Innate cytokines are critical drivers of priming and differentiation of naive CD4 T cells, but their functions in memory T cell response are largely undefined. Here we show that IL-1 acts as a licensing signal to permit effector cytokine production by pre-committed Th1 (IFN-γ), Th2 (IL-13, IL-4, and IL-5) and Th17 (IL-17A, IL-17F, and IL-22) lineage cells. This licensing function of IL-1 is conserved across effector CD4 T cells generated by diverse immunological insults. IL-1R signaling stabilizes cytokine transcripts to enable productive and rapid effector functions. We also demonstrate that successful lineage commitment does not translate into productive effector functions in the absence of IL-1R signaling. Acute abrogation of IL-1R signaling in vivo results in reduced IL-17A production by intestinal Th17 cells. These results extend the role of innate cytokines beyond CD4 T cell priming and establish IL-1 as a licensing signal for memory CD4 T cell function.