Postcard from… Chicago

Posted on April 29, 2023

By Rebecca Farrell, Bath Spa University

As part of my undergraduate studies at Bath Spa University, I am conducting research into the cultural and historic legacy of Chicago, and the music scene which has consequently emerged from the city.

Having previously completed a semester abroad in 2022 studying jazz music at the amazing Columbia College, Chicago, I knew that returning to the city to conduct fieldwork for my dissertation would prove invaluable. As the nature of my project is ethnographic, being able to go to the city and experience the culture first-hand made the quality of my research more authentic and relevant than any I could have collated solely from a library.

With the support from the GALA team at both Bath Spa and Columbia College, I embarked on a 10 day research trip back to Chicago to collect primary data for my research. During my trip, I met with professors and academics in the city, interviewed local musicians, visited music venues and jazz clubs, got to spend time at the CBMR (center of black music research) archive, and visit the Chicago Cultural Center. On top of this, I attended the Chicago Jazz Philharmonic’s “DuSable to Obama: Chicago’s Black Metropolis” concert, which celebrated Chicago’s black history and music over the past century.

Another highlight of my trip was being invited to Pilgrim Baptist Church in the historic neighbourhood of Bronzeville on Chicago’s South Side. Pilgrim was the church where black gospel music was invented, and being able to attend a service surrounded by its fellowship who are striving to keep the legacy of ‘authentic’ gospel music alive today, was an experience which will stay with me for the rest of my life.

After the service, I was invited to lunch by some of the congregation who shared anecdotes and insights with me about growing up in Chicago’s South Side, and gave me a tour of their local neighbourhood.

Overall, the experience that the GALA scheme granted me was incredible. Being able to fully immerse myself in Chicago culture and dedicate ten days exclusively to my research has been paramount to my dissertation and undergraduate experience as a whole. In addition to this, the trip has influenced my post-graduation plans; inspiring and encouraging me to apply for full-time work in the Chicago music industry for the near future.