Win Stracke

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Folksinger Win Stracke is remembered less for his performing career than for his efforts in co-founding Chicago's renowned Old Town School of Folk Music. Stracke was born and raised in Chicago, but after…
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Folksinger Win Stracke is remembered less for his performing career than for his efforts in co-founding Chicago's renowned Old Town School of Folk Music. Stracke was born and raised in Chicago, but after graduating from high school in 1926, he relocated to Thermopolis, WY, working as a roustabout and coalminer; from a fellow itinerant worker named Flat Wheel Harry, he learned traditional songs like "The Big Rock Candy Mountain," and began performing in front of local labor groups. Upon returning to Chicago in 1931, Stracke hired on with radio station WLS as a bass singer, performing alongside the Cumberland Ridge Runners and the Smoky Mountain Singers and further immersing himself in labor organizing efforts.

During World War II, he served in Europe and North Africa, returning to Chicago to join Studs Terkel, Big Bill Broonzy, and Laurence Lane in the folk music revue I Came for to Sing. In 1953 Stracke was tapped to host his own television program, the NBC children's favorite Animal Playtime, and he also appeared regularly on The Dave Garroway Show. In 1957, while appearing at the legendary Chicago folk club the Gate of Horn, he befriended musician Frank Hamilton and folk aficionado Dawn Greening, with whom he would co-found the Old Town School -- opening that December 1, the school remains a Chicago institution to this day, launching the careers of performers including Steve Goodman, John Prine, Roger McGuinn, and Ginni Clemmens.

Although primarily a live performer, Stracke later recorded two LPs, A Golden Treasury of Songs and Americana, in addition to writing a number of original songs steeped in the history of Chicago and America -- in 1968, he and Norman Luboff authored the cantata "Freedom Country" in honor of the Illinois sesquicentennial. Stracke died of a stroke in 1991.