Remembrance of Mortgage Parties Past

SEP 11, 2012 12:32pm ET

As the Mortgage Bankers Association’s annual conference in Chicago gets closer, I’m remembering what a great mortgage party town the Windy City has been over the years.

Aretha Franklin, Buddy Guy, Etta James, the Second City comedy troupe, receptions on the nosebleed floors of the city’s big towers, a boat tour of the Chicago River (the lake tour is more interesting), a party that took over the Field Museum: I’ve experienced all of these in Chicago, and most of them around the MBA annual, which returns to the city regularly.

I’ll grant you the partying at mortgage shows has been quite a bit subdued since the go-go years. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac used to host huge shindigs every year at MBA, but since their operating costs have been helping the national deficit rise, the GSEs have been much less conspicuous party givers.

In fact, in a shameless self-promotion, my own company has helped take up some of the party slack in recent years by giving out our Mortgage Technology Awards on the Sunday of the MBA show. We get hundreds of people and it’s always a great time. Check back for time and location!

Probably the most logical Chicago party happened at last year’s MBA when MBA hosted the band Chicago, in Chicago. Unfortunately, a death in the family meant I had to skip that one, but I hear it was a great show.

My favorite Chicago party of all time has to be the time Amerin rented out a huge pavilion down on Navy Pier and presented Aretha Franklin. The Queen of Soul put on a dazzling show, fronting a big orchestra with its own conductor and a full rock band, featuring her son Teddy Richards, a talented musician in his own right, on guitar.

I came in just as Teddy was hitting the spra-a-a-ng sound that starts my favorite Aretha song of all time, “Chain of Fools.” So I was happy from the get go. She worked her way through a solid collection of her hits. Aretha reprised “Nessun dorma” from her memorable Grammy performance where she subbed for an ailing Luciano Pavarotti and belted the opera aria out of the park. And, in a clear signal as to who the queen bee of American music might be, she covered the theme song to “Titanic.” Skinny singers, to the rear!

Aretha is the undoubted Queen of Soul. I’ve listened to some of her early gospel recordings and there is no doubt she’d be known as the Queen of Gospel if she’d kept on in that direction. Aretha, after a midcareer slump, is now justly celebrated and loved as an American icon. Perhaps she should be the Queen of Everything.

It was Fannie Mae that hosted the fantastic double bill of Buddy Guy and Etta James one fall. Etta James in particular was a savvy pick. I rank her with Janis Joplin as the best blues singer of her generation, and her crossover success on the white hit charts with “At Last” was a milestone in erasing the color gap in popular music.

Buddy Guy is one of the last living links to the legendary Delta blues explosion (the other is B.B. King). Though he has lived in Chicago for decades, he was born in Baton Rouge. His influence is immense. Jimi Hendrix literally sat at his feet and studied the master’s flashy clothes and hard, percussive attack on the strings. I was watching Buddy and wondering what he thought of the hundreds of slightly inebriated white guys in jackets and ties who were singing along with him. He may have been thinking that, since this was a bankers’ group, it was likely the check would clear.

One of the mortgage insurers rented out Second City one fall for a reception followed by a full performance from the famed comedy troupe. That was a fun night and much easier to get to than the usual midnight show! I don’t remember if there were any budding John Belushis or Gilda Radners in that night’s cast, but they were all good.

Our own SourceMedia contribution to Chicago party performance was on a slightly less elevated one than those of Aretha Franklin, Buddy Guy or Etta James. One year we held our MT Awards at one of the city’s universities and donned academic robes to give out the awards.

Luckily, we could still return to our day jobs.

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