'America's Music' Showcases Cultural Connections

“America’s Music: A Film History of Our Popular Music from Blues to Bluegrass to Broadway,” is being hosted locally by Oak Park Public Library, one of just 50 sites nationwide to showcase music's unique influence on American culture. 

This innovative series of 25 events - including documentary and "pitch perfect" film screenings, concerts, lectures, evenings especially for teens and art - delves into uniquely American musical genres. Covering blues and gospel, Broadway, jazz, bluegrass and country, rock n’ roll, mambo and hip hop, popular music's deep connections to the history, culture, and geography are explored. Older and younger Americans alike will have the chance to recognize how our current cultural landscape has been created by popular music.

Download the complete 2013 America's Music schedule as a PDF.

Documentary Films & Discussions, Main Library Veterans Room, Tuesdays at 7 pm

This series of films introduces six notable American Music genres to general audiences. Columbia College professor and Jazz musician George Bailey will lead discussion following each screening.

Feb. 12: The Blues and Gospel Music

Say Amen, Somebody
Say Amen, Somebody
© 2012 George Nierenberg

Martin Scorsese presents the Blues: Episode 1, Feel Like Going Home: Using archival Library of Congress recordings and footage gathered by 

John and Alan Lomax in the 1930s and 40s, this film explores the birth of the blues out of the hard time experiences of black farmers and cotton workers in the Mississippi Delta.

  • Say Amen, Somebody: This cinéma vérité classic features three pioneers of the Golden Age of Gospel Music: Willie Mae Ford Smith, Thomas A. Dorsey and Sallie Martin.

Feb. 19:  Broadway and Tin Pan Alley

  • The American Musical, Episode 2: Syncopated City (1919-1933): Narrated by Julie Andrews, this film focuses on the 1920s, Broadway’s most prolific era. It features on-camera commentary by historians as well as performers, writers and critics.

Feb. 26:  Swing Jazz

  • Ken Burns’ Jazz: Episode 6: Swing, the Velocity of Celebration: As the Depression deepened, Swing Jazz survived. In 1936, Count Basie arrived in New York City, bringing his signature up tempo, blues-influenced sound he developed playing clubs in Kansas City.
  • International Sweethearts of Rhythm: This award-winning documentary tells the little-known story of a multi-racial, all-women swing band that became a sensation in the 1940s.

March 5:  Country and Bluegrass

  • High Lonesome: The Story of Bluegrass Music: Weaving haunting archival footage and photographs from the 1930s and 40s with toe-tapping live performances, this film traces the origins of bluegrass music from the Kentucky hills of Appalachia  through the innovations which shaped its current form.

March 12:  Rock

  • The History of Rock n Roll: Episode 6, Plugging In: This episode from the comprehensive 10-part series on rock and roll centers on the reinvention of rock in the 1960s, including a fateful meeting between Bob Dylan and the Beatles in London.

March 19: Latin Rhythms from Mambo to Hip Hop

  • Latin Music USA, Episode One: Bridges Narrated by Jimmy Smits, Bridges explores mambo, the Cuban hybrid of traditional dance infused with syncopated Afro-Caribbean rhythms that migrated to New York City from Havana in the 1940s.
  • From Mambo to Hip Hop: A South Bronx Tale: Hip hop was created and performed first by Jamaican and African American youth, and then Latinos, in abandoned parks and burned-out buildings in the South Bronx as an alternative to gang violence.

"Pitch Perfect" Films & Discussions, Main Library Veterans Room, Mondays at 1:30 pm

This series showcases six remarkable portrayals of 20th Century music legends. Film historian Doug Deuchler will introduce and lead discussion following each screening.

Coal Miner's Daughter
Coal Miner's Daughter

Feb. 4: Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942)

James Cagney earned an Oscar playing brash, patriotic composer, dancer, and singer George M. Cohan in this biopic.

Feb. 11:  Love Me Or Leave Me (1955)

  • Doris Day plays jazz singer Ruth Etting who married an abusive, possessive Chicago hoodlum (James Cagney).

Feb. 18:  De-Lovely (2004)

  • Kevin Kline as composer Cole Porter reflects on his career and his life with his wife Linda (Ashley Judd).

Feb. 25:  La Bamba (1987)

  • Latino teenager Richie Valens (Lou Diamond Phillips) rises to fame but his life is cut short by a 1959 plane crash.

March 4:  What's Love Got to Do With It? (1993)

  • Singer Tina Turner (Angela Bassett) achieves stardom and gains the courage to break free from her abusive husband Ike (Laurence Fishburne).

March 11:  Coal Miner's Daughter (1980)

  • In an Oscar winning performance, Sissy Spacek portrays country and western singer Loretta Lynn's rise from backwoods poverty to fame and fortune.

Lectures, Main Library Veterans Room

All lectures begin at 7 p.m. in the Main Library Veteran’s Room.

Numero Group presents Eccentric Soul
Numero Group

Thursday, Feb. 7: From the Roots to the Fruits: The Musical and Racial Legacy of Memphis and the Mississippi Delta

Explore the musical and racial legacy of the Mississippi Delta with Prof. Janice Monti, creator of the Annual Blues Symposium at Dominican University. Through words and pictures, "From the Roots to the Fruits” explores the relationship between racial identity and American music; in particular, Gospel, Blues and R&B.

