Sunday, January 15, 2017

Windy City Blues

Title:  Windy City Blues
Author:  Renée Rosen
Publication Information:  Berkley. 2017. 480 pages.
ISBN:  1101991127 / 978-1101991121

Book Source:  I received this book through the Penguin First to Read program free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "She did her worshipping from the hood of a rusted-out Chevrolet in a junkyard on Twenty-ninth and State Street across from the church."

Favorite Quote:  "See now, the good thing about them bad days is they don't last but for twenty-four hours."

As in White Collar Girl, Renée Rosen takes us to Chicago, the Windy City during the 1940s through the 1960s. In this case, the book brings us back to the birth of the Chicago Blues. This is a story of Jewish immigrants and Southern migrants who all converge upon Chicago and make magic happen through music. This is a story of music and a story of the Civil Rights movement. In particular, this story follows the history of Chess Records, one of the instrumental companies which was founded for and prospered through the blues.

Some interesting historical notes. Phil Chess passed away in October 2016 at the age of 95. Of the two Chess brothers, only Leonard Chess was recognized for his contribution to music through his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The induction ceremony in 1987 recognized, "Chess not only became the true repository of American blues music, but it also presented black music for the edification of white audiences throughout the world." In 2013, both brothers were recognized by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences with a Trustees Award for lifetime achievement. This dichotomy between the brothers, with Leonard being the more public face of the duo, comes through in this book.

I choose this book to read because it goes towards many topics I am interested in - civil rights, Chicago, and music. I also really enjoyed White Collar Girl, which is strong story and a period piece set around journalism. That book though keeps a strong focus on the story of the main character. The history surrounds the story, but the focal point remains the one main character.

The description of this book suggests that this story centers on one main female character as well -  Leeba Growski.  Leeba is a musician. She belongs to a family who wants nothing more than their daughter to find a nice white Jewish young man, to marry, and to settle down. Leeba dreams of other things. She dreams of a career in music and finds that in part through her work with the Chess brothers. She also falls in love with another musician. Red Dupree is a talented guitarist from Mississippi; he is also a person of color. Their careers wind through the music industry, and the interracial relationship thrusts them into the Civil Rights movement.

The premise of the book and the historical background setup for a fascinating story. The book, however, scatters its focus with many characters whose story and perspective is told and much name dropping in addition to that. That name dropping seems even more prevalent if you are not familiar with the known celebrities of blues music.

Too much of a good things is sometimes a really wonderful thing, and sometimes it is just too much as is the case with this book. It becomes difficult to form a connection with the main character or really any of the characters. I keep reading it as an interesting historical narration, but that is lot to keep going on for almost five hundred pages. The book is clearly well researched, with fascinating historical details. However, the characters get a little lost in the history.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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