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Angela James Asks Chicago Women to Cover the Songs of Other Chicago Women

See Ohmme, Tomeka Reid, and more pay tribute to local icons like Mavis Staples and Chaka Khan.

Angela James wants her Hideout residency to reflect the community of women that inspires her.   Photo: Jordan Martins

In a music scene as vast as Chicago’s, it’s easy for women to get sidelined. That’s why, on March 7, local folk singer Angela James is assembling her favorite Chicago women to play the music of other Chicago women.

Aptly titled “Women of the World Take Over,” the show features local musicians including Tomeka Reid, Ohmme, VV Lightbody, Quinn Tsan, and Tasha Viets-VanLear covering songs by Mavis Staples, Chaka Khan, Angel Olsen, Neko Case, and more, with all proceeds benefiting the Chicago Women’s Health Center. The show is the first of James’s month-long residency at the Hideout, which runs every Tuesday in March. 

Here, James discusses the impetus for the concert, her first major project since she had a daughter last spring.

How did you develop this residency at the Hideout?

After I had the baby, I wanted to give myself a deadline for getting back to performing. I delayed having a child for a while because I was pursuing music. I thought that if I had a baby, I would somehow drop into oblivion. This residency was something I could hold myself to. After I reached out to the Hideout, it was just a matter of deciding how to approach performing with a fresh perspective. I’m a different person now that I’m a mother, and that affects my creative pursuits.

When did you come up with Women of the World Take Over?

I had this idea for a while, of a show where a bunch of female musicians covered other female musicians. Then with the election, I thought, this is it. This is what has to happen. I want my residency to be less about me and more about this creative community of women that I’m a part of, and have been inspired by for my whole adult life.

How did you pick which women to include?

I wanted it to be diverse. I wanted women of color involved, and I wanted different generations of performers. Maybe they’re in their 20s, maybe they’ve been performing for 30 years. It was also important to me that the people I asked were a mixture of people I knew and had collaborated with, and people I don’t know.

Then I chose the house band, which includes Janet Bean, Sima Cunningham, and Macie Stewart. Janet represents this one continual musical career in Chicago, while Sima and Macie [of Ohmme] represent a new generation. Then I asked the three of them to invite some other musicians, because my sphere of influence is fairly limited.

What determined who would perform what?

The only criteria is that you cover another female musician that has called Chicago home at some point in their career. I’m covering Azita. She’s a musician in Chicago, a Drag City artist who’s had this amazing, varied career. There’s somebody that’s more of a theater performer. There’s a new-music bass clarinet player. There’s a couple of jazz improvisers.

How did you end up partnering with the Chicago Women’s Health Center?

The proceeds from all four shows go to some kind of charity. I wanted [this night’s] to be relevant to the theme of women, but Planned Parenthood has gotten lots of donations. ACLU is awesome, but same thing. So I thought about a local organization that benefits women and the queer community, and I thought of Chicago Women’s Health Center. Middle Brow Brewing is generously sponsoring the event, too. 

Why do you think this event will resonate with people?

As a female musician, you’re outnumbered by men. I’ve always played with men in my band. It’s not that I feel like women have to fight for their place, necessarily. But in terms of statistics, when I think of female musicians in Chicago, there’s a sense of individuality. We form this network and community, but we don’t often collaborate together. I see this show as a way to bring women performers together, and also to have them think about other female musicians that have inspired them. I just think it’s going to be an amazing night of lady power. 

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