Chicago—Talking Blues—Tribute to Maya Angelou


Chicago—Talking Blues—

Tribute to Maya Angelou

 -A Collaborative Ballad by Jeffrey Barken & Jacob Kresovich


Twist of fate; my wife and I had driven 800 miles to Chicago, convinced we’d settle there, only to change course. That’s not to say we didn’t dig the scene or find the Windy City at all inspiring. I liked riding that rickety old El that dives under the downtown metro swell. Deep-dish delicious pizza isn’t the crust we get at home, but it’s a treat I’ll be craving now and again. I liked the big sky that meets the skyscrapers, those spook-gothic bridges that cross the river, and the ocean lake beyond.

Chicago’s rust rhythms ring the blues. Another craving, my wife and I wanted to hear some music before we left. On our last night in town, we couldn’t ask for a better guide. Jake Kresovich,’s Chief Music Critic, was on hand. Jake has lived in Chicago for two years. His ears usually draw him to Chicago’s well-known drill, rap and hip-hop scene, but he also often enjoys dive bar moods where jazz or blues plays in the background.

We steered down Halsted Street, where the neon lights droop and glow. Each paid a five-dollar cover and entered the soul-brew stumble-in where a blues jam was underway….


The bar was heavy with its wooden aesthetic

Hum the echoes, transient artists

No smoke, linger-air,

Old fliers on the walls

Cheap beer ads

Departed acts

Stiff drinks

Treat weary souls.

Grit-worn walls dampen blaring blues

Saw the bass player’s jailhouse dress

A sidelined Host toots

Baritone, soprano, saxophone…

Improvising flair.

He nods at yawns.

Rips and whistles

Spies the Polish backup guitar player’s

Stern face for straying beats

His comrades sipping flasks

Motley manners

singing, swimming Muddy Waters

Off-beat, down-trodden…




After the pause, the band invited a member from the audience onto stage.

Their burly-chinned guest’s British accent disappeared when he sang tempered and sullen blues. His harmonica skills articulated his ebbing-and-flowing emotion. Summary of the act: Anonymous.

The lights dimmed and we were sinking. We had plenty of reasons to feel blue. I’d let my friends in Chicago down, promising a move I couldn’t deliver. The distance was already seeping in and on top of that, the audience at the bar was in mourning. The literary hero, Maya Angelou, had passed earlier that day. After the trailing squeals of a crystal clarinet there were toasts and silences stretching between guitar slides, a moaning horn played taps.

Tale of B.L.U.E.S pub, we were Midwest, past a sunset and uncertain when we’d see first light. Jake and I got talking about the poet. Maya Angelou spoke at our college graduation six years ago. The only words stuck in my head were her sad lament: she said the generations before us felt they were leaving the world in a “sorry state.” They hated gifting shambles, but “you’re our best,” she addressed the graduates “The best we’ve got…” I remember the old woman’s breathing was labored and her voice was hoarse. Maybe all the blues had bubbled up inside her and boiled off because then she struck light. “Courage is the most important of the virtues,” she said. “Without it, no other virtue can be practiced consistently. You can be kind and true and fair and generous and just, and even merciful, occasionally. But to be that thing time after time, you have to really have courage.”

A girl dressed in flowery African dress and a hat that matched the poet’s traditional garb was sitting next to Jake. Her friends revolved around her, talking up her singing. Jake introduced himself to the woman. They talked about her travels across the country. She’d been coast-to-coast promoting her blues act—a blend of vocals influenced by African music.  She mentioned she was from Cleveland but hadn’t been home in quite some time.  Then she wrote her name and email address down on a napkin for Jake to look her up. Scraps and rambles, spills and carelessness, the napkin never made it home.

The music was loud and passion-fused. Glazed eyes gazed up at her body jolts and jazz rolls. She’s nameless now, but neither of us can forget the performance she gave. The woman rapped a tribute to Maya Angelou, one last rendition of the caged bird hero. Her lost voice and body shook the blues belt—we were tired, talking timeless Chitown. May 28th 2014, remembering Maya Angelou.


Post Photography By Jeffrey F. Barken