Blues at the Logan Center

Chicago’s South Side was once the burgeoning mecca of the Chicago Blues. While the immortal influence of Little Walter, Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, and Willie Dixon thrive around the world, the presence of this powerful African American folk music has all but dissipated on the South Side. The Logan Center has taken giant strides to bring this cultural legacy to the forefront of South Side culture by featuring the Chicago Blues in 3 significant events: 1) BluesFest; 2) School Music Programs; and 3) a Monthly Blues series in Café Logan.

OCT 19-21, 2018

The second annual Logan Center Bluesfest, October 19-21, 2018, honored the South Side roots of the blues tradition with conversations & presentations by Pulitzer Prize, Grammy® AND Tony® Award winners, providing unique critical discourse of the blues - alongside a rich roster of headliner concerts and hands-on workshops. The 2018 Bluesfest featured local and national musicians and artists in spaces throughout the Logan Center, and a series of performances by musicians that reflected the diverse history of the blues tradition, along with workshops and educational programming to inspire the next generation of blues musicians and aficionados.

Matthew Skoller, Logan Center Bluesfest Programming Director

Leigh Fagin, Deputy Director of Programming and Engagement for the Logan Center

We'd like to thank our sponsors and partners:
The Jonathan Logan Family Foundation
The Reva and David Logan Foundation

2018 Artists

2018 highlights

Coming soon.

2018 schedule


  • 57pm - Exhibition Opening for Ernest C. Withers: Documenting Memphis Music / Free, Café Logan

    Ernest C. Withers was a photographer whose voluminous catalog of arresting black-and-white images illustrates a history of life in the segregated South in the 1950s and ’60s, from the civil rights movement to the Memphis music scene. This exhibition will focus on his photos from Memphis’s bustling Beale Street Blues scene, including rarely seen images of B.B. King, Howlin’ Wolf, Albert King, Aretha Franklin, Ma Rainey and Memphis Slim. The exhibition runs Sep 21–Dec 15.

  • 5:30pm - John Primer and Steve Bell / Free, Café Logan
    Two-time Grammy®-nominated Blues guitar and vocal legend John Primer (former guitarist for the Muddy Waters Band) will kick off the festival, accompanied by harpist extraordinaire Steve Bell. His lifelong relationship with John Primer is reflected in the tightness of their sound and amazing chemistry on stage.

  • 7:30pm - Chris Thomas King, with Jerron “Blind Boy” Paxton opening / $15 general admission/$5 for 21 and under/$35 as part of the Bluesfest Pass
    An evening of acoustic Blues with two of the most powerful and interesting artists in Blues music today. We will celebrate the two different paths these artists have set out on to arrive at a place where the musical traditions of their ancestors are kept vital and relevant: Paxton, through his faithful, passionate, and technically awe-inspiring renditions of Jazz, Blues and country music of the 1920’s and 30’s, and King, who has mastered the techniques of old while continuing the tradition of allowing the “rhythm of his own time” to inform everything he plays. Following the performance, Grammy® Award nominee and winner King will sit down for interview by Chicago-based writer/deejay/musician James Porter.


  • 12:30pm - Chicago Blues: an Urban Experience / Free, Performance Penthouse
    Join us to watch the premiere of Chicago Blues: an Urban Experience, which features the video and audio archives of Barry Dolins, who ran the Chicago Blues Festival for over 25 years and interviewed countless artists in his various roles. Barry is currently an artist-in-residence with Media Burn Archive to help digitize his valuable recordings, dating from 1982–1984. After the screening, Dolins will be interviewed by Janice Monti, Dominican University, Professor Emerita, Department of Sociology & Criminology, Director, Blues & the Spirit Symposium.

  • 1:302:30pm - Adult Workshop with Bill Sims Jr. / Free

    In this lecture-demonstration workshop with Bill Sims Jr., we will explore country Blues from the earliest practitioners starting with Charley Patton to Chicago Blues. We will explore the prevalence of the open keys E,A,C; the open tunings in country Blues and why it was so popular; the ease at which chords could be played allowing the player to concentrate on the real heart of the Blues; and the vocals.

