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Sunday, November 2, 2008

Another huge and important voice is gone

Studs Terkel died at the age of 96 Friday. A comprehensive obituary is at the Los Angeles Times.

A bibliography of his work is at the Chicago Tribune.

For those of us who grew up in and around Chicago, Studs Terkel was a mentor. His radio shows revealed and interpreted the world we were witnessing, and his giving voice to the overlooked gave us hope and courage.

There is an aspect of Stud's life that is glossed over. It is his work in television. During the early 1950s, New York was the center of the television industry, but Chicago was the creative force. Three shows come to mind from that time that are still regarded as standards of creativity, intelligence, and taste: Kukla, Fran, and Ollie; the Dave Garroway Show; and Stud's Place.

Stud's Place, featuring Stud's Terkel, was a restaurant that featured conversation, music, and pertinent musings on the affairs of the world. It reflected Terkel's truly democratic philosophy, which irritated the McCarthy right wing faction to a dangerous point. Because it openly emphasized equality and a recognition of the worth of each person as a prime ingredient in any true democracy, it was taken off the air. But at the same time, it exposed the totalitarian grip that the McCarthy faction was exerting on America.

Studs Terkel was literally the voice of America. His radio shows sang with American music. His books presented the personal histories of hundreds of Americans who gave the definition of our country, through the Depression, World War II, and daily work on their jobs.

In "Hard Times," what is now Northern State University is mentioned as a little "cold-water college." If anyone needs to be put in touch with how life is really lived in America, Studs Terkel has told the tales superbly.

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States