“Chicago, Chicago”:  an annotated program list

Feb 28, 2011

Chicago, Chicago is a new concert program tracing the history of our great city through song.  Artistic Director Jonathan Miller provides this sneak preview of the songs included, along with some historical background for each:

Chicago, Chicago
April 2011


Traditional Fr. Canadian, arr. Miller: C'est l'aviron
This is a song of the French voyageurs who explored the Great Lakes, including what is now Chicago, and traded with Native Americans;  it was sung as early as the 1690s and was one of the most popular songs at the settlement of Michilimackinac, now Mackinac Island.  The song sings of "going up," which is what they called paddling from "Lower Canada" (Montreal and Toronto, along the St. Lawrence) to "Upper Canada" (points west).  Read more about the early fur trade around Chicago.

Traditional, arr. Bustin/Dalglish/Larsen/Miller:  Shawneetown
Before Chicago became a huge metropolis, the way most Anglos traveled to Illinois was down the Ohio River, where they would cross at Shawneetown or Shawnee Ferry.  This is a folksong from the Ohio Valley, telling people about life on the river, floating down and paddling back up to pursue trade, including the narrator's three women in different ports!

Traditional, arr. Zanzig: El-A-Noy
Like any area wanting to grow, Illinois had its early "boosters," who wrote this song painting an idyllic picture of the state's glories.  The verse about the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon visiting the state is hilarious.   Read the complete lyrics to El-a-Noy.


Barry Moore, arr. Nick Page: City of Chicago
The Irish immigrants came in waves following the Great Potato Famine.  This is a recent folksong about the Irish coming to Chicago and what they endured, both on the journey and when they got here.

Johannes Brahms: Die Wollust in den Maien
Germans were one of the major immigrant groups in Chicago's early history. This is a song that would likely have been performed by their many singing societies.  

Spiritual, arr. Allan Koepke: Follow the drinking gourd
The Chicago area, including Maywood and Graue Mill in what is now Hinsdale, were stops on the Underground Railroad. This is a slave song/spiritual that helped to tell runaway slaves how to get across the Ohio River to freedom.

Arr. Anne Heider: Lincoln and Liberty
Abe Lincoln's 1860 campaign featured this charming political song, which refers to Illinois residents as "suckers"—describing their migratory patterns of work, not calling them chumps!  See the Wigwam, site of the 1860 convention that nominated Lincoln.

George F. Root: Passing Through the Fire
Chicago became a center of music publishing even before the Great Fire, and George Root was both a composer and a hugely successful publisher. He wrote this sentimental ballad while the city was in mourning and recovering from the Fire of 1871.

Samuel Ward and Katharine Lee Bates, arr. Deke Sharon: America the Beautiful
As the city emerged into greatness, this song became an emblem of national pride;  the verse about "alabaster cities' gleam" refers to the White City in the Columbian Exposition of 1892-93.

Norworth and Von Tilzer, arr. Anne Heider: Take me out to the ballgame
People gotta have fun!  This jaunty setting by Anne Heider incorporates all of Jack Norworth's original lyrics.  Root for the Cubbies!


Jerry Troxell, text of Carl Sandburg:  Prayers of Steel
Carl Sandburg wrote odes to skyscrapers, and Jerry Troxell's haunting composition perfectly illuminates Sandburg's awe at beholding the stark urban beauty of Chicago's new downtown area.

Fred Fisher, arr. Miller: Chicago (That Toddlin' Town)
The great tune popularized by Sinatra gets a new a cappella setting here, including all of the original words.



Lovie Austin, arr. J. Miller: Chicago Bound Blues
Chicago has become synonymous with the blues.  This is a song made popular by Bessie Smith, in a new a cappella version, the lament of a woman left behind in Mississippi.

Thomas Dorsey, arr. Sevier: Precious Lord
In the 1930s, Thomas A. Dorsey created gospel music, and this is his most famous song, in a stunning arrangement by Chicago's own Arnold Sevier.

Traditional Mexican, arr. Deke Sharon: La Bamba
The large Mexican-American community in Chicago began to grow in earnest after 1910.  "La Bamba" is one of the songs that has been sung here since concerts by Mexicans in Chicago began.

Al Capone, arr. Sinozich: Madonna Mia
You won't find this anywhere else in town—the only song that Al Capone ever wrote!  He wrote it in Alcatraz, apparently as a love song to his wife.  A Chicago a cappella original arrangement!

Jerry Downs (Al Hoffman), arr. J. Miller: Bear Down, Chicago Bears
The great fight song, in celebration of the Bears' most recent success, making it to the playoffs in early 2011.

Lamm, arr. Herberg: Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?
The band Chicago was a huge success in the 1970s, and this is one of their most famous songs, in a new a cappella arrangement.

Mancini/Bricusse, arr. Sinozich: “Chicago, Illinois” (from Victor/Victoria)
The film (and later stage) musical starring Julie Andrews featured this boisterous celebration of the city "Chic."


Join us April 1-10, 2011, for this remarkable musical tour of The Windy City!  Tickets and information.


On March 9, 2011,
Louise W. Knight said:

What a wonderful idea for a concert line up. Next time you can make a new arrangement for one of the songs written and sung at Chicago’s Hull House (and published in Hull House Songs) back before World War I. Some are a bit quaint but a few are great! Hull House was the nation’s first settlement house and Jane Addams, its co-founder, was the first American woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.

On March 17, 2011,
Jonathan Miller said:

Hi Louise—thanks for the feedback and the idea!  Yes, it was clear that this would be the first iteration of a Chicago-history program and that we’d get good suggestions like yours for future programs.  The hardest part of building the program was having to leave out cool stuff.  My mom studied social work at Jane Addams—small world!  See you at the show.

On March 28, 2011,
Laura said:

Lake Shore Drive is a good song too…

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