Monday, Feb. 11: Terry Abrahamson with "In the Belly of the Blues"

  • Terry Abrahamson, author and photographer of "In the Belly of the Blues: Chicago to Boston to L.A. 1969 to 1983. A Memoir" will share photos and stories of his years taking photos of blues musicians Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, John Lee Hooker, Koko Taylor and more. Presented in collaboration with the Oak Park Photography Club.

Monday, March 4: Jim DeRogatis and Val Camilletti on Music Criticism in the Digital Age

  • Jim DeRogatis, host of WBEZ’s "Sound Opinions", and local legend Val Camilletti of Val's Halla in Oak Park, discuss "Who Needs Gatekeepers? Music Criticism in the Digital Age." DeRogatis spent 15 years as the rock critic at The Chicago Sun-Times and is the author of several books about music. Together with Greg Kot of The Chicago Tribune, Jim co-hosts "Sound Opinions," the world's only rock'n'roll talk show, originating at WBEZ and distributed nationally on public radio.

Wednesday, March 27: The Numero Group presents “Eccentric Soul”

  • Join Chicago's Numero Group for a very special evening devoted to Eccentric Soul - Numero's flagship series which has documented lovingly mishandled soul labels from Columbus, Chicago, Detroit, St. Louis, Phoenix, Atlanta, and Miami. Since its 2003 inception, Numero Group has gone from a local archival record label to nationally loved multi-format media company, devoted to dragging brilliant recordings, films, and photography out of unwarranted obscurity.

Concerts, Main Library Veterans Room

Saturday, Feb. 9: After Hours Big Band Concert, 7 pm, 21+ with cash bar

Glen Ellyn Jazz Ensemble

Help us kick off America's Music in Oak Park with after hours big band concert! The Glen Ellyn Jazz Ensemble is a 16-piece big band that features the music of Count Basie, Glenn Miller, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, Billie Holiday, Dizzy Gillespie, Buddy Rich, Nat King Cole, Stan Kenton, Chuck Mangione, Gordon Goodwin, and more. Doors open at 6:30 pm, onsite garage parking is free.

Monday, Feb. 18:  Oak Park River Forest Gospel Choir, 7 pm

  • Enjoy the Gospel stylings of the Oak Park-River Forest High School Gospel Choir under the direction of Latonia Brown.

Saturday, March 16: The Fuzz & the Fury Concert, 3 pm

  • Start out your Saturday night early with a live performance by Chicago blues-funk-soul-rock fusion band, The Fuzz and the Fury.

Saturday, March 30: Golden Horse Ranch Band Square Dance, 3 pm


Golden Horse Ranch Band Square Dance
Golden Horse Ranch Band

Join us for the final live performance in "America's Music" with Chicago's own Golden Horse Ranch Band. The band plays a raucous set of square dances, waltzes, contra and swing dances in the tradition of old time barn dances. Third generation caller Annie Coleman will teach you in no time how to swing like thunder and dip the oyster. Grab a partner or come ready to mingle. Either way, y’all won’t be disappointed.

Evenings Especially For Teens, Main Library Veterans Room, 7 pm

Feb. 15 & March 15: Teen Open Mic Night

Do you sing, dance, rap, play an instrument, or do a little comedy? You're so talented, you deserve an audience, so come out and show us what you can do. Or just sit back and prepared to be amazed.

March 20: Oak Park River Forest Spoken Word Performance

  • Hear some of Chicago’s best hip hop poetry – straight from Kevin Coval’s “Louder Than a Bomb” metro competition.

March 21: Teen Music Video Screening

  • Join us for an evening of music videos on the big screen. In conjunction with America's Music, budding filmmakers at Oak Park River Forest High School have created 3- to 4-minute music videos for their favorite songs. A panel of filmmakers, Oak Park River Forest High School graduates now in New York City, will select the top three to be revealed at this special screening.

What's Showing: Main Library Art Gallery

Photographer Nancy Rose Ortenberg presents “The Blues Highway: From Mississippi to Chicago”


Photograph by Nancy Rose Ortenberg
Carlos Jackson

Oak Park resident Nancy Rose Ortenberg will share photographs in the Main Library Art Gallery from her travels to Mississippi Delta where she started by photographing blues musicians and their environments in the 1980s. While working on a photography degree at Columbia College Chicago, she met Blues poet Sterling Plump. She and Sterling collaborated, she shooting black and white Nikon shots while Plump wrote accompanying poetry. Together they mounted photography exhibits featuring local blues musicians and live poetry by Sterling. Join us for an artist reception on Sunday, Feb. 10, from 3-5 pm in the Main Library Art Gallery.




“America’s Music: A Film History of Our Popular Music from Blues to Bluegrass to Broadway” is a project of the Tribeca Film Institute in collaboration with the American Library Association, Tribeca Flashpoint, and the Society for American Music. “America’s Music” has been made possible by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the Human Endeavor.”