WBEZ | Great Migration http://www.wbez.org/tags/great-migration Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en The tale of the two-flat http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/tale-two-flat-110681 <p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/164044282&amp;color=ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false" width="100%"></iframe></p><p><em>Editor&#39;s note: The podcast version of the story includes an excerpt from a <a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/chicagos-flammable-fire-escapes-109009#related" target="_blank">more extensive examination of Chicago-area wooden porches used as a means of egress</a>. To catch every episode, <a href="http://wbez.is/VIdLFv" target="_blank">subscribe to our podcast</a>.&nbsp;</em></p><p>Most older U.S. cities have a signature kind of building. In Brooklyn it&rsquo;s the brownstone, one standing shoulder-to-shoulder to the next. In Philadelphia, newcomers and visitors are struck by the distinctive row houses.</p><p>What about Chicago? Well, it&rsquo;s a city known for its skyscrapers, for sure. Outside of downtown, though, you won&rsquo;t find soaring steel and glass. In the neighborhoods, it&rsquo;s wood, brick and stone. The real workhorse of Chicago&rsquo;s built environment is the modest, ubiquitous (yet fascinating) two-flat.</p><p>You know the building. Two stories, with an apartment unit on each floor, usually with bay windows greeting the street through of a facade of brick or greystone. Most were built between 1900 and 1920.</p><p>Two-to-four unit apartment buildings make up 27 percent of Chicago&rsquo;s housing stock, according to data from the <a href="http://www.housingstudies.org/" target="_blank">DePaul Institute of Housing Studies</a>. The rest is split evenly between single-family homes, condominiums and buildings with five or more units.</p><p>We recently got a question that returns some wonder to this everyday building. Our question asker, who chose to stay anonymous, is particularly interested in why the two-flat became so popular. And she wants to know who calls these buildings home. As she observes in <a href="http://curiouscity.wbez.org/questions/743" target="_blank">the question she submitted to Curious City</a>, they&rsquo;re somewhere between suburban houses and big apartment buildings:</p><p dir="ltr" style="text-align: center;"><em>Chicago-area two-flats straddle the line between apartments and homes. Who were they originally designed to serve? Has that changed?</em></p><p>The answer to that last part? It&rsquo;s revealed in a story, one you&rsquo;d miss if you choose to focus on the city&rsquo;s skyline or crane your neck to see the top of the Willis (Sears) Tower. It turns out the advent of the humble two-flat mirrors the development of Chicago&rsquo;s middle class. And in many ways it still does today, but in the wake of the 2008 financial and foreclosure crises, that may be changing.</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">A Bohemian building boom</span></p><p>Through the late 1800s, European immigrants made up almost half of Chicago&rsquo;s population. Hundreds of thousands of Polish, German and Czech people settled here, often making their first home in narrow one-story buildings usually made out of wood. Those came to be called worker&rsquo;s cottages.</p><blockquote><p style="text-align: center;"><a href="http://wbez.is/1q1Znnk" target="_blank"><strong>Related: How the size of the &quot;foreign born&quot; population has changed in the city.&nbsp;</strong></a></p></blockquote><p>As Chicago&rsquo;s big industries grew &mdash; Sears, McCormick Reaper and Western Electric, to name a few &mdash; so did the population. Soon it made sense for developers and architects to build up as they built out. Hence two- and three-flat buildings, which offered denser housing, and gave the owners a shot at some extra income from renting out their extra unit.</p><p>We found several architects from the era who built two-flats by the dozens on spec, meaning they weren&rsquo;t designing for a specific client, but acting as &ldquo;owner-architect&rdquo; in the parlance of records from the era. Many of them were Bohemian. (Today, the former Bohemia is part of the Czech Republic).