  • 34pm - Blues Workshop for Youth with Katherine Davis (Ages 1116) / Free
    Katherine Davis will talk about the roots of Blues history and the spiritual function of Blues within the African American community and culture. With an emphasis on the great migration, she will discuss how Blues is a music of survival, celebration, and communication. This will be combined with a demonstration and workshop on a cappella vocal techniques, engaging the students in sing alongs, call and response, and harmony. 

  • 34pm - “Blues Everywhere I Go” with Zahra Baker (Ages 710) / Free

    This Blues singing workshop will entertain, engage, and demonstrate how personal experiences are communicated using folk and Blues forms. We will focus on creating and singing Blues about simple day-to-day living. Come participate in the writing and singing of Blues lyrics specific to your family and community’s moods, experiences, personal interests, values, affirmations, hopes, and dreams. We will draw inspiration from Langston Hughes poetry and Blues artists including Leadbelly, Odetta and Robert Johnson. Participants will leave with a heightened sense of the power of this expressive communication. 

  • 33:45pm  - Bitten by the Blues book release and Q&A with Bruce Iglauer and Patrick A Roberts / Free, Performance Penthouse
    Bitten by the Blues is Iglauer’s memoir of a life immersed in the blues—and the business of the blues. In this book, Iglauer takes us behind the scenes, offering unforgettable stories of those charismatic musicians and classic sessions, and delivering an intimate and unvarnished look at what it’s like to work with the greats of the Blues. It’s a vivid portrait of some of the extraordinary musicians and larger-than-life personalities who brought America’s music to life in the clubs of Chicago’s South and West Sides. Bitten by the Bluesis also an expansive history of half a century of Blues in Chicago and around the world, tracing the Blues recording business through massive transitions.

  • 4pm:  Fernando Jones’s Blues Kids of America / Free, Café Logan
    Blues Kids is an internationally recognized multicultural, interdisciplinary artist-in-residency music program founded by musician, author, and educator Fernando Jones. It is designed to help improve literacy through music in a hands-on, nurturing environment. Join us in kicking off their 30th Anniversary season and Blues Camp's 10th Anniversary season with this free and intimate concert.

  • 56pm - LIFE STORIES - August Wilson, The Blues…and then some / Free

    Tony® Award-winning actor/director/writer Ruben Santiago-Hudson (JITNEYLackawanna BluesSeven Guitars) delivers a presentation on the significant influence of the Blues on the plays of August Wilson and others. Through readings, music, and his personal experiences with August Wilson, Santiago-Hudson demonstrates and discusses the direct correlation of the Blues and the plays of August Wilson. With special guest composer and musician Bill Sims Jr, an OBIE and Drama Desk winner who has also been Grammy®-nominated (The Piano LessonJITNEYTwo Trains Running).

  • 6pm - Bill Sims Jr. / Free, Café Logan
    Grammy®-nominated master musician and composer Bill Sims Jr. will present a solo performance that will take us into his personal world of Blues music, spanning several generations and styles. From field hollers and deep Delta Blues stylings to more modern grooves, Bill conjures the spirit of his ancestors while staying firmly rooted in the ‘here and now.'      

  • 7:30pmSanctified and Secular: Sisters in the Blues- Ruthie Foster with Deitra Farr and Leanne Faine / $20 general admission/$5 for 21 and under/$35 as part of the Bluesfest Pass
    In this program we take a journey into the wide intersection where Blues and Gospel music reside together, in harmony. We begin our program with one of the most dynamic and accomplished voices in Chicago Gospel history: Leanne Faine. She is a shameless Blues lover, and her song choice and arrangements show the sisterhood that exists between traditional Gospel music and Blues music. Next we have world renowned, South Side of Chicago-born vocalist and songwriter Deitra Farr, whose deep Chicago Blues roots and knowledge are combined with a poet’s sensibility. Having been raised listening to Gospel and Blues at home, the powerful influence of Gospel music in her Blues and Soul singing is palpable. Headlining our event is Texas Blues woman Ruthie Foster who was born into a family of Gospel singers. Ruthie, a singer/songwriter moves seamlessly between all genres of roots music, with equal portions of Blues and Gospel influencing everything she does. 

