The bestselling author of "White Collar Girl" and "What the Lady Wants" explores one woman's journey of self-discovery set against the backdrop of a musical and social revolution.
In the middle of the twentieth century, the music of the Mississippi Delta arrived in Chicago, drawing the attention of entrepreneurs like the Chess brothers. Their label, Chess Records, helped shape that music into the Chicago Blues, the soundtrack for a transformative era in American History.
But, for Leeba Groski, Chess Records was just where she worked...
Leeba doesn't exactly fit in, but her passion for music and her talented piano playing captures the attention of her neighbor, Leonard Chess, who offers her a job at his new record company. What begins as answering phones and filing becomes much more as Leeba comes into her own as a songwriter and befriends performers like Muddy Waters, Howlin Wolf, Chuck Berry, and Etta James. But she also finds love with a black blues guitarist named Red Dupree. With their relationship unwelcome in segregated Chicago and shunned by Leeba's Orthodox Jewish family, she and Red soon find themselves in the middle of the Civil Rights Movement and they discover that, in times of struggle, music can bring people together.
Paperback, 448 pages
Expected publication: February 28th 2017 by Berkley BooksZ
Four stars: An entertaining and informative read that takes you through the rise of Rock and Roll as well as the Civil Rights Movement.
Leeba is tired of feeling out of place. She is a tall, gangly and awkward teenager. Since Leeba hasn't found the right Jewish boy to marry, she works at a small music store. Leeba hates her boss, but she loves the music and the pianos in the shop. One day, Leeba's neighbor and friend, Leonard Chess offers her a job at his fledgling record company. Leeba's new job quickly becomes more than answering the phones and filing. Soon she is utilizing her own talent, writing songs and playing piano. As the record company grows, it signs on some memorable names such as Muddy Waters, Howlin Wolf, Chuck Barry and Etta James. Unfortunately, Leeba lives in the era before the Civil Rights Movement, and prejudice and segregation rule. Leeba falls in love with a black man, Red Dupree. Before long, she finds herself in the middle of the Civil Rights Movement. Can music possibly bring people together?
What I Liked:
- Windy City Blues is a book that is packed full of history. I loved learning about the beginnings of Rock and Roll and how African Americans infiltrated the music system and established the Rock and Roll Era. The story takes you through the humble beginnings, up through the heyday and beyond. I enjoyed seeing big name stars rise to fame under Chess records. This was a fascinating and entertaining read.
- At the heart of the story are Red and Leeba. Leeba a Polish Jew and Red, an African American blues guitarist. The two meet and fall in love in a time when biracial couples were shunned. It was sad to see the hatred and violence they endured because of their relationship. I liked that both characters were fighters and that they stood up for what was right. I was shocked at the violence they encountered when they took part in the Freedom Movement. This was an eye opening read that exposes the ugliness of segregation.
- The other driving force in the book is Leonard Chess. He is the heart and soul of Chess Records, and he helped put many music legends on the map such as Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry and Etta James. I liked seeing how the whole record industry took off, and l enjoyed learning all the ins and outs of the record business, recording and distributing. Leonard Chess was a legend in his time, and I loved that he was open minded and that he wasn't prejudice.
- Ms. Rosen obviously spent a great deal of time and effort researching this novel, and it shows. This is a well written, informative and entertaining story that will take you through the Rock and Roll Era. If you want to know more about this turbulent and explosive time, read this book.
And The Not So Much:
- The book starts in the 1930s when Leeba and Leonard were kids on the street. I have to admit, the book started out a bit slow for me, but once the record company was on its feet, the story took off. This one requires some patience in the beginnings, but it is well worth the time and effort.
- I knew going in that this was historical fiction, but I couldn't help getting lost in the story of Leeba and Red. At the end, I was disappointed to learn that Red and Leeba were entirely fictional characters. I felt a bit cheated. After learning the truth, I wished that Leonard had been the main character.
Windy City Blues is an excellent book that blends historical fact with fiction to create an entertaining and informative story that chronicles the rise of the Rock and Roll Era as well as the Civil Rights Movement. This is a must read for fans of music.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own, and I was not compensated for this review.