</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/czeckad.jpg" title="An ad for Lawndale two-flats steered toward Eastern European immigrants. (Courtesy Chicago History Museum) " /></p><p>In fact, along with Jen Masengarb of the <a href="http://www.architecture.org/" target="_blank">Chicago Architecture Foundation</a> &mdash; whom we partnered with on <a href="http://curiouscity.wbez.org/questions/743" target="_blank">this voting round</a> and helped us research this story &mdash; we found an old article from the <em>Chicago Tribune</em> that shows the connection between the city&rsquo;s booming Czech population and its sprawling housing market. A headline from <a href="http://www.newspapers.com/newspage/28540648/" target="_blank">Oct. 17, 1903</a> crows: &ldquo;BOHEMIANS IN LEAD AS BUILDERS OF HOMES.&rdquo;</p><p>At the convention of the Building Association league of Illinois, Bohemian Frank G. Hajicek boasted of &ldquo;$12,000,000 in shares in force&rdquo; held by the &ldquo;the Bohemians of Chicago.&rdquo; It was a point of pride for the 28-year-old resident of the South Lawndale neighborhood.</p><p>&ldquo;Never in the history of the world, I believe, have people in a foreign land established themselves in homes so securely and rapidly as have the 200,000 Bohemians who make Chicago their home,&rdquo; said Hajicek in 1903.</p><p>In the heavily Eastern European Southwest Side neighborhoods of Pilsen (named for the Bohemian city of Plzeň), North Lawndale and South Lawndale, many of those homes were two-flats.</p><p>With Masengarb&rsquo;s help, we dug up some documents at the<a href="http://www.chicagohistory.org" target="_blank"> Chicago History Museum</a>, including a 1915 &ldquo;Book of Plans&rdquo; that enticed homebuyers to order away for all the materials needed to build a two-flat sized for a typical Chicago city lot.</p><div class="image-insert-image " style="text-align: center;"><a href="http://s3.amazonaws.com/wbez-assets/curiouscity/bookofplanslarger.png" target="_blank"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/bookofplansinset.png" title="Courtesy of the Chicago History Museum. Click for larger view. " /></a></div><p>&ldquo;Our design No. 144 is a two-family flat designed for a money making proposition,&rdquo; begins one such ad. &ldquo;Anyone wanting a comfortable home and at the same time a good income on the investment will do well to consider this proposition.&rdquo;</p><p>Many, it seems, did consider it. A 1910<em> Tribune</em> article reported $38 million of flat building, &ldquo;a new high record in this field, exceeding by over $4,000,000 the figures of 1908, which also established a new record.&rdquo;</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">A &lsquo;workhorse building&rsquo; in a western paradise</span></p><p>Data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that it often wasn&rsquo;t young first-generation immigrants buying Chicago two-flats. Instead it was those who immigrated to Chicago as children in the late 19th century, and by the early 20th century had built up enough money to graduate from renting.</p><p>&ldquo;What appears to have happened is that the Czech population was essentially moving further west, out of Pilsen and other sort of areas, Maxwell Street areas, to newer land, I guess you could say,&rdquo; says Matt Cole of Neighborhood Housing Services of Chicago, which administers the <a href="http://www.nhschicago.org/site/3C/category/greystone_history" target="_blank">Historic Greystone Initiative</a>. &ldquo;That&rsquo;s where the name California [Avenue] comes from &mdash; it was like their western paradise.&rdquo;</p><p>Jen Masengarb and I take Cole up on his offer to point out one such western paradise: <a href="https://www.google.com/maps/place/North+Lawndale,+Chicago,+IL/@41.8582574,-87.7139721,15z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m2!3m1!1s0x880e328a692e8e51:0x26c3604dc3282d76" target="_blank">the part of North Lawndale known as K-Town for its K-named avenues (Kostner, Kildare, Keeler, etc.)</a> near Pulaski and Cermak Roads. In 2010 K-Town was listed on the National Register of Historic Places for its collection of classic Chicago apartment buildings.</p><div class="image-insert-image " style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/masengarbktown.jpg" title="Reporter Chris Bentley, Jen Masengarb and Matt Cole with Neighborhood Housing Services of Chicago meet in K-Town to learn about Chicago's two-flats. (Photo courtesy Anne Evans) " /></div><p>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s like a microcosm of Chicago architecture,&rdquo; says Cole, pointing out stately greystones, single-family brick residences and flats in styles ranging from Queen Anne to Prairie to mashups of any and all architectural detailing popular between 1900 and 1930. &ldquo;The reality is that the two-flat and three-flat are the workhorse building of this period of Chicago.