Move On Up: Chicago Soul Music and Black Cultural Power (Paperback)

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Curtis Mayfield. The Chi-Lites. Chaka Khan. Chicago’s place in the history of soul music is rock solid. But for Chicagoans, soul music in its heyday from the 1960s to the 1980s was more than just a series of hits: it was a marker and a source of black empowerment. In Move On Up, Aaron Cohen tells the remarkable story of the explosion of soul music in Chicago. Together, soul music and black-owned businesses thrived. Record producers and song-writers broadcast optimism for black America’s future through their sophisticated, jazz-inspired productions for the Dells and many others. Curtis Mayfield boldly sang of uplift with unmistakable grooves like “We’re a Winner” and “I Plan to Stay a Believer.” Musicians like Phil Cohran and the Pharaohs used their music to voice Afrocentric philosophies that challenged racism and segregation, while Maurice White of Earth, Wind, and Fire and Chaka Khan created music that inspired black consciousness. Soul music also accompanied the rise of African American advertisers and the campaign of Chicago’s first black mayor, Harold Washington, in 1983. This empowerment was set in stark relief by the social unrest roiling in Chicago and across the nation: as Chicago’s homegrown record labels produced rising stars singing songs of progress and freedom, Chicago’s black middle class faced limited economic opportunities and deep-seated segregation, all against a backdrop of nationwide deindustrialization.

Drawing on more than one hundred interviews and a music critic’s passion for the unmistakable Chicago soul sound, Cohen shows us how soul music became the voice of inspiration and change for a city in turmoil.

About the Author

Aaron Cohen covers the arts for numerous publications and teaches English, journalism, and humanities at the City Colleges of Chicago. He is the author of Aretha Franklin’s "Amazing Grace".

Praise For…

"A richly knowledgeable, deeply considered, and important addition to the history of African American music and its impact on Chicago and beyond."

— Booklist, Starred Review

“Cohen marries scholarly erudition with sincere musical affection in this intriguing look at Chicago soul.”

— Library Journal

“A tremendous achievement. . . . A book that finally gets at the deeper, richer story of Chicago soul—the spirit of empowerment and pride that have always made us so honored to be part of the Windy City legacy! Cohen picks up where other soul writers have left off on Chicago—really looking at the shifts into the '70s, which included greater ties to the means of production, and an increased role in the social agenda as well—all part of an evolution in songwriting styles, production techniques, and the growing power of the full length album over the 7" single! . . . A delight to read throughout—easily the deepest work that Cohen's ever given us."


"Spanning the late 1950s to the 1980s, Move On Up is a meticulously reported and illuminating social history that has more on its mind than simply replaying greatest hits. . . . Cohen conducted just over one hundred interviews spanning two decades. They capture still vibrant living witnesses to this pivotal era in Chicago music."

— Donald Liebenson

"Move On Up is an extraordinary achievement, packed with deep research and vivid writing, with a backbeat so strong it thumps from every page. Cohen has written the definitive account of an important slice of American popular culture. Cue up the Chi-Lites, open this book, and enjoy!"

— Jonathan Eig, author of "Ali: A Life"

“With a journalist’s clarity, a scholar’s curiosity, and a local’s passion, the incomparable Aaron Cohen affirms why Chicago has always been more than its challenges. Move On Up shows how big-shouldered grit, astonishing talent, and entrepreneurial savvy combined to make ‘the Chi’ a powerhouse center for music and activism back in the days when the world discovered that black was, indeed, beautiful.”

— Guthrie P. Ramsey, Jr., University of Pennsylvania, author of "Race Music: Black Cultures from Bebop to Hip-Hop" and "The Amazing Bud Powell: Black Genius, Jazz History, and the Challenge of Bebop"

“Chicago has long been a center of African-American political, cultural, spiritual, and economic power. Unsurprisingly, then, it has also been a center of musical power. From Muddy Waters to Jerry Butler to Curtis Mayfield to Earth Wind & Fire and beyond, the city has kept a fire burning at the heart of American music. In this history of soul music in Chicago, Cohen has brought together the voices of many of the most important postwar artists, activists, entrepreneurs, and visionaries who created the city’s rhythm & blues and soul industry. Together, they made some of the most powerful and enduring contributions to twentieth-century American music, and this vibrant chronicle of Chicago soul is sure to endure as not only a work of tremendous scholarship, but as a bedrock contribution to the history of twentieth-century American music.”

— Michael E. Veal, Yale University, author of "Dub: Soundscapes and Shattered Songs in Jamaican Reggae" and "Fela: The Life and Times of an African Musical Icon"

“Rarely has the history of the town’s soul music received the deep-dive treatment. . . . Cohen is a nimble storyteller with a smooth way of delivering the goods, which isn’t easy, considering the often convoluted trajectory of the genre. . . . The author uses his journalistic skills and training to track the soul trail. . . . What’s clearly evident throughout Move On Up is Cohen’s intimacy with soul’s history and Chicago’s complex cultural matrix. . . . One of Mayfield’s tunes is a fitting conclusion to the discussion here: ‘I’m A-Telling You,’ this is a good book.” 

— Herb Boyd
Product Details
ISBN: 9780226653037
ISBN-10: 022665303X
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Publication Date: September 25th, 2019
Pages: 272