Chicago, Chicago

April 2011

Program Notes


Fred Fisher, arr. Miller: Chicago (That Toddlin' Town)


Traditional Fr. Canadian, arr. Miller: C'est l'aviron

arr. Bustin/D/L/Miller:  Shawneetown

Traditional, arr. Zanzig: El-A-Noy


Barry Moore, arr. Nick Page: City of Chicago

Johannes Brahms: Die Wollust in den Maien


Spiritual, arr. Allan Koepke: Follow the drinking gourd

Arr. Anne Heider: Lincoln and Liberty


George F. Root: Passing Through the Fire

Samuel Ward and Katharine Lee Bates, arr. Deke Sharon: America the Beautiful

Jack Norworth and Albert Von Tilzer, arr. Anne Heider: Take me out to the ballgame


Jerry Troxell, text of Carl Sandburg:  Prayers of Steel

Fred Fisher, arr. Miller: Chicago (That Toddlin' Town)



Lovie Austin, arr. J. Miller: Chicago Bound Blues

Thomas Dorsey, arr. Sevier: Precious Lord

Traditional Mexican, arr. Deke Sharon: La Bamba

Al Capone, arr. Sinozich: Madonna Mia


Jerry Downs (Al Hoffman), arr. J. Miller: Bear Down, Chicago Bears

Lamm, arr. Herberg: Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?

Encore:  Mancini/Bricusse, arr. Patrick Sinozich:  "Chicago, Illinois" from Victor/Victoria




I first set foot in this glorious city on August 30, 1971—my ninth birthday—when our Chrysler Newport and our moving van pulled up at a married-student-housing apartment in Hyde Park, my family’s first home here. I remember getting a Chinese checkers game set as a present that day.  A year prior, we had moved from Brookline, Massachusetts to Richmond, Indiana, for what had been a relatively bucolic year, during which both of my parents were in graduate school. While they would continue in grad school upon our arrival in Chicago, little else in our lives would display a similar continuity. Playing Chinese checkers with my older sister and little brother that day, I had little inkling of how completely my life would change as a result of this encounter with this tremendous city.

* * * * * * *

Living in Chicago was, at first, rather terrifying for me. I was a nine-year old “white boy” suddenly transplanted in the South Side at the height of the Black Power movement. I attended Shoesmith School at 50th and Kenwood. That was my first of three stops on the journey through Chicago Public Schools’ District 14 where, even at Kenwood Academy, I was always a racial minority.

The other kids were tough and physical, especially at recess, and not just the black kids.  It took me a little while to realize that they were also friendly, generous, and hilariously funny, as long as you played by the prevailing rules. (I tried at first to play by Brookline rules, where you told the teacher if another kid stole your eraser.  A few minutes on the ground with a bloody nose outside Shoesmith, where I had been decked with a hard right, were enough to teach me that the old rules didn’t work here.)  I danced awkwardly in gym class, despite the kind and insistent coaching of Patrice Linder, a girl in my class whose complete comfort at dancing the “breakdown” section of our class dance tune impressed and rather awed me.  In later years, I would feel confident—some would say overconfident—at my level of George Clinton- and Earth, Wind & Fire-inspired “funkification,” but it did not happen overnight.

The Chicago Children’s Choir and the Jewish Community Center were my first two after-school places of refuge.  A year later, KAM Isaiah Israel Congregation would be the place for Sunday and Hebrew school, though being in synagogue didn’t keep me from being bullied.  It took a few more years to develop a thicker skin.

It was in the Chicago Children’s Choir that I not only found what personally felt like my first real “tribe” in the big city—that of fellow singers—but also developed the beginning of a sense of belonging in a line (or many lines) of history.  One of the songs found early on this concert is “El-A-Noy,” a quaint and funny song about settling here in the 19th century. The CCC was the first place I ever heard or sang it. 

As years went by and I became more confident in my own skin and in my adopted city, features about Chicago—“city things”—came to excite and embolden me.  My parents gave me a wide berth to explore, permission for which I am deeply grateful. I fell in love with public transportation, riding on Supertransfers all day on summer Sundays. I was pleased that I could handle myself in a wide variety of situations, from riding the 47th Street bus without getting mugged to walking down Michigan Avenue all by myself with the wind in my hair on a beautifully crisp fall afternoon, on my way to hang out at Pacific Stereo on Oak Street—where I would listen to dozens of different speakers, amps, tuners, and LP needles, in the company of the most patient salesman a teenage boy could have known. (I did eventually buy my first complete stereo system from him, at age 13.)

