Documenting the Black Metropolis's Blues Culture
Flerlage is most well-known for his images of the blues and folk scenes in Chicago, which was central to the genesis of a range of new African American musical forms and styles. As historian Adam Green has noted, black Chicago was the “birthplace of the modern forms of jazz, blues, gospel, and soul.” 
Reflecting on the cultural importance of the Chicago blues during the second wave of the Great Migration and the emergence of the urban crisis, Flerlage himself wrote that he was drawn to the blues scene because “Chicago Blues in the ‘60s was an event that needed to be documented. The urban electrified blues sound that originated in Chicago in the ‘50s and ‘60s led directly to rock and roll, and its influence can be heard in virtually every contemporary form of popular music. Chicago was home base for the era’s most influential songwriters and performers: Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Little Walter, Willie Dixon, Little Brother Montgomery, Sunnyland Slim, Magic Sam and many other legendary names.” 
By the time Raeburn Flerlage began documenting the blues scene in the 1960s, giants like Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf—along with quintessential Chicago record labels like Chess—had been around for more than a decade, rising to prominence during the second wave of the Great Migration that followed World War II. Muddy Waters’ style in particular helped define the Chicago blues scene; as historians Peter Rutkoff and William Scott put it, “Waters’s use of an electric pickup on his acoustic guitar in his first Chess recording changed the rural Delta blues into a new, peppy and loud, urban blues.” 
Those urban blues found their home in the bars, clubs, and theaters of Chicago’s South Side (seen at left, click for more information). Flerlage recalled that, “For over a decade I wandered the South Side streets with a fortune in glittering cameras around my neck. I went in and out of Pepper’s, Silvio’s, Theresa’s, the Trianon Ballroom, the Regal Theater, the Sutherland, McKie’s and countless other places many times.”  Some of those performance photographs made their way into Charles Keil’s Urban Blues, first published in 1966.
In Mapping the Blues' interactive map, those performers and venues are situated in relation to the surrounding built environment in a way never before seen, giving new meaning to black Chicago’s cultural geography in the midst of a massive wave of migration and the emerging urban crisis.
 Adam Green, Selling the Race: Culture, Community, and Black Chicago 1940-1955, (Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 2007), 51.
 Raeburn Flerlage, Chicago Blues as Seen From The Inside: The Photographs of Raeburn Flerlage, (Toronto: ECW Press, 2000), xii.
 Peter M. Rutkoff and William B. Scott, Fly Away: The Great African American Cultural Migrations, (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010), 237.
 Flerlage, Chicago Blues, xvi.