Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum explores Illinois music history in new exhibit


SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – A special exhibit telling the story of Illinois music opened April 30 at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, with stunning artifacts from legends like Miles Davis, Howlin’ Wolf, Cheap Trick and Earth, Wind & Fire.

“State of Sound: A World of Music from Illinois” explores the state’s impact on musical genres from jazz and the blues to rock and gospel. Guests can watch short videos on 13 different genres or use their cell phones to hear brief audio introductions to particular artists. The exhibit also features a working radio studio where hosts are invited to broadcast their shows.

Artifacts include musical instruments, Grammy awards, costumes, rare records, song lyrics and more, such as

  • Benny Goodman’s clarinet
  • Common’s suit from his 2015 Oscars performance.
  • Howlin’ Wolf’s harmonica
  • John Prine’s stage props
  • A letter to Dan Fogelberg from his father, the "Leader of the Band"
  • An Earth, Wind & Fire stage costume

“State of Sound” runs through Jan. 23, 2022, in the museum’s Illinois Gallery, a space used for highlighting Illinois history as part of the ALPLM’s role as the state historical library. The exhibit is free with regular museum admission.

The ALPLM is offering free admission for Illinois students through May 31. People who have been vaccinated against Covid 19 can get free admission in May and June. Please go to to get tickets before visiting the ALPLM.

“Few states can match Illinois for the breadth of its musical legacy. Illinois artists played huge roles in the blues, gospel and soul. They broke new ground in jazz, took country to places it had never gone before and brought down the house with the sheer power of rock & roll,” said Melissa Coultas, acting executive director of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.

The exhibit was overseen by the presidential library’s director of exhibits, Lance Tawzer. Noted Chicago music writer Dave Hoekstra developed the exhibit’s text, scripts and other written material.

“No exhibit could capture all of this state’s music history, but we think ‘State of Sound’ will give visitors new insights into music legends and introduce them to some artists who deserve a wider audience,” Tawzer said. “Our guests will have a lot of fun exploring while also discovering music’s power to inspire, heal and energize.”

The exhibit was made possible by generous support from Shure Inc., The Staley Family Foundation, Comcast-NBC/Universal and Heartland Credit Union.

More details about the exhibit are available at Playlists featuring artists included in the exhibit can be found at

The exhibit features some material on loan from other museums, including the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Artists or their families were also kind enough to lend many items.

John Prine’s widow offered the collection of trinkets and mementos that Prine took onstage to help calm his nerves during performances. Dan Fogelberg’s widow contributed a letter Fogelberg’s father wrote to his son after “Leader of the Band” was released. Curtis Mayfield’s son loaned the plaque his father received for the “Super Fly.”

“These artifacts come from Maine to San Francisco and all points in between,” Tawzer said.

“State of Sound” also recognizes Illinois companies that helped artists share their music with the world. Victoria amplifiers, Shure microphones and Hamer guitars are among the best in the world. WLS radio helped popularize country music in the 1920s and ‘30s. Chess Records introduced some of the legends of Chicago blues (as well as a commuter from St. Louis named Chuck Berry).

The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum uses a combination of rigorous scholarship and high-tech showmanship to immerse visitors in Lincoln’s life and times. The library holds an unparalleled collection of Lincoln books, documents, photographs, artifacts and art, as well as some 12 million items pertaining to all aspects of Illinois history.

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