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Museum spotlights superstars’ public housing origins

Todd Palmer curator National Public Housing Museum’s new exhibit “The Sounds Soul Syncopation” explains some material display. | John H.

Todd Palmer, curator of the National Public Housing Museum’s new exhibit, “The Sounds, the Soul, the Syncopation” explains some of the material on display. | John H. White~Sun-Times

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Barbra Streisand, Lupe Fiasco, Kenny Rogers, Justin Bieber and Luther Vandross all share a type of common address.

These musicians, and dozens more, started developing their distinct art while living in public housing. Their stories are part of “The Sound, the Soul, the Syncopation,” the third exhibit from the Chicago-based National Public Housing Museum which focuses on a diverse roster of musicians with ties to public housing.

The exhibit runs through March 15, 2013, at Expo 72, 72 E. Randolph. Admission is free.

Using a highly recognizable group of artists, including Chicago public housing dwellers Ramsey Lewis, Fiasco and Dinah Washington, the exhibit hopes to give viewers a taste of what life was like for those in public housing and to rethink some of the stereotypes associated with it. There’s also information on local public housing music groups like the Major Adam Hornets, a marching band still in existence in Chicago that several members of Earth, Wind and Fire once played with.

“I wanted to create an exhibition that will draw all people in from all walks of life,” said Keith Magee, the museum’s executive officer. “Music is that thing. Let’s lift up folks that no one every considers actually had a footprint in public housing.”

Collaborating with the museum was Chicago start-up Groovebug, which offers a Groovebug app that creates a “personalized music magazine” from an iPad’s music collection, integrating the music with content from the Web, images, Twitter and YouTube.

Groovebug donated a personalized version of the app for the public housing museum exhibit, adding information about the artists’ lives in public housing and additional images.

“Music and artistic expression don’t occur in a vacuum,” said Jeremiah Seraphine, Groovebug’s CEO and cofounder. “You’re surroundings are really important to the finished product and to who you are as an artist. We thought it was a really interesting way to tie a group of artists together. It tells a certain part of music history that other people aren’t telling.”

The exhibit provides a glimpse into the types of programming the museum will offer when it opens up in a permanent location, which staff members hope will be in 2014.

More than 15 years in the making, the National Museum of Public Housing board and staff are aggressively fund raising to open a 16,000-square-foot museum in the former Jane Addams Home, 1322 W. Taylor St. The museum’s focus will be on public housing in Chicago and nationally, aiming to tell the stories of residents, including three families who lived in the Jane Addams Home. A scale model of a Jane Addams apartment is part of the music exhibit.

“This is intended to be a taste of the scale of what we’re doing,” said Todd Palmer, the exhibit’s curator. “There’s a taste of Jane Addams, a taste of Chicago and a taste of the nation.”

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