Congress of Secular Jewish Organizations 2017 Annual Conference


June 9–11, University of Illinois at Chicago


CORKY SIEGEL, our adult keynote speaker, is one of the world’s great blues harmonica players. He is also a celebrated composer, blues pianist, singer, songwriter, band leader and author. This is a rare opportunity to hear about Corky's relationship to Judaism and what it was like to be Jewish in Chicago's blues community in the 1960s and 1970s. And don't be surprised if he pulls out a blues harp!

Corky's professional music career began when he founded the now-legendary Siegel-Schwall Band in Chicago in 1964 with guitarist Jim Schwall. The group was a major part of a young generation of white blues artists—including Paul Butterfield, Charlie Musselwhite, Harvey Mandel, Barry Goldberg, Nick Gravenites and Michael Bloomfield—who learned the historic Chicago blues style at the feet and hands of such towering figures as Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Little Walter, Willie Dixon, Buddy Guy and Sam Lay.

After releasing three solo albums, Corky founded Corky Siegel’s Chamber Blues, featuring himself on harmonica, piano and vocals, the West End String Quartet (top-flight Chicago classical players), and Frank Donaldson on world percussion instruments. The ensemble performed Siegel’s pioneering blues/classical music compositions and released its first album, Corky Siegel’s Chamber Blues, on Chicago’s famed blues label Alligator Records in 1994. The album gained rave notices from publications including Billboard and Stereophile and has been followed by two more albums.

In 2007, Corky published the music guide book Let Your Music Soar: The Emotional Connection, co-written with Peter Krammer. His harmonica playing accompanies the storytelling of award-winning Mexican-American young adult novelist Pam Muñoz Ryan in the audio version of her 2015 book Echo, a mysterious tale involving a prophecy, a promise and, of course, a harmonica.

MADELINE BURNS, our youth keynote speaker, will show relationships between Jews and African Americans at various points in history and how we’ve helped each other overcome prejudice.

Madeline is attending her eighth CSJO conference. She attended Jewish Children’s Folkshul in Philadelphia, where she became a Bat Mitzvah. She stayed involved with Folkshul as a post-Bat Mitzvah student and then as both a community and teaching assistant. With CSJO, she has served on the board as a teen representative and as an executive-committee youth representative. She now serves on the board as an adult member-at-large.

Outside her Jewish education, Madeline was educated through the Philadelphia public school system, attending C.W. Henry Elementary and Central High. Based on her experience in those schools, she has a deep appreciation for diversity, education and protests, and she has a worldview that she wouldn’t trade for anything. She is now a senior at the University of Pittsburgh, where she majors in accounting and minors in theater.

DAVE SPECTER BLUES TRIO, performing for us Saturday evening, is led by a guitarist and producer known internationally as one of the premier Chicago blues talents. Since 1985, Dave has performed at the city’s top blues and jazz clubs in addition to festivals and concert halls throughout the United States. He has also toured extensively outside the country.

Before forming his own band in 1989, Dave toured behind such blues greats as Son Seals, the Legendary Blues Band, Hubert Sumlin, Sam Lay and Steve Freund. He has also performed and recorded with blues and jazz artists including Buddy Guy, Junior Wells, Otis Rush, Jimmy Rogers, Robert Lockwood Jr., Jimmy Johnson and Jack McDuff.

Dave’s 1991 release Bluebird Blues reached #1 on both the Living Blues national radio charts and the Tower Records blues charts. Blues Access magazine called his CD Left Turn on Blue “an absolutely gorgeous blend of vintage blues and jazz.” Dave also appears on compilation CDs with artists including Wells, Eric Clapton, Carlos Santana, B.B. King and Muddy Waters. Dave’s latest album, Message in Blue, features special guests Otis Clay, Brother John Kattke and Bob Corritore. It has topped the Roots Music Report’s blues charts and received rave reviews from Downbeat Magazine and All Music Guide. Dave has been featured in Vintage Guitar and Downbeat magazines and is a five-time Critic’s Choice selection in the Chicago Reader.