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Michelle Williams performs for the Chicago Voices Concert

What would happen if some of the greatest voices to come out of Chicago joined forces on a single stage?

You’d hear more than just jazz and rap, gospel and blues, classical and folk.

You’d encounter the sound of the city itself, for Chicago has nurtured and shaped all those idioms, and then some. Without the blues innovations of Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf, the gospel thunder of Mahalia Jackson, the folk incantations of Steve Goodman, the jazz seductions of Nat King Cole and the contributions of uncounted other Chicagoans, American music would be much the poorer.

Anyone who doubts that proposition probably was not at the Civic Opera House on Saturday evening, when opera star Renee Fleming and a stylistically far-reaching cast of singers staged a three-hour marathon aptly titled “Chicago Voices Concert.” More than just a gathering of musically wide-ranging performers, the event made tangible this city’s enormous impact on how America — and, arguably, the world — sings.

You didn’t have to be a Chicagoan to be struck by the caliber of these performers and the musical lineage that led up to them, the city’s musical history illuminated via several videos shown between songs. Though the evening certainly had its minor flaws and programming omissions, the sheer sweep of the proceedings and breadth of musical languages made this a concert like none other (it was filmed for broadcast March 30 on WTTW-Ch. 11).

True, we hear plenty of jazz, blues, gospel, classical, pop, rock and you-name-it at the city’s summertime music festivals and all year long in Chicago clubs and concert halls. But when an event packs so much content into a single night and flows this smoothly (despite so many moving parts), you realize that you’re encountering more than just another entertainment.

For “Chicago Voices” amounted to an unapologetically proud statement about what this city has meant to the art of song, the evidence mounting one full-throated tune at a time.

Add to this folk legend John Prine’s soft-but-searing performances of his “Angel from Montgomery” and “Hello in There” (which brought the room to a hush), Broadway singer Jessie Mueller’s slow-build-big-finish version of “She Used to Be Mine” and gospel vocalist Michelle Williams’ jubilant account of “How I Got Over” (backed by the sumptuous Voices of Trinity Mass Choir), and you had a deeply satisfying tour of melody-making forged in Chicago.

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Source: Chicago Tribune

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