&rdquo;</p><p>During our neighborhood walk, Masengarb points out that for a lot of early 20th century Chicagoans, the two-flat was a vehicle of social mobility.</p><p>&ldquo;This two-flat is that bridge, I think, between that older 1880s, 1870s housing,&rdquo; she says. &ldquo;And then the bungalow which was the even bigger dream, and a bigger yard, my own space and nobody living upstairs, clomping around. &ldquo;</p><p>Consider Frank Stuchal. Census data shows in 1888 he immigrated to Chicago from Bohemia as a 13-year-old with his parents and two sisters. The census is taken every 10 years, and every 10 years as his income increased &mdash; Stuchal was first employed as a typesetter, then a print shop foreman, and finally business manager for a newspaper &mdash; he moved further west along Cermak avenue. In 1900 the 24-year old Stuchal rented an apartment at W. 23rd Street and South Spaulding Avenue with his two sisters. In 1920 he and his wife owned a two-flat, half of which they rented out to a German family. By 1930 he and his wife were raising their son in a bungalow they owned in the southwest suburb of Berwyn.</p><p>The 1920 census shows the street lined with two-flats occupied by second generation Czech, German, and Polish immigrants in their 40s and 50s, raising Chicago-born teenagers. Stuchal&rsquo;s neighbors included butchers, policemen, bookkeepers, bricklayers and librarians.</p><p>That two-flat Stuchal owned in 1920 was in K-town, near 21st Place and Keeler Avenue. It was built in 1916, and <a href="https://www.google.com/maps/@41.852501,-87.731744,3a,75y,144.04h,88.86t/data=!3m4!1e1!3m2!1sj8F0Ae9ndTVLStijAJ4d8A!2e0" target="_blank">it&rsquo;s still there</a>.</p><div class="image-insert-image " style="text-align: center;"><a href="https://www.google.com/maps/@41.852501,-87.731744,3a,75y,144.04h,88.86t/data=!3m4!1e1!3m2!1sj8F0Ae9ndTVLStijAJ4d8A!2e0" target="_blank"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/insert-images/Capture_0.JPG" style="width: 610px; height: 234px;" title="Frank Stuchal's two-flat was built in 1916. (Google Streetview/Google)" /></a></div><p>Today it&rsquo;s owned by Arquilla Lawrence, whose parents moved in when she was two years old.</p><p>&ldquo;And I love it,&rdquo; she says. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s been my home all my life, ever since I was two we moved into the neighborhood. I&rsquo;ve been here my whole life except when I went away to college.&rdquo;</p><p>Like many African-Americans, Lawrence&rsquo;s father moved to the neighborhood from the South &mdash; Oklahoma, in his case &mdash; during <a href="http://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/545.html" target="_blank">The Great Migration of blacks to northern cities </a>during the middle of the 20th century. After World War II the neighborhood became the first African-American neighborhood on Chicago&rsquo;s West Side.</p><p>&ldquo;That&rsquo;s why it&rsquo;s so well kept,&rdquo; says Corey Brooks, who also grew up in K-town. &ldquo;Because most of [the property owners] migrated from the South. This is where they put their roots in, so they all know each other.&rdquo;</p><p>Brooks introduces us to his wife, Rita, who is on her way to check in on her mom. Both of them moved back to their childhood homes in order to care for their parents. Turns out it&rsquo;s not just the neighborhood&rsquo;s property ownership that has lasted all these years.</p><p>&ldquo;This is my childhood sweetheart,&rdquo; says Rita, pointing to Corey. &ldquo;He was my first boyfriend! Then he got married to someone else, I got married, I lost my husband, and then two years ago we found each other and got married.&rdquo;</p><p>Before we leave K-Town, Jen Masengarb surveys the mishmash of early 20th century architectural styles on display.</p><p>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s like a metamorphosis or an evolution. We&rsquo;re gonna try this over here on this block, and then this is five years later we&rsquo;re gonna try this &hellip; You can just see it evolving in the way that we live and the decisions that we&rsquo;re making in terms of what our families need, what is stylistically impressive,&rdquo; she says. &ldquo;This architecture is us, it&rsquo;s a reflection of us.&rdquo;</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">Losing equity: Is the workhorse getting exhausted?