Visiting the Center for Black Music Research

It’s always a treat whenever you get a chance to cool down for an hour or two out of your normal day to read a good book. In the modern-day, with our lives hustling and bustling 24 hours a day, we don’t get the chance to do this often enough. Either we’re too tired or we have other things on our minds. But we must find a way to get some valuable detox time in every day.

I’m vowing to find time to read during my day from now on. After visiting the Center for Black Music Research today, I was brought back to the days of elementary school where I could just relax and read without interruption; the days when I visited the library bi-weekly to check out the latest marine biology and how-to-draw books from the kiddie section. The Center for Black Music Research is a homey, quiet place to learn about black music history and share the floor with like-minded peers who also want to learn more about black history.

img_1275       (Original Artwork by Carlos Douglas Jr.)

To think, I never knew there was such a place down here until Chicago: City of Stories is practically a crime. Being a young black man in the city of Chicago should lend itself to learning a bit more about my family’s culture; Chicago is the place where many black families found their way during the 20th century, including my grandparents. My grandpa, Richard Coleman Jr., moved from Mississippi to Chicago in the 1970s to find better opportunities in the big city. He established a general contracting business, got married to Donna Lynn Phipps, and became the proprietor of two apartment complexes while he lived in the Chicagoland area. And like my grandpa, there were many other black individuals who paved the way for Midwestern black culture during the 1900s. Not everyone came here to be a general contractor however; many came to become musicians. The Great Migration brought many black musicians up from Southern roots, who performed at night clubs, bars, and music halls. The biggest venue however was the Maxwell Street market. Hundreds of thousands of people would walk down this street to listen to black musicians play what was then the infant beginnings of Chicago blues and jazz. The market was closed in 2000, however a rich history lies on this famous street on Chicago’s West Side.

I learned much more about black history while I was at the Center. Located at 618 S Michigan Ave is a wealth of books, magazines, audio recordings, and encyclopedias all about the history of black music, from the very beginnings of African music to the latest in contemporary rap. After a very nice lady signed me in and showed me around, I sat down and skimmed a couple of good books, all focusing on Black music in the 20th century. I did this all while listening to the music of the Maxwell Street Market during the 1960s. It was such an explosion of history. Visiting the Center carried me to a new place; it moved me. I have never wanted to explore more about black history in my life. “Black History Month” doesn’t even get me into the mood like the 6th floor of 618 does. There are many famous black artists that I have heard of in the past, such as Muddy Waters, Curtis Mayfield, and Buddy Guy, but I have never done my research on them. It was the perfect way for me to finally get to know these figures from history!


(Original Artwork by Carlos Douglas Jr.)

The untouched feeling of the CBMR is probably what attracts me the most when I think about going back. All of those barely used books touched me on a personal level; they made me feel that as a black Columbia student, I am entitled to use them so that they don’t go to waste.  I looked at the sign-in sheet and the last person who signed in was just last Thursday. People should be constantly going in and out of that place’s door. However, I think it’s one of Columbia’s many hidden treasures, patiently waiting to be discovered by some lucky passers-by. The secretiveness of the CBMR is a blessing and a curse. It has the mystery of the city of Atlantis, and the curse of our ignorance. I felt like I found a unicorn today, however I do wish more people know/cared about it. That just means I’ll have to spread the word around a little bit. (Carlos Douglas Jr./CoS Student)


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