Terry Teachout: “A prolific biographer and essayist who wrote exuberantly about drama”

From a Wall Street Journal obit by James R. Hagerty headlined “Terry Teachout, Wall Street Journal Drama Critic, Dies at Age 65”:

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.”

Also see the New York Times obit by Clay Risen headlined “Terry Teachout, Art Critic With a Wide Range, Is Dead at 65.” The opening grafs:

Terry Teachout, a cultural critic who, in his columns for The Wall Street Journal, The Daily News and other publications, brought his all-encompassing intellect to bear on Broadway, ballet, bluegrass and practically every art form in between, died on Thursday at the home of a friend in Smithtown, N.Y., on Long Island….

Mr. Teachout was one of a vanishing breed of cultural mavens: omnivorous, humane, worldly without being pretentious, often leaning conservative in their politics but wholly liberal in how they approached the world and its dizzying array of peoples and cultures. He wore his erudition lightly, enjoying it and hoping that, through his prose, others might as well.

He was comfortable writing about Haydn and Mencken, Ellington and Eakins, Bill Monroe and Balanchine. Born in a small town in Missouri and later earning an undergraduate degree in music journalism, he called himself a “well-informed amateur” and an aesthete — someone who loved beauty in all its forms and believed it was his job to find it and explain it.

He was prolific: For the last 30 years, it has been a rare stretch of days in which his byline did not appear somewhere, and not only because of his weekly obligations at The Journal. He was a critic at large for Commentary; he blogged for Arts Journal; he co-hosted a podcast for American Theater magazine; and for many years he wrote freelance book reviews for The New York Times.

He also wrote several highly regarded biographies, including “The Skeptic: A Life of H.L. Mencken” (2002), “Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong” (2009) and “Duke: A Life of Duke Ellington” (2013)….

And the Washington Post obit by Matt Schudel headlined “Terry Teachout, versatile critic, biographer and playwright, dies at 65.” The opening grafs:

Terry Teachout, a versatile and prolific arts critic who also wrote plays and widely praised biographies of journalist H.L. Mencken and jazz musicians Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington, died Jan. 13 at a friend’s home in Smithtown, N.Y….

A writer of wide-ranging interests and indefatigable productivity, Mr. Teachout wrote essays for dozens of publications on almost every form of artistic expression, including classical music, jazz, dance, theater and books. As critic at large for Commentary magazine for 25 years, he had more bylines than any other writer in the monthly journal’s history, editor John Podhoretz wrote in an appreciation.

Mr. Teachout was an editorial writer and music and dance critic for the New York Daily News, wrote a general arts column for The Washington Post for several years, and since 2003 had been the drama critic for the Wall Street Journal. He covered every Broadway opening, as most critics do, but he also traveled widely to review performances across the country. He said the greatest theatrical experience of his life came from a production of Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town” at a small theater in Glencoe, Ill.

Mr. Teachout began his career as a musician, playing bass in country bands and jazz groups in his native Missouri. He began writing classical music reviews while still in college, then worked as a bank teller by day, a jazz musician at night and a writer on the side.

He moved to New York in 1985, found work at Harper’s magazine and later at the Daily News, and helped form a salon of culturally conservative writers and critics. He edited a 1990 essay collection of their work, “Beyond the Boom,” which criticized some of the cultural excesses of the 1960s and called for a return of more traditional forms of art. In general, however, Mr. Teachout avoided politics in his writing.

“I don’t want to watch a right-wing play any more than I want to watch a left-wing play,” he said in a 2010 interview with C-SPAN’s Brian Lamb. “I want to watch a play about life that tries to see life as it is and not through the prism of ideology.”…

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