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Arts and Culture

Recognizing Illinois’ Great Music History

JOLIET – “We want people to know that it exists, our museum exists, and we want to be inclusive of all of Route 66 that we can,” Ron Romero, founder and executive director of the “Illinois Rock & Roll Museum on Route 66,” told The Pantagraph. “… There’s a lot of great music history here in Illinois, throughout the whole state, and nobody has really recognized that yet, so we just got lucky. We came around at the right time.” Romero was interviewed earlier this year about “Gigantar,” a giant guitar that stretches 24 feet high and weighs approximately 1,600 pounds.

Gigantar is one of the finishing touches Romero is putting on the museum in Joliet that has yet to make its debut despite the project starting in 2019. Only the gift shop is open to the public.

“I don’t think there’s been enough attention on Illinois musicians in honoring them and preserving and promoting their music,” Romero told the Chicago Tribune at the third annual Hall of Fame induction award ceremony on Sept. 17 at Rialto Square Theatre.

The Inductees include Earth, Wind & Fire, which started in Chicago; The Cryan’ Shames, which began in Hinsdale; The Shadows of Knight, which started in Mount Prospect; Nat King Cole, who grew up in Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood; and Alton-born Miles Davis in the Band or Solo Artist category.

Jake Fredrickson, Columbia College Chicago, gives us a sneak peek at the Illinois Rock & Roll Museum on Route 66!

Music Family Ties

Romero credits his father for his love of music. He reminisced with Illinois Latino News about the night his father met musical legend, Louis Armstrong. Armstrong granted him backstage access at a show and signed a picture they took together.

Hearing his father’s passion as he recited this star-studded story motivated Romero to pursue meeting his musical heroes – people he’s not only met but worked with since founding the nonprofit organization — located at 9 W Cass St, Joliet.

He attributes the success to his upbringing, especially the musical ear and ambition his father passed onto him. Moreover, his father — born in downtown Mexico City (1922) — supplied the family with “nearly every musical instrument you could think of,” providing the resources to inspire Romero’s talent and aspirations. Decades later, his father still valued learning new things, such as unfamiliar instruments or techniques. Romero spoke proudly of his father’s willingness to step outside his comfort zone, noting how it informed his work ethic. “At one time, he said, ‘If I quit, I’m going to die,’ and that principle stuck with me.”

His father continued working long after retiring, tutoring Hispanic students in English and other subjects — a prime example of his persistent attitude. Beforehand, his father balanced a full-time civil engineering job with a side mission: collaborating with an attorney to assist immigrants in obtaining citizenship. “My dad used to make a very big deal out of ‘Never judge a book by its cover,’” Romero said. “He’d also say, ‘Don’t judge a man by the color of his skin.’” Aware of music’s ability to transcend cultural differences and eager to embrace such differences, he imputes his instincts and nonprofit mentality to his relationship with his father.

Unfortunately, Romero’s father passed away in November 2017. He remains both proud and grateful for the values his father instilled within him and the musical lifestyle he espoused. Above all, Romero hopes his father “looks down and is pleased” with the overall project in honor of all he contributed.

Romero and staff are working towards opening the museum to the public, installing each first-floor exhibit before anyone is allowed access. You can visit www.roadtorock.org to donate and learn more about the museum.


Jake Fredrickson is a senior journalism major with a concentration in TV broadcasting and a minor in Sports Communications at Columbia College Chicago.

Jake was a student in the Creating the TV News Package class taught by Hugo Balta. Balta is the Publisher of Illinois Latino News, part of the Latino News Network.

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