Citizen Artist, American Storyteller, Studs Terkel Dies at 96


Studs Terkel was an Artist Public Servant who participated in the WPAs: Federal Writers Project

Studs Terkel participated in the Artist Corps precursor, the WPAs: Federal Writers Project
















Pulitzer Prize-winning Chicago author and radio broadcast personality Studs Terkel, who let America’s common people tell their tales in such books as Working and The Good War, died Friday at his home, his publisher said. He was 96. 

Mr. Terkel, who once described his life as “an accretion of accidents,” joined the Federal Writers’ Project. Funding musicians and artists was a key part of FDR’s New Deal program, the Works Progress Administration. 

He returned to Chicago in 1938 and launched a radio show. For 45 years, Terkel’s weekly music program, The Wax Museum, allowed him to play whatever he wanted. While it was primarily a jazz show, Mr. Terkel also loved country music, folk, opera and gospel. He was one of the first to promote artists like Mahalia Jackson, Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, Big Bill Broonzy and Burl Ives. On occasion he would invite composers or performers to sit down for an on-air interview.  

His passion for jazz led to his first book, “Giants of Jazz” (1957), a collection of biographies. This was followed by a succession of oral history books on the Great Depression, the Second World War, race relations, working, the American dream and aging. His last book, And They All Sang: Adventures of an Eclectic Disc Jockey, he’s collected interviews with Bob Dylan, Louis Armstrong, Ravi Shankar and others that reflect his diverse taste in music. 

Working, one of his most famous volumes, was banned in many schools because it included an interview with a prostitute.  As a senior in high school, I performed in the Broadway musical adaptation of Working by Stephen Schwartz. One of my favorite James Taylor songs, Millworker was written for the show –– sung by a girl, the millworker’s daughter. I played the construction worker who tells his story about playing a part of something larger than himself (a building). He expands on this theme in a song called “Fathers and Sons,” about the legacy parents pass on to the next generation.

Studs on civic engagement:

“I was among those blacklisted for my political beliefs. My crime? I had signed petitions. Lots of them. I had signed on in opposition to Jim Crow laws and poll taxes and in favor of rent control and pacifism. Because the petitions were thought to be Communist-inspired, I lost my ability to work in television and radio after refusing to say that I had been “duped” into signing my name to these causes.”

“But I always feel uplifted by this: Given the facts and an opportunity to act, the body politic generally does the right thing.”

Material above taken from these links: