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West-side music-business institution Willie Barney dies at 89

Plus: Music Frozen Dancing returns to the Empty Bottle with a “kool” surprise guest, and Immortal Bird crowdfund to replace stolen gear.

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Willie Barney (left) in his record shop - COURTESY OF ANAYAH SANGODELE-AYOKA
  • Courtesy of Anayah Sangodele-Ayoka
  • Willie Barney (left) in his record shop

Unheralded Chicago music-biz veteran Willie Barney died of heart failure on Monday, February 20, at age 89. Born in Arkansas in 1927, he's best known as the founder of west-side institution Barney's One Stop and Record Shop, which he opened in 1953 as Barney's Swing Shop. His career in music began rather modestly, according to his son, Ray: "He borrowed $300 from his family and started selling records out of the trunk of his car." In the 60s, Barney expanded into distribution and launched a couple short-lived labels, Four Brothers and Bright Star. Barney's One Stop eventually became a hub for house music, and in the mid-80s Ray (who'd joined his father's business in 1980, shortly after graduating from Bradley University) began running influential ghetto-house label Dance Mania out of the shop. Both Dance Mania and Barney's One Stop wound down in 2001.

Gossip Wolf isn't exactly sure whether the folks at the Empty Bottle are gluttons for punishment. After all, every year they throw a daytime outdoor winter block party called Music Frozen Dancing—but every year it's so well attended that it looks like maybe the audiences are the ones with issues! This year's party, held on Saturday, March 4, at the usual spot (on Cortez just east of Western), features beer vendors, chili from the winner of last year's Chili-Synth Cook-Off, and a typically sterling lineup that includes Metz, Screaming Females, and punky synth-pop siren Sneaks. The Bottle folks tell Gossip Wolf that there's a surprise guest lined up too—a "kool" rapper whose surreal 80s and 90s material is totally ultramagnetic, if not straight-up octagonal!

On Tuesday, February 21, after Chicago blackened-death-metal band Immortal Bird played at Saint Vitus in Brooklyn, someone stole their van. The group launched a GoFundMe to help replace the gear inside, and it hit its $10,000 goal in a day—but you can still donate at bit.ly/immbird.  v

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