SongNotes: Jamie O’Reilly, WFMT & Me

J. O’Reilly Productions, Cultural Arts and Blog
J. O’Reilly Productions, Cultural Arts and Blog
SongNotes: Jamie O'Reilly, WFMT & Me

Jamie O’Reilly

About Jamie:

Listen to the Midnight Special tonight, Oct 30. WFMT 98.7 FM.
Host Marilyn Rea Beyer includes me in her playlist.

Happy 70th Birthday, WFMT!

Jamie O’Reilly is especially gifted, with her vibrant voice and passion for life!

Studs Terkel
Jamie O’Reilly. singer

“I heard it in my sleep.”
I often say this when referring to the venerable radio station broadcasting from my hometown of Chicago, celebrated and heard all over the world. This fall marks its 70th year on the air.

Winifred Giebel O’Reilly, James O’Reilly: a rare photo

My father, James O’Reilly was an overnight host at WFMT for a number of years in the 50s. The story goes he and Mike Nichols did live improv late into the night, filling time. (Sadly, there are no surviving tapes.) Our family’s record collection was started with demos our father brought home. My mother, Winifred, a classical soprano, sang her first solo at age twelve on the Civic Opera House stage. When we were growing up, my mom left the station playing overnight. Saturday afternoons, Milton Cross hosted the live Metropolitan Opera Broadcast. We were allowed in the living room if we could be quiet and listen to the opera.

A huge fan of Studs Terkel, I found his radio show life-changing. His connection to his guests, broad knowledge of the material, and winning-charm, pulled me in and expanded my worldview like nothing else. I first appeared on his show in the mid 80s, and later, talking about one of his great passions: the Lincoln Brigade and the Spanish Civil War. He was a big fan of Pasiones, a show I created with songwriter Michael Smith. Studs and I became friends into his 90s, til his death in 2008. Stories are featured in my show In Old Chicago November 6 at Chief O’Neill’s Pub. (Read a past blog about Studs below.)

While the snow covered Lake Shore Drive and we talked about going to war, then he sang me Eye on the Sparrow—the song Mahalia sang. “You should sing that,” Studs said.

Who’s to say where my performance career would have headed had it not been for the many programs on which I sang. Among them, Folkstage (The Gift of the Magi, Scarlet Confessions, Pasiones, Memorial Tribute to Peter Clark, Memorial Tribute to Michael Smith), Midnight Special (Ray Nordstrand “discovered me” with my version of “Will You Go, Lassie, Go.” Listen below) There were other programs over the years.

I made six recordings at the FMT studios. My first, I Know Where I’m Going, in 1984 with Rich Warren as engineer. My most recent, Love’s Sweet Song, with Mary Mazurek as engineer. On the Banks of the Roses: Jamie O’Reilly & The Rogues, Pasiones: Songs of the Spanish Civil War, and one-offs in between.

I even did a short stint in the mid 2000s as a radio producer, with a program that focused on women.

I still turn to WFMT on sleepness nights, and start my mornings, pre-dawn with the Through the Night program and the Mornings show. (Nobody does weather like WFMT! )

Even the WFMT fundraising drives are interesting, with one-of-a kind CD compilations, including rare recordings of singers my mother spoke of when I was young.

Congratulations, WFMT. I’m still a fan.
My world is all the better, because you’re (still) here.


LISTEN TO THE HOLY CITY – featured in In Old Chicago this Novmeber 6.

With her distinctive lilting voice and broad vocal range, Jamie approaches folk music with the passion of a theater artist and the attention of an art song interpreter. Her programs include songs reminiscent of by-gone eras, traditional, and original work in the singer/songwriter genre. Vocal selections range from romantic standards from the 1920s – 40s, to sultry gypsy ballads and celtic folksongs, to parlor songs and Americana ballads. She is accompanied by the finest musicians on guitars, piano and more.

Her newest offering In Old Chicago: Stories and Songs of a Beloved City, with John Erickson on piano,
will be performed Saturday, November 6 at Chief O’Neill’s Pub dining room.
Get tickets here:

Photos by Brad Baskin, Iwona Biedermann, and family photo from Willem O’Reilly

© J. O’Reilly Productions, recordings and blog, 2021