Lincoln in Music and Letters

Take an hour-long, song-filled journey on Abraham Lincoln’s funeral train with Lincoln in Music and Letters.  Never before had a president’s death been memorialized by rail.  Travelling 1,654 miles through seven states, it was a cutting-edge technical notion – extraordinary for its time – but well suited to the extraordinary times the United States faced.  You’ll hear how the image of Lincoln, a seemingly awkward man from a humble background, transcended that troubled era and stepped into history.

Hosted by Coco Elysses and written by award-winning audio producer George Zarr, the program features nationally acclaimed singer/songwriter and folk musician Chris Vallillo.  Showcased are letters and diaries of the period, many unpublished and from the collection of Chicago’s Newberry Library.  Plus the songs our citizens sang, some long unheard or unrecorded.  Included are dramatic scenes based on actual historical dialogue and accounts.   Lincoln in Music and Letters presents the American voices of those who lived through a difficult time, civilians and soldiers alike, and brings them to vivid life.

About Chris Vallillo
Chris Vallillo is a singer/songwriter and folk musician whose prairie poet style has been  compared to the works of Edgar Lee Masters and Vachel Lindsay.  His natural affinity for American roots music makes the people and places of “unmetropolitan” America come to life in song.  In the 1980s he conducted the Schuyler Arts Folk Music Project, documenting the last of the pre radio generation of musicians along the Illinois River. From 1990 through 1998 he served as the performing host and co-producer of the nationally distributed, award-winning public radio performance series Rural Route 3 where he performed next to (and with) a virtual who’s who of contemporary and traditional folk musicians. His one man show, Abraham Lincoln in Song, received the endorsement of the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission and the accompanying CD charted at #10 on Billboard’s Bluegrass Album Chart in March of 2008. Chris has twice served as the Illinois Scholar for the Smithsonian Institution’s traveling exhibit on roots music, New Harmonies. His latest project, Oh Freedom! Songs of the Civil Rights Movement, was released on Martin Luther King Day in 2016 and reached #6 on the National Folk Charts.

About Coco Elysses
Coco Elysses, a modern day renaissance woman hails from Robbins, Illinois and is a producer, musician, actress, voice-over artist, screenwriter and poet. Coco completed her MFA in creative writing and was a published poet before graduation. During their second season she was a featured musician in the critically claimed FOX drama Empire. In 2014, Coco was a semi-finalist in Lifetime Television Unscripted Development Pipeline. Coco’s voice can be heard at the Adler Planetarium in the permanent instillation, Skywatchers of Africa. Coco’s voice can also be heard on spots for BET,, McDonald’s, Nike, IN and OUT Burger, Saint’s Row video game, EverQuest II and Watchdogs. Coco has performed as an actress in several Chicago theatres.

In 2015 Coco was a featured actress in George E. Lewis’ film, Afterword and in the opera of the same name at The Museum of Contemporary Art. She was also in two exhibits, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the AACM (The DuSable Museum of African American History and the Museum of Contemporary Art. She performed at the Frankfurt, Germany Jazz Festival with Generation Now of the AACM and at the Made in Chicago Jazz Festival in Poznan, Poland with Voice Heard- a collective of female musicians of the AACM. Coco was featured in an episode on Chicago PD. She recently appeared in the Midwest premier of Detroit 67’ at Northlight Theatre directed by Ron O.J. Parsons. She also appeared at Organic Theatre in The Old Settler, where she received a Black Theatre Alliance Award nomination for Best Featured actress in a drama. Coco also appeared in the Chicago Theatre Company, Black Theatre Alliance Award-winning, and Jeff Nominated production of Shakin the Mess Outta Misery. Coco can be seen in the independent film, Severed Ties, available at Blockbuster video. Coco debuted her one woman show entitled, You Can’t Hide, a part of MPAACT’s solo jam series, directed by Ilesha Duncan. Most recently, she has appeared in Northlight Theatre’s Detroit 67’ and Nicole Mitchell’s, JBM- Images Beyond, a theatrical concert.

Coco was also a featured musician in the book, Black Women and Music: More than The Blues, documenting historical female musicians and Jazz- A Documentary featuring several Chicago musician and their unique contributions to this classic American music. Coco performed with the Great Black Music Ensemble of the AACM in Pisa, Italy for the Insolent Noise Festival, at Millennium Park Chicago for the Tribute to Fred Anderson, and George Lewis at the University of Chicago Artspeaks Festival. She has also performed with Renee Baker’s Chicago Modern Orchestra Project. She was a featured artist in Taiko Legacy 8 at the Museum of Contemporary Art with Tatsu Aoki, Tsukasa Taiko and Amy Homma. She also performed with Tatsu Aoki’s Miyumi Project at the Hyde Park Jazz Festival. Coco’s poetry is featured in 99 New Poems: A Contemporary Anthology. She is also a featured essayist in America is…Personal Essays for Social Justice. A few of her noted recordings were in Chile, South America, with Raiza, on their CD, Latin Soul-EMI and Nicole Mitchell’s Africa Rising. Coco is a member of AFTRA-SAG, AEA, AACM and the AFM.


Category: Documentaries & Profiles
Duration: 1-hour / 58:30
Frequency: 1-part
Availability: 01/02/2017 - 01/01/2018

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  • Host: Coco Elysses
  • Actors: Stefan Brün, Greg Hardigan, Jenny Magnus, marssie Mencotti, and Beau O’Reilly
  • Producer, Writer, and Director: George Zarr
  • Featured Performer: Chris Vallillo (vocals & guitar)
  • Executive Producer: Tony Macaluso
  • Managing Producer: Heather McDougall
  • Production Assistant: Rebecca Nystedt
  • Sponsor/Underwriter: Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Foundation
  • Advisory Team: Thomas Campbell, of the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Foundation; Kristin Emery, Fellowships and Seminars Manager, Newberry Library; D. Bradford Hunt, Vice President for Research and Academic Programs, Newberry Library; Thomas J. Kernan, PhD, Assistant Professor of Music History at Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University
  • Additional Acknowledgements: Special thanks to James Cornelius, Curator of the Lincoln Collection at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum and to the team at The Lincoln Funeral Train for providing audio. This program is produced in collaboration with Chicago’s Newberry Library