The Crusader Newspaper Group

WBEZ Chicago and National Public Housing Museum partner for free summer concert

The National Public Housing Museum and WBEZ Chicago are hosting a free concert in Millennium Park on Friday, August 25, from 6 to 9 p.m., featuring artists with connections to public housing. The National Public Housing Museum is the only cultural institution dedicated to telling the story of public housing in the United States.

Legendary rapper Roxanne Shanté will host the evening with music by hip-hop icon DJ Spinderella and performances by local favorites, acclaimed R&B and soul musician Isaiah Sharkey and celebrated ragtime pianist Reginald Robinson, and surprise appearances by special guests. The evening will kick off with a community conversation hosted by Erin Allen, host of WBEZ’s daily “Rundown” podcast.

DJ Spinderella, who is also the curator of the museum’s music room exhibition and who lived in the Pink Houses in New York City, said, “The National Public Housing Museum’s On the Lawn concert at Millennium Park is a vibrant evening of performances by artists with meaningful connections to public housing.

“I’m looking forward to celebrating the significant impact of public housing on American music and culture on August 25! I can’t wait to host the evening and share the stage with other talented artists.”

“As I reflect on major music history milestones, like the 50th anniversary of hip-hop this year, I’m continually inspired by public housing’s profound influence on American music and culture more broadly,” said Shanté, who lived in Queensbridge Houses in New York City.”

I was able to ask Chicago native Reginald Robinson about his illustrious career. I had interviewed him for a newsletter decades ago and was glad to reconnect.

Robinson’s love for traditional jazz styles started in 1984 with his older brother listening to Swing recordings at home. In 1986 while in the 7th grade, a city-funded arts program gave an assembly at his school called “From Bach to Bebop” with a live jazz ensemble.

In 1992 with the help of pianist Jon Weber, Robinson’s professional music career began when he recorded a demo of 17 original tunes. Soon after his first album was released on Delmark Records. In 1993 he received an invitation from pianist Marian McPartland to appear as a guest on her popular radio show “Piano Jazz.”

Robinson’s music has been used in the Goodman Theater’s 1995 production of “Each One As She May,” “Intimate Apparel,” “Compensation,” and he served as a contributing historian for the 2010 documentary “DuSable to Obama: Chicago’s Black Metropolis.”

He explained the elements of his musical genre. “Ragtime is another word for syncopation. It is an anticipated rhythm that hits between a steady down beat. This means that all forms of African American music (even “the spirituals” and “tap dance”) have ragtime rhythm embedded.

“Scott Joplin once said in 1913 … ‘Ragtime is a syncopation originated with the colored people… There has been ragtime music in America ever since the Negro race has been here, but white people took no notice of it until about twenty years ago.’”

Robinson spoke about the dire need to preserve the legacy of ragtime.

It is imperative more than ever that ragtime’s legacy is preserved for future generations. We’re living in a time where certain groups of people are pushing to ban true African American history (under the name ‘Critical Race Theory’) from school curriculums. Jazz evolved from ragtime, although the former was and continues to be at the center of jazz through its syncopation.”

He was influenced by four renowned pianists: Scott Joplin, Jelly Roll Morton, Eubie Blake and Duke Ellington.

But particularly, Robinson notes the music of James Reese Europe. “I’ve been listening to Jim Europe’s music from about the time I first got interested in ragtime. He is another important early jazz musician who has largely been forgotten with time. It was an honor and privilege in 2018 for me to uphold his legacy through the form of an original suite of compositions—presented at the Chicago Symphony Center.”

As far as Robinson being included in a tribute to public housing, his family once lived in the projects. “I lived in public housing in the 1970s with my parents and five siblings. We lived in a three-bedroom/two-floor apartment unit in the 2245 building of the Henry Horner Homes on the West Side of Chicago.”

The Millennium Park concert will be complemented by a weekend-long installation throughout the park focused on civic love and engagement based on the National Public Housing Museum’s 36 Questions for Civic Love, a toolkit that helps strangers get to know one another. This program is made possible by a grant from the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events with funding from the Millennium Park Foundation and The Pritzker Foundation.

Civic love is one’s love for society, expressed through a commitment to the common good. According to the National Public Housing Museum, it is a belief in the idea that we’re all better off, when we are all better off, and is manifested through all kinds of actions like volunteering, marching, speaking against systemic injustice, and making reparations. To learn more and to register for the concert, visit

+ posts

Recent News

Scroll to Top