In Memoriam: Terry Teachout, Author, Musician, and Reviewer of Theatre across the Country for the Wall Street Journal
(Wall Street Journal, January 14, 2022)
From the editorial page:
Terry Teachout, who adorned these pages as our drama critic and cultural columnist for nearly 20 years, died early Thursday at age 65.
An artistic savant of wide erudition, Terry had written reviews and other pieces for our books and arts pages as long ago as 1987. He took on the role of weekly theater critic with gusto in March 2003, and he made hisreviewsa favorite destination for readers as the weekend approached.
His prose was always lively and accessible, and in his judgments he was clear-eyed, uninterested in conventional wisdom, and committed to assessing each production on its merits. He believed in upholding standards of artistic quality and execution, regardless of the fashions of the times.
Terry made a particular mark by exploring the American theater beyond Broadway. He was a tireless champion of regional theater, reviewing more productions than any other critic. The Journal is a national newspaper, and Terry told readers about actors and producers worth celebrating and seeing around the country.
Terry was an artist in his own right, as an opera librettist and playwright. He wrote biographies of H.L. Mencken, Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington, and his one-actor play about Armstrong ran in an off-Broadway theater to good reviews.
Terry enjoyed the pace and serendipity of daily journalism. Readers saw his gift for that work most recently inhis obituary appreciationfor the composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim. He turned the elegant tribute around within an hour after learning of Sondheim’s death, as he had many others over the years.
In 2014 the Bradley Foundation gave Terry one of its Bradley prizes, a rare winner in the arts. “Terry Teachout has distinguished himself, not just as a first-rate journalist, but as a supporter of the arts,” said Michael W. Grebe, president of the Bradley Foundation, at the time. “His work as a biographer and a playwright is critical to advancing and preserving America’s artistic and cultural tradition.”
In his acceptance remarks, Terry spoke about the importance of resisting the temptation to treat the arts, and artistic endeavor, as a political exercise. In these polarized times in particular, his cheerful, civilized and civilizing voice will be missed.
Obituary in the same edition of the Wall Street Journal
Terry Teachout, Wall Street Journal Drama Critic, Dies at Age 65
Missouri-born author and musician wrote biographies of Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington and H.L. Mencken
Terry Teachout, a prolific New York-based biographer and essayist who wrote exuberantly about drama for The Wall Street Journal, died early Thursday at a friend’s home in Smithtown, N.Y. He was 65 years old.
His companion, Cheril Mulligan, said a cause of death hadn’t yet been determined.
Mr. Teachout had written drama reviews for the Journal regularly since 2003. “He could never be pigeonholed,” said Eric Gibson, editor of the Journal’s Arts in Review pages. “Terry was never predictable.”
He was known for his biographies of Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, George Balanchine and H.L. Mencken. He also wrote plays and librettos.
Born Feb. 6, 1956, he grew up in Sikeston, Mo. His father was a hardware salesman, and his mother was a receptionist and secretary. Mr. Teachout evoked his childhood in a 1991 memoir, “City Limits: Memories of a Small-Town Boy.”
Sikeston, he wrote, was “still a place where people salute the flag and don’t ask for receipts, where everybody knows who your parents were and what they did for a living. It is narrow and kind and decent and good, and I am blessed to have been raised in its shabby, forgiving bosom.”
As a teenager, he had the role of the fiddler in a local production of “Fiddler on the Roof” and played in a country band called Sour Mash.
In 1979, he graduated from William Jewell College in Liberty, Mo., where he studied journalism and music. He then worked as a bank teller in Kansas City, Mo., and wrote reviews for the Kansas City Star while finding gigs as a jazz bassist and striving to establish himself as a writer. Unsatisfied with his progress there, he moved to New York in the 1980s.
He obtained an editing internship at Harper’s magazine and later wrote editorials for the New York Daily News. He also worked as a contributor of essays and criticism for a variety of publications, including the National Review, while establishing himself as a biographer.
His wife, Hilary Dyson Teachout, died in 2020 after a double-lung transplant. He is survived by a brother, David Teachout.
In an October blog post, he announced that he had fallen in love with Ms. Mulligan and described her as “a theater-and-film buff.”
On Twitter, he described himself as a “critic, biographer, playwright, director, unabashed Steely Dan fan, ardent philosemite.”
Though he led a sophisticated life of culture in New York, Mr. Teachout retained some of his small-town earnestness. “I still wear plaid shirts and think in Central Standard Time,” he wrote in his memoir. “I still eat tuna casserole with potato chips on top and worry about whether the farmers back home will get enough rain this year.”