Exploring Chicago Blues: Inside the Scene, Past and Present

by Dr. Jessie Voigts /
Dr. Jessie Voigts's picture
Nov 16, 2014 / 0 comments

Have you ever felt like you knew a place, only to learn something that peels back all your knowledge and gives you more? Such is the case with Chicago to me, with a new book by one of my favorite cultural travel writers, Rosalind Cummings-Yeates. She's written a book that is a must-read for Chicagoans, people that love music, historians, and anyone heading to Chicago (it'll probably change where you go, whilst there).

Exploring Chicago Blues: Inside the Scene, Past and Present is an honest, carefully crafted, genuine portrait of a city, musicians, musical trends, culture, history, and personality. It is, hands down, the best themed travel guide I've ever read. I wasn't knowledgeable about Chicago Blues before; now I'm a huge fan. For what Cummings-Yeates does, while carefully sharing history and her passion about this music, is to bring people - and music - to life.


Exploring Chicago Blues: Inside the Scene, Past and Present


From the history of Chicago blues to the Chicago blues scene today, Cummings-Yeates covers much of what has made this city magical - and gives readers a glimpse into a vivid, passionate, friendly past...and present. From people who so loved the blues that they were family to musicians and listeners alike to where to find the music today, this book is filled with well-written stories and recommendations. There are lists of soul food restaurants with a blues vibe, who to see in Chicago blues today, and even suggested listening. Honestly, this is one of the best glimpses into a city I've ever read - obviously written by someone with deep knowledge and scholarship, who shares her love of the subject.

We had a chance to catch up with Rosalind, to learn about the book, inspiration, top 5 playlist, research, and more. Here's what she had to say...


Rosalind Cummings-Yeates, author of Exploring Chicago Blues: Inside the Scene, Past and Present


Please tell us about your book, Exploring Chicago Blues...

Exploring Chicago Blues is a guidebook to the Chicago blues scene and its history. It supplies historical background into how the music was created and the legendary hallmarks of the scene as well as current players.


What inspired you to write this book?

I was inspired to write this book after many Chicago visitors would tell me they didn't know much about blues but wanted to know where to hear the music. I realized that most blues books are for people with heavy blues knowledge and that they intimidated people who were not so well versed. I wanted to create something that was accessible for people with little awareness that would also stimulate people who are aware. I also wanted to write a book from the perspective of someone who considers blues as part of their heritage. Blues is a culture, not just music.


Memphis Minnie. From  Exploring Chicago Blues: Inside the Scene, Past and Present

Memphis Minnie


What were your favorite parts - and challenges - in researching the book?

My favorite parts in researching the book was interviewing the artists about how they became blues musicians. Blues men's and women's stories are always fascinating! The most challenging was finding enough historic Chicago blues women to feature. I discovered a huge hole in the information available about blues women. Most of what I found was from the personal memories of people active in the industry, and then I had to locate documentation, which was really tough.


If you had to pick a 5 song playlist that exemplifies Chicago Blues, what would you pick?

I always play Chicago blues songs whenever I'm doing a presentation of my book, so picking 5 essential Chicago blues songs is not as difficult as it could be. I like to play songs that represent different eras and styles. (These all have Youtube videos)


1. Mannish Boy-Muddy Waters

This is the quintessential Chicago blues song by the king of Chicago blues. It is featured in lots of movie soundtracks, so most people have heard this song, whether they realize it or not.



2. Spoonful-Howlin' Wolf

Another classic Chicago blues song that epitomizes the mix of gruff Delta blues and the slickness of urban living as interpreted by Willie Dixon's lyrics and Wolf's inimitable vocals.


3. I'm a Woman- KoKo Taylor

The queen of the blues took Muddy Water's legendary song of male swagger and turned it into a stunning manifesto of women's strength. She wasn't called the queen for nothing.



4.Black Rat Swing-Memphis Minnie

It upsets me that Minnie is so often overlooked by blues fans. She was the first Chicago blues musician to pick up the electric guitar and she out-played all the men. She also wrote her own songs, and this song shows her humor and grit.



5. Midnight Steppers- Big Bill Broonzy

Bill basically laid the blueprint for Chicago blues, and this 1940 tune showcases the foundation with riveting guitar work and lyrics that reflect the essence of Chicago nightlife.



What's the biggest impact that the history of Chicago blues has had on Chicago blues today?

The biggest impact that Chicago blues history has had on Chicago blues today is that blues is so closely associated with Chicago that blues clubs are filled with tourists wanting to experience it. If that history created by the Great Migration hadn't been created, I doubt that we would have so many packed blues clubs.


  Big Bill Broonzy. From Exploring Chicago Blues: Inside the Scene, Past and Present

  Big Bill Broonzy


What's up next for you?

Up next? I've had requests for a second book on Chicago blues women, but I'd like to take more time and not be as stressed as I was with this one. Right now I'm focusing on my travel writing and creating a multi-media journalism course at Columbia College Chicago, where I teach part-time.


How can readers find your book?

My book is available at most bookstores and on Amazon:

Exploring Chicago Blues: Inside the Scene, Past and Present (Music)

My FB book page and website





Note: We received a review copy of this book from the publisher, The History Press - thank you!