde Park excited foodies, students, and long-time residents alike. The effort to upscale Hyde Park out of its reputation as a stuffy ivory tower enclave wouldn’t be complete, many reasoned, without “real” restaurants—as if places like Rajun Cajun and Ribs n’ Bibs were either non-corporeal entities or could be considered dining establishments only by technicality. Continue reading