</span></p><p>So the form of two-flats was basically a response to economics and demographics, as well as the size and shape of a Chicago city lot. The buildings no longer house predominantly Czech and other Eastern European immigrants, but today&rsquo;s tenants share a lot with their neighbors across the decades &mdash; many of them used two-flats to build community and a little bit of personal wealth in the form of equity. The two-flat was a bridge to a better life for the families that built Chicago as we know it.</p><p>One hundred years later, however, it&rsquo;s not clear how much longer two-flats will be able to fill that role.</p><p>K-town is well kempt, thanks in part to incentives from its historic district status. But two-flats are expensive to maintain. And since the 2008 financial and foreclosure crises, a lot of two-flats in other neighborhoods around Chicago are sitting vacant or being bought by developers who don&rsquo;t occupy the units.</p><p>And sometimes the ownership moved in the other direction. Eric Strickland tells us he bought a K-Town two-flat in the 90s. When he purchased the building on 21st Place, it was divided into three units. Once he&rsquo;d saved up enough money, Strickland converted the two-flat into a single-family home. He lives there now with his wife and daughter.</p><p>During the housing crisis two-to-four unit properties were disproportionately impacted by foreclosure. And Geoff Smith from the DePaul <a href="http://www.housingstudies.org/" target="_blank">Institute of Housing Studies</a> says two-flats don&rsquo;t really make economic sense for new development, so they may well be lost to history in lower-income neighborhoods.</p><p>&ldquo;What you see more commonly is a single-family home targeted for owner occupancy, or you see a larger rental building,&rdquo; Smith says.</p><p>He adds that, if older two-flats fall into disrepair, there will likely be no two-unit rentals to replace them. &nbsp;&ldquo;The concern is that in some of these more distressed areas, where there is a substantial stock of these buildings, there is a risk in some neighborhoods that this kind of housing could be lost,&rdquo; he says.</p><p>That prospect matters. According to data from the DePaul <a href="http://www.housingstudies.org/" target="_blank">Institute of Housing Studies</a>, today there are more than 76,000 two-unit apartment buildings in Chicago. In some neighborhoods &mdash; Brighton Park, New City, and South Lawndale &mdash; they still make up more than two-thirds of the housing stock, as well as a substantial proportion of the city&rsquo;s affordable housing.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><a href="http://housing-stock.housingstudies.org/#13/41.8759/-87.6436" target="_blank"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/depaulmap.PNG" style="height: 300px; width: 620px;" title="Click to view full map from DePaul's IHS. " /></a></div><p>Prices for two-to-four unit buildings in distressed areas of Chicago fell roughly 70 percent between the pre-crash peak and current figures. That means many homes in those areas are worth less than they were in 1997, says Smith.</p><p>So if the &ldquo;money making proposition&rdquo; that two-flats once promised to working families is more elusive these days, what will become of the lower-income neighborhoods where these historic buildings are most prevalent?</p><p>&ldquo;Because of changing population dynamics, the changing nature of the city, in some areas you are going to see demand in decline. You may not see it recover, and there just may not be an economic value to some of these properties,&rdquo; says Smith. &ldquo;Hopefully some prescient, some really far forward-seeing investor can come in and say &lsquo;these properties have value for the long-term.&rsquo;&rdquo;</p><p><em>Chris Bentley is a freelance journalist and reporter for WBEZ&rsquo;s Curious City. <a href="http://cabentley.com/" target="_blank">Follow him at cabentley.com</a> and on Twitter at <a href="http://twitter.com/triciabobeda" target="_blank">@Cementley</a>. Jen Masengarb is Director of Interpretation and Research for <a href="http://www.architecture.org/" target="_blank">the Chicago Architecture Foundation</a> and contributed reporting to this story. </em></p><p><em>Correction: A draft of the text for this story misstated the time period during which the majority of Chicago two-flats were constructed. The correct timeframe is between 1900 and 1920.