Like nearly every other summer tradition, the annual Bud Billiken Parade was canceled in 2020 to prevent tens of thousands of people from gathering in the midst of a pandemic. But the South Side procession will be back in action on August 14, celebrating the end of the summer (and a return to school) while showcasing talented young musicians, dancers and performers.
As the largest African American parade in the United States, the Bud Billiken Parade typically marches down Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive to Washington Park. However, this year's version of the procession will have a much shorter route and half the usual number of performers, according to a report from the Chicago Tribune. Instead of kicking off at 35th Street, this year's parade will take place entirely within Washington Park, marching on Ellsworth Drive from 51st to 55th. The shortening of the route is an effort to reduce crowds, though viewers will still be able to watch a broadcast of the event on ABC7. The post-parade event that typically takes over Washington Park is still on, running from 10am to 5pm.
Founded in 1929 by Chicago Defender newspaper publisher Robert S. Abbott and collaborator David Kellum, the Bud Billiken Parade takes its name from a fictional character that the paper created to appeal to young Black people in Chicago. The annual event features local marching bands, dance troupe and drill teams, as well as floats that are sponsored by local organizations and businesses. A Grand Marshal always leads the procession—past honorees have included notable figures like Barack Obama, Chance the Rapper, Lil Rel Howery and Chaka Khan.
The theme of this year's Bud Billiken Parade will be "Back to School, Back to Life, Back to Bud Billiken," referencing Chicago's return to relative normalcy (as restrictions are fully lifted on June 11) in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. The South Side procession will be one of the first major parades to hit the streets in the city—last week, the annual Chicago Pride Parade announced its move to October 3, a deviation from its usual occurrence on the final Sunday of June.
Bud Billiken Parade organizers are still working out some of the details of the 2021 edition, but we're looking forward to the return of this end-of-summer celebration—and we'll keep you posted about any further changes.