I developed pride for living in a multi-racial city where people got along remarkably well. I fell in love with our great buildings and the skyline that visually defines us to the rest of the world. I took a course at the Chicago Architectural Foundation during my senior year in high school, and I got my start as a singer right here with Chris Moore, Lena McLin, Max Janowski and Richard Proulx. How can you be more blessed than that?  I have now lived in Chicago for 31 of my 48 years, and I feel lucky indeed to be here.  (And although I would not have admitted it while in high school or college:  yes, the suburbs do count if you say you’re from Chicago.)

* * * * * * *

Creating this program about Chicago has been a joyous eye-opener, a chance to fall in love with our amazing city all over again.  It has been, to quote Shakespeare, “rich and strange” to create this musical history tour of Chicago.  There have been a number of wonderful and thrilling things for me about putting this program together. It is difficult to articulate exactly why this has been such a blast.  The joy seems to stem in part from being able to wield my more musically-oriented tools of research and program-building on our own city, the place that is more familiar than any other.

When I was training as a musicologist, I mostly studied the music and history of faraway places and people:  medieval France, the Italian Renaissance, colonial New England, even contemporary Indonesia.  There were a number of faculty and fellow students who deeply understood the wider cultural background of the music they were studying, and I was not one of them. I didn’t have a strong handle on the wider cultural, political, or humanistic context of Italian madrigals and 16th century European sacred music, which was my dissertation area.  I could sing it with the best of them, and I could analyze the inner workings of the music from a composer/theorist’s point of view, but I couldn’t articulate well why their musical expressions made sense in their culture, except in broad and vague terms that I ultimately found unsatisfying. Perhaps the era was just too remote for me, except in the specific arena of sound—which was ironic, because it was the ravishing sound of Renaissance music that made me want to study it so intensively in the first place. 

* * * * * * *

But Chicago? Now that’s something I can relate to!  A program about Chicago has allowed me to hear and read about places I have seen with my own eyes, heard with my own ears, or otherwise experienced very close to firsthand, as opposed to cities I’ve never or rarely seen and people who died long before I was born.  It’s just so cool.  Have you ever dug deeply into the incredible history of this place? What a location we live in, and what a whirlwind of events got us here! 

A few years ago, my wife gave me the Encyclopedia of Chicago. Talk about a perfect present!  I can get lost in that book for hours—and did while doing the initial research for this program. (“Jon, can you take out the trash now?”)  The book covers both the broad sweeps of Chicago’s history and minute details of individual trends, organizations, ethnic groups, and people.  One of the leaders on the editorial team was James Grossman, a towering figure in Chicago history.

Our concerts usually run about ninety minutes including intermission.  Just starting with Chicago’s official charter in 1838, we have to average about two years’ duration for every minute of concert time. “So,” you might ask, “how did you decide what to keep in and what to leave out?” I decided to break the musical history of Chicago up into six sections, like this: 

  • initial settlers who founded the city and state; 
  • the first wave of immigrants, including Germans and Irish;
  • events and forces leading up to the Civil War, including abolitionism and Lincoln’s election; 
  • the unprecedented growth of Chicago into the “second city,” including the 1892-93 Columbian Exposition; 
  • the Great Migration of black southerners and continued immigration of others; 
  • and a final section that is just for fun.

Along the way, you’ll hear some terrific finds, including the only song every written by Al Capone, and severalpieces heavily influenced by or firmly rooted in the blues.

* * * * * * *

Now that this history has been drawn in music, I have a sense of how difficult it must be to write works of history.  How do you decide how widely to cast your net, be it in terms of timespan, geography, social circles, and so on?  How do you decide what to leave out, especially if you are going to keep it to a reasonable length?  People have already asked me, “So, did you include a song about so and so?” Some people may be a little disappointed if we didn’t cover your favorite topic about Chicago. I’m confident you’ll enjoy this show anyway. 

