Katy June-Friesen in Smithsonian Magazine:
In June, Chicago will host its 24th annual blues festival—six stages, free admission—in Grant Park. Today Chicago is known as the “blues capital,” but the story behind this distinction began some 90 years ago. In the early 1900s, Southern blacks began moving to Northern cities in what would become a decades-long massive migration. Chicago was a place of promise, intimately linked to recurrent themes in blues songs—hope for a better life, for opportunity, for a fair shake.
This year’s festival honors piano player Sunnyland Slim, who died in 1995 and would have celebrated his 100th birthday. Giant in stature and voice, Sunnyland was a formidable personality on Chicago’s blues scene, and his journey to the city somewhat parallels the history of the blues. Beginning around 1916, millions of African Americans migrated from the Mississippi Delta and other parts of the rural South to cities like Detroit and Chicago, where burgeoning industry and loss of workers to World War I promised jobs. For many, including musicians, Memphis was an important stop on this journey, and Sunnyland spent more than a decade there before moving to Chicago in the early 1940s.