Opening 23 Apr 2009
Chicago has long claimed to be Home of the Blues, then rhythm and blues (R&B), which, to quote Muddy Waters, “had a baby, and they named it Rock’n’Roll.” Cadillac Records chronicles this progression enabled by the Chess (Crzyz) brothers (Leonard Chess played by Adrien Brody), Polish immigrants who first managed “colored “ nightclubs on the city’s South Side, providing them contact to the black musical artists that made it happen. The brothers opened Chess Records in 1950, and businessman Leonard promoted the “race music” of his first cash cow, Muddy Waters (Jeffrey Wright) at radio stations with heavy payola Chicago-style, often taken from the musicians’ own profits. Chess treated his artists as “family” and rewarded each high-performing artist a Cadillac.
Among the many Chess artists, all colorfully portrayed, are Check Berry (Mos Def), Willie Dixon (Cedric the Entertainer), Howlin’ Wolf (Eamonn Walker), Etta James (Beyoncé) and all actors sing themselves – no dubbing. Not a documentary, Cadillac Records was filmed in New Jersey in 28 days, but a lot of history is here. This is pre-Civil-Rights-Act Chicago, originally a city of segregated immigrant neighborhoods, so be prepared for some brutality and some great music. Highly recommended. (Nancy Tilitz)