Preview: Music Lives Here Pays Tribute to Chicago’s Legendary Music History by Marking 50 Historic Sites

Chess Records headquarters–now the home of Willie Dixon’s Blues Heaven Foundation, 2120 S Michigan Ave, July 2021. The Rolling Stones recorded here. Image courtesy DCASE.

Chicago now has a set of historical landmark markers arrayed all over the city that pay tribute to the spaces, places and people in the grand history of music in Chicago. The first five markers are placed now to celebrate Record Row on South Michigan Avenue. Music Lives Here is a multi-media project that includes an informative website, print publication and 50 graphic landmark markers that celebrate events in the blues, jazz, R&B, house and steppin’ music history of Chicago.

Chess Records marker at 2120 S. Michigan.

The vinyl markers, applied to sidewalks, include a QR code that the viewer can scan from a smartphone to find historical information on the Music Lives Here website.

The project is part of Chicago in Tune, a new citywide festival continuing through September 19, celebrating music in “the key of Chicago”—during the 2021 #YearofChicagoMusic. Chicago in Tune reaches out throughout the city, bringing together some of the most iconic neighborhood venues and other locations that show off the wide range of music for which Chicago is known.

The first sites to be marked along Chicago’s iconic Record Row are Chess Records (2120 S. Michigan Ave. and 320 E. 21st St.), Constellation Records (1421 S. Michigan Ave.), Jerry Butler’s Songwriters Works (1402 S. Michigan Ave.), One-derful Records (1827 S. Michigan Ave.) and Vee-jay Records and Brunswick Records (1449 S. Michigan Ave.).

Muddy Waters’ home on South Lake Park Avenue until he moved to the suburbs late in his life. He kept several bedrooms in the basement for touring musicisans to live in. His band also rehearsed in the basement, providing a free concert most nights for the neighborhood. The house is currently being renovated and has been turned into the Muddy Waters MOJO Museum. Image courtesy DCASE.

The Music Lives Here project was planned by DCASE (the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events), coordinated by public art director Lydia Ross with creative work by Chicago graphic art studio Sonnenzimmer and Maya Bird-Murphy of Chicago Mobile Makers.

In addition to the website, project information will be available in a print publication with a poster on one side and locations listed and marked on a map on the other side, to be available about September 13 at the Chicago Cultural Center, Chicago Public Library branches and other city venues and event locations.

The text for the historical sites on the website and the publication was researched and written by Chicago music journalist Aaron Cohen. His most recent book, Move On Up: Chicago Soul Music and Black Cultural Power (University of Chicago Press), looks at the social and musical changes that shaped R&B in Chicago during the 1960s and 1970s.

Ross said the DCASE goal was to “be able to show a growing collection of Chicagoans our extensive music history…a history they may never have known about before.”

La Villita arch. Image courtesy Little Village Chamber of Commerce.

The 50 sites extend from the early 20th century into the current century. One site is the La Villita arch in Little Village, as a way to pay tribute to duranguense, a genre of regional Mexican music that started in Chicago. The marker at the Irish American Heritage Center on the far northwest side recognizes the Irish American folk music scene. Delmark Records on North Rockwell Street is marked as is Trax Records on West 38th Place. Many music clubs are included, such as the Savoy Ballroom, Gerri’s Palm Tavern, the Checkerboard, the Earl of Old Town and Theresa’s Lounge. Several churches and musical instrument makers are included, as is Muddy Waters’ house on South Lake Park Ave. and the jukebox manufacturer, the Rock-Ola Manufacturing Co. Some of the locations are vacant lots or have other uses now, Ross said, but the site is part of Chicago’s music history (and ghosts may linger). See photos and descriptions of all 50 sites here.

Ross and her team were assisted in the selection by Chicago cultural historian Tim Samuelson and a group of experts that included journalists Cohen, Dave Hoekstra and Ernest Wilkins; activist/artist Carlos Flores; record producer Vince Lawrence; musicians Jose Luis Terrazas, Pugs Atomz, Margaret Murphy Webb and Ramsey Lewis; DJ Lori Branch; radio producer Ayana Contreras; and Mateo Mulcahy from the Old Town School.

The former site of Gerri’s Palm Tavern on East 47th Street is a vacant lot, but was once “One of the Hot Spots in Chicago Jazz.” Image courtesy of DCASE.

The live music component is the Music Lives Here: Record Row Concert Series with outdoor performances in Willie Dixon’s Blues Garden and tours of Willie Dixon’s Blues Heaven Foundation (formerly Chess Records at 2120 S. Michigan Ave.). The Sunday events are 12–8:30pm with special musical tributes at 6–8:30pm, featuring Sheryl Youngblood on September 5, Vino Louden Band on September 12 and a John Primer duo performance on September 19. Joe Pratt and The Source One Band performed on August 29. Other popup music performances at the historic sites will be announced later, based on public health guidelines and capacities.

Did you enjoy this post and our coverage of Chicago’s arts scene? Please consider supporting Third Coast Review’s arts and culture coverage by becoming a patron. Or make a one-time donation by PayPal. Choose the amount that works best for you, and know how much we appreciate your support! 

We highly recommend you check out all the music performances that are part of DCASE’s Chicago in Tune! This new citywide festival celebrates music in the key of Chicago during the 2021 Year of Chicago Music. This month is meant to bring us all together through the whole spectrum of local music events in a variety of venues. Check out all the participating venues and shows over at their website!

Nancy S Bishop
Nancy S Bishop

Nancy S. Bishop is publisher and Stages editor of Third Coast Review. She’s a member of the American Theatre Critics Association and a 2014 Fellow of the National Critics Institute at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center. You can read her personal writing on pop culture at, and follow her on Twitter @nsbishop. She also writes about film, books, art, architecture and design.

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