HYDE PARK — Eddie Holstein was a just a boy when a Chicago radio DJ named Studs Terkel turned him on to folk music.
“I was probably one of the only 10-year-olds who listened to Studs. He was my gateway disc jockey early on,” said Holstein, who along with his late brother Fred Holstein, has long been a fixture on Chicago’s folk music scene.
Holstein remembers listening to “This is Our Story,” a radio program that amounted to Terkel spinning early folk records to capture a moment in American history.
“He’d take a topic, mostly from the '30s because that was his memory, like the unions and labor movement, and play music as a way of illustrating history through folk songs,” Holstein said. “Now, I wasn’t a particularly good student because I wasn’t interested, but this stuff made me interested. It’s too bad my teachers didn’t do that because I probably would have gotten a Ph.D. in something.”
Instead, Holstein grew up to be a guitar-picking folk singer, songwriter and saloon owner who got to know Terkel in the folkie scene during the '60s and '70s.
“We were social in a sense because he was part of what I was part of — folk music,” Holstein said. “For Studs, that was just one of the things he was part of, he had jazz and the opera and the civil rights movement. He was for ordinary people, that ordinary people were interesting. That’s what his legacy will always be.”
This weekend, Chicago celebrates that legacy at the “Let’s Get Working” festival in Hyde Park.
It’s three days of oral histories, films, songs, art, storytelling, theater and good old-fashioned debate that aims to revisit the dynamic influence that Terkel’s work had on Chicago and modern America.
Holstein’s proud to play a bit part by taking the stage to play three songs at a free Saturday night concert that includes Che “Rhymefest” Smith and JC Brooks on the bill.
He plans to play the first song he remembers hearing on Terkel’s “This is Our Story” on WFMT-FM.
“Studs played 'I Don’t Want Your Millions Mister.' It’s about inequality, and it’s from the labor movement in the '30s. A guy named Jim Garland wrote it, and Pete Seeger played it with the Almanac Singers,” Holstein said.
“When I would sing it in the '50s, it was something of a retrospective because the middle class was burgeoning, and the unions were strong. Now you have the Republican Party that wants to dismantle all that stuff, and with all due respect, a mayor who seems to want to do that, too. And then there’s all the people saying, ‘Oh, no.’ Well, this song is going to be popular again.”
And then Holstein sang the lyrics: “I don’t want your millions mister/I don’t want your diamond rings/All I want is food for my baby/Give me back my job again."
"It’s really relevant today.”
Starting Friday, lecturers, artists, filmmakers, journalists and storytellers will begin an extraordinary multimedia discussion of sorts that considers all the ways Terkel’s lifetime of work still resonates in modern America.
Holstein, 67, said the common theme that binds the fest together is more than just the man it celebrates.
“The thing to take away here is that ordinary people have something to say. Don’t underestimate the worth of someone who doesn’t seem to have accomplished a lot,” he said.
“That’s an interesting philosophy to be around. There’s something about us ordinaries. Being ordinary is OK. That’s what I take from Studs. That’s who he was. He was an ordinary guy excited about being in the city he lived in, Chicago.”
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