As multiple spheres of influence go, many would agree that there’s just something very special about Chicago, Illinois. It’s a place where superstars in politics, in rock music, the world of big business, and the arena of public service can all come together, in song, where good friends, food, and fun rule the night, to raise money for a good cause. It happens all the time all over the country, particularly when political contenders face off to make a case for their home team.
One of the most dynamic politicians to serve the United States Congress is U.S. Representative John Boehner. Love this West Chester, Ohio, Republican’s political views, or not, his role as the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives is one that reaches back and forth across the aisles serving his country. When present-day parties range from long-established Democrats to Tea Party Republicans, and variations in between, someone has to be in charge of keeping the peace and trying to deal with a congressional agenda that is, at best, challenging.
And when any candidate is running for reelection, as the song says, “You gotta have friends.” Boehner is fortunate that one of his friends is an extremely well-liked Chicago-based influencer, Terrance Duffy. A proud product of southwest Chicago’s Mount Greenwood area, Duffy was at home around the primarily Irish-Catholic neighbors. Duffy is a self-made, uber-successful leader of the trading world, who always remained active in public service and political causes as he moved his way up in business to serving as Executive Chairman and President of the CME Group.
Politics runs in Terry Duffy’s family. One source notes, “His grandfather John J. Duffy, was a 19th Ward alderman and president of the Cook County Board, and his father, John J. Duffy Jr., worked in the Cook County assessor’s office.” Shades of Jake and Elwood Blues, if a Duffy is involved, there’s bound to be a party going somewhere, complete with rock and roll music, don’t you think? Well, it’s true.
For over a decade Terry Duffy has become legendary for hosting dynamic political fund-raisers for local, state, and national candidates for political office. If you’re invited, you’re going to rearrange your plans to be there, because a Duffy party puts the fun into fundraising, the way only a glib Irishman can throw, with panache and great music to dance and enjoy. Duffy grew up in Chicagoland, listening to his favorite bands on the radio. So, guess who was one of his all-time favorites? The Buckinghams, who'd launched a national career from an early spot on the Chicago/WGN-TV program “All Time Hits,” syndicated nationally in 1966.
Many years ago Duffy hosted a major fundraiser and contacted a booking agency to see if his favorite band might be available to perform. Turns out they were available for a special event on the chosen date. Talk about fortuitous happenstance. When Duffy met The Buckinghams’ founding members Carl Giammarese and Nick Fortuna and their band, there was an instant connection of friendship with the whole band. Duffy noticed how the guests responded by staying on the dance floor until well past time to leave.
After the event, Duffy and Giammarese visited longer, and found they had so much in common, their synergy soon resulted in a new long-term friendship. Today they're almost like brothers, both of them busy and flying all around the country, each taking care of their respective businesses, each cherishing the opportunities to call Chicago "home base."
A few years later when Duffy had the opportunity to recommend the entertainment for the Illinois Bipartisan Agricultural Ball for the 2005 Presidential Inaugural Gala for President George W. Bush, naturally Duffy recommended The Buckinghams to his full committee. Committee members were enthusiastic about that suggestion and that’s how The Buckinghams played their first inaugural ball. In attendance that night was another rising star, a young junior senator from Illinois named Barack H. Obama, and his wife, Michelle. The charming future first couple got out on the dance floor and enjoyed the music. You wonder if that night they were, perhaps, dreaming of how things might be four years into the future.
The future first family members, and all the other ball guests, danced to The Buckinghams that night in Washington, DC, and as stories of hopes, dreams, and change find their way to coming true, the young Senator won the nomination and the Presidential election in 2008. When it was time for the Illinois Bipartisan Agricultural Inaugural Ball to select the entertainment for one of the 2009 galas, the same committee once again invited The Buckinghams to headline their night’s musical festivities celebrating President Obama's first term. To think that it all began as a friendship that started from across a transistor radio, and grew to span political parties and to honor public servants who are committed to their causes.
Duffy was an early supporter of former U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, for her 2008 presidential run at the office. Everyone remembers that former President William J. Clinton is from Hope, Arkansas, but many in Chicagoland will remember Hillary Rodham as a high school student who attended Maine East High School for three years in Chicago’s Park Ridge suburb, before redistricting found her, senior year, transferring to the new Maine South High School. That was before she went to Yale Law School. Where you come from, what neighborhood you grew up in, is all an important part of being from Chicago. Chicago people are especially loyal that way.
One of the best things, says Carl Giammarese, lead singer and founding member of The Buckinghams, about being part of a beloved national classic rock band is that “your hometown fans are your first fans, and they never forget you,” even when your career has expanded and extended beyond the town where you grew up.
“We’ve been fortunate,” says Giammarese, “that WLS and WCFL broadcast our music all around the country with 50,000 Watts of rock and roll power.” With that support, bands including as The Buckinghams, The Ides of March, The Cryan’ Shames, the New Colony 6, The Mauds, the Shadows of Knight, and Styx—all hailing from Chicagoland—made friends across that radio dial.
Earlier this month, Terry Duffy hosted a fundraiser for John Boehner in his home. He invited a small group, 200 guests, and he booked The Buckinghams. Giammarese said, “The event was, as it always is, as much fun for the band as it is for the guests, because everyone had a great time.” The dance floor “was busy and we saw more political and business leaders focus on relaxing and enjoying the event,” and they really did “dance the night away.”
“A few of the (political) guests,” Carl said,” are so at ease in front of large crowds that we wondered if they might not want to switch places with us for a day.” He laughed as he continued, “I wouldn’t mind being Speaker of the House for a Day, but I worry if the Speaker can hit some of those high-range notes.” Life always seems glamorous, from both sides of the stage.
Giammarese also shared:
John Boehner and his wife are such a gracious couple. They introduced themselves to everyone in the band and it’s a really amazing feeling that the Speaker of the House remembers your name from the last event you performed at. As a kid in Chicago, never did I imagine that I’d ever grow up to see that happen."
Chances are also good, though, that the distinguished guests who attended the fundraiser ever thought they’d get to party with rock stars, with a string of Billboard hits and who've performed all across the country and sailed the seas bringing music to hundreds of thousands of fans over the past 40 years.
Fame and fortune are goals that every kid who’s a dreamer sets out to attain at some point in their lives. Bright lights, crowds, accolades, affirmation, and having people in your life who think as you do—those things are important, but they’re only as real as the foundation on which they are built. One thing is for sure, Terry Duffy is a good friend to The Buckinghams and if you’re a friend of Terry Duffy’s, you’re going to enjoy learning more about who and what interests him. One thing is certain: Duffy is the penultimate host, who has never forgotten his Chicago roots, no matter how far his career has taken him. The old saying is true," The bigger they are, the nicer they are." And that's a fact.