Aaron Cohen – Move on Up: Chicago Soul Music and Black Cultural Power


Title: Move on Up: Chicago Soul Music and Black Cultural Power
Author: Aaron Cohen
Publisher: Chicago University Press
Formats: Hardcover, Paperback, Kindle
Release date: September 25, 2019


It’s been nearly thirty years since Robert Pruter released his ground breaking book, Chicago Soul, which examined the emergence of soul music in the Windy City and its key players. Now another Chicago author, Aaron Cohen, takes the story one step further with Move on Up: Chicago Soul Music and Black Cultural Power. Based on interviews with more than 100 people and a multitude of books and articles, Cohen strikes the perfect balance between a well-researched, scholarly perspective and an extremely engaging journalistic history. His primary goal is to weave the story of Chicago’s diverse music scene with the social and political changes happening in the city from the late 1950s to the early 1980s. In the words of Jerry “Iceman” Butler, former lead singer of the Impressions and Cook County Commissioner, “music and politics kind of walk hand in hand down Michigan Avenue.” Other key musicians in this story include Curtis Mayfield, Baby Huey, Minnie Ripperton and Rotary Connection, Maurice White, the Chi-Lites, and Syl Johnson, among many others, who often eschewed commercial concerns in favor of socially conscious lyrics, liberation, and solidarity.

As the burgeoning market for soul music exploded, Cohen describes how musicians acted as agents of change, empowering the black community and contributing to the black power and black arts movements, while also contending with segregation, integration and deindustrialization. He also addresses the “heroic black educators, record companies, and performance spaces that African Americans owned and managed,” as well as the role of the city’s most influential disc jockeys and radio stations, television (especially Soul Train), black-owned advertising agencies, and print media (including Johnson Publications).

Move on Up is an essential read not only for soul music fans, but for anyone interested in the social, cultural, and political history of Chicago during a key period in the twentieth century. This book will certainly be added to the reading list for many college music courses in the years to come. Highly recommended.

Full disclosure: Aaron Cohen conducted some of his research for this book at the AAAMC, so we are pleased to promote it in Black Grooves.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss