One of Chicago house music’s seminal personalities has released a documentary on lesser known figures in the city’s music history. Vince Lawrence‘s Legacy: The Untold Story of Chicago Black Music premiered on Chicago public access station WTTW November 12th.
The film begins by exploring the work of R&B and soul artists in the wake of 1960s initiatives like Operation Breadbasket and the Chicago Freedom Movement. It cites pianist and arranger Tom Washington, Curtom Records co-founder Eddie Thomas, and funk artist Captain Sky as notable innovators, later connecting them with house figureheads such as Chosen Few DJs and Marshall Jefferson. The documentary resulted from a partnership between Slang Music Group, 312Soul.com and Electric Train.
Right Place, Right Time
Vince Lawrence, who collaborated with Washington on a theme song for the film titled “Horns To House,” is equally qualified to expound on the history of the stylistic evolution referenced in its title. Before house music was a twinkle in his eye, he toured with Captain Sky at the age of 14 and worked as an usher at Comiskey Park, which allowed him to witness Disco Demolition Night firsthand in 1979.
In 1984, Lawrence collaborated with Jesse Saunders on the single “On And On,” which is often cited as the first song to be categorized as house music. He went on to team up with Farley Jackmaster Funk on “Love Can’t Turn Around” featuring Darryl Pandy two years later, the first house single to achieve mainstream success in the U.K.
Legacy emerged from a paper titled “The Center of Everything” that Lawrence wrote as a consultant for ad agency OKPR, according to Reel Chicago. It emphasized the city’s role in introducing horn arrangements to popular music – especially Washington’s contributions to music by the likes of Earth Wind & Fire and The Jacksons. After hearing Lawrence describe the birth of house in his own words, the film’s director, Jim Marcus, suggested that he write the script and narrate it himself.
Vince Lawrence has shared plans to book additional screenings of Legacy: The Untold Story of Chicago Black Music for those who missed the WTTW premiere.