Talking With Puerto Rican Activists

Puerto Rican people started to come to Chicago in the 1930’s, and there is still a vibrant Puerto Rican culture here today.  According to a report prepared by Puerto Rican Agenda, most Puerto Ricans in Chicago live in Logan Square, Hermosa, Humboldt Park, Belmont, Cragin, West Town, Avondale, and Portage Park.  11% – 38% of residents in these areas are Puerto Rican.

As with many immigrant minorities, Puerto Ricans in Chicago have faced a language barrier, poverty, racism, and struggles with housing.  Following the lead of African-American civil rights activists, Puerto Rican community groups began forming to work for better conditions.  One of these groups was LADO: Latin American Defense Organization.  In 1969, five of their members joined Studs in the studio to talk about their mission and what they had accomplished so far.  These five were Obed López, Martha Sanchez, Daniel Meléndez, Olga Pedroza, and Georgina Novarra.

At the start of the program, Mr. López introduces LADO and tells Studs how it came about.  Mr. Meléndez talks about some of the difficulties faced by the Puerto Rican community in Chicago.

In this clip, Mr. López describes LADO as “an organization the people themselves have created,”  which he believes to be as important as anything the organization has specifically accomplished.  Mr. Meléndez goes on to talk about what was “left behind” in Puerto Rico, and also about the places he sees the city administration failing the Puerto Rican community.

According to the article written by Clara López, Obed’s daughter, LADO’s fourth principle of action was “in the absence of any mechanism to resolve our legitimate grievances, we believe in the right to direct action.”  In this clip, we hear about problems that Mrs. Sanchez had with the Welfare office, and the direct actions that were taken by LADO to help her.

Mr. López and Mrs. Novarra talk about the differences between life in Chicago and life in Puerto Rico.  Studs brings up the common invective, “go back where you came from,” which leads Mr. Meléndez talks about what motivates Puerto Ricans to come to Chicago.

It might surprise relative newcomers to Chicago to learn that Wicker Park, Noble Square, and Lincoln Park were once Puerto Rican communities.  Ms. Pedroza talks about the housing problems within the community, and tells about a successful rent strike.  Mr. Meléndez points out that another obstacle to finding good housing is racist rental practices, and cites his own mother’s experience as an example.

To learn more, check out the Puerto Rican Cultural Center here in Chicago. This report also provides a great deal of information on Puerto Ricans in Chicago. For more information on LADO, check out this article written by Clara López, Obed’s daughter.

Image Credit: By Darwinek [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons

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Banned Books Week: Allen Ginsberg & William S. Burroughs

Welcome to the final installment of our Banned Books Week celebration!

Why are books challenged?

Taking a look at the top ten books challenged in 2016, five of the ten list LGBT characters, transgender characters, or LGBT content as a reason.   But challenges change with time: from 2000-2009, “homosexuality” accounted for only 361 of 5099 challenges.  Butler University Libraries notes that additional reasons include racial issues, encouragement of “damaging” lifestyles, blasphemous dialogue, violence or negativity, and presence of witchcraft, among others.

Who challenges books?  In 2016, 42% of challenges were made by parents, 31% by library patrons, and 10% or less were made each by library board members or administrators, librarians or teachers, political and religious groups, government, or other.  From 2000-2009, challenges came primarily from parents, schools and school libraries, and public libraries.

Challenges to the Beat Generation

Last week, we talked about the Persepolis debacle in Chicago, but that certainly isn’t the first time a book has drawn such attention and fire.  Sixty years ago,  People v. Ferlinghetti was heard in San Francisco over the publication of Allen Ginsberg‘s book Howl and Other Poems due to “graphic sexual language of the poem.”
“Howl” is probably best known for its opening line

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,

Expert witnesses for the defense included professors, editors, and book reviewers, and Ferlinghetti was eventually found not guilty.  You can read more about the trial here, and get a sense of how “Howl” fit into the world of bebop and modern art here.  The first recorded reading of “Howl” was at Reed College in Portland; hear the recording here.  Today, “Howl” is one of the Library of Congress’s “Books that Shaped America.”

William S. Burrough’s novel Naked Lunch, which NPR describes as “a dark wild ride through the terror of heroin addiction and withdrawal, filled with paranoia, erotica and drug-fueled hallucinations” was brought to court to face an obscenity trial in 1965 after a Boston bookseller was arrested for selling it.  You can read more about the trial here, including excerpts of testimonies from Norman Mailer and Allen Ginsberg.  You can read an excerpt of the court documents here, including the statement that “the book could not be said to be utterly without redeeming social value, and so was protected by the First Amendment of the Federal Constitution from being adjudged ‘obscene’.”

