Roots Legacy

Roots Salon: Art that Digs Deep

Jamie O’Reilly is a singer, writer, and arts producer with a 40 year plus history as an arts activist in the vibrant cultural landscape of Chicago and its neighboring communities. The Roots Salon and the Roots Legacy Projects are programs of her cultural arts business J. O’Reilly Productions.

new Roots Legacy Project

Singer and producer Jamie O’Reilly hosts soirees and curates the Roots Salon, a century old family tradition of presenting art, performance and conversation. Roots events have included Roots Fest: a music festival featuring local favorites, End of Life/Afterlife: a year-long arts residency in collaboration with St. John’s Episcopal Church, Rekindling the Salon: an artist retreat and concert for the HotHouse at Lakeside Studios in Michigan, and the Roots Master Speakers Series: talks with high profile Chicago area personalities, Rick Kogan among them.

With the 2019 introduction of the Roots Legacy project, Jamie honors the rich cultural heritage of the O’Reilly clan who have contributed to the Chicago arts scene since the late 1890s! And she celebrates the life of her mother Winifred, (1924-2019) a classically trained singer and theater director, who was a strong creative force into her ‘90s. Winifred’s German father Otto Giebel was a gifted visual artist. Her mother Margaret was an accomplished pianist. Jamie’s extended family includes 13 siblings, their partners and progeny. Look for songs, poems, stories and events here, on Jamie’s blog and on FACEBOOK.

Watch the O’Reillys sing Auld Lang Syne at Roots.

How did Roots Salon come about?

The O’Reillys, a vivacious clan of bohemians* and intellectuals were newspapermen, writers, poets, musicians, theater-folk and activists. They came to Chicago at the end of the 19th century by way of Joliet, Il. In the early 1990s, while doing research for the exhibition 1890s, A City Comes of Age at the Chicago Historical Society, Jamie found a cache of letters, newspaper clippings and artifacts in an historical archive housed at the University of Illinois Library. Further revelations included an unpublished memoir of her aunt Dorothy (Dottie) O’Reilly (1900-1925), with fascinating stories of late night soirees in the family home on Evergreen Street, in Chicago’s then predominantly Irish Humboldt Park. At the soirees were political refugees, (Fenians hiding out, Russians fleeing the Czar) who spouted politics, sharing harrowing stories of “the four heavens and the fours hells.” Other colorful characters dazzling young Dottie sang opera arias, played folk music, and recited poetry.

As with many first generation Irish immigrants at the time, Grandfather James helped build the Illinois-Michigan Canal in Lockport, IL. He then became a founding member of IBEW the local electrical workers union. Sisters Mame and Nell were labor union organizers. Mame was a teacher and founding member of the Chicago Federation of Teachers. Nell (Dorothy Ellen, pen name Eileen Dhu), was a dancer and published poet. She one of the first students of the School of the Art Institute. In 1909, Nell married Irwin St. John (“Friar Tuck”) Tucker, a newspaper man and later Episcopal priest, as World War I broke out. Tuck and Nell were pacifists. They were also close friends of aural historian Studs Terkel, who would later become a friend of Jamie’s. Uncle “Tex”, Edward O’Reilly, a newspaper man, rodeo rider and mercenary soldier, is the subject of the Lowell Thomas biography “The Greatest Living Soldier of Fortune”. Tuck and Nell brought the soirees to their Rogers Park home (1920s-50s). Their son Dan, a composer, newspaperman (and guiding light of Jamie’s musical life), and his wife Margaret hosted “musicales” at their home in Evanston until Dan’s death in 2010.

Jamie O’Reilly’s Roots Salon began in 2006 with a performance series hosted by Jamie and brother Beau, answering the need of Chicago artists seeking an intimate venue. Located in Jamie’s home, events at Roots were word-of-mouth happenings presenting music, visual art, poetry and theater. Jamie expanded her role as the Salonnière for the Roots Salons hosting neighborhood caroling at Christmas, a monthly women’s salon, membership events that included a master speaker series, and Rootsfest, a summer music festival. The Roots “House” Bands included The Jamie O’Reilly Trio and Midnight Moxie, the doo-op rock band made up of Sarah Chang, Meg Broz and Nia O’Reilly Amandes, who performed in area clubs and festivals.

Jamie still fosters the family tradition, hosting salons and programs at intimate Chicago area venues. (see blog)

Roots Salon Timeline

  • 2006 Jamie creates Roots Salon in her 100 year old home
  • 2006/07 Rhino Theater Festival uses Roots as host-site
  • 2009 RootsFest, annual music fest, is started (2009 – 2014)
  • 2011 The Women’s Salon: Community of Voices is begun
  • 2012 Roots & the Women’s Salon produce “What Will the Neighbors Say”,
  • art installation in Winnemac Park: the Chicago Park District/Chicago Artist Month
  • 2013 Spring: New kitchen is designed to accommodate Salons
  • 2013 Summer: Roots Thrive Series and member card initiative is launched
  • 2013 Fall: Master Speaker series started. Winter Ancestor Series launched.
  • 2014 Collaboration with St John’s Episcopal Church, HotHouse at Lakeside, MI
  • 2015 Winter-Rising: Snowbound Artist Diaries project, Roots finale on Leavitt Street
  • 2016 Rogers Park Salons: Peace and Pasta, Willem O’Reilly book release, Roots Salons at Wishbone Restaurant begin: St. Pat’s Day, MayDay, Thanksgiving
  • 2017 Roots Salons: Anne Hills, Michael Smith, Wishbone Salons continue
  • 2018 Dia de los muertos at Roots, Wishbone Salons continue
  • 2019 Wishbone Love’s Sweet Song concert, Center Portion Solstice Salon

Women’s Community of Voices at Roots Salon

They offer her fragments of story
to take home to the other side,
stories already cut into pieces,
ripped down the middle,
large parts condoned off with razor-wire.

from Working on The Border, Maureen Flannery

The Women’s Salon was a group of writers from a broad spectrum of life experiences sharing conversation on end-of-life, politics and art-making. Members included Iwona Biedermann, Maureen Connolly, Maureen Flannery, Catherine Gallogly, Kristin Lems, Loretta Line, Willa Moore, Anne Schultz. Mary Watson and Jamie O’Reilly, Salonnière.


Roots Salon drawing by Bernie McGovern
(footnote) *bohemién vs Bohemian
The word bohemian is to signify a person who lives in an unconventional way or behaves in an unconventional manner. Artists of all types are particularly prone to be branded bohemian. The term bohemian to mean following an unconventional lifestyle was coined in the mid-1800s, from the French bohemién, which means gypsy. At this time, it was believed that Gypsies originated in the area of Bohemia. (https://grammarist.com/usage/bohemian/)