Illinois Turns 200 concludes on the day itself–the Illinois Bicentennial. The episode explores the past, present, and possible futures of the third-largest city in the country through interviews with author Tom Dyja, historian Ann Durkin Keating, and journalist Natalie Moore. Hear the sounds of Chicago’s past courtesy of Cultural Historian for the City of Chicago Tim Samuelson. Nora Brooks Blakely reads her mother Gwendolyn Brooks’s poem, “For Illinois,” written for the 150th anniversary of statehood, while poet Tara Betts gives us her take on the 200th. With live music by Dee Alexander; James Conway; Jon McLean; Chris Vallillo; a few special, secret guests; an Illinois-inspired DJ-set by Plastic Crimewave; bicentennial burgoo courtesy of the Chicago Reader’s Mike Sula; and the Land of Lagers beer brewed exclusively for the event by the Goose Island Brewing Company–this is a night 200 years in the making!
More about the Participants
Born on Chicago’s west side, Dee Alexander is one of Chicago’s most gifted and respected female vocalist/songwriters. Her talents span every music genre, from Gospel to R&B, from Blues to Neo-Soul. Yet her true heart and soul are experienced in their purest form through her performance of Jazz. Her Jazz Institute of Chicago-commissioned tribute to Nina Simone and Dinah Washington entitled “Sirens of Song” introduced her to a larger audience and marked the beginning of worldwide recognition with a Millennium Park performance begining a period of frequent European touring. Ms. Alexander leads her own Dee Alexander Quartet and the Evolution Ensemble and has received the Chicagoan of the Year in Jazz award and the 3Arts Award for Music. Her performance at the 2013 Newport Jazz Festival was selected by the New York Times as one of the best concerts with staying power. Her current project, “Songs My Mother Loves” has received rave reviews and is intended not only to express thanks and pay tribute to Ms. Alexander’s mother for her inspiration and influence but also to pay homage to the music that has become such a significant part of her life.
Tara Betts is the author of Break the Habit, Arc & Hue, and the forthcoming Refuse to Disappear. She’s a co-editor of The Beiging of America: Personal Narratives about Being Mixed Race in the 21st Century and editor of the critical edition of Philippa Duke Schuyler’s long-out-of-print memoir Adventures in Black and White. Her work has been published in numerous anthologies and literary journals. In addition to her work as a teaching artist and mentor to young poets, she currently teaches in Chicago State University’s MFA Program.
Nora Brooks Blakely
Nora Brooks Blakely is a literary editor and agent. She is the president of Brooks Permissions, a permissions firm that manage the use of literary works by Gwendolyn Brooks and others. Ms. Blakely has made public appearances and appeared in documentaries related to the Chicago literary scene, especially the Black Arts Movement which grew out of Chicago’s Woodlawn neighborhood. She is the daughter of Henry Lowington Blakely, Jr., and the writer Gwendolyn Brooks, the famed and revered “Poet of 63rd Street.”
James Conway is an active musician in the Chicago music scene. He plays in several formats but mainly solo acoustic and with his Celtic power trio, The Boils. Heavily influenced by acoustic greats such as Neil Young, Merle Travis, Bo Carter, and Mississippi Fred McDowell, James uses fingerpicking, slide guitar, rack-harmonica, and a variety of tunings to perform tasty renditions of songs from the folk and country blues genres. In the Celtic scene, Conway plays the traditional dance music of Ireland on tin whistles and harmonicas. Playing the fast-tempo reels and jigs on the mouth harp isn’t a common or easy feat, but James does it convincingly using advanced techniques he learned from local blues/jazz harp heroes such as Junior Wells, Sugar Blue, and Howard Levy. James has performed and/or taught at places such as Les Harmonicales Festival(France), An Ri Ra Festival(Butte, Montana), Steppenwolf Theater, Long Wharf Theater, The Indy Palladium, and Wicker Park’s Smoke Daddy. Conway received both a Fellowship Award and a Master/Apprenticeship Award from the Illinois Arts Council during one of his rare productive periods. James Conway has an endorsement with Hohner Harmonica.
Thomas Dyja is the author of The Third Coast: When Chicago Built the American Dream, winner of the 2013 Heartland Prize and the Chicago Public Library’s selection for its 2015 One Book, One Chicago program. A Chicago native, Dyja now lives in New York City and is currently working on a history of New York from Ed Koch to Michael Bloomberg.
Ann Durkin Keating
Ann Durkin Keating is the Toenniges Professor of History at North Central College where she has taught since 1991. She holds an undergraduate degree from the University of Illinois and her graduate degrees from University of Chicago. She was the co-editor of the Encyclopedia of Chicago (2004), a print and online project. She has also written several books including Building Chicago: Suburban Developers and the Creation of a Divided Metropolis (1988) about the emergence of suburban government in Chicago and Chicagoland: City and Suburbs of the Railroad Age (2005). More recently, she has turned to Chicago’s early history in Rising Up From Indian Country: The Battle of Fort Dearborn and the Birth of Chicago (2012). She has also just completed a manuscript on Juliette Kinzie and Chicago before the 1871 Fire to be published next year by University of Chicago Press.