Conversation Highlights

In 1975, Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs were in Chicago to give public readings.  During their trip, they stopped in to the studio to chat with Studs.  In this first clip, Allen Ginsberg talks about first meeting William (Bill) Burroughs, and how Burroughs was a teacher and mentor for him. This leads to a conversation on the addiction to language, or “language as dope,” as Studs puts it.  Ginsberg explains that Burroughs taught him “That language itself was an addiction and that we were all addicted to ticker tape repetition of conditioned concepts.”

Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs, among others, are part of a group known as Beat generation authors or Beat poets.  In this clip, Studs asks about what that word means.  Later, they talk about both Ginsberg’s and Burroughs’ time in Europe.

Studs and his guests make two Chicago connections during this conversation.  In 1959, the University of Chicago’s literary magazine Chicago Review planned to publish the last of three installments of Naked Lunch.  Once it was challenged, former Review editors Irving Rosenthal and Paul Carroll planned to publish it in Big Table instead, which also faced anger and pushbackAllen Ginsberg, Peter Orlovsky, and Gregory Corso were in Chicago to give a reading to raise money for the Big Table publication.

In 1968, and Burroughs were in Chicago for the Democratic Convention protests. In this clip, Ginsberg talks about his testimony as a witness for the Chicago Seven and his attempts to chant “ohm” and “Hare Krishna” the courtroom.  This video shows Ginsberg chanting with a group before the convention.

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Banned Books Week: Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon

Banned Books Week

The American Library Association designates the last week in September as Banned Books Week.  (We’re starting our celebration a little early.)

Their FAQ page explains that a book must be challenged before it is banned, and that most challenges are not successful.  But some are, even if only temporarily – such as the attempt to take Persepolis out of Chicago Public Schools.  The American Library Association points out that most challenges are made with good intentions, such as CPS’s concern that “some students would not be developmentally capable of handling the mature content,” but they strongly believe in the freedom to read.

Fundamentally, the censorship and attempted censorship of books is a First Amendment issue: those who challenge have the right to express their opinions and concerns, and writers have the right to express themselves.  This dissent, rooted on both sides in freedom of speech, is an essential piece of our American democracy.  As such, we’re proud to have an archive full of challenged writers including James Baldwin, Margaret Atwood, Maya Angelou, and Madeline L’Engle.

Toni Morrison, 2008

Today, we’re featuring a 1977 conversation with Toni Morrison about her book Song of Solomon.  The book was #84 on ALA’s 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990-1999, and had moved up to #72 on the 2000-2009 list.  Morrison’s books Beloved and The Bluest Eye are also on both lists.  Morrison has won the Nobel Prize for Literature and the Pulitzer Prize.

The Conversation

For much of the hour, Studs and Ms. Morrison talk about storytelling, transcendence, memories, and love. Here they talk about the very beginning of the book that sets up for everything else that occurs.


They go on to talk about the women in the book, who Ms. Morrison describes as “the lovers, nurturers, as well as builders.” The story she tells about Not-Doctor Street highlights the conflict between an oral tradition based in memory and the world of “official” memory as kept by bureaucratic records.

The Atlanta Black Star highlights some occasions when the book was challenged; the word “filth” is rather prevalent.  (Check out its entire list of “10 Black Books You May Not Have Known Were Banned or Challenged.”)  The Marshall University Libraries also highlights some instances, and cites “profanity, sexual imagery, and a story line about an incestuous relationship” as possible reasons. In this clip, Studs and Ms. Morrison talk about the relationship between Milkman and Hagar, who are cousins.

But the most upsetting elements in this book may be the facts, not the stories.  Taking a page from the chaos that ensued after the Civil War (and the racially driven apathy that accompanied it, in the best of cases), Ms. Morrison explains how her protagonist, Macon Dead, got his name.  She and Studs go on to talk about instances in which the poor and illiterate in America have been taken advantage of.

There’s a good deal more to the interview, but we didn’t want to spoil the ending of the book!  You can find Song of Solomon at your local library and decide for yourself whether or not it should stay on the shelves.  Scroll down and enter your zip code in the box:

Photo by Angela Radulescu via Flickr. CC BY-SA 2.0


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Labor Day Voices

Quality of life for working men and women was so important to Studs.  Many people are familiar with his book Working that brought their lives and struggles into the light, but Studs also interviewed dozens (hundreds?) of people about their jobs for his regular radio show.  It is fitting that a Chicago icon such as Studs carries on the fight that started in Chicago with the May Day and Haymarket demonstrations.

“Portraits of the Haymarket Martyrs,” Liberty London 1894.

To celebrate Labor Day, we’re featuring three clips that detail the struggles of work.  They remind us how far we’ve come and how far we have yet to go.

