From American Culture


Chicago created its own soundtrack to modernity through its reinvention of the blues and jazz. On the South Side of the city, in the dance halls and cabarets, Prohibition and segregation fueled the creativity that allowed jazz to flourish into the musical statement of an era. King Oliver and Louis Armstrong created music that transcended race and culture, helping America create its first great musical contribution to the world. Better than any music prior, jazz reflected the frenetic pace of modernity and spread from the city into the ears and hearts of cultural arbiters everywhere. With its reflection of outlaw, anti-Prohibition culture, jazz joined a Chicago tradition of entertainment and crime. In 1919, eight members of Chicago’s baseball team, the White Sox, agreed with gamblers to throw the World Series. The consequences of their actions echo to this day, with strict regulations regarding gambling still in place in professional sports. Unfortunate as it may be, crime and corruption often accompanied city growth, and Chicago felt the taint of crime as few cities in modern times. Neither Chicago, nor modernity can be adequately expressed in a single aspect of society, history, or technology. But, when these elements merge, a picture of each begins to form, along with an understanding of the unique union of circumstances that allowed for creation of the great city and the sweeping change. Both products of the Industrial Revolution of the nineteenth century, Chicago and modernity encompassed human conquest and manipulation of nature, shifting societal roles, and alienation in an increasingly encroaching technological indifferent society.

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