You’ll probably notice that not much of this music is that high-brow. That’s our town for you.  Even with its fancy people, glorious restaurants and architecture, world-class theatre and classical music and creature comforts, Chicago has always been a sort of rough-and-tumble place. It’s a crossroads of trade and transportation, of people coming and going, always in flux. As I write these notes, we’re in the middle of a raucous mayoral campaign. Nine million people with differing agendas, skin colors, traditions and values aren’t going to agree on everything. That is part of why it is fun to live here.

I have a strong feeling that this program is just the beginning for us in our role as “Chicago” a cappella, being musical ambassadors for our fantastic city.  You’re the audience pioneers, since you’re here, so please let us know:  What did we leave out?  What might be useful in a future incarnation of this show? Who else should we be singing this concert for? Don’t be shy. Drop us a note, or put it on your audience comment card, and let’s mix it up and see what widest possible reach this program can have. 

Thank you for being here and for bringing your friends.  We always appreciate your comments, so please don’t hesitate to write your impressions on the audience comment cards, or drop me an e-mail ( or a comment on our Facebook page if you feel like it.  Enjoy the show.

—Jonathan Miller


Fred Fisher, arr. Jonathan Miller: Intro: Chicago (That Toddlin’ Town)

We give you just a taste here of the song made famous by Frank Sinatra and others. See below for the full text and fuller program notes.


Trad. French Canadian (17th-18th c.), arr. J. Miller: C’est l’aviron (“It’s the paddle”)

“Michilimackinac” was the name given by local First Nation tribes to the area where Lake Michigan meets Lake Huron—at the northern end of what is now called the state of Michigan. It was a central jumping-off point for canoe trips further inland to Illinois, Wisconsin and points west and south (such as Missouri).  In use as early as the late 1600s, this tune is said to have been the most popular song among the French traders who plied the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River in pursuit of the fur trade. First Nation trappers would trap beaver pelt, which was the top prize, valued primarily for use in hat-making.  In exchange for beaver pelt, the Native Americans received the goods they valued from Europeans, such as brass kettles and iron tools.

The main point behind this song is that “it’s the paddle” that “takes us up.” The direction of “up” refers to the trip from “lower Canada” (Toronto, Montreal, and similar points) to “upper Canada” (the Great Lakes and beyond).  The rhythm easily suggests a work song.  If you’ve ever paddled a canoe, see if you can imagine moving the paddle through water and air to the beat of the song.

Ohio Valley folksong, arr. Dillon Bustin/Malcolm Dalglish/Grey Larsen: Shawneetown

This is a song about keelboats going up and down the Ohio River in the vicinity of far southern Illinois.  In the late 1700s and early 1800s, before the Illinois and Michigan Canal opened up travel between Lake Michigan and the Mississippi River, the main entry point to Illinois was downstate. Folksinger Dillon Bustin gives most of the background to this song: 

Shawneetown (also known as Shawnee Ferry) is a point on the Illinois side of the Ohio River, just downriver from the junction with the Wabash.  It was the first Anglo settlement on the Ohio and, before 1830, was the major trade point between Native Americans and the new settlers. Salt mines nearby provided the area’s main trading commodity, as the “rock salt” in the song’s lyrics tell.

The easiest way to get to Shawneetown for trading was to float downstream.  However, if one were a trader, it was necessary to also get upstream to keep goods flowing in both directions.  Rafts and flatboats were almost impossible to get back upstream. By contrast, a strong crew and “beech oars” would literally pull the keelboat back upstream, a process called “bushwhacking” or “cordelling.” In the era before steam power and dams, the downstream trip of a few weeks between Cincinnati and New Orleans was contrasted with the several months that it took to get back. The beech oar was a long oar that helped on downstream trips to guide the boat and keep it off mudslicks and snags.  As with “C’est l’aviron,” you couldn’t do the work of river-based trade without some terrific paddles, so the men would have to paddle “hard on the beech oar.”

