With Chicago Music Forever, the Reader hopes to capture some of the many histories that have shaped the city’s multifaceted music community. Music journalism is often ephemeral, and that’s not a knock on it—the same quality that makes show recommendations useful also means they rarely have long shelf lives, and very few album reviews or artist interviews still feel relevant 20 years later. What would it look like to create music stories with an eye toward future audiences?
The Reader already does this to some extent, of course. Our archives contain a great deal of Chicago music history that’s just as informative now as when it was written, and we continue to publish such stories every year.
The ten new pieces at the heart of Chicago Music Forever add to the Reader’s record of this history, describing not just current events but also developments that span nearly 150 years. One chronicles the development of duranguense in the city’s Mexican American community around the turn of the 21st century; another details the Catholic school parties on the south and west sides that helped incubate the house-music scene in the 1970s and ’80s; a third describes Chicago’s emergence as an epicenter for the manufacture and distribution of musical instruments after the Great Fire.
By filling in gaps and corners and illuminating subterranean connections, this sort of storytelling can make it easier to grasp Chicago’s music history as an almost infinitely detailed and constantly evolving tapestry. In defiance of the segregation that blights the city, it demonstrates that no single thread exists apart from the others.
Aside from these ten pieces, this page contains an evolving selection from the Reader archives, which heavily favors material without an expiration date: oral histories, deep dives, memorial tributes, and obituaries. We’ve also included a link to our continuously updated community calendar of upcoming music events. Thank you for visiting, and we hope to see you again soon. —Philip Montoro, music editor
An uncaptioned photo in the Numero Group’s recent book about south-side nightlife in the 70s set Jake Austen on the trail of this story about one crazy week in the life of longtime promoter Helen Wooten.
This was supposed to be the story of the Jackson Five’s first single, cut in Chicago in 1967. But while writing it, Jake Austen picked up the trail of a tape nobody knew existed: the earliest known studio recording of Michael Jackson and his brothers.
In February, teenage Chicago indie rockers Dwaal Troupe contributed a tender, dusty tune called “Everyone Forgot but You” to Porcelain Songs, a 30-track compilation made by fans of enigmatic Swedish indie-rock…