The "Rich Tapestry" of "Chicago Voices"

Daniel Hautzinger
Brett Sparks of The Handsome Family, John Prine, and Shemekia Copeland. (Paul Natkin, courtesy of Lyric Opera of Chicago)
Brett Sparks of The Handsome Family, John Prine, and Shemekia Copeland. (Paul Natkin, courtesy of Lyric Opera of Chicago)

Great Performances: Chicago Voices airs August 10 at 8:00 pm.

Chicago has an incredible tradition of music, from the blues of Chess Records – which recorded such artists as Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, and Buddy Guy – to the birth of gospel with Thomas A. Dorsey and its perfection with Mahalia Jackson; from early opera stars like Mary Garden to such suave progenitors of soul as Curtis Mayfield and Donny Hathaway. In February, Lyric Opera hosted a concert honoring that stellar history.

“Chicago Voices” was curated by soprano and Lyric creative consultant Renée Fleming and led by guest music director Doug Peck. Fleming told Chicago Tonight’s Eddie Arruza that “Other major cities do not have the richness of the tapestry both historic and of now.” The concert showcased that rich tapestry of musical styles through performances by singers who all have local ties, including Fleming. Meet those musicians here.

Matthew Polenzani

 

An operatic tenor, Polenzani has deep roots in Chicago. His grandfather played the “Empire Man” of the Empire carpet commercials, and he himself was born in Evanston and is an alumnus of Lyric Opera’s Ryan Opera Center. He frequently performs around the world, including at the Metropolitan Opera and Lyric Opera. He visited Chicago Tonight in January. 

Lupe Fiasco

Lupe Fiasco at Chicago Voices. (Cory Weaver, courtesy Lyric Opera of Chicago)Lupe Fiasco. (Cory Weaver, courtesy Lyric Opera of Chicago) A Chicago native whose real name is Wasalu Muhammad Jaco, Lupe Fiasco has released several acclaimed rap albums. In 2006, he won a Grammy for the single “Daydreamin,’” off his debut album. His latest album, Drogas Light, was released in February. He’s not just a rapper though; he also paints, as seen in this Chicago Tonight story

John Prine

John Prine at Chicago Voices. (Cory Weaver, courtesy Lyric Opera of Chicago)John Prine. (Cory Weaver, courtesy Lyric Opera of Chicago) Prine is one of the most admired songwriters of all time. Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash have both named the Maywood, Illinois native as one of their favorite writers, and he was recently inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. Yet he has also had a successful solo career, and in 2016 released an album of duets with some of today’s standout female country artists, such as Miranda Lambert and Kacey Musgraves.

Shemekia Copeland

Shemekia Copeland (right) with Michelle Williams at Chicago Voices. (Cory Weaver, courtesy Lyric Opera of Chicago)Shemekia Copeland (right) with Michelle Williams. (Cory Weaver, courtesy Lyric Opera of Chicago) In 2011 at the Chicago Blues Festival, Copeland was named the successor to the legendary Koko Taylor as the “Queen of the Blues.” Although she was born in Harlem, she now makes her home in Chicago and adds an element of social consciousness to the long tradition of the blues.

Michelle Williams

 

A native of Rockford, Illinois, Williams has had a multifarious career. She was a member of the beloved group Destiny’s Child, which also gave Beyoncé her start. She then achieved acclaim as a gospel star, starred in the sitcom Half & Half, and graced stages in The Color PurpleChicago, and other musicals. In 2015, she performed at the White House. 

The Handsome Family

Rennie and Brett Sparks of The Handsome Family at Chicago Voices. (Cory Weaver, courtesy Lyric Opera of Chicago)Rennie and Brett Sparks of The Handsome Family. (Cory Weaver, courtesy Lyric Opera of Chicago) This alt-country duo consisting of husband and wife Brett and Rennie Sparks has been releasing albums since the 1990s. Currently based in New Mexico, they started in Chicago. They are best-known for the song “Far from Any Road,” which was chosen by T Bone Burnett as the theme song for the first season of HBO’s drama True Detective.

Jessie Mueller

Jessie Mueller with Kurt Elling at Chicago Voices. (Cory Weaver, courtesy Lyric Opera of Chicago)Jessie Mueller with Kurt Elling. (Cory Weaver, courtesy Lyric Opera of Chicago) Mueller was born in Evanston but hit the big time in New York as a Broadway star. She won a Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical in 2014 for playing Carole King in Beautiful – the Carole King Musical. Most recently, she has starred in singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles’ musical Waitress.

Kurt Elling

Kurt Elling at Chicago Voices. (Cory Weaver, courtesy Lyric Opera of Chicago)Kurt Elling. (Cory Weaver, courtesy Lyric Opera of Chicago) Elling is a heavily awarded jazz singer born in Chicago. He won a Grammy for Best Jazz Vocal Album in 2009, won the DownBeat Critics Poll for fourteen consecutive years, and has been named “Male Singer of the Year” by the Jazz Journalists Association eight times.

Chicago Voices
Lyric Opera of Chicago