I am a very big fan of Studs Terkel I devoured many of his books when I was young. Not only was he a fantastic oral historian with a real empathy with everyday Americans and a tremendous ability to bring them alive on paper but Terkel was also a great expert on the blues of Chicago, in particular, the incomparable Mahalia Jackson and Big Bill Broonzy. For me Terkel represented the best in American life. The NY Times has a great obit:
Studs Terkel, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author whose searching interviews with ordinary Americans helped establish oral history as a serious genre, and who for decades was the voluble host of a popular radio show in Chicago, died Friday at his home there. He was 96.
I like this quote from the obit: “In 1985 a reviewer for The Financial Times of London characterized his books as “completely free of sociological claptrap, armchair revisionism and academic moralizing.” That’s it, he treated them as people, he relished his time with them, they weren’t just subjects for study.
But there’s also some sadness, an incorrigible, unwavering lefty, Terkel was very much looking forward to seeing Obama win next Tuesday. He told theHuffington Post:
Studs Terkel has been a conscience for America, for decades before Barack Obama was born. In fact he’s eleven years older than Obama’s grandma! He was at the freedom marches in the North and South and he always interviewed people about race- in fact he“wrote the book” on it. Studs did his part to make this a more just nation. Now, the way things are going, it looks like the 96-year-old man, rooting for the 47-year-old, may witness another big step in American history.
“I’m very excited by the idea of a black guy in the White House, that’s very exciting,” Studs said as we said goodbye. “I just wish he was more progressive!”
Good on ya, Studs, a life well-lived.
Update. Here is the audio of an interview Studs did in 2005 with Democracy Now.