The Empire Room June 22

      Celebrate with the Howard Sandifers



Darlene and Howard Sandifer.


If you are among the many who enjoyed Howard Sandifer at the piano during the glory days of the Mayfair Regent and at numerous benefits throughout the years since, you may soon see another dimension to this remarkable man.

On Saturday night, June 22, Howard and his wife, Darlenesurrounded by friends and supporterswill celebrate a milestone at the Palmer House Empire Room. And you could be with them.


The exquisite Empire Room of the Palmer House Hilton.


Twenty years ago, the Sandifers, looking around their then Lawndale neighborhood, were disturbed by the absence of organized wholesome activity for West Side young people.  As Howard has said, “Many times our kids don’t see themselves as the wonderful, talented, intelligent individuals they are. They are faced with many unfortunate things that are part of the community, but that doesn’t mean those things have to be part of them.”

He and Darlene were particularly distressed by the area’s lack of quality music education and went to work in correcting this. Their kitchen table became a conference room for two and from there they devised a plan for enticing children and adolescents off the streets and into environments that would engage their minds and develop latent abilities.



They were able to draw upon Howard’s experience with educational outreach for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Ravinia and they developed the Lawndale Community Music Center. Lacking a permanent venue, they taught at schools, churches or “wherever there was a need or desire for music education.” The first step was a program that taught guitar to 15 neighborhood students.



Before long violins and other stringed instruments were added. Through grants and other partnerships, their program began to grow, ultimately resulting in the Chicago West Community Music Center. Soon they were delivering subsidized group and private lessons to students from North Lawndale, Austin, Garfield Park and Humbert Park.  A greatly enlarged program now provides music education to more than 800 Chicago students annually at The Golden Dome in Garfield Park.



The children’s neighborhood experience also expanded as field trips were added and students who had never been outside their communities were a part of excursions to downtown Chicago.

Then, last July, 30 members of the Chicago West Community Music Center, of which Howard is Executive Director, journeyed to China to appear at the Shanghai Music Festival—the first non-Asian ensemble invited to perform.


Biba Roesch,


So there is much to celebrate and and the June 22 Cabaret Gala has an interesting twist. Back in the years Howard was playing tea time piano in the Mayfair Lounge, he and Hotel Guest Relations Director Biba Roesch organized cabaret evenings. It is a spirit to be reflected in the Empire Room gala, which Biba joined the Sandifers in organizing.



Above, Biba Roesch and Howard during their days together in the Mayfair Regent Hotel from a story in Frank Sullivan’s AVENUE M and a newspaper article about their cabaret nights in the Mayfair Lounge.


This fine stairway  will lead Cabaret Gala guests to the glamorous Palmer House Empire Room, one of the most elegant venues in this or any city.


The Palmer House Cabaret Gala commemorating 20 years of “enriching Chicago’s West Side communities through the power of music,” will extend from 6:30 to 9:30 and consist of cocktails and light appetizers, “stupendous performances” by the students of the Chicago West Community Music Center and remarks by two esteemed honorees, Maestro Riccardo Muti and Robert Townsend. Merri Dee will be program emcee.


Maestro Riccardo Muti, Music Director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, has dedicated much time and effort in training young musicians with the Luigi Cherubini Youth Orchestra, the Riccardo Muti Italian Opera Academy for young conductors and support of the CSO’s African-American Network.


Director Robert Townsend, a Chicago West Side native, is best known for directing the films Hollywood Shuffle, Eddie Murphy Raw, The Meteor Man and for starring, directing and co-writing the 1991 classic film The Five Heartbeats.


Program emcee Merri Dee was the Illinois Lottery’s First  Lady on WGN-TV.
She has raised millions of dollars for the United Negro College Fund and supported several children’s charities.






For ticket info or phone 708 386-5315.

Tickets are $150 general admission; $250 VIP.