Contemporary music great Chance the Rapper shares the Greater Chatham spotlight with Jazz legends Eddie Harris and Von Freeman, and gospel founder, songwriters, composers and singers Thomas Dorsey and Mahalia Jackson.
Chance the Rapper hails from and raps about Chatham
Artist Chancelor Jonathan Bennett, better known by his stage name of Chance the Rapper, grew up in West Chatham. A popular rapper, singer, record producer and philanthropist, Chance the Rapper holds three Grammys. His fame and shrewd music distribution business model allowed him to give back to his community. Chance started the campaign, #SaveChicago, to curb gun violence, and he also donated $1 million to Chicago Public Schools, among other notable philanthropic acts. His commitment to his community helped him win a National Association of the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Image Award.
Jazz greats Eddie Harris and Von Freeman lived and performed in Chatham in 1960-1990s.
Given Chatham’s strong jazz, blues and gospel legacy, it is not surprising that Greater Chatham had two famous, influential jazz musicians, Eddie Harris and Von Freeman during the 1960-1990s. Eddie Harris was best known for his tenor saxophone skills. He introduced the electrically amplified saxophone. He was also proficient on the electric piano and organ. Harris was born and grew up in Chatham and moved to New York City, where he made various hit records, including his 1967 album The Electrifying Eddie Harris.
Earle Lavon “Von” Freeman Sr. was a hard bop jazz tenor saxophonist. Born and raised in Chicago, he was trained at Camp Robert Smalls in Chicago. In 1972, Freeman recorded under his name for the first time, but it was not his first recording. This album was named Doin’ It Right Now. After this album, he continued to perform his unique and captivating tenor style for decades at the former New Apartment Lounge, which was located at 504 E. 75th Street. He performed and recorded in Chicago until his passing in 2012.
Gospel music was invented in Chatham. Thomas Dorsey was the father of black gospel music. Mahlia Jackson, Dorsey’s protégé, was the Queen of Gospel in the 1940-60s.
Thomas Dorsey graced Chatham with his musical genius when in the 1930s, he became the Father of Black Gospel Music. Dorsey, a gospel songwriter, was the first to combine Christian music with rhythms of jazz and blues. Gospel, which was extremely controversial at the time, published over 400 songs and composed many more. His most famous song Precious Lord, Take My Hand was written after his first wife died during childbirth and his first son died two weeks afterward. He established the first Black gospel publishing company, Dorsey’s House of Music in 1932, and is credited for discovering and nurturing fellow and famed Chathamite gospel singer Mahalia Jackson.
Jackson was the 1940-1960s Queen of Gospel. She moved to Chatham at the age of 16 in 1927 and began singing in South-Side churches. By 1946, she had sold over 1 million copies of her first hit, Move on Up a Little Higher. Her mentor, Thomas Dorsey, composed her biggest songs Precious Lord and Peace in the Valley. Jackson was also a civil right activist. A close friend of Martin Luther King, she inspired King’s I Have a Dream speech. It was Jackson who yelled to King and urged him to “tell them about the dream, Martin.”