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Rhythm and Bombast: In Memory of Willie Pickens (1931-2017)

Willie Pickens at Pritzker Pavilion at Millennium Park

Willie Pickens at Pritzker Pavilion at Millennium Park, July 2011 (Viewminder, CC BY-NC-ND)

Exhibit Dates: February 19 – April 29, 2018
Exhibit Location: The Joseph Regenstein Library, Fourth Floor

“I don’t have big paws like Oscar [Peterson] or a nice, big stretch like Benny Green’s. . . . I have to create illusions, make it sound like I’m doing something I’m not.”
— Willie Pickens (Lloyd Sachs, “Willie Pickens Rides Jazz Machine to Glory,” Chicago Sun Times, March 13, 1994)

Internationally known Jazz pianist and Hyde Park resident, Willie Pickens, passed away on Tuesday, December 12, after practicing for a “Jazz at Lincoln Center” show at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola in New York. Pickens was known for his bombastic style and thunderous sound, paired with a melodic and harmonic ingenuity and versatility. He was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on April 18, 1931. One of six children, his mother, Minny Hall, was a pianist who exposed him to music at an early age. Young Willie took to the piano early, practicing for hours at a time as a boy.

He graduated from University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 1955, with a BA in music education, and soon after moved to Chicago. In Chicago, Pickens found his place among the jazz community, in which he would excel as a musician, a teacher, and a mentor. Pickens achieved international acclaim with his piano work on Eddie Harris’ hit recording “Exodus,” from the gold record “Exodus to Jazz,” released by Chicago-based VeeJay records in 1961. He released his recording debut as a trio leader with his 1998 album “It’s About Time” on Southport Records. During his career, he toured with Joe Henderson, Clark Terry, Wynton Marsalis, Quincy Jones, Louis Bellson, Bunky Green, and Red Holloway. He appeared regularly at the Chicago Jazz Festival and the Hyde Park Jazz Festival.

Willie Pickens’ debut album, “It’s About Time”

Willie Pickens’ debut album as a trio leader, “It’s About Time” (Southport Records, 1998)

Willie Pickens was a devoted teacher and mentor, including to his daughter, jazz pianist Bethany Pickens. He taught in Chicago high schools from 1966-1997. He launched the music program at Hyde Park’s Kenwood Academy in the 1960s. Bethany Pickens currently teaches in this program. In 1995, he became a founding member of the Ravinia Jazz Mentor Program, and in 1997 joined the faculty of Northern Illinois University’s School of Music.

This exhibit in two cases displays examples of Pickens’ work from the University of Chicago Library’s general collection, as well as materials from the Chicago Jazz Archive.

The social media post announcing the passing of Willie Pickens

The social media post announcing the passing of Willie Pickens, from his daughter, Bethany Pickens (reproduced with permission)

Science and Conscience: Chicago’s Met Lab and the Manhattan Project

Reunion of atomic scientists on the 4th Anniversary (1946) of the first controlled nuclear fission chain reaction, December 2, 1942, pictured in front of Bernard A. Eckhart Hall at the University of Chicago. University of Chicago Photographic Archive, apf3-00232, Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library.

Exhibition Dates: February 19 – April 13, 2018
Location: Special Collections Research Center Exhibition Gallery, 1100 East 57th Street, Chicago, IL

On December 2, 1942, scientists at the University of Chicago produced the world’s first self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction beneath the West Stand of Stagg Field, the University’s athletic stadium. This experiment, crucial to the control of nuclear fission, drove a rapid nationwide expansion of the Manhattan Project, the secret federal research and engineering program charged with producing a nuclear bomb.

Chicago’s role in the Manhattan Project did not end with the successful operation the first nuclear reactor.  Buildings across the University of Chicago campus were converted for use by the code-named Metallurgical Laboratory.  The Met Lab conducted extended research on the structure of uranium, developed the process for separating plutonium from uranium, and investigated nuclear radiation’s biological effects and safety issues.  At the end of World War II, the Metallurgical Laboratory was transformed into the first United States federal laboratory, Argonne National Laboratory.

Chicago’s Met Lab also took the lead in organizing scientists’ political response to the devastation caused by atomic bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  Concerned about the future development and use of nuclear weapons, Met Lab veterans created the Atomic Scientists of Chicago and began publishing the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.  They joined scientists from other Manhattan Project sites across the country and pressed successfully in 1946 for the passage of the Atomic Energy Act (McMahon Act) and creation of the civilian Atomic Energy Commission.

The Met Lab scientists achieved great technical success in their contribution to the creation of a powerful new military weapon.  Yet the sobering consequences of their work moved them to enter the political arena and make the first critical arguments to control nuclear weapons and turn nuclear energy toward peaceful ends.

Based on archives and manuscripts in the Special Collections Research Center, Science and Conscience presents unique historical documents and artifacts, many not previously exhibited.  Items on display are drawn from records of scientists’ organizations and the papers of those who worked on the Manhattan Project and at Chicago’s Met Lab, including Enrico Fermi, James Franck, Herbert L. Anderson, Samuel K. Allison, Samuel Schwartz, Francis W. Test, Lawrence Lanzl, John H. Balderston, Jr., Albert Wattenberg, Eugene Rabinowitch,  Paul Henshaw, William B. Higinbotham, and Donald MacRae, among others.

Hours: Mondays through Fridays, 9 a.m. – 4:45 p.m., and, when University of Chicago classes are in session, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, 9 a.m. – 5:45 p.m.

Free and open to the public.

Use of Images and Media Contact

Images from the exhibition included on this page are available for download by members of the media and are reserved for editorial use in connection with University of Chicago Library exhibitions, programs, or related news.

For more information, contact Rachel Rosenberg at ra-rosenberg@uchicago.edu or 773-834-1519.

Well Equipped: Library Technology from Days Past

library worker with photoduplication equipment

From the Photographic Archive (URL: http://photoarchive.lib.uchicago.edu/), Identifier: apf1-02019.

September 18, 2017 – June 7, 2018
Location: Crerar Library First Floor

Over the years Crerar Library has used the newest equipment and technologies to make books, journals and other information accessible to patrons.  These tools have evolved through the years.  A library card system has been replaced with online catalog with significant collections available electronically.   Early techniques for photocopying and microfilming materials have been eclipsed by digital scanning services.  Displayed are objects and photos of some of these earlier technologies used by the Library.

A Web version of this  exhibit is also available: https://www.lib.uchicago.edu/collex/exhibits/well-equipped-library-technology-days-past/