SongNotes: Sanctuary City, Jamie sings Anne Hills/Al Power’s new anthem to Chicago

October, 2021
Sanctuary City
Jamie O’Reilly

Listen here:
Jamie O’Reilly, vocals
John Erickson, piano
Rob Fishman, engineer

Lyrics Anne Hills; Music Anne Hills and Al Power
Copyright 2021 Raven Heart Music ASCAP/Night Music BMI

During a previous administration, not so long ago, when families and communities were experiencing a huge spike in hate crimes, ICE was removing people from homes and neighborhoods by order of the President, and building a border wall was a first order of business in D.C. Undocumented people sought sanctuary in churches. Emotions ran deep. People here were bewildered. “Is this MY country anymore?” Then Chicago’s mayor declared our town a Sanctuary City.

I live in Rogers Park, one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the country. I stay in Chicago, after nearly forty years, because of its diversity. With such tension in the air, I was provoked to look back at Chicago at the turn of the last century, when immigrants by the thousands were arriving here, and trace what my people were up to at that explosive time. I created a new musical program and debuted In Old Chicago at Chief O’Neill’s Pub in October of 2019.

In Old Chicago honors a rich immigrant history. Chicago at the turn-of-the century: when unions were created, the eight hour day was fought for, state-of-the art museums were constructed, and a lakefront was preserved. It was a time when powerful poems were recited by Carl Sandburg and his fiery compatriots from soapboxes in Bughouse Square, my relatives among them.

Hog Butcher for the World,
   Stormy, husky, brawling,
   City of the Big Shoulders:

Come and show me another city with lifted head singing so proud to be alive and coarse and strong and cunning.” (from Chicago, Carl Sandburg)

MY Chicago. A tough place with tough, tenacious folks. An international hub for arts and progress. A place of indomitable spirit and resolve. And still, a divided city in a divided nation. I asked Anne Hills to write a song for Chicago with a new perspective. In Sanctuary City, she casts the city as a woman, welcoming, protecting, sheltering. A new anthem of hope.

Rogers Park beach bench

Anne says:
“I’m thrilled to tell you about a song Al Power and I wrote for Jamie O’Reilly. Last weekend, Jamie debuted “Sanctuary,” which she asked me to write about sanctuary cities. It’s part of her newest show In Old Chicago and includes many familiar images of my old hometown. As I wrote the lyric, I was meditating on Michael Smith’s “Adios Ciudad” which features lyrics by the “unofficial poet laureate of Chicago,” David Hernandez. I’m lucky to have lived there and known them both.”

Thanks, Anne!

Sanctuary City (lyrics)
you are my city, my sanctuary
your buildings cradle me, warm in their light
they glitter like jewels
I rest in their mystery
sheltered, protected and safe from the night

you are my city, my sanctuary
your people walk with me, sure of their way
they do not fear strangers
I share in their destiny
sheltered, protected and safe in the day

you are my city, my sanctuary
you sing of the struggles, the victory and strife
with marches for justice
I give you your harmony
sheltered, protected and safe in this life

green open spaces lie soft on your belly
waters spring forth from your fountains like milk
a mother to many, your arms never tire
the wind is your song and cocoons me like silk
so now I will join you, my voice deep with longing
For I was an orphan, a village of one
safe in your harbor, my heart is split open
wide as the water, bright as the sun

you are my city, my sanctuary
I crossed over deserts of danger and sand
and oceans of sorrow
I leave them to history
sheltered, protected and safe in this land

you are my city

© 2021 Raven Heart Music (ASCAP) / Night Wind Music (BMI)

© Recording and Jamie O’Reilly SongNotes, J. O’Reilly Productions 2021

Lake photography by Iwona Biedermann