A love of music started at a young age for Dennis Carlin

Dennis Carlin is a CSO supporter with long-standing family connections to Chicago’s performing arts history.

Courtesy of Dennis Carlin

For Dennis Carlin, a longtime Chicago Symphony Orchestra subscriber and donor, Chicago’s music scene was a formative part of his childhood. “I was exposed to the arts for most of my growing years,” he said. “It was a good thing for me because it’s continued my interest, and it’s given me something that’s really important in my life.”

His father, Herb Carlin, was a musician and arts manager with an impressive resume. Beginning his career as a jazz trumpeter and bandleader in the 1920s and ’30s, Herb later performed for NBC and at the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair, where he met Dennis’s mother.


An archival sheet music cover features a photo of trumpeter and bandleader Herb Carlin.

Courtesy of Dennis Carlin

Herb also worked as assistant to James C. Petrillo, president of the American Federation of Musicians, and collaborated with Petrillo to establish the Grant Park Music Festival. Later, he became the manager of another iconic Chicago institution: the Civic Opera House, the venue which is now home to Lyric Opera of Chicago. It was there that Dennis began to attend performances at around age 5.

In those days, the Civic Opera House was used not only for opera, but also for ballet, orchestral music and pop music. The venue hosted artists ranging from Frank Sinatra to the Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo. Dennis recalls sitting in the front row of the 3,500-seat auditorium for countless performances, as well as opening night after-parties when his father would invite the artists to their home.

A crowd of approximately 330,000 people attends a 1939 concert in Grant Park featuring soprano Lily Pons and conductor Andre Kostelanetz.

Courtesy of Dennis Carlin

As a child, Dennis played the violin and later took up the trumpet, but he ultimately pursued a career as a lawyer and CPA. While Dennis began his career in Washington, D.C., Herb went on to work as company manager and press agent for David Merrick, the Tony Award-winning producer of many Broadway hits, including Hello, Dolly! and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.

Following his father’s death when Dennis was 26 years old, he returned to the Chicago area and went into private practice as a lawyer. Carlin became a subscriber to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in the early 1970s, when Sir Georg Solti was music director. Classical music is “such a wonderful art form in our city, and I wanted to support it,” he said.

Carlin has continued to attend the CSO during the tenures of music directors Daniel Barenboim and Riccardo Muti, and he regularly donates to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association’s annual fund. Whether at Symphony Center or the Grant Park Music Festival, where he also subscribes, music remains a cherished part of his life.

“Chicago is so fortunate to have the highest caliber of orchestra in the CSO,” said Carlin. “It’s one of the finest orchestras in the world, if not the finest. For us, as Chicagoans, not to support it would be failing in what’s important to our city and to us.”

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