Beginning in 1930 and ending in 1966, the city of Chicago held an annual music festival in Soldier Field. The attendance was always between 70 and 80 thousand but when loud speakers were added outside the stadium the attendance reached one hundred thousand or more.
The event officially known as the Chicagoland Music Festival was sponsored by the Chicago Tribune Charities, Inc., who also sponsored the Amateur Boxing Association and the R.O.T.C. program in local schools.
On the day of the Festival a luncheon was held in the Grand Ballroom of the Conrad Hilton Hotel on Michigan Avenue where the star entertainers performed. Over the years the list of stars was quite amazing. Here are just a few of the names: The Lenon Sisters, Frankie Avalon, Louis (Satchmo) Armstrong, Alan King, Liberace, The W-G-N Barn Dance crew, Eydie Gorme, Hildegarde, Charlie Weaver and the Murk Family Singers from Wheaton. ( If you don’t recognize some of those it’s because of your age.)
One name many of you will recognize is that of Edd Byrnes. Ten thousand teenagers greeted his plane when it landed at Midway Airport and Channel 7 televised his arrival. A capacity crowd of 1200 also greeted him at the Conrad Hilton.
In 1938 one of the features was the match lighting ceremony. It became a regular feature. The Diamond National Corp. of New York City supplied 150,000 "strike anywhere" matches for the event. Not sure of the significance of the ceremony but if any of our readers know they can leave a comment.
Chicago’s African American community often had the greatest emotional impact. A chorus of 1,000 sang the old Negro Spirituals. They practiced at what is now the Metropolitan Apostolic Community Church at King Drive and 41st Street. Traffic stopped and people listened. A Tribune reporter named James Bennett visited the church and reported that every seat was filled at the practice. "I’ll tell what is the real story: It was singing so rapturous, so pulsating, and so moving that it made you want to cry and made you feel you ought to pray."
This group of 1,000 once combined their voices with 4,000 others to sing the Hallelujah Chorus. That year, 2,000 lawyers from America and Great Britain, who were attending a convention of the American Bar Association, came as group to hear the great voices.
The Tribune employee responsible for all the planning was H. Philip Maxwell. He had joined the Tribune in 1929 and headed the Golden Gloves boxing tournament and the ROTC awards program. Mr. Maxwell was born in Greencastle, Indiana, 1901. His father was a Methodist gospel singer. On New Year’s Day our family did some checking on Ancestry.com and the Maxwell family for several generations were all born in Indiana and New York. We did this search because Mayor Richard H. Daley often referred to him as "Chicago’s Scot."
Mr. Maxwell’s retirement party in 1967 was held in the Grand ballroom of the Conrad Hilton where 850 had lunch and remembered all the great festivals. The Tribune wrote: "A touch of Scottish heather filtered into the Grand ballroom as Chicago paid tribute to Phillip Maxwell..." The Tribune continued: "It was a time for a special visit from Mayor Daley, for laughter while humorous, heart- warming gifts were presented, for perhaps a few tears as memories of past Festivals were relived, and for heartfelt applause for Chicago’s Scot, Harry Philip Maxwell."
I don’t know if Philip Maxwell was a member of the Saint Andrew Society but I think he might have been. His brother, W.D. Maxwell was the Editor of the Chicago Tribune and a Distinguished Citizen at the banquet in 1965. More about him at a later time.
At the time of his death Mr. Maxwell was a patient in the LaGrange Community Hospital. He lived in Naperville with his wife who survived him. Other family members were a son, Donald; a daughter, Mrs. Barbara Downs; and a brother, W.D. Maxwell. He is buried in Vincennes, Indiana.
These festivals are great reminders of our past and every year was its own story. We have certainly changed as a people. Sometimes, I think it might be nice to turn back the clock.
The first History Club meeting in the new year will be on January 11, 2014. Same place - same time (10 a.m.) - different date. The speaker will be Tina Beaird and her subject - "The Scottish Diaspora - Migration Chains to Illinois." Tina is the Reference Librarian at the Plainfield Library. We met Tina on our History Tour last summer. She is smart, full of energy and knows her subject. It will be a good start for 2014.
February 1, 2014. New Time - 2 p.m. Our speaker will be James M. Cornelius who is the Curator of the Lincoln Collection in the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. He is a native of Minnesota and a graduate of the University of Illinois. Please note the time change. The museum will open at 1 p.m.