Trad. Folksong, arr. Augustus Zanzig: El-A-Noy

The Midwest would never have been settled without “boosters,” people whose job it was to convince Easterners to bring their money, their families, and their talents and ambitions to the “Great West.” One way that they spread the “gospel” of westward migration was through songs, sort of like motivational pep talks to make you want to go somewhere new.  This song is both quaint and vigorous, causing the singer and listener to want to spring up and move to El-A-Noy.  (You are encouraged to pay special attention to the verse about the Queen of Sheba visiting our state—it’s hilarious.)  A fourth verse, added later, suggests in the chorus, “Then move your family westward,  bring all your girls and boys/ And cross at Shawnee Ferry to the State of El-A-Noy.”

* * * * * * *


Barry Moore, arr. Nick Page: City of Chicago

The Irish first came to Chicago in the 1830s and were associated early on with the building of the I&M Canal (1836-1848).  The potato crop failures that started in 1845 drove 1.5 million Irish to emigrate, and Chicago was a popular destination.  The journey was not easy, borne as it was of the urgency to eat;  Irish women often traveled in groups apart from the rest of their families, in contrast to the more intact families of German, Jewish, Polish, and Italian immigrants.

The difficult journey of the Irish to Chicago is documented in this sad and moving song by an Irish songwriter, Barry Moore, who hails from Newbridge, County Kildare, Ireland. Barry changed his name to Luka Bloom to get out of the shadow of his more famous singer brother, Christy Moore. Luka has developed quite a following in his own right, and City of Chicago is probably his best-known song. (You can see and hear more about Luka Bloom at The unpublished setting by Boston’s Nick Page was made available by special arrangement with the arranger.

Johannes Brahms: Die Wollust in den Maien (The Sensuality in May)

Germans were an important early immigrant group to Chicago, taking prominent roles especially on the North and Northwest Sides.  Michael Diversey was a leading German who was alderman of the Sixth Ward in the 1840s. Between 1850 and 1900, Germans were the largest single ethnic group in Chicago. Not only did they make up one-sixth of the population in 1850, but in 1900, a full 470,000 Chicago residents were either born in Germany or had at least one parent who was. German was being taught in Chicago Public Schools by 1870. The posh Germania Club in Lincoln Park was founded in 1865 by the city’s German elite. Lincoln Square, anchored by the venerable Merz Apothecary, is the Chicago neighborhood with the strongest German character at the present time. 

Concerts and other musical activities serve to strengthen ethnic identity, and the Germans were particularly strong in this area. Singing societies would have performed partsongs much like this one by Brahms, composed with amateur singers in mind.

* * * * * * *


Trad. African-American folksong, arr. Allen Koepke: Follow the Drinking Gourd

Historian Glennette Tilley Turner, who is the leading scholar of the Underground Railroad in Illinois, notes that Chicago was a hotbed of antislavery activity. There were many routes on the Underground Railroad that originated in Illinois towns bordering the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers; most of these ended in Chicago.  Before the divisive Fugitive Slave Law was passed in 1850, Illinois was quite hospitable to runaway slaves; after 1850, slavecatchers or “pattyrollers” would capture black people even if they had certificates of freedom. 

Getting across the Ohio River is the topic of this well-known song. The coded language tells slaves how to maintain a northern bearing:  the “drinking gourd” in the chorus and every verse is the Big Dipper, whose pointer stars lead you to the North Star.  The verses take the slave from Mobile, Alabama northward, through northeastern Mississippi and Tennessee toward Paducah, Kentucky, where the river crossing into Illinois would take place.  The “old man” is reputedly a friendly boat operator and former sailor named Peg Leg Joe, who would mark the final part of the path with his “peg foot” and ferry slaves across the river to freedom. 

Allen Koepke’s vigorous new arrangement is texturally thick, perhaps a subtle reminder that the perilous journey was through densely forested, unfamiliar territory.

Irish folk song, “Old Rosin the Bow,” combined with 1860 political lyrics, arr. Anne Heider: Lincoln and Liberty

In decades past, satirical or other political songs were a popular way to communicate a campaign’s message.  Partisans would routinely borrow familiar tunes and slap on new words, as is the case here;  imagine “Yankee Doodle” with new words about Rahm Emanuel or Gery Chico from the recent Chicago mayoral campaign, and you have the right idea. In this case, a popular Irish fiddle tune, “Old Rosin the Bow,” was paired with new lyrics that promoted Abe Lincoln as the “liberty” candidate in the 1860 presidential campaign. 

