This Saturday, Chicago Film Archives and the Black Cinema House present a film screening (IMAGINATION MUSIC: DIXON & WIRGHT) about two Chicago artists named Willie – Willie Dixon & Willie Wright. Willie Dixon is a household name in these parts, but there’s a chance you may not have heard of Willie Wright – and that’s ok! We just hope to change this.
Willie Wright is the protagonist in Don Klugman’s 1964 film “Nightsong” – an experimental film that uses Chicago’s near north nightclub scene as its backdrop. The story center lies in the struggles and romantic desires of Wright, who is struggling for respect and survival in a primarily white musical genre and neighborhood. Klugman won the “Coupe Kodak-Pathe” prize for NIGHTSONG at Cannes in 1965. The film was also named one of the “Ten Best Winners” in the Amateur Cinema League’s 1964 International Film and Video Festival, for its expressive use of color.
Apart from his depiction as a folksinger in the film, Wright’s actual musical roots were in the Chicago doo-wop scene, playing in a group that formed out of Cabrini Green called the Medallionaires during the late 1950s. After having lack-luster success in three successive doo-wop groups, Wright decided that there had to be a better way. Since folk music had become all the rage in the mid-1960s, and with the remarkable coffeehouse success of black performers such as Harry Belafonte, Josh White, Odetta and John Lee Hooker, Wright decided to become a folk singer too. According to the Chicago Defender, patron Chloe Hoffman suggested that he try folk music. Hoffman provided him with a guitar and some albums of folk songs, and Willie returned three months later a self-made folk singer, crossing over to the Near-North side’s burgeoning folk music community. To the best of our knowledge, NIGHTSONG contains the only known extant performance footage of Wright.
Join us this Saturday at the Black Cinema House for a 16mm archival preservation print screening of NIGHTSONG (funded by the National Film Preservation Foundation) alongside a 16mm print of THE FACTS OF LIFE – a journey and reflection upon the life of Willie Dixon and the meaning of the blues. Following the screening, we invite you to stick around for a listening party of recently discovered tapes of a 1972 performance of Willie Dixon’s All Stars at Malcolm X College. As far as we can tell, these tapes haven’t been heard in 40 years.