CHICAGO — From humble beginnings a Chicago native beat the odds to make a name for himself in a career that’s part magician, musician and comedian.
Steve Palmore has a message for kids trying to navigate the streets of Chicago: “If I did so can you!”
Palmore is known as jazzman whose act combines magic, comedy and music.
Palmore grew up on Chicago’s West Side.
“Every night I would hear gunshots, ladies screaming and I would hear police sirens,” he said.
To keep his mind off of those things and influences, his parents would divert his attention to magic, Magic employed the same principles of illusion and mind-trickery he would use as survival skills.
His family eventually moved to the South Side and Palmore attended Mt Greenwood Elementary. He and six others would come to be known as the Mt. Greenwood 7. With police protection before and after school, seven Black students were bussed in from several neighborhoods to attend the school
While met with some hostility, over time the kids would develop their own relationships and friendships. And for Palmore knowing a few magic tricks didn’t hurt.
“It was a point in life where I realized I could influence and entertain people and sort of make them say, ‘Oh wow! That was cool!’” he said. “It made me friends. I wasn’t thinking about a career as a musician. It was just something I could do because I could affect people.”
At Morgan Park High School, Palmore would excel.
“I was into magic. I was in the band. I was in ROTC. I was on the football team. I was on the track team. I was in the school play,” he said. “Morgan Park was a really significant turning point for me.”
After high school he would head to New York City and make a living as a musician.
“I lived out of a suitcase for five years,” he said.
So he pivoted and became a teacher. But magic was always in his back pocket.
“If you wanted to see me do a magic trick the whole class has to pass the test and they would help each other,” he said. “That made me really popular among the students so I continued doing magic and playing music gigs and I taught school for almost 28 years.”
About that time, Palmore started getting gigs on cruise ships as a musician but he would always make a point of spending time with the ship’s magic acts.
“I would hang out with them just as much as I would hang out with the guys in the band,” he said. “They would tell me about some magic shops in New York so I would go there and my collection started to bloom.”
The magic shops that had shows on the weekends. One day after the owner had another act cancel and Palmore was recruited to fill-in.
“I liked it and I continue doing it,” he said.
After investing $4,000 dollars on his craft, Palmore continued climbing the ranks of the pros. After perfecting his levitating bass fiddle trick, an audience member took note and soon Penn & Teller were calling.
Today, Palmore is working at what he loves to do on what is more or less a retirement tour. Looking back he has carved out a niche that never existed growing up — part musician, part musician and all around showman.