Research Programs: Public Scholars

Period of Performance

1/1/2016 - 12/31/2016

Funding Totals

$50,400.00 (approved)
$50,400.00 (awarded)

Move On Up: Chicago Soul Music and the Rise of Black Cultural Power

FAIN: FZ-231559-15

Aaron Cohen
City Colleges of Chicago, Truman College (Chicago, IL 60640-6063)

A book on how cultural changes in Chicago during the 1960s and 1970s shaped blues music recorded in the city, and how that music culture affected developments in education and battles over integration.

“Move On Up: Chicago Soul Music and the Rise of Black Cultural Power” (University of Chicago Press, 2017) will describe how Chicago’s social and cultural changes during the 1960s and 1970s reverberated through the rhythm & blues music that was recorded in the city. This book features original interviews with singers, instrumentalists, producers, arrangers, media personalities, politicians, ministers and community representatives. The project will emphasize how developments in education and battles over integration intersected with the music, as well as describing the ascendancy of African American musical entrepreneurs in this city. "Move On Up" will also be one of the few titles to focus on the culture of African American Chicago during the transitional period between the Civil Rights movement and the emergence of Mayor Harold Washington in 1983. My project will also how recently unearthed recordings have reshaped longstanding perceptions of local music making in this era.

Media Coverage

Kevin Boyle, Aaron Cohen Among Recipients of NEH Grants (Media Coverage)
Author(s): Jeremy Mikula
Publication: Chicago Tribune
Date: 7/29/2015
Abstract: News article about my NEH project and that of Kevin Boyle

Associated Products

"Baby Huey's Journey" (Conference Paper/Presentation)
Title: "Baby Huey's Journey"
Author: Aaron Cohen
Abstract: R&B singer Baby Huey (a.k.a. James Ramey) and his band, The Babysitters, are part of my forthcoming book, "Move On Up: Chicago Soul Music and the Rise of Black Cultural Power" (University of Chicago Press, 2017). Before Baby Huey's untimely death in 1970 at age 26, his band represented a commingling of different backgrounds and music during a time and place that is generally considered deeply segregated. This group of mostly African American musicians originally became popular within Chicago's predominantly white music venue's on the city's North Side. At the same time, the group drew from sources in black music as well as the identifiers of late-'60s rock music, particularly electric guitar leads and feedback. The presentation examines how the group was a small, yet influential, movement of integrated bands that were performing in Chicago at that time, including Rotary Connection and Rufus. I also look at how much the band's roots in Indiana fueled its initial inspiration before moving onto bigger stages across the state line. As part of a larger work on soul music in Chicago, I have been researching this subject for 10 years and primary sources include interviews with people who were part of Baby Huey's ensemble.
Date: 05/13/2016
Conference Name: Association For Recorded Sound Collections Conference, Indiana University, Bloomington, Ind.

Move on Up: Chicago Soul Music and Black Cultural Power (Book)
Title: Move on Up: Chicago Soul Music and Black Cultural Power
Author: Aaron Cohen
Abstract: Curtis Mayfield. The Chi-Lites. Chaka Khan. Chicago’s place in the history of soul music is rock solid. But for Chicagoans, soul music in its heyday from the 1960s to the 1980s was more than just a series of hits: it was a marker and a source of black empowerment. In Move On Up, Aaron Cohen tells the remarkable story of the explosion of soul music in Chicago. Together, soul music and black-owned businesses thrived. Record producers and song-writers broadcast optimism for black America’s future through their sophisticated, jazz-inspired productions for the Dells and many others. Curtis Mayfield boldly sang of uplift with unmistakable grooves like “We’re a Winner” and “I Plan to Stay a Believer.” Musicians like Phil Cohran and the Pharaohs used their music to voice Afrocentric philosophies that challenged racism and segregation, while Maurice White of Earth, Wind, and Fire and Chaka Khan created music that inspired black consciousness. Soul music also accompanied the rise of African American advertisers and the campaign of Chicago’s first black mayor, Harold Washington, in 1983. This empowerment was set in stark relief by the social unrest roiling in Chicago and across the nation: as Chicago’s homegrown record labels produced rising stars singing songs of progress and freedom, Chicago’s black middle class faced limited economic opportunities and deep-seated segregation, all against a backdrop of nationwide deindustrialization. Drawing on more than one hundred interviews and a music critic’s passion for the unmistakable Chicago soul sound, Cohen shows us how soul music became the voice of inspiration and change for a city in turmoil.
Year: 2019
Primary URL:
Publisher: The University of Chicago Press
Type: Single author monograph
ISBN: 9780226176079
Copy sent to NEH?: Yes