  • 10:30pm - Pro-Am Jam with Kenny “Beedy Eyes” Smith / Free, Performance Penthouse



  • 111pm: Blues Brunch: Johnny Iguana and Michael Caskey from The Claudette’s / $20 with food, $10 for just music, (Event not included in Bluesfest Pass)
    Inspired by the '60s piano-drums recordings of Otis Spann and S.P Leary, pianist Johnny Iguana and drummer Michael Caskey formed The Claudettes in 2011. The band has since evolved into a four-piece group with vocals and guitars, but the original concept of the group (as heard on their early recordings) was a piano-drums instrumental blues duo. Johnny had toured with Junior Wells and Otis Rush, and recorded with many Chicago Blues legends (as well as his own cult-favorite punk-organ band Oh My God), and Michael had grown up playing drums for multiple bluesmen in Detroit and is now one of the most in-demand drummers in Chicago.

  • 121:30pm - Intergenerational Blues Poetry Workshop with avery r. young / Free, RSVP RECOMMENDED
    Join in on a blues poetry and lyric writing workshop with Chicago poet and performer avery r. young. Using the song “Grandma's Hands” by Bill Withers and others as the example texts, participants will create two standard Blues verses about member(s) of their biological and/or chosen family.

  • 12pm - Circumnavigating the Blues Line of Literature with Tyehimba Jess / Free; space is limited, RSVP REQUIRED
    Join Pultizer Prize-winning poet, UChicago alum and educator Tyehimba Jess (AB '91) in a workshop about examining the history of African American song as a tether to the political, personal, and social realities of everyday life.

  • 23:30pm - Exploring American Epic, including a discussion with members of the Creative Team including producer, Allison McGourty / Free, Screening Room

    American Epic is an award-winning documentary series about the first recordings of rural music in the U.S.A. and their cultural, social, and technological impact on the world. Using the last surviving electrical sound recording system from 1925, meticulously rebuilt for this film, The American Epic Sessions documents twenty contemporary artists, paying tribute to their early influences and the technology that gave birth to popular music. Using recent interviews, early recordings, and a wide range of period film, photographs, and documents, many of them previously unknown or unpublished, American Epic explores the varied sources and extensive impact of this explosion of American popular culture.

  • 4pm4:45pm - Live Interview: Billy Branch and Sterling Plumpp / Free, Performance Hall
    Three-time Grammy®-nominated and Emmy Award-winning Blues harmonic player and singer Billy Branch sits down for an interview and conversation with his mentor and friend, celebrated Blues poet and essayist Sterling Plumpp, author of Home/BassOrnate with Smoke, and Blues Narratives,among other much-admired works.

  • 5pm - Stories Untold: Tyehimba Jess, Sterling Plumpp and Billy Branch / Free, Performance Hall
    This collaborative event features poet, author, and educator Sterling Plumpp and two of his mentees: Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Tyehimba Jess (AB ’91) and three-time Grammy® nominee and Chicago Blues musician Billy Branch. Plumpp and Jess have contributed to an extensive history of writers synthesizing the Blues into poetry. For Plumpp, it has been through books such as Blues: The Story Always Untold (1989) and Ornate With Smoke (1997); for Jess, the processes of combining the narratives, the feelings, and the music have appeared in Leadbelly (2005) and Olio (2016). Joined by Billy Branch on harmonica, Plumpp and Jess will read relevant works and the event will culminate in a discussion about the Chicago Blues scene, its impact on literature, and some of the international ramifications of these connections.   

  • 7pm - Charlie Musselwhite, featuring a Chicago Blues Harmonica Summit / $25 general admission/$5 for 21 and under/$35 as part of the Bluesfest Pass

    The legendary Charlie Musselwhite is more than a great harmonica player—he's a consummate Chicago bluesman with roots that stretch to Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, John Lee Hooker, and many other giants of the genre. Grammy® Award winner and multiple Grammy® nominee Musselwhite released his first album in 1966 and has been at it ever since. Although long revered among Blues aficionados—Musselwhite was the model for the Blues Brothers parody of the briefcase-toting harp player—he also enjoys wider appeal as a solo performer and an accompanist for a diverse lineup of rock, pop, Gospel and Soul artists. Now 72 years old, Musselwhite shows no signs of slowing down, with his most recent albums are among his finest, demonstrating his talents as a bandleader and musical curator. 