</em></p></p> Wed, 20 Aug 2014 16:33:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/tale-two-flat-110681 Afternoon Shift: Isabel Wilkerson, libraries and Chicago theater http://www.wbez.org/programs/afternoon-shift/2013-05-13/afternoon-shift-isabel-wilkerson-libraries-and-chicago-theater <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/flickr margaretv.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Today Niala talks with Pulitzer-prize winning journalist Isabel Wilkerson about the Great Migration. We explore the role of the library in light of the Waukegan Public Library&#39;s National Medal for Museum and Library Service award. Then a look at Chicago&#39;s theater and waterfront scenes. <script src="//storify.com/WBEZ/afternoon-shift-isabel-wilkerson-libraries-and-chi.js?header=false"></script><noscript>[<a href="//storify.com/WBEZ/afternoon-shift-isabel-wilkerson-libraries-and-chi" target="_blank">View the story "Afternoon Shift: Isabel Wilkerson, libraries and Chicago theater " on Storify</a>]<h1>Afternoon Shift: Isabel Wilkerson, libraries and Chicago theater </h1><h2>Today Niala talks with Pulitzer-prize winning journalist Isabel Wilkerson about the Great Migration. We explore the role of the library in light of the Waukegan Public Library's National Medal for Museum and Library Service award. Then we talk Chicago's theater and waterfront scenes. </h2><p>Storified by <a href="http://storify.com/WBEZ"></a>&middot; Mon, May 13 2013 10:19:33</p><div><b>Isabel Wilkerson:&nbsp;</b>Pulitzer-prize winning journalist<b> Isabel Wilkerson</b> joins us to talk about The Warmth of Other Suns; the One Book, One Chicago selection about the Great Migration. We pose the question: if your family came here during the Great Migration, do you consider yourself immigrants?<br></div><div>Isabel WilkersonFrom World War I to the 1970s, some six million black Americans fled the American South for an uncertain existence in the urban North and...</div><div>Great MigrationDid You Know? Context and Causes of the Great Migration After the post-Civil War Reconstruction period ended in 1876, white supremacy was...</div><div>Latest One Book, One Chicago: 'The Warmth Of Other Suns'The latest iteration of the Chicago Public Library's One Book, One Chicago, which features discussions, performances, lectures, and other...</div><div><b>Libraries:&nbsp;</b>The Waukegan Public Library won this year’s National Medal for Museum and Library Service award for a program that uses volunteers both to promote the library to Hispanic residents and ask what services people need. Founded in January 2012, the library has started conversational English classes and pre-GED programs--far beyond the traditional library task of lending books and offering a quiet space to read. Waukegan Library Executive Director&nbsp;<b>Richard Lee&nbsp;</b>joins our conversation with<b>&nbsp;Patricia Saldana Natke</b>, founding partner of UrbanWorks, a Chicago architecture firm that has been leading design discussions on how the library of the near future will function. What do you want your library to be?&nbsp;</div><div>Waukegan Public Library gets national award at White House ceremonyAt a White House ceremony Wednesday, first lady Michelle Obama honored the Waukegan Public Library for setting goals more ambitious than ...</div><div>Even in the Digital Age, Many Library Patrons Say Traditional Uses Are ImportantAbout seven-in-ten of those who used a library over a 12 month period did so to borrow print books or to browse the shelves. The internet...</div><div>What's a Library?GET UPDATES FROM Michael Rosenblum Library under construction -- along with a 50 story hotel and condo.... I live across the street from ...</div><div>Social Media: Libraries Are Posting, but Is Anyone Listening?This is the fourth in a series of articles in which Nancy Dowd will examine the results of an exclusive survey of library professionals f...</div><div><b>Chicago River:&nbsp;</b>The Chicago River is now the focus of major attention. Mayor Emanuel has made physical improvements along the river’s Main Branch a priority in his first term. And the river has been the subject of several studies, including one in 2011 that has called for undoing the engineering that famously reversed the river more than a century ago. A<a href="https://mail.wbez.org/owa/redir.aspx?C=0QFU2FNLaUSkIhE7-vRncrPJfWSSI9AIUElEsrCflYHtm6GCKWviMTLwV1uMiOng2PXE9iUPw5U.