Chicago: Music Mecca for '89; Windy City Stages World's Biggest Free Blues, Jazz and Gospel Festivals

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Windy City stages world's biggest free blues, jazz and gospel festivals

CHICAGO is a city that comes alive with music and food festivals in the spring and summer each year. All over town, and especially in downtown Grant Park, free outdoor concerts are held for the city's three million residents and the tens of thousands of visitors who choose the Windy City, with its spectacular skyscrapers and Lake Michigan beaches, as a warm-weather vacation spot.

Last year, about four million people jammed classical, jazz, blues and gospel concerts and the unique Taste of Chicago food fest, and this year the numbers will be boosted by Hispanic music fans at a new concert series, "Viva Chicago," which will be held on June 3 and 4, with such top acts as Angela Bofill and Ruben Blades.

The following weekend, June 9-11, the Chicago Blues Festival will kick off, then for eight days and nights, June 27 to July 4, Taste of Chicago will once again offer music, dancing in the streets and culinary delights at food stands selling everything from barbeque to cheesecake to egg rolls.

After a short break, things will get going again with the Chicago Gospel Festival on July 29 and 30. As it was last year, it will be the largest such festival in the world, and stars include Evangelist Shirley Caesar, Commissioned and Jessye Dixon.

Then comes Chicago International Sky Nights--two days, August 11 and 12, of fireworks and a jet ski demonstration, and ending with Venetian Night, an aquatic festival featuring lighted sailboats on parade.

For people who prefer to avoid large crowds, smaller music and food festivals will be held in the city's diverse ethnic neighborhoods all summer long. Things will wind up with the Chicago Jazz Festival, August 31 to September 3, headlined by Max Roach.

Top acts at last year's festivals included pop and jazz artists Stevie Wonder, Lionel Hampton and his band, Sonny Rollins and Herbie Hancock; blues greats Koko Taylor, Son Seals, Albert King, Etta James, Bobby "Blue" Bland, Fontella Bass and B.B. King; and gospel legends Albertina Walker, and Hawkins Family, the Barrett Sisters, the Richard Smallwood Singers and the Five Blind Boys.

GREAT music has long been identified with Chicago. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra is considered the best in the world, and jazz, blues and gospel artists have made the city a mecca during the last 100 or so years.

Black musicians began coming to Chicago from the South and from towns such as Kansas City and St. Louis in the 1890s and flocked there for the opening of the Columbian Exposition in 1893. Looking for work, they made their way northward, and some found "gigs" at the Haitian Pavilion, one of the Exposition's prime attractions. The famous ragtime composer Scott Joplin first heard hot jazz created by the W.C. Handy Orchestra at the pavilion, and word spread among Black musicians all over the U.S. …