Roots: Legacy and Language

J. O’Reilly Productions, Cultural Arts and Blog
J. O’Reilly Productions, Cultural Arts and Blog
Roots: Legacy and Language

His Eye is on the Sparrow

While the snow covered Lake Shore Drive and we talked about going to war, Studs sang me Eye on the Sparrow
—Mahalia’s song.
“You should sing that.” (from Jamie’s blog 11.1.2008)

Jamie O’Reilly

I had an animated discussion with some of my family last weekend, initiated by my asking what some of their favorite adages were, teasing-out the most absurd, and analyzing their derivation. Exploring language always connects us. Where’s its root? Is it Old English? From the Greeks?
A French idiom? My throw-down led to anecdotes about our Mom. We quoted our grandfather, who often sprinkled Yiddish in with his native German sayings. That led to more childhood stories, which led to a discussion of DNA tests and the era of 23 and Me.

I came away with the quandary I often have after family quorums. What really links me to these people? What is truly ours? Of course, there’s the hair. And the singing. And that passion-for-justice. The tenacity and courage in the face of the worst of it. The survivor thing.

It’s tricky to sort who you are especially carrying the grief of thinking about who your loved one, who went from here to there, was.  Our roots are so much more than a list of genetic characteristics from a saliva sample, or a graphic chart of the route our ancestors took to get here. We love to talk!

It’s about LEGACY. For my family it is always music, books, poetry and art that frame our history. We love to talk.

Next month I’m performing In Old Chicago: Stories and Songs of a Beloved City, (Wednesday, October 16, at Chief O’Neill’s Pub). In preparation, I’m scrolling back to the turn-of-the-last century and the first world war time period. I’m practicing my signature songs from the 1893 Columbian Exposition era, through the Chicago Literary Renaissance period, and adding more.

I’m reading about immigrants, exploring groups of people who made their mark here. I’m looking at the melting pot Chicago: city of neighborhoods, parishes and pubs, union halls and tough-guys. Chicago: the hotbed for free speech and activists that brought us MayDay, the Hobo College, Bughouse Square, Hull House and smart radio. I’m re-reading Studs Terkel, Gwendolyn Brooks, Carl Sandburg and family memoirs.

And I’m singing Sophie Tucker, a few Michael Smith songs, and parlor songs like And the Band Played On and Love’s Old Sweet Song. And His Eye is on the Sparrow, in honor of Studs.

Listen to Love’s Sweet Song

The real purpose of this program is to follow the through-line for myself. With forty years of performance behind me, my mother now gone and her seat at the table now vacant, I’m pulled toward telling a fresh story. Connecting the songs I’ve sung, and the places I’ve been with the people who inspired my activism, the roots of our salon tradition, and my love of singing.

It makes sense that it’s Chief O’Neill’s Pub in Avondale where In Old Chicago will premiere. Named after Chief Francis O’Neill, who left Ireland and became the Chief of Police in Chicago. The musician-owned restaurant houses a near-museum of historical and cultural artifacts, and boasts an extensive, delicious menu. Soundman John Halliburton mixes sound.

In Old Chicago, Stories & Songs of a Beloved City
Vocalist Jamie O’Reilly with John Erickson on piano
Special guest reader Judi Heikes
Jamie returns to Chief O’Neill’s glorious pub, in an evening of songs and stories celebrating Chicago’s vibrant immigrant population.  In this new program, Jamie reflects on forty years in her beloved city. Read more about the gig, buy tickets here.

Read more

On Studs and me
Read the blog with my 2008 letter honoring Studs here:

1 Comment

  1. Jamie I love the idea that you are celebrating this time in history–1 of my favorite eras! What an exciting time it must have been as an entertainer, an immigrant and a woman artist standing at the edge of the Gilded Age. You honor your culture & all our legacies with this look back. I cant wait to hear the CD.

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