Jamie O. Thanking my lucky stars for Rick Kogan

Rick Kogan

After Hours Sundays at 5 PM to 7 PM
Radio WGN 720 am
Online at https://wgnradio.com/after-hours-with-rick-kogan/

Hear Jamie with Rick Sunday, July 3 6:00-ish PM. 720.am, wgnradio.com

Jamie O’Reilly on the radio

I’m not sure when we became aware of each other, or when we became friends.
I’d learned that high profile entertainment personalities had people constantly nipping at their heels for attention. I assumed that the charming Mr. Kogan’s journalistic family legacy was well known. His father was the celebrated newspaperman Herman Kogan. His mother, Marilew, was a writer and journalist as well. I figured he had alot on his plate and that the decades of experience in print and radio he’d acquired, asserted who and what he could put his head to. I saw myself as pretty insignificant in that scheme of things.

That didn’t turn out to be the case.

In addition to our newspaper connection (my uncle and great-uncle wrote for many of the same papers,) we’d both fraternized with the theater and progressive crowd. He knew my late father James, a gifted larger-than-life actor/director, who contributed to the rise of the Off Loop theater scene in Chicago. With his own father’s shadow to come out from under, he knew from whence I came.

Rick came to several shows my late musical partner Michael Smith and I re-staged at the Chicago Cultural Center in the mid 90s. I especially recall his joy at seeing our musical revue Hello Dali, From the Sublime to the Surreal (a songwriters view of painters,) which went on to be a box office hit during Victory Gardens Regional Tony Award-winning season.

Waving to Picasso, Victory Gardens Hello Dali
photo Liz Lauren

I met Rick during a cultural heyday in Chicago. A period I called the Weisberg/Medici era, a time before cell phones, digitalization and social media made self-promotion de rigueur. Those days we waited for the phone to ring to get a gig and I was teaching self-employed artists how to stay afloat. I was the Vice President of the Friends of the Chicago Cultural Center when the old library was saved from being turned into condos.

Chicago Cultural Center

Programming from the CCC drew attention to the vital community of area artists, many of whom, like me, while hard to pigeonhole, were darn good at what we did. Lois Weisberg, Peter McDowell, Colleen Sims (Rick’s former spouse) and others made sure we got paid.


In the mid-nineties Rick began hosting The Sunday Papers morning radio show on WGN. After seeing (and liking) several of my musical revues in area theaters, he invited me on as a fairly regular guest, chatting with me about Chicago culture, the role of artist in society, and promoting my shows. Though prone to hyperbole, I found his appreciation of my work and philosophy sincere, and benefited greatly from his generous imprimatur. Saying it changed my life is no exaggeration.

“I heard you on Rick’s show,” people stopped me and said. “He seems like a really nice guy. And he sure likes you.”

The thing about Rick is, if he liked you and what you did, you were friends for life. His loyalty knows no bounds. His is just the kind of enthusiasm you want on a bad day, or year, or decade as an artist.

Jamie O’Reilly and Michael Smith
Iwona Biederrman photo

Rick also curated the Notable Chicagoan Series at the former celebrity hotspot Maxim’s in the Gold Coast, which had been acquired by the city and has now been sold. I was surprised and honored to be chosen one of his guests.

Our circle of connections ebbed and flowed over the years. He narrated several evenings of the sweet The Gift of the Magi musical Michael Smith and I created, I was written-up several times in his Sidewalks column in the Chicago Tribune, he gave me a great quote for my website, and I continue to appear on radio with him.

Listen here to Jamie’s 2019 interview with Rick, from the Archive.

Arguably, the most significant connection which Rick and I cherish, and what united us as friends, was the late Studs Terkel. The story goes it was Studs who took Herman Kogan out for a drink the night Rick was born. Studs includes Herman in the Pulitzer Prize winning book The Good War.

Studs Terkel

It was Studs, all fired-up who approached me, decades ago, after hearing me sing Annie Laurie, a ballad the Haymarket martyr Albert Parsons sang in his prison cell. I sang both that Scottish ballad AND the songs of the Abraham Lincoln Brigades, (in my show Pasiones: Songs of the Spanish Civil War.) He introduced me to people that way.

“Jamie O’Reilly! She sings Parson’s Annie Laurie and Freiheit, you know from the Lincolns.”

Listen to Jamie sing Annie Laurie

Annie Laurie, Jamie O’Reilly, from Swimming Deeper

In the last years of his life, I saw Studs with Rick a fair amount at birthday tributes and city events, at his 90th birthday party at the Chicago History Museum. He was emcee at Studs’ Memorial at Preston Bradley Hall, when I sang Annie Laurie upon his passing. That day and many times to follow, Rick spoke of his mentor/friend with deep pride and love.

In the wake of the topsy-turvy events the country has contended with these recent years, I think of Studs alot, about his passion for the underdog, his belief in the individual, his ethics, and of the passionate power of the stories he told.

The way I see it, Rick Kogan carries that chronicler-torch for all of us Chicagoans, with his near-feverish love of this city and its people, his stunning capacity to take in — and make sense of — the glut of who’s-who and what’s-what information he’s always juggling, and his deft way of navigating loaded subject matter.

What it comes down to is Rick has a keen awareness of what makes a good story and the journalistic prowess to write about it. His efforts unflinching. And we are all the better for it!

This morning, I think about a promise I made to Studs back in 2002, to learn his friend Mahalia Jackson’s majestic hymn Eye on the Sparrow. And the promise I made in that same conversation, to keep fighting for what is right and good.

I thank my lucky stars that Rick Kogan is my friend. A kind of harried knight in the darkness, completing a quest, shining a light on truth, bringing us treasure.

Happy Independence Day!

Jamie and daughters Nia and Meg
Charles Osgood photo

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poster art by Nia O’Reilly Amandes

Jamie sings Eye on the Sparrow at the conclusion of Tough Broads and Tender Lasses, Songs of Resilience. She appears in outdoor concerts July 15 at St. Giles Church Courtyard Oak Park, Illinois and July 17 at Tre Kronor Swedish Bistro Garden for a MidSummer concert. See Jamie’s event. https://www.jamieoreilly.com/events/

Excepts of 2009 Memorial