An Eyewitness to Studs

Historians in the News
tags: oral history, public history


When I became the director of the Museum’s Studs Terkel Center for Oral History in 2015, I grew even more curious about his interviewing style. What I use in oral history training sessions is this wisdom from him: “So I think the gentlest question is the best one, and the gentlest is, ‘And what happened then?’” I am constantly using that in my own interviews as we carry forward Studs’s legacy through the oral history center’s collaborative community-based projects. I also enjoy wearing red socks every workday to acknowledge his famous footwear.

Naturally, these eyewitness-to-Studs moments continue even during the pandemic. My daughter Lily recently finished her first year as a vocal jazz major at Western Michigan University. What did she watch as she finished the second semester from home? Of course, she watched Ken Burns’s documentary series Jazz (2001), featuring multiple interview excerpts of Studs. In April, Friedrich Von Steuben Metropolitan Science Center history teacher Meghan Thomas emailed me about her students conducting pandemic-related oral histories to replicate Studs’s interviews in Hard Times. Just recently, I saw a reference to him in a Chicago Magazine article about the city’s labor history.

Over the years, dozens of people have told me their eyewitness-to-Studs-stories. Many remember listening to his program on WFMT or watching him on television. Others have ridden the CTA with him or waited at the same bus stop. A journalist told me about a chance encounter he had with Studs that changed his entire career trajectory. Some people remember Studs interviewing friends or family or meeting him at book signings and other events. Today, all of us can pick up his books or listen to his recordings. What are your eyewitness-to-Studs stories?

Read entire article at Chicago History Museum

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