Posts Tagged 'music'

Paderewski’s Piano (4-23-1893)

The World’s Fair was opening in a week.  Chicago and the nation were ready.  But now, there was a good chance that the musical headliner would not perform.

Ignacy Jan Paderewski was a Polish-born pianist.  At 32, he was already the world’s most famous musician.  He had sex appeal.  Women fainted at his concerts, and even when they saw him on the streets.  There was a popular name for the phenomenon—“Paddymania.”

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Paderewski had just finished a series of Chicago concerts, and was about to leave for Europe.  Conductor Theodore Thomas asked him to stay around for a week and play at the Fair.  Paderewski agreed to do it, without fee.  Everything was set.

Then the Fair’s bureaucrats got into the act.  Paderewski performed on Steinway pianos.  Steinway was not an exhibitor at the Fair.  Therefore, Paderewski would have to use one of the “official” pianos.

Paderewski refused.  He said a musician should be free to select his own instrument.  He had signed a contract to use only Steinway pianos.  Besides, the company had been good to him, and he was loyal.

Thirty years later, Paderewski still plays a Steinway

The dispute hit the front pages and stayed there.  Negotiations went on behind closed doors.  A compromise was suggested, where Paderewski would alternate between a Steinway and one of the other pianos.  He wouldn’t budge.

Many newspapers thought he was being a temperamental prima donna, and said so.  Theodore Thomas angrily reminded everyone that Paderewski had already delayed his departure from Chicago.  The pianist was also offering to play for free, when he might have demanded several thousand dollars.

Now the arguments became more heated.  President Grover Cleveland was arriving soon to open the Fair.  Maybe the President could settle the piano problem.

Finally, Fair officials gave in.  Paderewski performed on his Steinway—brilliantly, as usual.

Paderewski continued his concert career until his death in 1941.  Along the way, he served as the first Prime Minister of an independent Poland, and later starred in a feature film titled Moonlight Sonata.

He loved Chicago, and often returned.  He said that three things in America impressed him—Niagara Falls, the Grand Canyon, and the City of Chicago.  Today the Polish Museum of America maintains a Paderewski Room filled with memorabilia.  The centerpiece of the exhibit is the artist’s personal piano.

It’s a Steinway, of course.



Opera Comes to Chicago (7-30-1850)

Chicago had 30,000 people in 1850.  It was becoming a big city.  Folks here were getting sophisticated.  Women were even buying spittoons so their husbands didn’t spit the tobacco juice on the floor any more.

And on this date, the world knew that Chicago wasn’t just some backwater little village.  An opera company had come to town!

Well, it wasn’t exactly an opera company.  It was actually four professional singers who’d been performing in Milwaukee, a real backwater little village.  Still, this was an actual opera.  Opera was big news in 1850.

Jenny Lind

In New York, P.T. Barnum was paying Jenny Lind—“The Swedish Nightingale”—$1,000 a night to perform.  Chicago’s first opera didn’t have Jenny Lind.  But the local promoters were crafty enough to choose one of her biggest hits for their first show, at Rice’s Theatre.  The opera was Bellini’s La Sonnambula.

Four singers are not enough for an opera.  So the Chicago cast was filled out with local amateurs.  A few of them had good voices, most of them didn’t.  Rehearsals were—I think “confused” is a good word to describe them.

(Does this sound like the plot of some bad old Hollywood movie yet?)

Well, the grand premiere went off on schedule.  Rice’s Theatre was jammed.  And just like in 2018, the opening night crowd really dressed up.  The men were wearing swallow-tail coats, the women had on long gowns and were carrying lorgnettes.

Just like in one of those bad old Hollywood movies, the show had problems.  The audience kept applauding at the wrong time—whenever one of the hometown amateurs showed up on stage, his friends in the audience would stand up and cheer.  Meanwhile, one of the extras named J.H. McVicker sang so loudly he drowned out everybody else.

But the cast slogged through to the finish.  And everybody loved it!  The whole town was talking about Chicago’s first opera.

The next day Rice’s Theatre burned down.

So Chicago’s first opera season ended, after a single performance.  But they had made a start.  And a few years later, J.H. McVicker, that booming-voice spear carrier, built the city’s finest theater.


Disco Demolition Night (7-12-1979)

When he was the voice of the White Sox, Harry Caray used to tell listeners, “You can’t beat fun at the old ball park.”  This was one time the fun got out of hand.

Steve Dahl was the morning DJ on WLUP-FM.  He didn’t like disco music.  Part of the reason was he’d lost his job at another station when it changed to an all-disco format.  Dahl and his radio sidekick Garry Meier lost no opportunity to trash disco.7-13--1-sign

Down at Comiskey Park, Bill Veeck was running the White Sox.  He was known for his zany stunts.  Someone—and there are different versions of who it was—came up with the idea of a Disco Demolition Night.

The date chosen was Thursday, July 12.  The Sox were hosting the Detroit Tigers in a twilight double-header.  Anyone who brought a disco record to Comiskey would be admitted for 98 cents.  Between games, Dahl would blow up a crate of the records.

On a normal day, the Sox drew about 16,000 fans.  But for this gala occasion, over 50,000 people crammed their way into the park.  Another 15,000 were turned away.

During the first game, fans started sailing their records around like frisbees.  Fights broke out, beer cups were tossed.  Pot smoke drifted through the air.

The Tigers beat the Sox, 4-1.  Dahl came onto the field dressed in an army uniform.  After leading the crowd in some lusty chants of “Disco Sucks,” he set off the explosives.  The crate of records went up with a loud boom and a puff of smoke.

As Dahl left, a few fans jumped onto the field.  Hundreds more followed.  Then thousands.

They ran around the park.  They tore up the sod, knocked over the batting cage, pulled down banners, lit small fires.  Someone stole the bases—literally.  The security guards were overwhelmed.


After awhile the crowd calmed down.  Caray and Veeck took turns on the public address system, telling the trespassers to go back to their seats.  Most of them stayed where they were.  A Chicago police riot squad finally cleared the field.

Thirty-nine people were arrested for disorderly conduct.  Six injuries were reported.  The playing field was wrecked, so the second game was cancelled.

Nearly forty years have passed.  Disco Demolition Night has become Chicago’s Woodstock.  Everyone claims to have been at Comiskey that night.  Add the numbers up, and there must have been 500,000 people on the field.

BTW—anybody want to buy a 1979-vintage second base?