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Affro-Arts Theater

3947 S Drexel Blvd.

Multi-instrumentalist Phil Cohran established the Affro-Arts Theater in 1967 to help spread cultural and historical consciousness within Chicago’s African American community. The name’ spelling signified the words “Africa” and “from” and many of the artistic ideals that Cohran promoted included his interpretation of African music, languages and ideals. His instrument called the frankiphone—an adaptation of the Southern African mbira—inspired regular visitor Maurice White who went on to form Earth, Wind & Fire. Singer Yvette Stevens also began her transformation into Chaka Khan at the Affro-Arts. House band The Pharaohs brought African instrumentation and socially conscious lyrics to their take on soul music. Along with musicians, the Affro-Arts Theater hosted such speakers as Black Panther leader Fred Hampton and activist Stokely Carmichael. Their inclusion at Affro-Arts led to the city government’s continued pressure on the theater, which contributed to its closing at the end of 1970. Cohran continued performing and teaching throughout Chicago until his death in 2017 at the age of 90.

– A.C. 

Caption: Former location of Affro-Arts Theater

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