The bass guitarist plays the bass guitar in the spotlight.

Neighborhood News: Singin’ the Blues in Chicago at Lincoln Park’s Kingston Mines

The bass guitarist plays the bass guitar in the spotlight.

“Come on

Oh, baby don’t you wanna go?

Come on

Oh, baby don’t you wanna go?

Back to that same old place

Sweet home Chicago!”

First recorded by bluesman Robert Johnson, 1936

Is there any music genre more emblematic of a place and time like Chicago’s blues scene? To this day, ‘The Blues Brothers’ movie remains the quintessential celebration of Chicago’s most iconic music. 

How’d Chicago Get the Blues? 

Chicago blues was heavily influenced by the Mississippi bluesmen who traveled to Chicago in the early 1940s, according to Wikipedia sources. Muddy Waters, a colleague of Delta blues musicians Son House and Robert Johnson, migrated to Chicago in 1943, joining the established Big Bill Broonzy, where they developed a distinctive style of blues music…more urban than the Southern sounds coming out of Tennessee or Mississippi. They were soon joined by artists such as Willie Dixon, Howlin’ Wolf, and John Lee Hooker, and many other legends. 

Every year, the City of Chicago celebrates its status as a blues destination through the annual Blues Fest, held this year from June 8-11 in Millennium Park. 

Kingston Mines: From Theatre to Legendary Blues Club 

Lincoln Park’s Kingston Mines, 2548 N. Halsted Street, is the largest and oldest continuously operating blues club in Chicago, according to its website. For year-round blues, no club has a richer history or has played host to more legendary performers. 

The place was founded as the Kingston Mines Theatre Company and Café on Lincoln Avenue in 1968, named after Kingston Mines, Illinois, where the father of one of its actors, Jack Wallace, worked, according to Wikipedia sources. Their most notable production was ‘Grease’ which premiered in 1971. Actress Marilu Henner originated the role of ‘Marty’ before moving to Broadway a year later. The theatre company expired in 1973, while the Café survived as a blues club and café.

To this day, you can order specialties like Southern Fried Okra, a Chicago Style Hot Dog, Chicago-style Ribs, and their special Kingston Mines Burger, topped off with desserts like beignets and Eli’s Cheesecake. 

In 1972, Oak Park’s Dr. Lenin “Doc” Pellegrino, M.D., bought the club from the and renamed the Kingston Mines Café. It moved to its current location at 2548 N. Halsted in 1982. He owned it until his death at 92 in 2018.

The club motto, “Hear Blues – Drink Booze – Talk Loud – You’re Among Friends!” was a Doc original.  Aswasthisone, hanging on the back wall of the stage: “Illegitimus non Carborundom,” Latin for “Don’t let the bastards grind you down.”

Doc” knew his business. ‘With urban blues you’ll hear performers sing about jobs in factories, jobs in mills, rental problems, unemployment and prejudice. It’s a big city blues.’ The other side of this binary come from humbler settings: ‘With rural blues, things are more about farming, driving a mule, problems with the bossman, the small town existence.’ The intermingling of the two is what makes Chicago distinctive. ‘Rural blues with a large overlay of urban blues still hanging on. This is Chicago blues.’”

  • Excerpt from “Kingston Mines: ‘Doc’ Pellegrino Can Still Hear the Blues” by Jacob Knabb on Centerstage Chicago (June 7, 2005, via the Chicago Bar Project. 

Their lineup over the years reads like a ‘Who’s Who’ of blues royalty:  Magic Slim, Koko Taylor, Sugar Blue, Billy Branch, Junior Wells, Mike Wheeler, Joanna Connor, and scores of other musical greats.

Kingston Mines is open Thursdays and Fridays from 7pm–4am and Saturdays from 7pm-5am. They offer a variety of discounts to veterans, seniors and students off their cover charge (usually $15.)  For more information, click here

Alison Moran-Powers and Dean’s Team Chicago