Presentation 1 - Historic Instruments of Illinois

This scholar is fully booked through 2021. This scholar will be available to book for programs in 2022 on September 1, 2021. You may also book them outside of any Illinois Humanities affiliation using the contact information provided.

From homemade dulcimers and fiddles to mass produced guitars, banjo’s, mandolins and pianos, Illinois and specifically Chicago has been deeply involved in the creation and production of stringed musical instruments.  After the Great Fire of 1871, as Chicago began to re-build, it quickly became a national center in musical instrument manufacturing, sales and distribution, particularly with the introduction of the mail order catalogs like Sears and Roebuck and Montgomery Wards.

From well known name brands like Lyon and Healey, Washburn, Regal, Kay and Harmony to a wealth of small but influential shops such as the Larson Brothers, it was Chicago, more than any other city in the world, that put musical instruments in the hands of players of all levels.

Roots Musician and Folklorist Chris Vallillo has restored and collected Illinois stringed instruments for over 30 years and will discuss the development of Illinois Instrument building as he performs period music on over a dozen historic examples of these important instruments, from handmade masterpieces to $3.00 mail order gems.

This is an excellent program for live streaming since Vallillo has greater access to the extensive collection of vintage instruments and can share them in a controlled environment.  However, he is capable of providing all necessary equipment to present this program live.

Program Topics

  • Music
  • History
  • Illinois

Book this presentation by first scheduling a date with Chris via email or phone at 309.224.8210, then completing the Road Scholars Host Organization application.


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Presentation 2 - Oh Freedom! Songs of the Civil Rights Movement

This scholar is fully booked through 2021. This scholar will be available to book for programs in 2022 on September 1, 2021. You may also book them outside of any Illinois Humanities affiliation using the contact information provided.

The Civil Rights Movement has been described as one of the greatest singing movements that this country has experienced. From “We Shall Overcome” to “This Little Light of Mine”, music played an vital role in that historic struggle both as an inspirational rallying point and as a way to spread the message of equality and justice.From the Freedom Riders, to the the jails of Montgomery Alabama, and Parchment Prison, all the way to Washington DC, both old and new songs of the era spoke of the yearning for equal rights, the struggle and the determination to win freedom. They engaged and energized the movement and became the backbone of the nonviolent civil disobedience movement led by Dr. King and others. Music was a huge part of the process both locally and nationally.In a show created to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the civil rights movement, award winning folksinger Chris Vallillo performs pivotal songs from the music that inspired and sustained this landmark movement. Intermixed with the music, Vallillo presents first hand accounts of the historic struggle and discusses the impact of music to our nations most important social cause.

“Brilliant!” Rick Kogan, WGN Radio

“A poignant reminder of music’s power to awaken a nations conscience” Mike Matejka, Union News

Program Topics

  • Music
  • History
  • Civil Rights

Book this presentation by first scheduling a date with Chris via email or phone at 309.224.8210, then completing the Road Scholars Host Organization application.


Back to the 2021 – 2022 Road Scholar Roster

About Road Scholar Chris Vallillo

Chris Vallillo is a singer/songwriter and folklorist with a natural affinity for American roots music.  A master of bottleneck slide guitar, he weaves original, contemporary, and traditional songs and narratives into a compelling and entertaining portrait of the history and lifestyle of the Midwest.  His 2016 project, Oh Freedom! Songs of the Civil Rights Movement was released on Martin Luther King Day and charted at # 6 of the National Folk charts. His one man show Abraham Lincoln in Song, received the endorsement of the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission and the CD of reached #10 on Billboard’s Bluegrass Album Chart.

Learn More and Follow Chris

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About Illinois Humanities Road Scholars Speakers Bureau

Since 1997, our Road Scholars Speakers Bureau has invited Illinois writers, storytellers, historians, folklorists, musicians, and living history actors, among others, to share their expertise and enthusiasm with people throughout our state. It also supports local nonprofit organizations – including libraries, museums, arts councils, historical societies, civic groups, and many others – in presenting free-admission cultural programs of high quality to their communities for a modest application fee, which can be waived if your organization is experiencing financial hardship.

Our Road Scholars Speakers Bureau roster features speakers hailing from many different communities across Illinois who offer presentations on topics in history, archaeology, philosophy, literature, theater, film, music, politics, and other subjects that are thought-provoking and engaging. The breadth of these offerings reflects our conviction that the humanities can help us to examine the world in all its varied shades and discover in it the remarkable, the strange, the fantastic, the tragic, the humorous, and the beautiful.

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