History of the WSO

The Waukegan Symphony Orchestra was born on April 24, 1974 when favorite comedic son Jack Benny returned to his home town of Waukegan to star in the WSO's initial performance. It was a magical night, held at Waukegan High School's beautiful auditorium. Like the Music Center of Lake County, the Waukegan Symphony Orchestra has made itself synonymous with the broad range of culture that is the hallmark of our city. Through its long history, the Waukegan Symphony Orchestra has engaged its audiences in both traditional and more unusual musical works. Musical direction now rests in the capable hands of Maestro Stephen Blackwelder, who has brought new energy and focus to the organization over the past 10 concert seasons.

During the 1970s and 1980s there were very few orchestras in Lake County and the Waukegan Symphony still remains the largest semi-professional orchestra in the county. The WSO's stage has moved from the high school auditorium to St. Dismas Church, to the Genesee Theatre and finally back to the Orlin D. Trapp Auditorium at Waukegan High School. On occasion, the orchestra also presents smaller concerts at prominent local churches, including the First Presbyterian Church and First United Methodist Church in downtown Waukegan.

The WSO offers it audiences a wide variety of music, including standard classical literature, orchestral pops and, in collaboration with the Waukegan Concert Chorus, great choral works. For musicians it offers an opportunity to perform in an enriching musical environment. For avocational players and students, it offers the opportunity to work with professional directors and musicians throughout the ranks to bring to the concert hall a performance superior to that of most community groups. The WSO upholds the tradition of musical culture in Lake County and in Waukegan. With incredible support from the Waukegan Park District, its parent organization, the Waukegan Symphony Orchestra presents concerts that are both diverse and challenging.

Each concert season brings a wide array of guest artists and music to area listeners. Some of the finest talent from Illinois and Wisconsin are featured at concerts. The Nancy Fuqua Memorial Young Artist Competition is one of the most prestigious competitions for young musicians in Lake County. It continues to draw high school aged musicians from the entire Lake County region for the competition. The winner is featured as soloist with the Waukegan Symphony Orchestra in the final concert of the season.

The Waukegan Symphony Orchestra is proud to bring together the talents of Maestro Blackwelder with men and women from many walks of life who love making music. The WSO enriches the lives of countless numbers of people in our community. With the assistance of the Illinois Arts Council, the City of Waukegan and Yellow Book, the WSO is made available to many who otherwise could not enjoy the benefits of performances. We thank the many patrons and supporters who contribute to the ongoing success of the Waukegan Symphony Orchestra.