Throughout the second half of the twentieth century, Studs Terkel hosted a legendary daily radio show in Chicago, presenting listeners with his inimitable take on an eclectic range of music, from classical, opera, and jazz to gospel, blues, folk, and rock. And They All Sang is nothing less than “a tribute to music’s universality and power” ( Philadelphia Inquirer ), featuring more than forty of Terkel’s unforgettable conversations with some of the greatest musicians of the past century—including Louis Armstrong, Leonard Bernstein, Big Bill Broonzy, Bob Dylan, Dizzy Gillespie, Mahalia Jackson, Janis Joplin, Rosa Raisa, Pete Seeger, and many others.
As the esteemed music critic Anthony DeCurtis wrote in the Chicago Tribune , “the terms ‘interview’ or ‘oral history’ don’t begin to do justice to what Terkel achieves in these conversations, which are at once wildly ambitious and as casual as can be.” Whether discussing Enrico Caruso’s nervousness on stage with opera diva Edith Mason or the Beatles’ 1966 encounter in London with revered Indian sitar player Ravi Shankar, “Terkel’s singular gift for bringing his subjects to life in their own words should strike a chord with any music fan old enough to have replaced a worn-out record needle” ( The New York Times ).
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About the Author
Studs Terkel (1912–2008) was an award-winning author and radio broadcaster. He is the author of Race: How Blacks and Whites Think and Feel About the American Obsession ; Division Street: America , Coming of Age: Growing Up in the Twentieth Century ; Talking to Myself: A Memoir of My Times ; “The Good War”: An Oral History of World War II ; Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do ; The Studs Terkel Reader: My American Century ; American Dreams: Lost and Found ; The Studs Terkel Interviews: Film and Theater ; Hard Times: An Oral History of the Great Depression ; Will the Circle Be Unbroken?: Reflections on Death, Rebirth, and Hunger for a Faith ; Giants of Jazz ; Hope Dies Last: Keeping the Faith in Troubled Times ; And They All Sang: Adventures of an Eclectic Disc Jockey ; Touch and Go: A Memoir ; P.S.: Further Thoughts from a Lifetime of Listening ; and Studs Terkel’s Chicago , all published by The New Press. He was a member of the Academy of Arts and Letters and a recipient of a Presidential National Humanities Medal, the National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, a George Polk Career Award, and the National Book Critics Circle 2003 Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award.
Date of Birth:May 16, 1912
Date of Death:October 31, 2008
Place of Birth:New York, NY
Place of Death:Chicago, IL
Education:J.D., University of Chicago, 1934
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TITO GOBBI: GOOD AND EVIL 1959, 1971, 1973
For fourteen years, he was a guest baritone at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. His two favorite roles were Scarpia in Puccini's Tosca (which, on several occasions, he directed) and the title role in Verdi's Simon Boccanegra. He passionately defined the one as evil, the police chief "before whom Rome trembled," and the other, the doge of fourteenth-century Genoa, as the beloved man of peace. He first performed Germont in La Traviata in 1937 at the Royal Opera House in Rome.
I studied in Rome with Giulio Crimi, the great tenor who sang many times in Chicago. A wonderful teacher. I was twenty-four years old when I played Alfredo's father in La Traviata. Only twenty years younger than my son the tenor. [Laughs] I had very funny makeup. I tried to draw age on my face but the skin was too young. What a crazy debut! Successful, would you believe it? Do you know how it happened? I wasn't supposed to sing this performance, but the baritone got sick. I was also suffering from a high fever, sneezing all the time. The only thing that could stop me sneezing was a little drop of cognac. They phoned and said, "Tito Gobbi, are you ready to sing Germont in Traviata?" "Oh, yes." "Did you ever sing it before?" "Oh, yes!" Never. [Laughs] I come in sneezing. "Are you ready to sing tonight?" "Tonight? Oh, sure." I was waiting two years for somebody to let me sing, so I didn't say no. We must risk. I hope I can start in a good way and my career can begin. So I'm in my dressing room, sneezing and drinking drop by drop of cognac, until I finish the bottle. Very good. By the end of the act, when Violetta takes my hand and comes out of the duetto and the aria to take the bow, the audience was making a lot of noise. "Bravo! Bravo! Bravo!" They knew I was a young boy taking the place of the baritone. I couldn't stand. I was absolutely drunk. [Laughs] All the alcohol leads to my victory. So that's how I began.
