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Northwestern University

Paths: MaryAnn Marsh

MaryAnn Marsh ’85 opened a successful jazz club in Chicago’s South Loop

In her heart, MaryAnn Marsh always knew she would be her own boss.

As a girl, she watched her mother open an African clothing and folk art boutique on State Street after the family emigrated from Nigeria to Chicago in 1971. The independence and freedom to travel that her mother enjoyed as an entrepreneur made a lasting impression on the young Marsh.

“I really was created in the image of my mother,” she says. “I love to travel; I love my freedom. I always knew that somehow I would end up in business.”

That adventurous, entrepreneurial spirit led Marsh to explore the world, live in Paris and Berlin, and open an art gallery in River North featuring Chicago artists and others she discovered during her travels. Eventually, she decided to launch her own business buying and selling real estate.

“My economics degree really came in handy,” Marsh recalls. “I had the experience and background to do the numbers and see if they’d work. I made a lot of good decisions, not just for myself but also for friends and family,” she adds proudly.  

Marsh’s success inspired her husband, Reginald, to leave his own career in news production and media relations and partner with her to launch a new venture.

“He and I always had a love of jazz,” Marsh says. “We had our favorite jazz clubs in Paris, Rome, New York. He decided, ‘If I’m going to open my own business, it’s got to be jazz-related,’ so M Lounge was born in 2006.”

Today, the couple’s warmly lit South Loop martini lounge features low-slung chairs, comfortable sofas and live music, from jazz to soul to R&B. “We wanted it to be exactly the kind of place where we would want to hang out,” Marsh says.

The South Side neighborhood is integral to the club’s vibe, which showcases local artists such as emerging singer-songwriter Sarah Marie Young, who got her start on the M Lounge stage. 

Creating opportunities for local performers is one of the aspects of the business that Marsh enjoys most. So is seeing relationships blossom in the candlelight.

“I’m a romantic, and every time a couple calls and says they want to invite us to their wedding because they met at M Lounge, that’s the most gratifying part,” says Marsh. “We’ve made eight couples in nine years. It’s incredible to know that you’re a part of something like that.”

Music and matters of the heart: such are the rewards of a life spent pursuing one’s passions. “I couldn’t have jumped on this path if I hadn’t been at Northwestern,” Marsh says.  

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