Sidney Poitier and Studs Terkel in 1959

We are in the thick of awards season – the Golden Globe and SAG ceremonies are recently behind us, and the Oscars are just a few weeks away.  This year we are again facing what has become an all-too-familiar issue – the lack of diversity in the nominations.

Sidney Poitier made history in 1964 as the first African American to win an Academy Award for Best Actor (the next African American man to win the award would be Denzel Washington in 2001); and in 1968 (the year In the Heat of the Night won Best Picture and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner won Best Original Screenplay) he, among others, refused to attend the ceremony if it was not moved from its planned date of April 8 – the night before Martin Luther King Jr.’s funeral.  The ceremony was moved to April 10.

Five years earlier, in 1959, The Defiant Ones won Best Cinematography and Best Screenplay.  (One of the writers, Nedrick Young, had been blacklisted, and the Oscar was awarded to his pseudonym, Nathan E. Douglas.  In 1993, the credit was restored to his proper name.)  The film was also nominated for Best Picture and Best Director, and four members of the cast were nominated, including Sidney Poitier.

Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier in The Defiant Ones.

Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier in The Defiant Ones

Later that year, Poitier joined Studs in the studio.  Although their conversation took place only five years before Poitier’s historic win, in terms of Civil Rights setbacks and triumphs, those years covered a lot of ground: the SNCC was founded, the Freedom Rides began, Dr. King made his “I Have a Dream” speech, and Medgar Evers, President Kennedy, and Dr. King were all killed.

But before all that happened, Poitier was talking about his experiences in the West Indies and in Hollywood, and his hopes for future African American stars.

Photo credit: By trailer screenshot (United Artists) (The Defiant Ones trailer) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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SNCC members share their stories

Studs Terkel was committed to breaking down barriers.  The best tools he had were his microphone and his recorder, and he used them to great effect during the years of the Civil Rights struggle.  In 1962, he sat down with 10 members of the SNCC (Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee) who were visiting Chicago for the SNCC/SOCC “Gospel for Freedom” event at McCormick Place.

North Carolina SNCC members at the Tottle House lunch counter in Atlanta, 1960. (Library of Congress)

North Carolina SNCC members at the Tottle House lunch counter in Atlanta, 1960. (Library of Congress)

The program begins with the students each relating memories brought up by the song “We Shall Overcome.”  The stories they tell are about protests, sit-ins, arrests, and shootings.  These young people are talking about their everyday life, but they’re saying things like

Every night someone had to go to the hospital, group of… four of five had to go to the hospital.

I have this little hat I wear around Mississippi.  Before I left town, the State Patrol called and said the next time they saw that hat in the streets they were gonna shoot it.

They call every night, they threaten to burn your house, and they shoot.

All Americans owe these students a great debt for the changes they helped to bring about in our country.  We are honored to be able to share their words with you.

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Fear and Loathing

Before we get down to the business of fear and loathing, we’d like to send a big thank you out to all those who have contributed to our Kickstarter campaign so far.  If you’d like to contribute, you can do it here.

In 1973, Studs sat down with author and “master of gonzo journalism,” Hunter S. Thompson, to talk about his latest book, Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72.  

One of the themes that Studs and Thompson frequently return to is the sense of surrealism in “real” life, and the first half of their conversation is a very good example of that experience.  It starts out with a trip down the Studs rabbit hole (while Studs and Thompson share a beer): Studs plays part of an earlier interview with Thompson, which includes part of another earlier interview with local enforcer. And shortly afterward, Thompson tells the story of how his snake was killed by a security guard at Random House.

This might sound like a rather silly interview, but in fact it is a very serious conversation about the direction in which our country was heading.  After Thompson recounted his experience of talking to Richard Nixon about football, Studs responds, “Isn’t this what we’re faced with now?… That fantasy and fact become one.”  Summing up his observations of the campaign, Thompson says, “Power corrupts… but it’s also a fantastic high.”

About halfway through the interview, Thompson tells of 1200 disabled Vietnam veterans assembling in front of the Republican campaign headquarters in Miami to protest.  A colleague of his recorded* the man speaking on behalf of the veterans, Ron Kovic.  In 1973, neither Studs nor Thompson had heard of him; but a few years later he would go on to write Born on the Fourth of July.

This is a fascinating conversation about surreal politics in the real world.

