Newly vacant lot, once site of Ray’s Music Exchange mural, serves as powerful backdrop for state rep’s TED Talk
State Rep. Kam Buckner is one of a several speakers for the TEDxWrigleyville talks about humanity and leadership in the middle of a global pandemic airing Sunday. He filmed his in front a site made famous in “The Blues Brothers” that recently burned down.
Earlier this month, state Rep. Kam Buckner stood near a newly vacant lot that once was the location of a part of Chicago cinema history. He faced a camera, with the rubble from the recent demolition of the building on the lot as a backdrop. Plugged into a mound of dirt were letters forming the words “TEDxWrigleyville.”
But Buckner wasn’t in Wrigleyville; instead, he was in his own backyard of Bronzeville.
“It was an extremely taxing experience and I felt a gumbo of emotions giving my talk with all the history that existed right there,” said Buckner (D-Chicago).
On May 31, days before he was supposed to record his TED Talk in Wrigleyville, he was forced to cancel after his neighborhood of Bronzeville was engulfed in flames during several nights of civil unrest. He could see a plume of smoke coming from the former Shelly’s Loan and Jewelry at 300 E. 47th — the home of the iconic Ray’s Music Exchange mural.
“I passed by it every day after the fires and saw it go from a ruined edifice to a block of bricks on a corner,” Buckner said. “This specific place is an anchor to our community and was part of a quintessential film in Chicago which was a piece of history in my backyard.”
The mural on the side of the building took a month to paint for the 1980 film “The Blues Brothers” and was featured in the beloved scene where hundreds of people danced along 47th Street as Ray Charles joyfully sang “Shake A Tail Feather.” The scene cost $600,000 to produce, the Sun-Times reported in 2005.
Now, that quintessential piece of Chicago history will live in the memories of fans after the building that the mural adorned went up in flames and forced the city to tear it down. In addition to the closed pawn shop, it also included several other businesses.
Buckner used to show off the mural to visitors, explaining to them why it was important in movie history but also to the future of Bronzeville. So, he was disheartened to see something he saw so vital to the community reduced to dirt.
He also still had to do his scheduled talk for TEDxWrigleyville and he saw an opportunity. Instead of filming his lecture inside Wrigley Field as planned, he decided to use the backdrop of the newly vacant lot. The lush greens of Wrigley were replaced with brown dirt and a train passing through the 47th Street Green Line station in the background.
As he prepared to give his speech on the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, he said he felt a “bumper crop of energy” that he would also be able to show what years of disinvestment looked like to viewers.
He spoke on the need for local leadership to respond to the twin crises — a need laid bare over the last few weeks.
While Buckner is disappointed with the loss of the memento from the movie, he reflected on the joy of watching the film as a kid and seeing the mural — which featured larger-than-life pictures of Muddy Waters, B.B. King and Ray Charles — in person for the first time.
He remains optimistic.
“I would love to see a new public facing street art and I would love for it to honor the history of the movie,” Buckner said. “With that corner being called ‘Blues Corridor’ I think it is also important that the next piece of art takes the past and builds on it looking toward Bronzeville’s future.”
In addition to Buckner, TEDxWrigleyville will feature others speakers and performers talking about humanity and leadership in the middle of a global pandemic. Viewers are asked to RSVP at www.tedxwrigleyville.com. It airs 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sunday.