Listening Room: Migrations

Last night, I went to a Listening Room by the Third Coast International Audio Festival. It’s one program leading up to the Studs Terkel “Let’s Get Working Festival” at the University of Chicago in May. I have previously mentioned Listening Rooms before but I’ll recap. Third Coast puts together a selection of audio clips ranging from 30 seconds to 20 minutes that center around a theme. We collectively listen to these audio clips together. It’s fairly magical.

This past evening’s event was a wonderful. The theme was migration and focused on 5 clips and an interview with Dr. Timuel Black. One of my favorite clips was the first story.“Mssrs Craft,” by The Memory Palace, is a piece about Ellen and William Craft escaping from slavery in the 19th century. It’s a fairly incredible story where Ellen dressed as a man to aid in their escape to the North. However, they had to contend with the fact that Ellen didn’t have a beard, an Adam’s Apple; she had to learn to walk like a man. And she couldn’t write. So they concocted this story that the man (Ellen) was really sick and needed to go to Philadelphia with his trusty slave. There were bandages on his face, an injured leg and a an arm in the sling. Brilliant! The ruse worked and they eluded capture.

The Abolitionists love them since they had such an incredible, daring story of freedom. They were hunted down by slave hunters but the people of Boston helped protect them. Ellen was whisked away to a town outside of Boston and William holed up with another ex-slave who owned a huge house. Apparently, the owner stood in the doorway with two pounds of gunpowder and a torch, threatening to kill them all if the slave hunters tried to take William away. What an amazing story!

Then there was a live interview of a 95-year-old man, Dr. TImuel Black, a scholar of the Great Migration. He also lived it; he was a baby when his parents migrated from Alabama to Chicago. He was a real treat! He talked about the “Black Belt” in Chicago, basically a ghetto of African Americans who developed their own parallel institutions because of racism. Black entrepreneurs started cab companies so the population would get served. There was a saying, “Don’t spend your money where you can’t get work.”

Another audio clip that really struck me was part of a larger story called “Divided Families: The Hidden Cost of Migration.” It told the story of a family where Rocio, the mother, took care of the kids in Mexico while their father and her husband worked in Rolling Meadows. It was heartbreaking because they spent so much time apart from one another. He could only make it once every couple of years. He would send $200 a week to his family down in Mexico but it cost $3,000 to travel to Mexico.

Another fascinating audio clip was part of the “Musical  Migrants – Chicago.” It was about a Japanese singer Yoko Noge who moved to Chicago to learn the blues. She’s had loved the blues while in Japan but wanted to know more about the culture. So she came to Chicago and went to blues clubs. The people were so friendly that they had her sing off the bat. She loved the community and said that she wanted to be African American. Ms. Noge talked and sang like her friends. Eventually, she realized that she had to be herself so her songs are a combination of the blues and Japanese folk songs. Now she sings regularly at Cyrano’s on Friday nights.  I’ve seen her briefly at the Art Institute but I’m going to have to check her out now, especially since I’m now obsessed with the blues.

What a wonderful event! If you have the chance, go to a Listening Room. It’s such an amazing experience to collectively listen to audio shorts. Third Coast always puts together a fascinating selection.


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