Chicago blues lounge keeping African American pride alive

As we celebrate Black History Month, we recognize blues music, pioneers, and the universal impact the blues has had on all genres of music.

FOX 32’s Nate Rodgers visited a South Side tavern, a hidden gem, full of African American pride.

The greats will tell you blues inspired various genres, from rock and roll to hip-hop, Otis Clay, Koko Taylor, and it’s in the Jeffery Manor neighborhood where blues is alive.

On 99th Street and Torrence Avenue inside East Odyssey Lounge, down home blues and soulful singing can be enjoyed on Sunday nights.

"Every Sunday, they’re totally ecstatic. They go crazy for this place," said band director Joe Pratt.

"The blues always got a story. It always has a story. I don’t care what song you listen to, it has a story," one guest said.

It’s a packed house, intimate, lively and a jammin’ good time. One blues lover, although not on the program, always steals the show.

"The tambourine guy, that's Antonio. When he comes, he comes ready. And it's genuine. It’s like he gets the holy ghost. He can feel it, and you see it on his face," said Howard Smith, owner of East Odyssey Lounge.

More than a century ago, the blues became an outlet for Blacks in the Deep South. Their lyrics derived from hardships, love and pain, bold storytelling, real hard times.

"They told a story of picking cotton. The hot days, 100 degrees out in the fields," Smith said.

The music eventually landed in Chicago with icons like Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and Buddy Guy making it mainstream and eventually universal.

"Over in Switzerland, we visited Switzerland, and those folks could barely speak a word of English, but they knew every word of Otis Clay’s music. They knew every word of ‘Wang Dang Doodle’ [by] Koko Taylor," Smith said.

"When he was singing to me tonight, tears came to my eyes. Because I thought about some of the things he was saying," said Chicago resident Norma McKinney Moore.

Owner Howard Smith purchased the venue from legendary blues singer Koko Taylor's husband in 2011. Over the years, guests would include U.S. presidents, musicians, and artists from around the world.

"Switzerland, Germany, Japan, this is the spot," Smith said.

Joe Pratt and the Source One Band on keys, drums, bass and guitar.

"The blues is alive on the South Side. We may be down to one club, but we get it in," one guest said.

Dressed in their Sunday’s best, folks dance, sing along, smile, and reminisce with bartenders like Erica Paige known to provide a generous pour. Younger generations enjoy the sounds as well.

"Music is incredible man. It’s a healer, music is actually a healer. Especially in the days we’re living in, some very divisive days right now," Smith said.

It’s free entry, love filled with Tambourine Antonio back again. Real blues, real soul and real memories in Jeffery Manor.