*Courtesy of Pacifica Radio Archives


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A conversation with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Dr. King at the 1963 Civil Rights March on Washington.

Today, we take comfort and strength from the words of Dr. King.  Studs spoke with him in October of 1964, after it has been announced that he will be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.  Dr. King and Studs are in the Chicago home of Mahalia Jackson, a “mutual friend;” they speak about people who have influenced Dr. King, how to laugh through the tough times, and the “revolutionary aspects of love.”


Photo credit: Civil Rights March on Washington, D.C. [Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mathew Ahmann in a crowd.]. By Rowland Scherman; restored by Adam Cuerden – U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Public Domain,

The Mayor, the City Council, schools… and poetry

Sometimes it feels like deja vu all over again here in Chicago.  We’re dealing with those issues today, (well, maybe not poetry), but this program was recorded on July 22, 1971.

On July 21, 1971, Alderman Dick Simpson made the suggestion in a City Council meeting that the councilman the mayor had chosen for the Zoning Board of Appeals had a conflict of interest, and was too closely connected to other influential boards and to the mayor himself.

Mayor Daley responded.  Passionately.  And an unnamed journalist recorded it.

During the first half of this program, Dick Simpson is in the studio recounting the event to Studs.  He remarks, “Somehow, on all of these boards that are appointed, it’s the important firms of the city that get represented; it’s not all of the other elements of the public interest, it’s not the small firms, it’s not the little real estate man.”  After he leaves to teach a class, journalist Mike Royko sits in and dissects the event with Studs.  They read part of Daley’s response aloud and then listen to the recording.

You can read the Chicago Tribune coverage of the event here (it begins on the bottom right of page one), and listen to the program below.

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Rosa Parks & Myles Horton

December 1 marked the 60th anniversary of Rosa Parks’ arrest, and December 5 will mark the 60th anniversary of the beginning of the Montgomery bus boycott.  To mark these important dates, and to honor those involved, we’re sharing a very special interview.

“What you do is the thing that says to people what you believe,” said Myles Horton to Studs Terkel in 1973.  Mr. Horton and Rosa Parks were in Chicago receiving honorary degrees from Columbia College, and they join Studs to discuss the events that led up to the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott.  Mrs. Parks tells listeners in her own words exactly what happened to her on December 1, 1955, and in the days following her arrest.

Mr. Horton was the founder and director of the Highlander Folk School, and knew Rosa Parks, E.D. Nixon, and Martin Luther King, Jr.  Mrs. Parks was working for the NCAAP in 1955, and by 1973 was on the staff of U.S. Representative John Conyers.

Their conversation is educational and inspiring, and a glimpse into a time in our history that cannot be forgotten.

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One Book, One Chicago Partnership!!



We are happy to announce our new partnership with Chicago Public Library’s One Book, One Chicago campaign.  We can’t wait to share Studs Terkel’s programs in conjunction with this years pick, The Third Coast by Thomas Dyja.

Read all about it here. Happy reading/listening!

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All You Need Is Love

It’s abundantly clear by now to anyone who listened to Studs’ original broadcasts that he championed social justice and equality for all. From his earliest broadcasts he gave a voice to people of all races, creeds and sexual orientation. Yesterday’s decision by the Supreme Court to uphold the rights of same-sex couples to marry reinforces what Studs said in a speech he gave in 2001. He believed that all people should be treated equally no matter who they are, or who they love.

From The Stonewall Inn where the fight for equality began to states like Ohio, Michigan and Kentucky where same-sex couples are finally free to get married and have their families legally recognized, Studs’ words about what family values are all about stands the test of time.

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We made it.  If you’re reading this, then you survived the 4th (or 3rd, or 5th, depending on how you measure and who you’re listening to) worst snowstorm in Chicago history.  (Or maybe you live somewhere it doesn’t snow – lucky you!)

Our worst storm hit in late January of 1967.  The Monkees’ “I’m A Believer” was topping the charts, Lyndon B. Johnson was president, and Chicago struggled to get out from under 23 inches of snow.  Well, maybe it wasn’t all struggle.  As one of the men Studs talks with says, snowstorms are good for giving “people a chance to stay downtown and get drunk.”

And as a quick update to our last post, Studs’ Working is competing against Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife this week in the Reader‘s Greatest Chicago Book Tournament.

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