provided by Preserve Maxwell Street
On December 14, 1997 Bernard Abrams passed away. He was 78 years old and was on vacation on Scottsdale, Arizona. He was buried in Waldheim Cemetery, just west of Chicago.
Mr. Abrams was born on Maxwell Street. In 1945, he converted his family's residence at 831-833 Maxwell Street to become Maxwell Radio, TV, and Record Mart. He sold and repaired radios, other electronic items, and records. He founded and operated the short lived record label Ora Nelle, named after Little Walter's girlfriend. Muddy Waters, Johnny Young, Jimmy Rogers, and Little Walter made their first recording in Chicago there. Some of the recordings were little more than demo records and were made with primitive recording equipment in a back room of his repair shop on Maxwell Street. Gospel singers were also recorded by there. In 1976, the store moved down the street to 805 W. Maxwell, next to Nate's Deli.
It is ironic that, while liking music a great deal, he was not a blues fan. He thought it was a passing fad. As a criticism of blues, he said that Blues musicians couldn't play the same song twice the same way.
Still, he plays an important role in Blues history. Many Blues legends visited his store to buy records, to see how their records were selling, and sometimes, to play in the front of the store. Elmore James, Aretha Franklin and her dad, and B.B. King were some of the people who were in the store. Jerry Abrams, his son who is now 51 years old, remembers, at age 5 or 6, sitting on Little Walter's lap. He also remembers seeing Muddy Waters and Daddy Stovepipe sit on milk crates and play blues outside in front of the store. Jerry said that B.B. King's records were not selling well, "Back then he wasn't so popular."
At one time, he owned one square block of Maxwell Street and some thought of him as the Mayor of Maxwell Street. He was the landlord to many, like Morrie Mages, which later became Sportmart.
He had a great skill for fixing anything mechanical or electronic. He always walked around with a screwdriver and pocket knife. Idelle, his wife said," When dad went to the hospital (with his heart attack), he didn't bring his screwdriver. So he couldn't fix it this time." Jerry tells the story of the sanctified Baptist gospel singers who played regularly on Peoria and Maxwell Street: "They raised hell. You could really hear them. They had their amplifiers really turned up. They played so hard that at end of the day, everything was broken; the tambourines, guitar cords, everything. They came to my dad to get their stuff fixed."
Bernard had a great love for Maxwell Street. Even when he finally sold his store, he went down to Maxwell Street on Sundays to sell at a stand. At that time he didn't need the extra money but he did it because that was his life; it was within him. He loved it down there. He did this until the University of Illinois closed down the old location of the outdoor market.
I asked Jerry if he had any pictures of this dad in front of the store. He said he wasn't sure but that he had a picture of his dad on Maxwell Street in front of his 1960 Buick. "He loved that car. It was a mile long." Jerry said, "my dad was a tough and sometimes a stubborn man. He had to be tough to survive. He started from nothing but raised four kids who were taught to be self-sufficient."
Some other remembrances of Maxwell Street by Jerry Abrams.
From 1966 to 1973, I worked for Joel Kornick who owned Joe's Bargain Store at 1310 South Halsted. In the first year of this store (1966-67) they grossed $600,000; that was a lot of money back then. This store was originally the Irving Theater. They also had another store at 1235 South Halsted. During this period, Joel Kornick with his partner Harold Rappaport first introduced bell bottom trousers to Chicago. They where wholesalers and retailers of that item. One of the salesmen, Michael Hoffberg, made so much money from selling the bell bottoms that he was able to use that for other business ventures, which allowed him to live in Beverly Hills. Later, Kornick and Rappaport with Sidney Leibowitz, the owner of Midwest Hosiery at 1217 S. Halsted, on the second floor (next to the Vienna Sausage Building), formed a partnership with Leonard Chaven to purchase a lot of the buildings in the Maxwell Street area.
"I remember Evel Keneivel coming into our store at 1235 South Halsted and asking me if we had jump suites. We had em."
This memorial to Bernard Abrams was based on interviews in 1997 with Bernard, his wife Idelle, and his son Jerry; and from Ira Berkow's classic book, Maxwell Street: Survival in a Bazaar, Doubleday, 1977, p. 393. Chuck Cowdery assisted at the Bernard-Idelle interview. - Steve Balkin (Roosevelt University)
Remembrances from the Net
From: Queenie570 <Queenie570@aol.com>
Date: Fri, 2 Jan 1998 23:46:26 EST
We just finished reading the memorial page about our grandfather Bernard Abrams and we enjoyed it very much. The death of our grandfather is still hard to believe.
We have heard many stories about Maxwell Street from our grandfather and grandmother. Every time our grandfather spoke about Maxwell Street he would get a "twinkle" in his eyes. We know he loved Maxwell Street, it was his life.
We watched "And this is free" the documentary on Maxwell Street with our grandparents, and it's not hard to see why he loved his life there. We heard Lots of "I remember that......" and " He was something else.......", "There'sour store....." from our grandparents when we were watching the video together. It was exciting for them to see all of that again.
We just want to say thanks for posting this information. We know "gramps" would be happy to see it.
Michael & Michelle Dubanowski
Son & Daughter-in-law of Fern (Abrams) Packer (Daughter of Bernard & Idell Abrams)
We welcome you to send remembrances of Bernard Abrams and his Maxwell Radio, TV, and Record Mart to <email@example.com>, or by postal mail to Maxwell Street Historic Preservation Coalition c/o Professor Steve Balkin, Roosevelt University, 430 South Michigan Avenue, Chicago, IL 60605; PH: 312-341-3696; FAX: 312-341-3680
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