Listen to Studs. The First Hundred Years

Studs would have been 100 this May 16.

Here’s my comments on his centenary site, on the right of the page.

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Let’s say he IS 100 this May. Because Studs is a forever-kind-of thing.

Postscript to 2008
I sang at his 90th birthday, and his 93rd. Then we lost him in the fall of 2008, and I sang at his Memorial.
Before Obama was President.  Before the Arab Spring. Before the Iraq war ended. Before the housing crisis would beat down the spirit of the working people.

Before 99% vs 1% was a rallying cry for a new people’s movement!

Peter, my nephew whom I mention in the re-posted blog below, stayed a few years at the US Patent Office, went on to get his Masters in Green Technology, and is now working as a systems engineer for eSolar,
One of the good ones
, Studs would say. The hope is in our young people.

Studs told me that the US would go to war, and it would be devastating. He was right.
And that the new technology would get people off their couches and into the streets…Egypt. Madison. Occupy.  Right about that, too.

Alas, his beloved Cubs still haven’t won the pennant, but it would make sense that even in the place beyond he’s still cheering for the underdog! 

We had a prophet among us folks.  And boy, did we need him. And we still do.

This is the story I wrote when Studs died in 2008.

Information about the Centenary celebrations follows.

November 1, 2008

My friend Studs.

I had the life-changing pleasure of singing for Studs, and being on stage with him a fair amount in the past 20 years. I was interviewed on his radio show on WFMT when I was performing social justice pieces. He was most excited by the Spanish Civil War show Pasiones, I did with Michael Smith and Katrina O’Reilly. Those songs were his favs—he told me I sounded like the great Spanish singers when I sang. He especially liked Brecht’s ode to the workingman: Song of the United Front—which we sang in four languages—it included Michael reading one of Studs’ most quoted poems by Brecht.

“Who built Thebes of the seven gates
In the books you will find the names of kings.
Did the kings haul up the lumps of rock
And Babylon, many times demolished
Who raised it up so many times? In what houses
of gold-glittering Lima did the builders live?
Where, the evening that the Wall of China was finished
Did the masons go?  Questions from a Worker Who Reads”

He loved the song Freheit! The Song of the Thaelmann Battalion, Freheit is German for freedom—and it was that song and another of his favorites I sang that he mentioned every time he saw me — and every time he introduced me to people. “Jamie and Mike Smith —they sing the Spanish Civil War songs—and Annie Laurie!”

He loved when I sang Annie Laurie. I sang it for him for his 90th birthday tribute at the Chicago History Museum. Studs told me Albert Parsons—the Haymarket martyr, sang Annie Laurie from his prison cell the night before he died. I tell that story when I sing it — because I made a promise to him that I would tell the stories, and sing the songs of the people!

And I’d work for social justice.

I visited Studs last on August 29th, 2008. He lives not far from me on Chicago’s Northside. I’m pals with Syd Lewis, his editor and co-author.  She set it up for me. He was at home, and near the end—I told Syd he looked like an elf in a chair. He was surrounded by books and papers, in a yellow brick rambling house with spider webs in the eaves of the porch, and old leaves on the stoop. His caretaker, a gentle man named JR let me in, and told me to get up close and talk to him.

“You can stay only a few minutes, cause it tires him out.”

Studs knew me.
“Jamie O’Reilly, how are ya? Are you still singing, kid? I’m not doing so hot…you know I can’t hear?”

And he couldn’t. So I would usually bring a photo for him to look at when I knew I’d see him.
And he did the talking.

I gestured to the TV. He’d been half-watching the Democratic National Convention.

I said, “It’s gonna happen. They’re gonna get in.”

He said, “I don’t know. It’s all messed up.”

And I didn’t know if he meant—himself and his mind–or the state of the world.

I was going to ask him to sign a note to my nephew for his Graduation.

“He’s one of the good ones.” I said. “He’s going to do the good work.”

I showed him Peter’s picture with his family, and his Graduation announcement from
Cal Tech. I told him Pete was going to work in Washington at the US Patent Office.

He wrote, “To Peter, Peace!” Studs Terkel.

Walking out to the early fall change in the air afterward, I figured it’s the last time I’ll see him.

Or possibly the last time he’ll know me. Turned out to be true.

It’s all messed up.

…I wished I could have promised him the war would end, the second “McCarthy era” would end, and the Democrats would win the White House, and, and

His friend Syd told me he was waiting for the election and to publish one more book before he moved on.  Almost made it. Died on Halloween. All Hallow’s Eve, the Eve of All Saints, when the Spirits come out to celebrate the dead with the living—he had one, good long go-around with the great spirits who went before him…Ida and Big Bill and Mahalia…and then he joined them.

I drove Studs home from an anti-war event, in a snowstorm, the week before America invaded Iraq.

I said, “Well. whatta you think. Are they going in?”

“We’re going in and it’s gonna be bad,” he said.

He also asked me, “Do you do this Web-Internet thing?’

“Yes,” I replied.

‘”They say maybe that can do something.” he said.
“Maybe through this Internet-thing—people will do something.”

That was before Barrack, and and the new grassroots
changed elections forever.  And with hope, history as well.

While the snow covered Lake Shore Drive and we talked about going to war.
He sang me Eye of the Sparrow—the song Mahalia sang.

“You should sing that.”

I sang him Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.

If you get to heaven ‘fore I do
Tell all my friends I’m coming after yo
Swing Low Sweet Chariot

Coming for to carry me home

Studs: the Chariot’s come and taken you away.
Sleep in peace and I promise, we justice seekers will do the work down here.



The Studs Terkel Centenary

The Studs Terkel Centenary Committee was formed in the interest of promoting and celebrating the life and work of noted Chicagoan Studs Terkel (1912-2012), and will host a number of events throughout the year.

Studs Terkel 100th Birthday Party
The Newberry Library
60 West Walton Street Chicago
Wednesday, May 16 5:30 – 8pm


100 Years of Studs Terkel
Chicago History Museum
1601 N. Clark Street
Wednesday, May 16 6:30pm
Cost: $15/$10 Members

To see more events and stories go to:


  1. Whether “the housing crisis would beat down the spirit of the working people” remains to be seen.
    “Don’t mourn, organize!” a singer like your self once said. See you on May Day.

  2. I felt as if I were at this interview. It was so touching and tender. Jamie, you are also a great writer! He was your father figure.

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