As a new reviewer to the fine staff at "Blues On Stage," I request and urge your cooperation in assisting others in their plight to save what is hallowed ground. I had no sooner finished a review of a new CD set from 'Rooster Blues' titled "And This Is Maxwell Street" for another publication I write for, when I was contacted by Professor Steven Balkin of the 'Maxwell Street Historic Preservation Coalition.' He contacted me to ask permission to run my review in the Coalition's website, which is dedicated to saving the sliver of Maxwell Street which remains. There isn't much left, and without help, there will be nothing in the near future.
I am sure some of you are aware of what is happening at the hands of the University of Illinois at Chicago, and the political machine around it. In recent years, the University, which to my knowledge is supposed to be a center for higher learning, has purchased as much of this historic area as possible with help and support from political cronies. It is rather a sad and disturbing irony that a center for learning is at the front of an attempt to destroy as much of the Maxwell Street area as possible. As of October 31, 2000, all that is left of this once thriving area which we all should hold dear to our hearts, is eight blocks and 37 historic buildings.
Maxwell Street is where American music deepened its roots. Musicians from the South gravitated to Chicago as an industry center in hopes of finding better opportunities and a better life. Decades ago, Maxwell Street blossomed as an area that knew no racial barriers. Jewish immigrants settled there and began an open-air market in addition to their businesses. Blues musicians gravitated there and thus began what we can now call Maxwell Street History. Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Johnny Young, Robert Nighthawk, Big John Wrencher, Jimmie Lee Robinson, Carey Bell, and countless others began their careers in earnest by playing out on the streets in hopes of catching spare pocket change from the thousands who went looking for bargains.
In 1964, Mike Shea, an independent film producer saw the uniqueness of the area and began a film project called "And This Is Free." He hired a team, and through his vision and efforts, he assisted in helping to immortalize this area; although I can only assume that was not his intent. In 1980, Rounder issued the first pieces of "Robert Nighthawk - Live on Maxwell Street - 1964." It was a blessing for music lovers. Now, through the efforts of Mike Shea's son and Ian Talcroft at IT Productions, the 'Rooster Blues' CD set is the first and only legitimate release of this music in its entirety. Without question, this is an historic time for those who love and thrive on Blues.
As we delve further into the history of this great music and the people responsible for its beauty, a University and a large political machine around Chicago are destroying this hallowed ground without reparation or care. In another ironic twist, Steve Balkin informed me that Mayor Daley is to receive an award for his contributions to preserving historic areas in what Daley thinks is his city. Mayor Daley has done absolutely nothing to preserve the historic area of Maxwell Street, and indeed, has actually assisted the University in their opportunistic greed and desire to take as much of it as possible.
Maxwell Street is at the very foundation of Blues and should be embraced by the city of Chicago. Instead, it is being trampled, destroyed, and falling deeper into an abyss. Unless something is done soon, there will be nothing left but a tearful reminder of what could have been! I am only one person. We are all only one person, but together, we can stand as a group and perhaps make a difference.
I am not affiliated with the Maxwell Street Historic Preservation Coalition, I am simply a writer who reviewed the importance of a brilliant set of music recently released. When Steve Balkin contacted me, I was honored and proud to have my review run in the Coalition's website. I have spent nearly 30 years with this music, and I am only in my 41st year of life. My passion, my love, my reverence for this music and those who created it, is undying. It is the one constant that my life has known. I had no idea that one review could bring me to another level of this incredible journey that Blues has been for me.
I ask all of you to please show your support for the efforts of the Maxwell Street Historic Preservation Coalition. They have been at the battlefront and stand tall as believers in what can be. If we do not do our part, something that can be never will see fruition. Unless we raise our voices, a center for higher learning and its political cronies will destroy every last inch of Maxwell Street. Your help and support are integral to halting the destruction that continues. Please contact Mayor Daley saying you want the demolitions in the Maxwell Street area halted and the area saved as an official Historic District.
Richard Daley, City Hall, 121 N. LaSalle, Chicago, IL 60602
MayorDaley@cityofchicago.org - Fax: 312-744-2324.
If you have time, please send the Coalition a copy of your Daley message to:
firstname.lastname@example.org - Fax 312-341-3762; Maxwell Street Coalition c/o Professor
Steve Balkin, Roosevelt University, 430 South Michigan Avenue, Chicago, IL
For more information visit www.openair.org/maxwell/preserve.html
With respect and thanks, Craig Ruskey
This review is copyright © 2000 by Craig Ruskey, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved. Copy, duplication or download prohibited without written permission. For permission to use this review please send an E-mail to Ray Stiles.