Immigration, Transformation, and the Electric Blues in Chicago – Part 2

Essential Question

How did the early and mid 20th century immigrant and migrant population of Chicago’s Maxwell Street neighborhood help foster the development of Electric Blues?


In Part One of this lesson, students considered the influx of population to Chicago from the perspective of Polish and Jewish immigrants as well as blacks from the American South. In Part Two, students will focus on the transformations that occurred in the Maxwell Street neighborhood to explore how these new Chicagoans helped create the “American” genre of Electric Blues. Students will view clips from the Sonic Highways “Chicago” episode, view an excerpt of Mike Shea’s 1965 documentary of the Maxwell Street Sunday Market And This is Free, and work in groups to consider how Blues artist Muddy Waters 1941 Mississippi recording and 1957 Chicago recordings might represent larger transformations of people and culture. The extension activities encourage students to apply the logic of this two part lessons to short written essays.

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Upon completion of this lesson, students will:

  1. Know (knowledge):
    • About the Maxwell Street area of Chicago and the multiethnic community that settled there
    • About the formal and informal economies that developed in the Maxwell Street neighborhood of Chicago
    • How the urban environment of Chicago helped transform “Plantation Blues” into  “Electric Blues”
    • About Chess Records and Blues recording artists Muddy Waters and Buddy Guy
  2. Mastery Objective:
    • Students will be able to describe how migrants and immigrants helped shape Electric Blues in Chicago.