Anne Heider found this combination of text and tune in Irwin Silber’s collection called Songs America Voted By.  In an interesting example of the way words can change meaning, she notes:

The term “Sucker” to denote someone from Illinois had its origins in the 1820s. Illinois men who traveled up the Mississippi in the spring, worked the Galena lead mines during warm weather, then migrated south when the cold weather came, were called after a type of river fish that had similar habits. The name had no connotation of gullibility and for a time was in common use, like “Hoosier” to indicate someone from Indiana.

Lincoln’s victory in 1860 would have been unthinkable without the city of Chicago, as the Republican National Convention was held here.

* * * * * * *


George Frederick Root: Passing Through the Fire

Named after Handel, George F. Root was one of the most prolific composers, arrangers, and music publishers in the middle of the 19th century.  Born in New England, he moved to Chicago in 1859 to join his brother’s music-publishing firm, Root & Cady.  His 35 wartime songs include the following “greatest hits”: Just Before the Battle, Mother;  The Battle Cry of Freedom;  and Tramp! Tramp! Tramp! 

Root wrote this song about Chicago’s Great Fire of 1871 and published it the same year;  since the Fire was in October, he must have written it quickly.  The song embodies the spirit and values of Victorian-era middleclass society, as well as a rather pious and passive approach to tragedy.  Following the Fire, he moved back to New England, where he died in 1872.

Poem by Katherine Lee Bates, music by Samuel Ward, arr. Deke Sharon: America, the Beautiful

Katherine Lee Bates was a college professor from New England and a tremendously prolific author and editor. On her way to teach a summer course at Colorado College in 1893, she passed through Chicago, where she seems to have seen the “White City” of the great Columbian Exposition.  Upon her arrival in Colorado, she wrote the poem that would become our unofficial second national anthem, which she originally titled “Pike’s Peak.” Evidently, the impression that the White City made on her was the inspiration for her mentioning “alabaster cities’ gleam,” a memorable and unusual line.  The poem was not originally paired with the now-famous music by Samuel Ward;  common practice of the time (see “Lincoln and Liberty” above) was to interchange lyrics with different tunes and vice versa.  Ward’s music was originally a hymn, and the now-classic text and tune were not published together until 1905.

Words by Jack Norworth and music by Albert von Tilzer, arr. Anne Heider: Take Me Out to the Ball Game

Have you ever heard all the lyrics to this song?  As with so many tunes from the early 20th century, this one usually has the first part cut off.  In this case, when you do that, you miss the best part of the story!  Anne Heider has created another fun and fetching arrangement here, and since she has sung alto for so many years it’s not surprising that the altos (and even the basses) get the melody from time to time. We are admittedly slanting the chorus toward one of our local teams.

Poem by Carl Sandburg, from Cornhuskers (1918);  music by Jerry J. Troxel: Prayers of Steel

We often hear people speaking with awe at Chicago’s skyscrapers, yet we rarely hear that awe expressed in song.  Carl Sandburg wrote a poignant ode to skyscrapers in his poem “Prayers of Steel,”published in the groundbreaking collection Cornhuskers. That book earned Sandburg the first of his three Pulitzer Prizes and contains the iconic poem “Chicago,” which begins with the well-known line “City of the Big Shoulders…” 

The music created by Jerry Troxell is a haunting, meditative work, considered his most perfect piece of music. Troxell was a saxophonist and teacher of reeds, a professor at St. Louis University, church musician, and gifted composer who spent time in Chicago following his graduate work at Sangamon State (now U of I-Springfield).  With its slightly angular character and stark harmonic style, the composition perfectly illuminates and captures Sandburg’s awe at beholding the stark urban beauty of Chicago's new downtown area.

For the record:  Jerry J. Troxell’s “Prayers of Steel” appears on Chicago a cappella’s CD Electric.

Words and music by Fred Fisher, arr. Jonathan Miller: Chicago (That Toddlin’ Town)

Here’s another song with more words than you may have known existed!  It was customary in the days of Tin Pan Alley to write songs with a contrasting first section before taking off on the “hit” portion of the song.  As with “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” this one has most of the action going on in the parts that we usually never hear.  Frank Sinatra made the refrain of this song hugely popular. We have a new arrangement here of the entire song, including the less-than-politically-correct “patter” section. The song has a racier character than we have become used to, as it sings over and over again of people dancing anywhere and anytime they possibly can;  the image of Chicago is more chaotic, too, with mention of the stinky stockyards.  We must also acknowledge that the values of the time provided for a no-longer-used word in the “patter” section. (If anyone knows what the phrase “cop a Flo” means, we would be grateful to hear it;  our current guess is that it refers to dancing, as a reference to “Flo” or Florenz Ziegfeld of the Follies.)