Memories of Child Labor

First is Cesar Chavez remembering what it was like to grow up in a migrant family.  When he started working, Chavez tells Studs, he was making twelve cents an hour.  In addition to chronic poverty, he and his family faced racism and of course unfair and unsafe labor practices.  As Chavez describes his experience, he says, “The humiliation that you go through is so cutting, so damaging that you’ll never forget it.”

Happier Nurses Means Happier Patients

Next, we hear Mary Runyon and Kathy Ann Keller talk about the Ashtabula nurses strike.  Runyon (president of the Ashtabula General Nurses Association) and Keller had both been employees of Ashtabula General Hospital, working as part-time nurses while raising their families in Ashtabula.  Here they explain what changed their minds about strikes and unions in general, and how the nurses ended up on a 570 day strike.  Regarding her experience leading up to the strike, Mary Runyon tells Studs, “Just because you’re a public servant doesn’t mean that you have to get stepped on.”

The Importance of Unions – Then and Now

Finally, the voice of Ed Sadlwoski, former Director of United Steelworkers of America, District 31.  In this conversation, Sadlwoski laments about the new generation that does not understand the need to help and support one another, but only sees competition: “They don’t rely on their fellow man; they have no concept as far as their need or their fellow man’s need for them… They have no sense of history, no sense of yesterday, no sense of understanding.”  Studs and Sadlowski lament the fact that this younger generation doesn’t appreciate what unions have done in the past and continue to do, and Studs tells a story of reminding a young couple that it is because of unions that they work a forty-hour week.

Looking for More?

For Women’s History Month, we shared clips of Studs’ 1975 interview with Dolores Huerta.  Check it out here.

In 1975, Rolling Stone profiled Ed Sadlwoski shortly after he’d become Director of his district.  It’s an in-depth look at the culture in the steel mills, including the men’s thoughts on politics and race.  Read it here.

Photo Credits: Flickr/Kheel Center.  “Women pressers on strike for  higher wages”. CC BY 2.0  Liberty London, November 1894.  “Portraits of the Haymarket Martyrs”.  Public Domain

Countdown to Jazz Fest: Dizzy Gillespie

This year, the Chicago Jazz Festival will be celebrating the 100th anniversary of Dizzy Gillespie’s birth, and the 70th anniversary of his big band.  Studs and Dizzy spoke on the radio a few times, and Dizzy was one of the artists profiled in Studs’ Giants of Jazz.  Dizzy Gillespie was one of the founders of bebop, and is also known for bringing Latin jazz to a wider audience with songs such as “A Night in Tunisia” and “Tin Tin Deo.”

In 1961, he and Studs had a long chat.  Studs starts out by asking, “What about you, Diz?  At the time this was highly controversial music… so called named figures and commentators and critics were giving you a rough time yet you stuck to your guns.”  They continue and talk about the difference between being a “surgeon” when listening, and just feeling the music.  Dizzy says, “Don’t try to understand it, just try to feel the music.  If you get a feeling about it, it’s not too necessary to understand that music I don’t think.”

Studs asks about Dizzy’s influences, including Latin and Cuban music.  Dizzy talks about working with Chano Pozo and then tells him, “Something about me, my makeup, musically is sort of on the Latin side because most of the tunes that I write are Latin influenced… The melody that I have in my mind always lends itself to a Latin beat.”

Hear the conversation here:

And then check out “Tin Tin Deo” performed by the Dizzy Gillespie quartet (co-written by Chano Pozo and Gil Fuller)

Studs tells Dizzy he’s heard that Quincy Jones has described Dizzy as someone who “plays the horn like a drummer.” Dizzy replies: “the way I play, I have rhythm in my mind first.  And then naturally you have the chord changes that goes with it, but you make up the notes to fit the rhythm… It’s the same thing as a drummer only he doesn’t have notes.”

The conversation continues as Studs asks Dizzy about his time playing at the Birdhouse, which did not serve alcohol.  Dizzy prefers to play to an audience that has not been drinking, and doesn’t like to play under the influence either.  Then Studs asks him about his trip to South America, and his composition “Lorraine,” named for Dizzy’s wife.

Here the conversation here:

And then check out “Lorraine.”


Towards the end of their conversation, Dizzy tells Studs he’d like to start a school in West Africa: “they have contributed so much to us and they have gotten so little in return… I figure that they could use me… This is a matter of service.”  Dizzy goes on to tell Studs, “I have such a strong feeling for the whole of Africa that any part of it would be like being in my living room or something.” 

Studs asks about the song “My Man,” and Dizzy tells the story of when he first played it as a dedication to French singer and entertainer Minstinguett, who sang the song as”Mon Homme.”

