By: Samantha Sanchez, Managing Editor
In the early twentieth century, Chicago was the birthplace of electric blues. The city kick-started the fruitful careers of Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Freddie King, Magic Sam and Jimmy Reed. Dominican University has developed a reputation as a beacon for the blues in the Chicago area.
On Tuesday February 15, Dominican held a symposium honoring Jimmy Reed’s lasting impact on both Chicago and the blues genre. “Ain’t That Lovin’ You Baby” included a screening of The Jimmy Reed Experience by director Steven Lattimore, followed by a panel discussion on the topics of copyright issues, intellectual property and race. The night ended with a jam session featuring Reed’s children (Rose and Jimmy Jr.), Eddie Taylor Jr. and several other contemporary blues musicians. This event was one of several that are a part of the Blues and the Spirit Initiative headed by Dr. Janice Monti, chair of the sociology and criminology department. Monti helped plan the symposium after Reed’s children approached her last year.
Monti is unsure of why other schools in the Chicago area haven’t celebrated the blues culture in quite the same way that Dominican University has.
“It’s surprising and even shocking that we are the only school doing this in a regular and fairly systematic way,” Monti said.
In 2008, after receiving a grant from the Illinois Humanities Council, Monti coordinated Dominican’s first “Blues and the Spirit Symposium.” Monti also received assistance from Jeff Carlson, dean of the Rosary College of Arts and Sciences, to hold another symposium in 2010 on the centennial of Howlin’ Wolf’s birth.
“Blues is a part of Chicago history, and we thought it would be great to do this Jimmy Reed symposium in February during Black History Month,” Monti said. “It’s a nice opportunity to continue our efforts to educate a younger generation about the great gift of African American music that came out of Chicago.”
The Reed symposium offered both education and entertainment to attendees. Although Reed enjoyed a slew of number one hits in his lifetime, he didn’t receive much in terms of payment. Unfortunately, Reed was one of quite a few blues musicians who were taken advantage of by unscrupulous managers. This often involved musicians giving control or ownership of their music to someone else or signing contracts that didn’t fairly represent their worth and investment. The Jimmy and Mary Reed Foundation’s mission is to prevent this kind of mismanagement.
The foundation’s website reads: “The JMRF will also assist in every way that it can those who have been deceived or coerced into giving up rights and property that belongs to them and their families, by those that have no rights at all.”
The panel discussion included copyright lawyer Jeff Arena who gave useful advice for young musicians on copyrights, contracts and patents. Charles Barksdale, a member of famous R&B group, The Dells, also offered some insight on the seedy side of the music business.
“They call it show business, but it’s the business of show,” Barksdale said. “I hope young musicians see the mistakes we made and learn from them. They learn from us and we learn from them.”
Students, faculty and fans of Reed filled Dominican’s Bluhm Auditorium for the film and panel discussion, and Monti hopes they left with a better understanding of both Reed and his struggles.
“More than anything, I want to assist organizations like the Jimmy and Mary Reed Foundation and educate a younger generation about this music and the continuing worries about copyright and intellectual property,” Monti said.
The next full-scale Blues and the Spirit Symposium is set for 2012.