From Artifacts To DJs -- Downstate Museum Is Showcasing Illinois Sound

Apr 29, 2021

We’ve heard about a place having a particular sound – like the London Beat or the Motown Sound. But what about Illinois? A new exhibit that focuses on the Illinois sound – or really, sounds -- is coming to a downstate attraction.  

Credit Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.

Lance Tawzer is the director of exhibits and shows at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. He said “The State of Sound: A World of Music from Illinois” covers a wide variety of genres. 

“From Gospel music and musicians like Mahalia Jackson, to Chance the Rapper to Miles Davis, to rock ‘n’ roll stars, like Styx and Cheap Trick,” Tawzer said, “this state has really brought this amazing sonic history to the forefront.” 

He said the hard part was knowing that someone was going to be left out because Illinois has so many leading musicians.

But author and journalist Dave Hoekstra helped narrow down the list.

“And when we approached him about doing this project, he knew that we were going to have to make very tough decisions.” Tawzer explained. “That we were going to have to edit ourselves down to the most influential, and if we were going to tackle these by genre, that we were going to be limited to only a certain amount of artists for each genre.”

Tawzer said the exhibit doesn’t only focus on musicians. 

“This exhibit touches on radio, [it] touches on record labels, [it] touches on the music, instruments and gear that is from Illinois," said Tawzer. "So, we always knew it was going to be very comprehensive.” 

The gear includes things that were loaned to them by some of the artists.

Tawzer mentioned that Jennifer Hudson’s self portrait of herself as Aretha Franklin, Dan Fogelberg’s guitar, which was loaned to them by his widow, and the suit rapper Common wore at the 2015 Academy Awards, are just a couple of the articles that people can see.  

"I'm jived about Miles Davis, his trumpet," Tawzer said, "because it's pretty much the last one he probably ever played professionally. It was one that was custom made for him. And it's red, and it has his name on the bell. And it was made in the 1980s."

DJs across the state are invited to do their shows in a state of the art studio that will broadcast back to their home stations.  Tawzer also shared that a few musicians will visit the studio to perform and have interviews.

The exhibit opens April 30 and will continue through January of next year. 

  • Yvonne Boose is a current corps member for Report for America, an initiative of the GroundTruth Project. It's a national service program that places talented journalists in local newsrooms like WNIJ. You can learn more about Report for America at wnij.org.