    Closing out the 2018 Logan Center Bluesfest will be an all-star Chicago Blues Harmonica Summit, beginning with a set by veteran Blues harpman (and Fest director) Matthew Skoller, a fixture on the Chicago Blues scene for over 33 years, followed by Blues harmonica legend Billy Branch, who has led the world-renowned band, The Sons of Blues, for 35 years. After Musselwhite’s set with his quartet, Skoller and Branch will join Musselwhite for a grand finale to close the festival. 


Rear View Mirror Session: Blues Edition
Saturday, October 6, 6-9pm
Logan Center Performance Penthouse
Soundrotation in conjunction with Brain Trust Management and Logan Center for the Arts presents the Rear View Mirror Sessions and Lecture Series with Duane E. Powell. Focusing on influential unsung artists and legends and how their influence has lasted for generations, Rear View Mirror Sessions provides insight into the artists journeys by exploring  their lives through history and their music.   This event is a pre-event of the Logan Center Bluesfest and will focus on Muddy Waters.

Ernest C. Withers: Documenting Memphis Music
September 28 – December 15, 2018
Opening event: October 19, 2018 from 5-7pm
Café Logan
Ernest C. Withers was photographer whose voluminous catalog of arresting black-and-white images illustrates a history of life in the segregated South in the 1950s and ’60s, from the civil rights movement to the Memphis music scene.  This exhibition will focus on the his photos from the Memphis’s bustling Beale Street blues scene including rarely seen images of B.B. King, Howlin’ Wolf, Albert King, Aretha Franklin, Ma Rainey and Memphis Slim. Join us for the opening event during the second annual Logan Center Bluesfest on October 19.  

Art & Music: The Cry of Jazz and Chicago Blues 
Sat, Oct 20, 7pm 
Logan Center, Screening Room

Chicago-based composer Edward Bland’s only film, The Cry of Jazz (1959, newly restored 35mm print) interrogates the intertwined history of jazz and the Black experience in the United States. Through a framing story of an interracial gathering of jazz fans in Hyde Park, Bland argues that Black Americans’ history of suffering gives them a distinctive vision that drives innovation in jazz (something that whites are incapable of) and, ultimately, revolution. Harley Cokeliss’s Chicago Blues (1972), narrated by Dick Gregory, also ties the history of American music to the history of American race relations, touring Chicago’s south side clubs, housing projects, and sites of the Black Power movement.

Art & Music: The Cry of Jazz and Chicago Blues is presented by South Side Projections, the Smart Museum of Art, the Film Studies Center, and the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts as part of the film series Chicago's Black Arts Movement on Film, the Logan Center Bluesfest, and the symposium Unfinished Business! The South Side and Chicago ArtUnfinished Business! and Chicago's Black Arts Movement in Film are presented as part of Art Design Chicago, an exploration of Chicago’s art and design legacy, an initiative of the Terra Foundation for American Art with presenting partner The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation. Chicago’s Black Arts Movement in Film and Unfinished Business! are funded by the Terra Foundation for American Art.

Logan Center Second Monday Blues: Jimmy Johnson
Hosted by Billy Branch
Monday, Nov 12, 2018 , 7pm
Café Logan
This new series, Logan Center Second Monday Blues, will feature Chicago’s home-grown, world class musicians and emerging Blues stars. Relax with a glass of wine or cup of tea while hearing from local musicians in an intimate setting.   A live interview will proceed each concert, moderated by the three time Grammy-nominated Billy Branch, curator and host of the new series. We will provide the audience with a unique, up-close and personal experience with an opportunity to delve deeper into Chicago blues music and its musicians.   Presented by the Logan Center and Billy Branch Music.


Background picture: Ruthie Foster