8 Events That Celebrate Howlin’ Wolf’s 100th Birthday

Hubert Sumlin, Zora Young, Buddy Guy, Bassekou Kouyate, a singer from the musical review, Low Down Dirty Blues, a member of The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, and Chuck D

This June, the cultural world converges to celebrate the 100th birthday of Chester Arthur Burnett, a.k.a. Howlin’ Wolf, widely considered to be among the greatest blues singers. Born in Mississippi on June 10, 1910, Wolf migrated to Chicago in 1953. The city became his home for the rest of his life, and Wolf, along with Muddy Waters, came to represent the iconic Chicago bluesman for fans worldwide. Here, we inspect his influence and recommend eight events that evoke the legendary musician.

 

This year’s Chicago Blues Festival pays tribute to Wolf. On June 11th, don’t miss Hubert Sumlin, whose darting, inventive guitar playing made him Wolf’s indispensable counterpart for two decades. That same day, colleagues from Wolf’s early days in Mississippi, the blues harmonica giant James Cotton and Matt “Guitar” Murphy, perform together. Stick around for the transatlantic singer Zora Young—a woman on the rise and a distant relative of Wolf’s. She leads a tribute to him and the late blues pianist Sunnyland Slim, with Sumlin as a special guest. June 11th-13th. Grant Park, 337 E. Randolph St.; chicagobluesfestival.us

You know Buddy Guy as a guitarist and singer, but on August 14, 1963, he was the bass player at a recording session that yielded Wolf’s “Three Hundred Pounds of Joy” and “Built for Comfort.” He performs at Ravinia on June 19th. 200 Ravinia Park Rd., Highland Park; 847-266-5100, ravinia.com

“The Wanderer” and “Runaround Sue” showed the world that Dion DiMucci could be a torrid singer. Nearly 50 years later, DiMucci is bringing that fervor to the blues, including versions of Wolf’s “Built for Comfort” and “How Many More Years” on his record Bronx in Blue. DiMucci performs June 4th at the Chicago Theatre. 175 N. State St.; 312-462-6300, ticketmaster.com

A master of the ngoni, an African lute, Bassekou Kouyate combines the musical traditions of his native Mali with blues, rock, and other styles. At the end of his free performance on June 10th in Millennium Park, he’ll perform Wolf’s music accompanied by Hubert Sumlin, Eddie Shaw, and the progressive bluesman Otis Taylor. 201 E. Randolph St.; 312-742-1168, millenniumpark.org

In the new musical review Low Down Dirty Blues, Wolf is a transformative figure for one of the characters, who recalls how hearing the bluesman turned him from drug dealer to blues singer. The show runs through July 3rd at Northlight Theatre. 9501 Skokie Blvd., Skokie; 847-673-6300, northlight.org

Of all the rock bands that have drawn on the blues, The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion is one of the few to rival Wolf in creating a sense of pandemonium. The group plays the Pitchfork Music Festival on July 17th. Union Park, 1501 W. Randolph St.; pitchforkmusicfestival.com

Eric Clapton, Steve Winwood, and Hubert Sumlin all played on Wolf’s 1971 record The London Howlin’ Wolf Sessions. They’re also all performing at the Crossroads Guitar Festival on June 26th. Toyota Park, 7300 W. 71st St., Bridgeview (sold out)

The outspoken founder of the seminal rap group Public Enemy, Chuck D shares Wolf’s provocative spirit. He gives the keynote address at Dominican University’s second annual Blues and the Spirit symposium and participates in a panel discussion about Wolf’s legacy. Scheduled panelists also include Wolf’s daughters and former bandmates. A jam session follows. June 9th-10th. Dominican University, 7900 W. Division St., River Forest; 708-524-6050, dom.edu/blues

 

Illustration: Jennifer Moore

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