A report from The Cliff Dwellers by Dan Johnson and David Stephens
Wednesday, July 27, 2022
Thanks to favorable impressions and good word-of-mouth about Black Voices in Cabaret’s first effort, Healing Through Song, and our contributions to 100 Years of Chicago Cabaret, we were contacted by Eve Moran, past President and entertainment booker for The Cliff Dwellers. Could we put together a show celebrating Women’s History Month? Rescheduled from March, due to a repair issue at the club, we presented the show on the eve of Lollapalooza and what a lollapalooza of an evening it turned out to be!
Chicagoans know The Cliff Dwellers as a storied social club whose members support visual and performing arts. The opportunity to present cabaret with a South Side flavor to this private club well suited our goal to bring African-American performers to all parts of the city.
Margaret Murphy Webb was the perfect person to head the Cliff Dwellers event. She is the Executive Director of the South Side Jazz Coalition and an accomplished jazz performer and educator. We asked her to direct, cast and host the evening’s program.
Margaret brought Christie Chiles Twillie as Music Director/accompanist. Christie is an award-winning, Chicago-based Music Director and works professionally as a Vocal Coach, Sound Designer, Composer, Writer, Producer and Activist. Her music direction of Minnie’s Boys at the Porchlight Theater received the Rachel Rockwell “Fierce Women Behind the Table” award.
Keynote performers were Bobbi Wilsyn, Lynne Jordan, and LaShera Moore Ellis. Margaret reminisced about Joan Collaso’s 2016 Woman’s History Month program (11 Jazzy Divas) noting that three of the eleven (Murphy, Bobbi Wilsyn and Lynne Jordan) were in this very evening’s band of sisters. They brought their stories, songs, and repartee to joyous levels.
Beginning with the youthful phenom, LaShera Moore acknowledged her influences, artistic and personal, with “Respect” by Otis Redding. Generally associated with Aretha Franklin, this familiar song became LaShera’s own. Without evoking previous artists’ covers, her rendition of “I’m Every Woman” was sung straight from her heart. LaShera represents the excellence of the Vocal Performance program at Columbia College. She is coached by none other than Bobbi Wilsyn who co-ordinated its Vocal Studies.
Lynne Jordan, Roger Ebert’s “favorite Diva”, is known for her specialty of the Blues, where she has found a niche in delightfully suggestive, earthy material. Her two numbers did not disappoint. She brought the house down with Candye Kane’s “You Need a Great Big Woman” and “If I Can’t Sell It” by Kim Massie. I, for one, hope to see the versatile Ms. Jordan again with material like her powerful tribute to Nina Simone. There is no question that she holds her space as a favorite diva and had the room gasping for more of her dynamic brand of cabaret. Coincidentally, a portrait of Lynne Jordan hangs at the Cliff Dwellers as part of Lynn Orman Weiss’s photographic exhibit of renowned women blues singers.
Next, Margaret Murphy Webb, wringing some humor out of her days as a city cop, delivered “I Put a Spell on You” by Screaming Jay Hawkins. Throughout the show, her command of the proceedings was indeed spell-binding.
Bobbi Wilsyn‘s storytelling spotlighted the role of collaboration in the creative process. She introduced her rendition of “Creole Love Call” with the story of how Adelaide Hall’s improvisation of a counter melody to an Ellington tune created this jazz standard. In a reprise from her Lena Horne show, Ms. Wilsyn gave us her very special version of Rodgers and Hart’s “The Lady is a Tramp.” Her masterful rendition left the audience wanting more.
And more there was, with our host roaming the audience to find who among us had the blues—getting us all involved. This lead to the ensemble’s sisterhood-celebrating finale with “Ms. Celie’s Blues” from The Color Purple. Congratulations were shared all ‘round, from the attendees to the artists, and aptly followed by viewing the Navy Pier fireworks from the club’s 22nd floor terrace.
We look forward to more such evenings celebrating Black Voices in Cabaret high above Grant Park.
—Daniel Johnson and David Stephens
The artists comment:
“Thank you to the team that worked together for a great evening at the Cliff Dwellers! My southside friends who attended left me wonderful messages about the beauty of the room and the laughter and camaraderie that was shared last night. Christie, Lynne, LaShera and Bobbi, I don’t believe I laughed that hard on a “gig” in quite a while. But then it wasn’t just a gig, it was a night with my sisters, sharing our songs and stories with more family members.
Again, thank you for allowing me into that beautiful space, it was amazing.”
− Margaret Murphy Webb
“It was really so much fun. Thank you to each and everyone of you for adding me to your sister group. Love to all . . .!”
− Christie Chiles Twillie
“It was an honor and a privilege to share the stage with such wonderful, talented, funny as hell, lovely and sweet ladies to call my sisters in song! Just being the baby of this group, I look up to each & everyone of you equally and individually, and from the bottom of my heart; I appreciate all of you. And knowing that you’ve been in this field longer than me, I just admire each of your work, your charisma and poise that you all Â bring. I hope to work with you all again in the near future. It was a fun time let it not be the last. May God bless you all and your families and continue to spread the good word of sisterhood and music!”
− LaShera Moore Ellis
“It was for me a pure joy! I really don’t think I’ve had a gig like it before. The laughing and poop talking (see Margaret, I didn’t cuss!) was awesome! And the performances! What a wonderful night! We really did celebrate Sisterhood!”
− Lynne Jordan
“Thank you to all that had a hand in the planning and presentation for this event! To my sistahs: It was a pleasure to share the stage with such an awesome, talented, and hilarious group of musicians! Bountiful Blessings to you all,
− Bobbi Wilsyn
And from the evening’s sponsor, Cliff Dwellers’ past president Eve Moran:
Wow! Wow! Wow! I always knew this show would be great. But, I had no idea just how magnificent (and fun) it would be. Guess that’s what happens when sisterly love fills a room!
Margaret: You were a knockout host! And, gifted us with beautiful voice.
Bobbi: For decades, I’ve been your secret adoring fan. Your interpretations only reinforce my devotion.
Christie: Yes! There is truly a dynamic force that flows in each of your hands.
Lashera: You shine bright in both song and spirit. Go, baby star, go!
Lynne: The late Roger Ebert (a club member, teacher & friend) called you his “favorite diva.” We now know why! Hurrah!
At one point, Bobbi and I spoke of our fondness for the Grace and Frankie comedy series. Well, nothing can beat the “Margaret & Lynne” banter last night where others joined in. It was screaming good fun!!! What no one knew is that “Summertime” is my most precious song. It is the lullaby that I sang to my sweet adopted son every night at bedtime (in a vast array of arrangements). When the show opened with this song I wanted to cry, jump and shout all at once. Good sense kept me silent in my seat. But, in that moment I knew the beauty and power of sisterhood! It was magic. Thank you all for a most spectacular and deeply felt evening.
(Another member told me that I’ll never be able to top this night. He is right). I’m still smiling here. And sending my love to each of you.