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

From the Reader‘s Music Archives

Chicago Music history

Summoning the ghosts of Record Row

For two decades, a short stretch of Michigan Avenue hosted a concentration of creative entrepreneurship whose influence on Black popular music is still felt today.

An oral history of the Green Mill

The neon-lit bar at Lawrence and Broadway, now a legendary jazz club, has been around for 107 years—and has more stories than any tavern in town. Here are a few from the past three decades.

Why the AACM and AfriCOBRA still matter

MCA curator Naomi Beckwith discusses a new exhibit called “The Freedom Principle” that connects the legacy of the Black Arts Movement to current cultural and political battles.

The best Chicago albums of the 2010s

The Reader polled dozens of critics to arrive at an absolutely indisputable ranked list of several hundred records that will definitely not start any arguments.

Neo: where misfits fit in

The Lincoln Park club closed in 2015, after providing a sanctuary for generations of night crawlers—but its subcultural legacy continues to reverberate.

The Woman on the Right

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.

Spoon’s last dance

For six decades, Fletcher Weatherspoon has been a pillar of Chicago’s African-American social-club scene. On Mother’s Day, he handed down his crown.

Keeping the beat

Chicago’s beat scene has to do without the attention the city’s rappers get, but it’s a vital incubator for adventurous, ambitious instrumental hip-hop.

The Jackson Find

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.

Obituaries, tributes, and lost legends

A memorial to Alejandro Morales

His death doesn’t just leave a hole in Chicago’s DIY music scene—it’s a loss to community activists, to affordable housing advocates, and to countless friendships.

current music coverage

Community music listings

Comprehensive listings of concerts and music events from a wide variety of event organizers—including Reader readers. Click “Promote your event” below to submit event listings.

You can also browse full, unfiltered event listings in all categories and browse a page of event listings prefiltered for arts categories.

Early Warnings

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