&amp;URL=http%3a%2f%2fwww.chicagoriver.org%2fupload%2fFor%2520Immediate%2520Release%2520--%2520Clean%2520Chicago%2520River%2520Can%2520Be%2520Multi-Billion%2520Dollar%2520Economic%2520Engine.pdf" class=""><u>&nbsp;new study</u></a>&nbsp;from the organization Friends of the Chicago River and the conservancy group Openlands indicates a cleaner and improved river would be a multi-billion economic engine for the region.&nbsp;What’s the Chicago River’s future? What should it be and what stands in the way of needed progress?</div><div>Report: Drop money in the river, watch it float backThe glitzy towers of downtown Chicago are filled with offices that boast impressive financial returns, but their biggest cash flow may be...</div><div>Environmental Groups Tout Financial Benefits Of Cleaning Up, Improving Chicago River&quot;Water quality makes a tremendous difference in how we can interact with the river, but also provides us jobs; it provides us business re...</div><div>The Chicago River Is Now Running in the Opposite DirectionHeavy rain in Chicago has maxed out storm water storage facilities and caused officials to &quot; re-reverse&quot; the Chicago River into Lake Mich...</div><div><b>Robert Sickinger:&nbsp;</b>What can off-loop theater learn from its past? With the death of Robert Sickinger, the unofficial founder of off-loop theater, we look at what was built and how it has sustained over the years.&nbsp;</div><div>Robert Sickinger dies, brought grassroots theater to ChicagoRobert Sickinger came to Chicago in 1963 as director of Hull House theater on Chicago&rsquo;s north side. But in six short years, he gave...</div><div>Sorry to hear about Robert Sickinger passing, but grateful for all he contributed to Chicago theater: http://trib.in/11WcszTGoodman Theatre</div><div>Remembering Robert Sickinger, a pioneer of off-Loop theaterAnita Evans/courtesy Columbia College Chicago I've been trying to figure out what to say about former Chicago theater director Robert Sic...</div><div>Watch &amp; Listen</div><div>Robert SickingerBob Sickinger was one of the greatest directors I've ever known. He worked in the Hull House settlement house, at Broadway and Belmont in...</div></noscript></p></p> Mon, 13 May 2013 11:43:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/programs/afternoon-shift/2013-05-13/afternoon-shift-isabel-wilkerson-libraries-and-chicago-theater 'The Great Migration' Conversation with Timuel D. Black Jr., Linda Johnson Rice & Adam Green http://www.wbez.org/series/chicago-amplified/great-migration-conversation-timuel-d-black-jr-linda-johnson-rice-adam <p><p>As part of the programming for the 2013-14 One Book, One Chicago selection, Isabel Wilkerson&rsquo;s <em>The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story Of America&rsquo;s Great Migration</em>, the Chicago Public Library welcomed&nbsp;<strong>Timuel D. Black Jr</strong>., <strong>Linda Johnson Rice</strong> and <strong>Adam Green</strong> for an engaging conversation of how the Great Migration shaped their lives and the city of Chicago.&nbsp;</p><div>Timuel D. Black, Jr., a recent Champion of Freedom Award recipient, is a Chicago educator, activist and historian who has written extensively on the Great Migration in his books <em>Bridges of Memory: Chicago&rsquo;s First Wave of Black Migration </em>and <em>Bridges of Memory Volume 2:Chicago&rsquo;s Second Generation of Black Migration</em>.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Linda Johnson Rice&rsquo;s parents, <strong>John and Eunice Johnson</strong>, came to Chicago from the South and built the Johnson Publishing Company, one of the world&rsquo;s most successful black-owned media companies of which Ms. Rice is President and CEO.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>University of Chicago History Professor Adam Green, writes about the Great Migration in his books <em>Selling the Race: The Culture and Community in Black Chicago, 1940-1955</em> and <em>Time Longer than Rope: Studies in African American Activism, 1850-1950</em>.&nbsp;</div><p>&nbsp;</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/CPL-webstory_36.jpg" style="float: left;" title="" /></div><p>&nbsp;</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p><br />Recorded live Monday, May 6, 2013 at the Harold Washington Library Center.</p></p> Mon, 06 May 2013 13:46:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/chicago-amplified/great-migration-conversation-timuel-d-black-jr-linda-johnson-rice-adam Jazz pianist Reginald R. Robinson keeps a 'song in his soul' http://www.wbez.org/blog/onstagebackstage/2011-11-02/jazz-pianist-reginald-r-robinson-keeps-song-his-soul-93683 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/photo/2011-November/2011-11-02/reginald robinson.