Lovie Austin, arr. Jonathan Miller: Chicago Bound Blues

The Great Migration of black Southerners to Chicago between World War I and 1970 was one of the largest movements of a people in history.  As historian (and one of the editors of the Encyclopedia of Chicago) James Grossman notes, the trains brought more than half a million African-Americans during this period from the Deep South—Mississippi in particular—to Chicago, where they sought economic alternatives to the Jim Crow realities of former slave states. World War I sparked the early part of this migration. With a combination of white soldiers being shipped to Europe, a new wartime demand for the manufactured goods made here, and the American borders basically closed to immigration, northern factories were in need of fresh labor.  The Chicago Defender was the newspaper that told the whole black American community where the jobs were, what the issues were in each major city, and so on.

Of course, Mississippi-style blues made it to Chicago and became a defining influence on what would be known as Chicago blues. Twenty years before Muddy Waters came here, the T.O.B.A. (Theatre Owners Bookers Association) black vaudeville circuit was the place where singers like Bessie Smith would perform. A female musical giant in a field dominated by male music directors, Lovie Austin was a gifted pianist and composer on the T.O.B.A. circuit.  Austin was the musical director at the Monogram Theater at 3453 South State Street. She led her own acts including her own “Blues Serenaders,” who accompanied many of the great singers of the age, including Ma Rainey and Ethel Waters.

In addition to her Chicago credits, Lovie Austin wrote some of the best-loved tunes for Bessie Smith, who recorded them in New York.  In 1923, Smith laid down a phenomenal recording of Austin’s song, “Chicago Bound Blues.” The lyrics tell of a woman in the Deep South who wants to go to Chicago but is not on the train;  her man went north without her, leaving her to die “down home” from the blues.  The vocal chart here is a faithful transcription of the Bessie Smith recording, which featured piano and clarinet.

Thomas A. Dorsey, arr. Arnold Sevier: Precious Lord

While it brought tremendous economic opportunity to hundreds of thousands, The Great Migration caused some conflicts within Chicago’s black community.  “Old settlers” who had been in Chicago as early as the 1840s were not thrilled at having to rub elbows with less sophisticated recent arrivals, especially in church.  This generational rift between educated and working-class subgroups has played out in similar fashion with immigrant populations in Chicago, from Chinese to Ukrainians and others;  sometimes the educated elites come later, but the conflict is still there.

As Michael Harris notes in The Rise of Gospel Blues, Thomas Andrew Dorsey’s genius in shaping early gospel music lay in two areas. One was audible:  namely, the musical fusion of more raw blues elements with weightier, classically-leaning stylistic features. The other, less blatantly audible but no less essential, was Dorsey’s recognition that the black Baptist church needed to be able to appeal to both the more recent migrants to Chicago, whose more ecstatic and charismatic styles constituted “storefront” worship, as well as the “old settlers” who were used to hearing Bach and Mozart on Sunday morning. 

Like spirituals, the best gospel music has the quality of “the moan” inside it.  A text cannot be overly cloying if is to be successful;  it must have an inner quality of sincerity and human struggle to balance the joyful, even ecstatic impulse that comes from the wish to praise and rejoice. Dorsey’s Precious Lord meets all these criteria for success and then some.  It was created when Dorsey’s wife, Nettie Harper, died in childbirth in 1932, along with their infant son;  Dorsey was inconsolable and wrote the song in his grief. It was first recorded by the Heavenly Gospel Singers in 1937 and was Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s favorite song.  This arrangement by Arnold Sevier has traveled the world with countless choirs.

Trad. Veracruz melody and lyrics, arr. Deke Sharon: La Bamba

A proud and vibrant community, the Mexican presence in the city of Chicago makes up roughly a quarter of the city’s population. More than a million people of Mexican descent reside in the wider metropolitan area. Mexican-Americans have had a lasting and profound impact on the city, and vice versa. 

