by Ayana Contreras
Chicago is a hub. Known to some as the Candy Capitol of the U.S. (Tootsie Rolls, Lemonheads, and Dots are still made here), this Sunday, I am excited to talk about one of Chicago’s less heralded industries: Soul Music and the full-on effort mounted by some of our city’s biggest acts of the day to make Chicago a “Creative Soul Center” in 1970. Jerry Butler (above) created a workshop for up-and-coming composers, and both Gene Chandler and Curtis Mayfield owned their own record labels. Carl Davis was turning Bunswick Records (home to the Chi-Lites, among others) into a Hit Machine. But amidst this positive momentum (and great music), things were coming apart at the seams. Chess Records (arguably Chicago’s most storied label) was imploding, and the music industry was about to deal a blow from which the city’s scene would never fully recover.
To give an idea about the mood that some artists in the industry were cultivating at the time, I found an interesting article from that era in Billboard Magazine. Written by Jerry Butler, the piece (entitled “Black Music is Getting Intellectually Involved”) asserts that soul artists were on the road to creating music with greater artistic freedom (i.e. Stevie Wonder, Donny Hathaway, Sly Stone, Marvin Gaye). He touched on the idea that soul music was evolving past the earthy physicality that bore it, and into a more socially conscious realm (without letting go of its nature). I love his insight. He went on to say,
“I’ve found that sometimes while out on the street and I see a beautiful woman I get butterflies in the stomach and that kind of thing. Well, all of that to me is soulful, that is what soul is. The thing that you can’t see, but that you can feel, the thing that you can’t touch, but you can feel.”
Join in our conversation, and listen to the fruits of the 1970 effort to make Chicago a “Creative Soul Center” on Sunday June 12 from 3p-5pm.