The Great Migration, a long-term movement of African Americans from the South to the urban North, transformed Chicago and other northern cities between 1916 and 1970. Chicago attracted slightly more than 500,000 of the approximately 7 million African Americans who left the South during these decades. Before this migration, African Americans constituted 2 percent of Chicago's population; by 1970, they were 33 percent. What had been in the nineteenth century a largely southern and rural African American culture became a culture deeply infused with urban sensibility in the twentieth century. And what had been a marginalized population in Chicago emerged by the mid-twentieth century as a powerful force in the city's political, economic, and cultural life.

Chicago, Illinois produced more black singers than any other state in the union in the last one hundred years. Why Chicago and not New York or LA for black music? Chicago was the mecca for poor black workers coming from the South into the industrial cities like Chicago, Detroit, and Gary. The musical craft of the old southern sound brought traditional jazz and blues music to the city, resulting in Chicago blues and "Chicago-style" Dixieland jazz. It produced notable blues artists like Muddy Waters, Junior Wells, Howlin' Wolf and both Sonny Boy Williamsons; and jazz greats like Nat King Cole. Chicago is also well known for its soul and gospel music.

In the early 1930s, Gospel music began to gain popularity in Chicago due to Thomas A. Dorsey's contributions at Pilgrim Baptist Church. During the mid-1960s to the late 1970s a new style of soul music emerged from Chicago. Its sound, like southern soul with its rich influence of black gospel music, also exhibited an unmistakable gospel sound, but was somewhat lighter and more delicate in its approach, and was sometimes called "soft soul".

Popular R&B/soul artists from Chicago include The Impressions, Sam Cooke, Curtis Mayfield, Lou Rawls, The Chi-lites, The Five Stairsteps, The Staple Singers, Rufus, Chaka Khan, R. Kelly, Dave Hollister, Carl Thomas, and Jennifer Hudson. Chicago soul labels, including Vee-Jay, Chess Records, OKeh, ABC-Paramount, Brunswick, and Curtom, established a major presence in R&B/soul music.

Chicago is most famously associated with the development of electric (or Chicago-style) blues music. Chicago was also a center of development for early jazz and later for house music, and includes a vibrant hip hop scene, gospel and R&B. Chicago also has a thriving rock scene that spans the breadth of the rock genre, from huge stadium-filling arena-rock bands to small local indie bands. Chicago has had a significant historical impact on the development of many rock subgenres including power pop, punk rock, indie rock, emo rock, pop punk, and alternative rock. Illinois musicians with a #1 Billboard Hot 100 hit include artists from the 1950s: Sam Cooke (d.1964); from the 1960s: The Buckinghams; from the 1970s: Earth, Wind & Fire, The Chi-Lites, The Staple Singers, Minnie Riperton, Styx; from the 1980s: Chicago, Cheap Trick, REO Speedwagon, Survivor, Richard Marx; from the 1990s: R. Kelly; from the 2000s: Kanye West, Twista, Plain White T's. Most of these artists are from Chicago, with soul singers Sam Cooke, Mavis Staples, Minnie Riperton, all hailing from the South Side. Key early Chicago blues artists included Howlin' Wolf, Willie Dixon, Bo Diddley and Muddy Waters (d.1983). Chicago would continue to be a hotbed of activity in this genre, with artists including Buddy Guy, Koko Taylor (d.2009), Junior Wells, Son Seals, and others calling the city home and performing regularly.

Then Jazz came to Illinois, more specifically Chicago, via the Illinois Central Railroad. Many jazz musicians came to Chicago during The Great Migration, when many of African Americans headed north. At the same time as the Great Migration, younger people also immigrated to the city, many of whom had money to spend on entertainment, including music. The influx of people and their money led to an increase restaurants and entertainment, especially on the South Side. The increased night life in Chicago led musicians from down south to come north, bringing jazz to The Windy City.


Herbie Hancock – Chicago

Muddy Waters – Chicago


Roberta Martin

Mahalia Jackson

Albertina Walker

The Caravans

The Argo Singers

The Soul Stirrers with Sam Cooke

The Highway QCs

Salem Travelers

James Cleveland

Alex Bradford

The Thompson Community Singers and many others like Rev. Milton Brunson and The Thompson Community Singers originated in Chicago. Dr. Charles G. Hayes and Rev. Dr. Clay Evans both had chart-topping choirs in Chicago. Urban contemporary gospel artists such as Ray and Percy Bady, Darius Brooks, Ricky Dillard & New Generation Chorale, Joshua’s Troop, New Direction, Shekinah Glory Ministry, and VaShawn Mitchell all have had Gospel hits and hail from Chicago and its surrounding suburbs. Black music still matters in Chicago.