Finally, Dizzy gives Studs a great farewell, saying, “Such a pleasure to sit down and chat with someone who has such a strong feeling about jazz, and not only the strong feeling, but back it up with knowledge about the situation.”

Hear the conversation here:


Photo by William Gottlieb, courtesy of the Library of Congress:


Countdown to Jazz Fest

Chicago loves Jazz Fest, and so do we at STRA.  To get ready for the big weekend, we’ve selected clips of artists remembering their personal and musical influences.

Studs loved talking to musicians, and he was so excited by jazz musicians that he wrote a book about them!  He loved jazz for it’s improvisation, and for its deep roots (along with blues and gospel) in the African-American slave communities. He was fascinated by how jazz musicians worked, often commenting or asking about quirks such as humming while playing.  I have a suspicion that he also liked talking to jazz musicians because he got to stay after hours at the jazz clubs, as he does in the interview with Milt Jackson and Ray Brown.

In 1962, Studs talked with pianist and composer Erroll Garner.  He tells Studs that because he couldn’t read piano music growing up, he was never particularly interested in seeing piano players perform.  It was the big bands that really caught his eye (and ear), and shaped his playing.  As Studs says to him, “In your mind then, you imagine that you are not just playing a piano but that you are a big band!”

Tenor player Lawrence “Bud” Freeman talked with Studs in 1974.  When Studs asks about his influences, Bud Freeman remembers that as a high schooler, he and his friends would visit the jazz clubs in the South Side of Chicago.  He called it “the best education I could have had in music.” He goes on to talk about Jack Pettis and Coleman Hawkins, and how they changed the landscape for the tenor saxophone in jazz.

In 1981, Studs caught up with Milt Jackson and Ray Brown after a performance.  Milt Jackson talks about how his years as a vocalist affect how he plays the vibes.  Ray Brown talks about how important Jimmy Blanton was to his playing, and for bass players in general: “He sounded as interesting playing time as he did playing solos.”

In this clip from a conversation in 1984, singer Lena Horne reflects on her own life experience and seeing the world change as she grew up.  Studs remembers that he and Ms. Horne were both at Paul Robeson’s fiftieth birthday celebration.  She goes on to talk about learning from Paul Robeson: “Paul gave me a sense of my own history.”

A sense of history is perhaps what Studs loved best about jazz – the line of the music, passed from mentor to student, was like a story being retold and reworked for each new generation.


Lena Horne photo By Metro Goldwyn Mayer (ebay front back) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
MJQ photo by Philips Records – Billboard, page 21, 7 November 1964, Public Domain,
Erroll Garner photo [Portrait of Erroll Garner, New York, N.Y., between 1946 and 1948] by William P. Gottlieb, courtesy of the Library of Congress –
Bud Freeman photo [Portrait of Bud Freeman, Eddie Condon’s, New York, N.Y., between 1946 and 1948] by William P. Gottlieb, courtesy of the Library of Congress –

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Disability Pride 2017

This Saturday is Chicago’s Disability Pride parade, to celebrate Disability Awareness Month.

“Disability” used to have a very limited application and although not everyone is aware of it, the definition has widened to include people with chronic physical illnesses or conditions, learning disabilities, cognitive disorders or delays, mental illnesses, and autism spectrum disorders.

We’ve hunted through the archive to find three recordings that demonstrate the broad mindset of the disability community, and that remind listeners, then and now, that being different is nothing to be ashamed of. Continue reading →

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Remembering Japanese-American internment

Japanese-Americans in front of poster of internment orders.

In 1942, after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, nearly 120,000 Japanese-Americans were taken to internment camps scattered throughout the western United States.

John Tateishi was three years old when he was brought to Manzanar with his parents.  In 1984, his book And Justice For All: An Oral History of the Japanese American Detention Camps was published, and he joined Studs to talk about it. Continue reading →


Planned Parenthood, 1965

Most Americans probably believe that Planned Parenthood is a quintessentially American organization, especially since we have been seeing it in the news so frequently lately.

Third International Conference of Family Planning Association, India, 1952. Lady Rama Rau is seated second from left.

But in fact, the Planned Parenthood Federation of America is a part of an umbrella organization, International Planned Parenthood FederationLady Dhavanthi Rama Rau served as president and then president emeritus of IPPF, and spoke with Studs in 1965, two years into her presidency.

In 1965, Indira Gandhi, Golda Meir, and Margaret Thatcher were yet to be elected Prime Minister of their respective countries; Roe v. Wade had not been heard in the U.S. Supreme Court; and it was still legal in the U.S. to fire a woman because she was pregnant.  Lady Rama Rau’s work was groundbreaking both for women and in terms of considering the future of our planet and our population. Continue reading →


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