Shelf Life

Shelf Life: Experiencing authentic Chicago Blues

2014-06-15T12:00:00Z 2014-06-18T15:38:50Z Shelf Life: Experiencing authentic Chicago BluesJane Ammeson Times Correspondent
June 15, 2014 12:00 pm  • 

Growing up in Chicago, Rosalind Cummings-Yeates can’t remember when she first heard the blues being played. It was all part of the music—advertising jingles, her grandmother’s records and songs on the radio—she remembers swirling around her when she was young. Experiencing

“But I remember vividly the first time I recognized blues in popular music,” Cummings-Yeates writes in the introduction of her recently released book, "Exploring Chicago Blues: Inside the Scene, Past and Present" (History Press 2014; $16.99) with forward by Billy Branch. “I was watching Elvis perform ‘Hound Dog’ and I recognized echoes of the blues in the lyrics, the delivery and the rhythm. Except this music Elvis was singing wasn’t exactly what I recalled blues sounding like. “

Instead, Cummings-Yeates, who holds a BS in mass communications from Illinois State University, a MS in journalism from Roosevelt University and writes a monthly blues column “Sweet Home” for the Illinois Entertainer, had hazy recollections of “Hound Dog” performed in a much different way—as a song being belted out full-throttle by a woman.

“It was heavy hitting and pumped with emotion,” said Cummings-Yeates. “It was the blues.”

But it wouldn’t be until years later that Cummings-Yeates found out more about blues history and how blues musicians like Big Mama Thornton, who popularized “Hound Dog,” would be relegated into the background. And in the process, this genre of music called the blues, would be transformed by artists into a polished, less earthy form called rock ’n’ roll.

Having Chicago as a hometown was perfect for a blues loving woman and Cummings-Yeates has dedicated a large chunk of her journalistic career in writing about long forgotten performers and in turn becoming a champion of the blues.

“Blues history is steeped in the very sidewalks of the city,” said Cummings-Yeates and her book guides readers where to go, who to see and even where to eat in order to capture an authentic Chicago blues experience.

Her book is an accessible guide to Chicago blues history.

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