The first serious wave of Mexican immigrants to Chicago followed the 1910 Mexican Revolution.  A particularly interesting story of Mexican music taking hold in Chicago, which pertains to La bamba,  is that of Angelina Moreno Rico. She was a musical pioneer in Chicago, arriving with her children here in 1926 a few months after her husband, José, was the first to arrive from Mexico City.  The parents learned English and finished high school at Crane High School’s night-school program.  An energetic and ambitious woman, Angelina insisted that all her children learn musical instruments, despite the family’s poverty.  When many Mexicans wanted to shed their ethnic identity in the face of Depression-era deportations—Mexican youths tried to pass as Italian to avoid shame and expulsion—Angelina took action. The family began performing Christmas posadas in Chicago-area churches, and in 1949 they were invited to perform folkloric dances (including the wedding dance known as la bamba) at the Museum of Science and Industry. 

Richie Valens’ 1958 version of the folksong from Veracruz gave it a rock drive, about which Valens was initially ambivalent.  However, the song went on to be a rock icon, ranking #345 on the Rolling Stone list of top 500 rock songs of all time.  This arrangement is by the venerable Deke Sharon.

Words and lyrics by Al Capone, arr. Al Capone Fan Club/Patrick Sinozich: Madonna Mia!

Yes, it’s true, you history fans:  Al Capone really did write this song. He even wrote it in Alcatraz.  Don’t ask us how we found it.  The manuscript recently came up for auction, and the Al Capone Fan Club got hold of it and made a fetching lounge-music recording of the tune. Using that recording as a basis, Music Director Patrick Sinozich has given the song a complete a cappella treatment.  Evidently, Al Capone had a tender side, though he didn’t show it to the feds.


Al Hoffman, arr. Jonathan Miller: Bear Down, Chicago Bears

This is the famous Chicago Bears fight song.  The original 1941 sheet music attributed authorship to one Jerry Downs, which was a pseudonym for the famous songwriter Al Hoffman, a member of the Songwriters’ Hall of Fame, known as a co-author of the classic “Mairzy Doats.” The song consisted of one extended stanza.

The Monsters of the Midway almost made it to the Super Bowl in 2011, earning an 11-5 record and a first-round playoff bye.  They lost in the NFC championship game to the Green Bay Packers, who went on to win the Super Bowl.  Despite that disappointment, it was a good year.  With an offense led by Devin Hester, Matt Forte, and Jay Cutler, the Bears put up more points in the 2010 fall season than many recent Bears teams had put up in several seasons combined.  The defensive combination of veteran linebackers Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs was bolstered by the acquisition of Julius Peppers as a mighty pass rusher and tackler. 

Robert Lamm, arr. Joe Herbert: Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?

In 1969, a rock group known as Chicago Transit Authority (later shortened to “Chicago” after they were sued by the CTA) released an album of the same name, featuring this splendid and now-iconic song. With an integrated horn section (in contrast to that of Blood, Sweat & Tears where the horns are more incidental) and superb rhythmic drive, the band released several top-ranking singles and albums from its debut through the mid-1970s. 

“Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?” was written in early 1968, just before the band loaded up its U-Hauls and headed for Los Angeles, where they practiced nonstop. Eventually they were signed by CBS, which brought them back to New York in 1969 to record the “CTA” album.  The band members remember that this was the first song they attempted to record, and it went quite badly at first, with all seven of them trying to stay coordinated.  Eventually they figured out—partly due to the pressure of limited studio time—that it made more sense to record the rhythm section first and then the horns. Once that was settled, the rest of the album went rather quickly.  The newly powerful FM stations, especially college stations, propelled the album into a hit, where it stayed on the charts for 148 weeks through 1972, a feat no other album had achieved before. 

The opening introduction includes a 5/8 section and then settles into a heavy swing, with a strong R&B flavor in the horns, before the solo begins.  The words combine an atmospheric detachment with social commentary, showing influences of the Beatles (think “Lady Madonna”).   The all-vocal chart is by Joe Herbert, the driving force behing the virtuoso vocal-jazz group Groove Society. If you weren’t alive in 1969, just let the music take you there; if you were, let it do the same thing!