Chicago-native Plastic Crimewave aka Steven Krakow is known for being a “psychedelic guru” of sorts and is the creator of the Galactic Zoo Dossier, a hand-drawn magazine published by Drag City since 2001. Crimewave also: runs the Galactic Zoo Disk reissue label imprint that is manufactured/distributed by Drag City and roving label Galactic Archives; draws/writes the bi-weekly “Secret History of Chicago Music” comics for the Chicago Reader for over a decade; books/founded the avant/psych festival Million Tongues featuring international musicians; has exhibited at the Museum of Contemporary art; and has drawn countless comics, posters, album covers, and branding art for Lush Cosmetics. He headed up Plastic Crimewave Sound, a legendary space-punk ensemble that recorded 5 LPs between 2001-2011; currently leads the band Plastic Crimewave Syndicate; conducts the Plastic Crimewave Vision Celestial Guitarkestra of up to 70 guitarists, performed in Hyde Park Arts Center New York and yearly at the Hideout block party; plays banjo/guitar in the spacey duo Spiral Galaxy; and has DJ-ed all over the world from London to Tokyo.
John McLean’s career has included work as a guitarist, composer, arranger, producer, bandleader, and educator. Since completing his studies at the Berklee College of Music (B.M.) and the University of Miami (M.M.), he has toured throughout the world and appeared on over 50 recordings. John has performed and /or recorded with such artists as Kurt Elling, Mose Allison, Randy Brecker, Branford Marsalis, Anat Cohen, Jeff “Tain” Watts, Rudresh Mahanthappa, Richie Cole, Ken Nordine, Joe Locke, Regina Carter, Louis Bellson, Dr. Lonnie Smith, Terry Collier, Renee Fleming, John Patitucci, Adam Nussbaum, Ernie Watts, Dave Douglas, Patricia Barber, Kendrick Scott, Arthur Blythe, Eddie Gomez, and many others. Over the course of his 30 years of touring as both a leader and sideman, John has performed in virtually every major city in North America as well as London, Paris, Moscow, Johannesburg, Tokyo, Beijing, Sydney, Sao Paulo, Jakarta, Dublin, Rome, Madrid, Warsaw, Berlin, Oslo, Reykjavik, Oslo, Stockholm, Istanbul, Bucharest, Helsinki, Seoul, Lisbon, Vienna, Budapest, Brussels, Prague, Copenhagen, Zurich, and many more. John has conducted clinics throughout the the United States and Canada as well as Europe and Asia. He currently resides in the Chicago area and teaches at North Central College in Naperville, Illinois.
Natalie Moore is WBEZ’s South Side Reporter where she covers segregation and inequality. Her enterprise reporting has tackled race, housing, economic development, food injustice and violence. Natalie’s work has been broadcast on the BBC, Marketplace and NPR’s Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition. Natalie is the author of The South Side: A Portrait of Chicago and American Segregation, winner of the 2016 Chicago Review of Books award for nonfiction and a Buzzfeed best nonfiction book of 2016. Natalie writes a monthly column for the Chicago Sun-Times. Her work has been published in Essence, Ebony, the Chicago Reporter, Bitch, In These Times, the Chicago Tribune, the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Guardian. She is the 2017 recipient of Chicago Library Foundation’s 21st Century Award. In 2010 she received the Studs Terkel Community Media Award for reporting on Chicago’s diverse neighborhoods. Natalie has won several journalism awards, including a Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. Other honors are from the Radio Television Digital News Association (Edward R. Murrow), Public Radio News Directors Incorporated, National Association of Black Journalists, Illinois Associated Press and Chicago Headline Club. The Chicago Reader named her best journalist in 2017.
Tim Samuelson is the Cultural Historian for the City of Chicago and a true Chicago treasure.
Mike Sula is a senior writer and restaurant critic for the Chicago Reader with 26 years of experience as a working journalist. He’s written about politics, crime, film, healthcare, and paleontology, and has profiled a rainbow of urban eccentrics. His work has been published in Harper’s, the Chicago Tribune, the Chicago Sun-Times, NPR’s The Salt, Plate, Dill, and Eater, and his story about outlaw charcuterie appeared in Best Food Writing 2010. His story “Chicken of the Trees,” about eating squirrels, won the James Beard Foundation’s 2013 M.F.K. Fisher Distinguished Writing Award. He is also a senior editor for Kitchen Toke, the magazine of health culinary cannabis.
Chris Vallillo is a singer/songwriter and folk musician with a natural affinity for American roots music. A master of bottleneck slide guitar, he weaves original, contemporary, and traditional songs into a compelling and entertaining portrait of the history and lifestyle of the Midwest. In the 1980’s he conducted the Schuyler Arts Folk Music Project, documenting the last of the pre radio generation of musicians along the Illinois River. From 1990 through 1998 he served as the performing host and co-producer of the nationally distributed, award-winning public radio performance series Rural Route 3. His one-man show, Abraham Lincoln in Song, received the endorsement of the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission and the accompanying CD charted at #10 on Billboard’s Bluegrass Album Chart in March of 2008. Chris has twice served as the Illinois Scholar for the Smithsonian Institution’s traveling exhibit on roots music, New Harmonies and his 2016 project, Oh Freedom!, Songs of the Civil Rights Movement was released on Martin Luther King Day of 2017 and charted at # 6 of the National Folk charts. Find more about Chris Vallillo.
Kevin Wood has been portraying Abraham Lincoln since 2000, giving more than 450 presentations in thirteen states and two other countries. He spent much of his early life in Metamora, IL, which Lincoln often visited as a circuit-riding attorney. His varied professional background includes investigation and cleanup of Superfund hazardous waste sites, ministry and missions, teaching and coaching.
For more information about this event, please contact Paul Durica at firstname.lastname@example.org or (312) 422-5583.