Hidden Hobbies: Judge Manning

May 4, 2010 6:32:43 AM PDT
Judge Blanche Manning is a federal judge by day and a saxophone player by night.

The Chicago native really knows how to rock and has even turned her hidden hobby into a second career.

It may just be the most unusual place for a band rehearsal -- inside a federal courtroom where the presiding judge is not on the bench but playing the sax.

"About five or six of us decided we should form a big band, so we started it. And we started rehearsing right there in my courtroom," Manning said.

One night a week, Manning plays with the Chicago Bar Association Barristers' Big Band. Not just for fun, they perform from the city to the suburbs and a few times at the Taste of Chicago.

"Most people in the legal profession now know that I play, so they're not surprised to see the band jamming and see me up there with them," Manning said.

Multi-tasking is nothing new to judge Manning. Born and raised in Chicago, she got her law degree while an elementary school teacher in the city. Rising quickly through the ranks, she went from a Cook County prosecutor to an associate judge, a circuit court judge, an appellate judge and an appointment to the federal bench in 1994. Staying with her all these years was her love of music, which goes back to when she was a teenager at Fenger High School.

"I've always loved listening to music, and I told my dad I wanted to play an instrument. He looked around, found a little old, used clarinet, purchased it for me and I joined the orchestra," Manning said.

More than 50 years after high school, Judge Manning presides over cases in one of the busiest courts in the country. By night, she works the floor as part of several jazz ensembles and has released her own CD.

"It's something I really enjoy. I leave here, which is something I enjoy, and I go out play music, live a very enjoyable life," she said.

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