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Work of Legendary Illinois Black Musicians Collected at CCICS

Great Black Music Project

Illinois is known as the Land of Lincoln, but it is also the land of Jelly Roll Morton, Louis Armstrong and Mahalia Jackson. Those legendary African-American musicians and many others made Illinois their home at some point in their lives. Godfrey Mason has been dedicated to locating and sharing information about such artists through the establishment of the Great Black Music Project (GBMP) at the Carruthers Center for Inner City Studies.

The GBMP is an online archive that showcases African-American artists who were born in Illinois or had residency within the state during their lives. The archive includes audio and video recordings, photos, news clips, and essays featuring the work of musicians, actors, poets, and filmmakers.

Mason, who serves as director of the GBMP, said, "These artists could have moved on like many of them do, but they spent a lot of time here making their start. What we have compiled is a report of these people in all of the genres - jazz, blues, rhythm and blues, and hip hop - as well as performing artists like actors and actresses."

The GBMP is Mason's brainchild, and it was Mason's personal relationships with various artists that led him to establish it. His parents knew a lot of people in the music business, and he grew up surrounded by legendary musicians.

"Muddy Waters, Koko Taylor ... all of these people were in my circle, and I didn't think anything of it," he said. "But then I did research and learned that a lot of them were from Illinois. Miles Davis is a prime example; he was a very good friend of mine, and he's from Alton, Illinois."

Currently, the GBMP is a work in progress with new information added regularly. The website is populated largely by local musicians but also includes performers from a wide range of disciplines including magicians, DJs and comedians.

"All the music and videos are there physically on CDs in the archives," said Mason. "I'm trying to find a way to make it public. We want to get everything on the website."

To explore the archive, visit greatblackmusicproject.org.