By Tom Holmes
Ernie Hines represents one of the many "almost famous" people living in town who have without much fanfare made a big impact on this village, as well as the national R&B scene. He is leaving the village after having lived on the same condo on Elgin Avenue for 44 years.
While his name will not often be mentioned in the same breath as more well-known Chicago pioneers who broke down racial barriers—like Harold Washington and Barack Obama—Hines was indeed a pioneer in Forest Park.
Hines was one of the first people of color to move into the village. When he joined the Forest Park Baptist Church more than 40 years ago, he saw only one other person of color sitting in a pew near him.
"In those days they would sometimes sing songs in German," he recalled, adding: "I broke a lot of barriers."
Among them was his marriage to a white woman named Jill in Chicago back by Rev. Charles Cook, the father of then-gospel artists Sam and LC Cook.
"There was no law against a black man marrying a white woman in the South in those days, but I could tell you things," he said, growing serious.
In all his years in Forest Park, he said he has experienced only one racial incident locally.
National music scene
Hines almost became famous as a songwriter and performer, making the transition from gospel to R&B early in his career.
Although his recordings are on the walls of the Stax Museum of American Soul in Memphis, and his songs have been covered and sampled by big names like John Legend LL Cool J, Hines never got the big break that made him a star.
Peter Gianakopoulos, co-owner of Old School Records, 413 Desplaines Ave., and Hines's biggest fan in Forest Park, said that even though Hines is not as famous as Al Green or Luther Vandross, he is well known among fans who are really into R&B.
"His presence in soul and R&B is very prominent around the globe," Gianakopoulos said. "He went on to appear on my friends' cable access show Chic-A-Go-Go on an episode that drew their highest attendance ever for their program."
Lately, Hines' lawyers have been working to redress a situation which, they allege, has led to people stealing Hines' music by sampling lines from his songs without his permission, as well as illegally covering his entire songs. Hines said he plans to go after names is big as JAY-Z.
He said his music is also being bootlegged on eBay.
"On the one hand, it's a compliment to my music," he said. "But on the other hand, I should be getting paid for using what I have created. I'm trying to reign all of that in."
Local music scene
Soon after coming to town, Hines played on weekends at the legendary but now closed Forest Park restaurant Otto's, where play-by-play announcer Jack Brickhouse and many Cubs players used to hang out.
"Ernie Hines has contributed a great deal to events in the local music scene over the years," Gianakopoulos said. "I had worked in city stores for 2nd Hand Tunes selling his LPs many times over but had not idea he lived in the Chicago area. Then, when I opened my store here in 2003, he was my first customer. Eventually I went on to play in bands backing him on guitar and keyboards over a span of several years."
Love of Forest Park
As soon as he can sell his condo, Hines plans to move to Savannah, Georgia, partly for the warmer weather.
"Of course I have mixed feelings" about moving, he said. "Forest Park has been good to me and my wife Jill is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery. That's where my ashes will eventually be buried."
Hines added that it is in the South where he feels most comfortable culturally. He is quite conservative when it comes to religion, and said that his focus is shifting back to gospel music. He said "the anything goes" attitude of Chicago culture is uncomfortable for him.
"Although the southern traditions have their problems," he said, "I feel like I'm going to a place closer to my lifestyle."
To listen to Hines's latest music, go to www.colorfulmusicbabyblue.com where you can order CDs or download "Everlasting Love (The Wedding Song)" and "Jesus, the Christ Child (Spirit of Christmas)."
A previous article said that Ernie Hines wrote "A Change is Going to Come." Sam Cooke wrote the song. Hines also married his wife in Chicago. The Review regrets these errors.