Chicago in Cook County, Illinois — The American Midwest (Great Lakes)
The Blues Trail: Mississippi to Chicago
The "Great Migration" from the South to "the Promised Land" of Chicago brought more African Americans here from Mississippi than any other state, especially during and after World War II. With the migrants came the Delta blues that was the foundation of the classic postwar Chicago blues style. Muddy Waters, who became the king of Chicago blues, was among the thousands of Mississippians who arrived on Illinois Central trains at Central Station, which stood across the street from this site from 1893 to 1974.
Sweet Home Chicago
Robert Johnson never moved to the place he praised in his song “Sweet Home Chicago,” but his sentiments were shared by thousands of fellow Mississippi natives who came here in search of a better life. In “Chicago Bound,” bluesman Jimmy Rogers called the city “the greatest place around,” and in “Chicago Blues,” Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup deemed it “the grandest place on earth.” Many migrants traveled north on the Illinois Central (IC) via its extensive lines that spread across the Deep South, including eight hundred miles of IC-owned Yazoo and Mississippi Valley Railroad track that criss-crossed the Mississippi Delta. Pullman porters on IC trains to Mississippi often delivered copies
The rise of the blues industry in Chicago attracted many musicians, and during the 1930s, blue artists here who claimed Mississippi roots included Willie Dixon, Memphis Minnie, Lil Green, and Big Bill Broonzy. During World War II the need for factory labor helped fuel a larger wave of migration, and between 1940 and 1950 some 150,000 Mississippians move here. Muddy Waters, Howl’in Wolf, Bo Diddley, Jimmy Reed, Sunnyland Slim, Elmore James, Sonny Boy Williamson No. 2 (Rice Miller), Otis Rush, and Magic Sam were among the many who arrived in the 1940s and ‘50s and found recording opportunities with Chess, Vee-Jay (co-founded by Mississippi native Vivian Carter), Cobra, and other labels. Blues clubs proliferated on the South and West sides, and Chicago’s airwaves also took on a down-home Mississippi flavor on programs hosted by Pervis Spann of WVON and Al Benson of WGES, who earned the honorary title “Mayor of Bronzeville” as the South Side’s most popular personality. Local labels Delmark and Testament began
the many sites on the
Mississippi Blues Trail
Visit us online at www.MSBluesTrail.org
The markers on the Mississippi Blues Trail trace the historical route of the blues from its Mississippi roots through its development in Memphis, Chicago, and other cities. This is marker No. 77, Dedicated on June 11, 2009, on the eve of the 26th annual Chicago Blues Festival.
This site also marks the starting point of the Chicago Blues Tour, a guided journey to sites and sounds of Chicago blues history. Go to www.ExploreChicago.org to experience the tour narrated by Buddy Guy.
This project was funded in part by
[Photographs, top left:]
The IC route map, 1943, and postcard of the IC Depot (Central Station) and Grant Park, 1908. Central Station was within a mile of important institutions of Chicago blues, including the open-air market of Maxwell Street, where many newly arrived musicians from Mississippi played, and the stretch of South Michigan Avenue called “record row” because many record companies were headquartered there. Chicago’s blues festival legacy began just east of this site in 1969 with a one day event called the Grant Park Blues Festival. The station building was demolished in 1974.
[Photograph, top right]
Soul music pioneer Sam Cooke was born in Mississippi and raised in Chicago, where he began his career as a gospel singer. Chicago-based soul and soul-blues singer Denise LaSalle, Jerry Butler, Tyrone Davis, Little Milton, Junior Parker, Otis Clay, McKinney Mitchell, and Syl Johnson also came from Mississippi.
[Photograph, bottom right]
Al Benson, the “Old Swingmaster,” was once Chicago’s most influential deejay. He also recorded blues and R&B artists on his Parrot and Blue Lake labels, among others. His nephews, fellow Mississippi transplants George and Ernest Leaner, operated an important Chicago soul label, One-derful! Records.
[Photograph, middle left]
The classic sound of Chicago blues was largely shaped by Mississippi Muddy Waters (front), a leader in development of the electric blues band format, and Willie Dixon, who wrote and produced many of the genre’s greatest hits. They are pictured together here at a September 1963 session at the Ter-Mar Studios of Chess Records at 2120 South Michigan. At right is Louisiana native Buddy Guy on guitar. The Chess building later became the home of Dixon’s Blues Heaven Foundation.
[Photograph, bottom left]
The first blues club owner ever elected to the Blues Foundation’s Blues Hall of Fame was Teresa Needham, who established the fabled Theresa’s Lounge in Chicago in 1949 after arrival from Mississippi. She is pictured here at her club in 1974.
Images courtesy of Jim O’Neil (BluEsoterica Achives), Scott Barretta, City of Chicago, and Library of Congress
Erected 2009 by Mississippi Blues Commission. (Marker Number 77.)
Marker series. This marker is included in the Mississippi Blues Trail marker series.
Location. 41° 52.06′ N, 87° 37.353′ W. Marker is in Chicago, Illinois, in Cook County. Marker is on East Roosevelt Road west of South Columbus Road, on the right when traveling west. Click for map. Marker is set back from the north side of the street, so you need to walk across the grass away from the sidewalk to view it. Marker is at or near this postal address: East Roosevelt Road, Chicago IL 60601, United States of America.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. Aaron Montgomery Ward Gardens (about 700 feet away, measured in a direct line); 910 South Michigan (approx. 0.2 miles away); Ludington Building (approx. 0.2 miles away); Blackstone Hotel (approx. 0.4 miles away); The Donohue Building (approx. half a mile away); Rowe Building (approx. half a mile away); Grant Park (approx. 0.6 miles away); Auditorium Building (approx. 0.6 miles away). Click for a list of all markers in Chicago.
Regarding The Blues Trail: Mississippi to Chicago. The Chicago blues is a form of blues music that developed in Chicago, Illinois, by taking the basic acoustic guitar and harmonica-based Delta blues, making the harmonica louder with a microphone and an instrument amplifier, and adding electrically amplified guitar, amplified bass guitar, drums, piano and sometimes saxophone and trumpet. The music developed in the twentieth century due to the "Great Migration" when Black workers moved from the South to the industrial cities of the North.
Also see . . .
1. Biography of Muddy Waters. He was born McKinley Morganfield in the tiny hamlet of Rolling Fork, Mississippi, on April 4, 1915. From the age of three, when his mother died, he was raised by his maternal grandmother in Clarksdale, a small town one hundred miles to the north. (Submitted on December 12, 2010.)
2. The Mississippi Blues Trail. (Submitted on October 5, 2011, by Barry Swackhamer of San Jose, California.)
Categories. • African Americans • Arts, Letters, Music •
Credits. This page originally submitted on , by Mark Sherman of Coral Springs, Florida. This page has been viewed 1,266 times since then and 123 times this year. Last updated on , by Barry Swackhamer of San Jose, California. Photos: 1. submitted on , by Mark Sherman of Coral Springs, Florida. 2, 3, 4. submitted on , by Barry Swackhamer of San Jose, California. • Syd Whittle was the editor who published this page. This page was last revised on June 16, 2016.