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Not every production boasts a certified MacArthur genius as an accompanist. But trust the Old Town School of Folk Music to know a musical talent when they see one.</p><p><a href="http://www.reginaldrrobinson.com/">Jazz pianist and composer Reginald R. Robinson</a>, 39, plays piano and contributes a few of his own neo-ragtime compositions to the school’s first excursion into theater, <a href="http://www.oldtownschool.org/"><em>Keep a Song in Your Soul: The Black Roots of Vaudeville</em>. </a>Opening tomorrow and running just through Sunday, the piece is set during the Great Migration, 1910-1930, and looks to be a hand-clapping, foot-stomping good time.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-November/2011-11-02/reginald robinson.jpg" style="width: 500px; height: 336px;" title=""></p><p>When Robinson got the $500,000 award, in 2004, he was flat broke and considering quitting the business. A Chicago native, he’d grown up too poor to afford music lessons. He dropped out of school at 15 to teach himself to play piano—a decision aided by his new neighborhood and high school in the Back of the Yards.</p><p>“I was sort of pushed,” Robinson says. “I could stay in school at that point and risk getting shot or jumped on. There was a lot of bad things happening in the school, in the area. And I was like, ‘Do I wanna continue to go through this? Or do I want to stay home?’” Sounds like a no-brainer, though quitting school isn’t usually the best way to pursue a career.</p><p>“My parents strongly objected to me leaving school,” says Robinson. “You know, they were typical caring parents: they did not want me to drop out. But I’d be getting to school late, and all kinds of stuff…. So I stayed home and mastered the music I wanted to play for the rest of my life.”</p><p>“I didn’t realize it would turn into anything like this. I just went along, doing the music, and one thing led to another.”</p><p>When Robinson went back to school to get his GED in 1992, some of the faculty noticed him writing down music in the hallway. One of them, musician Mac Olsen, invited Robinson to meet his piano teacher, who worked in a violin shop that hosted a jam session every Saturday. One day when Robinson was there, horn player Ira Sullivan came in.</p><p>“I couldn’t sit in with the other guys,” says Robinson, “cuz they were reading from charts. So I sat and listened, and after they finished, after about an hour and a half, I got up there and played some solo piano—‘Maple Leaf Rag’ and one of my own pieces, ‘Good Times Rag.’ And Ira Sullivan was like, wow. He said, ‘I know ‘Maple Leaf,’ but what’s that other piece? Is that Scott Joplin?’”</p><p>Sullivan introduced him to stride pianist Jon Weber, who paid for Robinson’s first demo and introduced him to Delmark’s Bob Koester. Robinson’s <em>The Strongman</em> came out in 1993; two other albums on Delmark followed. But sales weren’t great. The MacArthur grant enabled Robinson to self-produce <em>Man Out of Time</em> in 2007, made up of pieces he’d composed over the preceding decade; <em>Reflections</em> came out in 2010.</p><p>Asked whether the MacArthur award inspired him, Robinson says, “It confirmed what I knew, that my music was worth something. From that, receiving the award, things became easier. It’s like a magic carpet—it helps you go into places that you wouldn’t normally be able to go.”</p><p>Fortunately, being a bona fide genius hasn’t gone to his head.</p><p>The award, Robinson says, “is like the song, ‘Keep a Song in Your Soul.’ It’s about remembering where you come from. And it’s about the music. It wasn’t about the title. Nobody called me a genius before I got the award. I told myself I was a genius—in the privacy of my own room. ‘Hey, this is a good idea!’ I’d say it in a joking way. ‘This is perfect! Man, I like this!’”</p><p>“It was always about the music. Through it all, that’s what kept me going. Whether it’s good times or bad times, always writing music. My story before the MacArthur: it was music!”</p><p>Directed by Andrea J. Dymond, <em>Keep a Song in Your Soul</em> is a collaboration between Robinson, Grammy-winning string band the Carolina Chocolate Drops, and Chicago choreographer Reggio “The Hoofer” McLaughlin, all of whom also perform.</p></p> Wed, 02 Nov 2011 13:58:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blog/onstagebackstage/2011-11-02/jazz-pianist-reginald-r-robinson-keeps-song-his-soul-93683