Oak Park Public Library, in conjunction with Unity Temple Restoration Foundation, Columbia College and The League of Women Voters of Oak Park & River Forest, recently launched a series looking at the maturation of Blues music over the last century. The program, titled, “The Blues: Roots of American Music,” began Feb. 17 and runs through March 20.

The series will feature three concerts, four films, a book discussion and a book reading. Blues artists Eddie Campbell, Bobbi Wilsyn and Maggie Brown will perform a show apiece at Unity Temple, 875 Lake St.

Last Year, Deborah Preiser, public information director of Oak Park Public Library, organized a similar series titled, “Looking at: Jazz, America’s Art Form”.

The six-week exploration into the musical origins of Jazz was sponsored largely by the American Library Association and Newmedia, which chose the six films and six concerts for the series.

“Along with the ALA and Newmedia, we also received support from George Bailey, who was our Ph.D. scholar for the project, Columbia College [the school where Bailey teaches], and Unity Temple Restoration Foundation,” said Preiser.

“The show attracted an enormous audience throughout the month, and we decided to have a similar event again this year focusing on the Blues.”

This time around, ALA and Newmedia opted out as sponsors; however, Bailey, Columbia and Unity Temple returned and increased their support.

“Originally, I wanted it to focus exclusively on the women in Blues like Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith and Koko Taylor,” said Bailey. “However, we decided that that might be too narrow a focus, although this series does acknowledge the tremendous female contribution.”

That includes a viewing of the film, “Wild Women Don’t Get the Blues,” a film that looks at legendary Blues women such as Ida Cox.

The series officially launched on Sunday, Feb. 17, when Afri-Ware, 266 Lake St. in Oak Park, held an hour-long presentation on poet Langston Hughes, a pivotal figure during the Harlem Renaissance. Several of his poems were recorded to blues rhythms and distributed domestically.

Residents of both Oak Park and Austin attended the program, hosted by Nzingha Amma Nommo, owner of Afri-Ware, which sells African-American heritage merchandise.

Among those reading were retired Chicago school teacher and Oak Park resident Cheryl Murray, who recited Hughes’ “Dream Variation,” a poem she used to have her class read to stimulate her students’ academic aspirations. “To fling my arms wide/In some place of the sun/To whirl and to dance/ Till the white day is done/ Then rest at cool evening/ Beneath a tall tree.”

“These words resonate with me because they are so encouraging and that’s what I enjoy about Hughes’ writing,” said Murray. “He spoke about self-pride and hope leading readers to believe that anyone can overcome their circumstances, no matter how daunting.”

For more information on the free event schedule and times, contact Deborah Preiser 708/697-6915 or visit www.oppl.org.

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