Chicago folk music stalwart Fred Holstein, 61, died on January 12.
Raised on Chicago’s South Side, Holstein got hooked on music after attending
a Pete Seeger concert at Orchestra Hall. He taught himself to play on a $15.00
guitar and started playing the folk clubs in the Old Town neighborhood. Fred was
on the bill at the Earl of Old Town when it opened in1966, and became, along
with John Prine, Steve Goodman, Bonnie Koloc, and others, a familiar presence at
the club during the 1960’s and early 1970’s.
While Fred never quite gained the fame of some of his
contemporaries, those performers and thousands of fans would have told you that
no performer symbolized the heart of folk music more soulfully than Fred
Holstein. He regarded himself as “an interpreter. What I do is about the songs,
about the art, about the work.” He developed a reputation for being a serious
folklorist. “He knew the music – the background and the folk roots,” said Frank
Hamilton, one of the founders of the Old Town School.
Holstein and his brother
Ed, also a folk singer, co-owned and performed in two classic Lincoln Avenue
clubs, Somebody Else’s Troubles, in the early 1970s, and, starting in 1981,
Holstein’s. Holsteins had a good long run, closing its doors on New Year’s Day
in 1988, with the crowd accompanying Fred and his brothers in a rousing
rendition of “For All the Good People,” Fred’s signature tune.
At the time of his death,
he was tending bar – and occasionally singing – at yet another Lincoln Avenue
bar, Sterch’s. He was genuinely surprised by the interest and enthusiasm
generated by the 2001 release of a two-CD release, Fred Holstein: A
Collection. It was his first CD, combining remastered tunes from his only two
LPs, songs from the archives of WFMT-FM, and snippets of interviews.
Of Fred Holstein, “Midnight Special” host Rich Warren said, “Fred Holstein
was Chicago’s troubadour. He never sought fortune or fame, because his great joy
in life was introducing people to the best singer-songwriters of our time along
with traditional music. Fred was the mainstay of the Chicago folk scene for 30
years and his ability to get inside a song and make it real for the audience was
[Photo courtesy of Vancouver folk Festival. Obituary courtesy of the