I'm in opera for no special reason. I was studying first-year law at the University of Padua. One day, I played tennis with an old friend, a musician, and I was singing a famous song [he sings a brief passage from a folk tune] while I go bong, bong, bong with the tennis ball. He said, "Nobody told you you have a good singing voice, baritone?" He said to my father, "Send your son to study music and voice." My father wanted me to be a lawyer. My father had an office in Rome and there I met Giulio Crimi, who sang with Caruso. He took me like his son. He was training me hard, studying voice. One day, I felt I was ready. I sang a basso aria. It was easier to sing basso than baritone. He was against my singing just yet, but he listened. He left the theater without saying a word. Oh my God, I must have been terrible. He waited for me in a big limousine, my maestro, with his head in his two folded hands on the walking stick. I said, trembling, "Commandatore?" He said, "I want you at my home tomorrow. Here is my card. Be there." That's how my career began.
I have always been attracted to a role in which it is possible to be an interpreter of character, an actor as well as a singer. In all my personages, I am putting in a drop of humanity. Even the strong villains, rude and evil, must have a sense of humanity. But not Iago [in Verdi's Otello]. He is not susceptible to any kind of good. He's the only character in whom I was not able to find a drop of humanity. His evil is dangerous, devilish. I am against all these people, musicologists, who try to find a reason for the hate of Iago against humanity. If you find a reason for Iago's behavior, you minimize the character. He's just like this because he is Iago. There is no reason. What reason? He suspects that Otello had affair with his wife? You minimize the man. You make him a staid, jealous husband. Right then and there, he becomes a small man. Not Iago. He destroys because he likes to destroy. Rigoletto, in trying to destroy the Duke, has a reason: to avenge the loss of the purity of his daughter. Iago, this man has Otello, the representative of the beauty of love, under his feet. He is not climbing the throne. He doesn't want to be elected. He's not like Macbeth. In the end when Otello says, "Ah, discolpati," what it means in English is: "Confess yourself, tell me you are guilty." Iago says no. He's evil because he believes all men are evil. [Gobbi speaks the lyrics in rich, mellifluous Italian. I repeat the speech in English at his insistence] "I believe a cruel God has created me in his image and whom I hate, from some vile germ or atom. Base am I born. I'm evil because I am a man and I feel the primeval slime." Just the contrary of what I believe. I believe all children are good. Verdi is true to Shakespeare in the case of Iago. "From the germ of the cradle to the worm of the grave": heaven, he is saying, is an old wives' tale. It's a fake.
Verdi's Falstaff is not a comic figure really, he's a tragic figure who drops himself in comic situations. It doesn't matter what he does, he does it with conviction, convinced that he does something good. To be respected is very important to him. He's a man who believes in himself. It doesn't matter if they throw him in the water and they make a lot of mockeries of him, he re-stands up and he comes back. He has a strong sense of survival. The situation is sometimes comic. But he is also pathetic. He is a man that you must love, and then you will also cry for him, suffer for him. Especially when he comes out of the water of the Thames, where they threw him in a basket. He's furious. He goes back to the innkeeper, "Hey, taverniere ... [in Italian]. He asks for a glass of hot wine. While he waits for his drink, he thinks about the sadness of the world and life. [He recites, beautifully, in Italian.] Now you read it in English. "Thieving world, rascal world, evil world. Host! A glass of mulled wine. I, then, having lived so long as a brave and skillful knight, end up carried in a clothes basket, tossed in the river with the stinking wash like a kitten, or a still-blind pup. Without this buoyant paunch, I'd surely have drowned. Mix a bit of wine with the water of the Thames. Ah, good. To loosen one's vest in the sun and drink sweet wine, O sweet thing. Good wine chases away the gloomy thoughts of sorrow, lights up the eye in one's thoughts. A thrilling madness drunkens the happy globe. The trill quivers through the entire world. How good the wine is."
Falstaff is an immense character. That is important. It happens sometimes that onstage they build the décor and the scenery bigger than Falstaff. If the door is a very big door, you can put heels on my shoes, you can put belly on my stomach, you can make me as big as you want, the door makes me smaller. If you go in all the very old parts of England, in the country, you have to bend to go in. There is a beam which is so low that to pass from this side to the next side of the same room, you have nearly to kneel, because the houses were smaller and I think the people also were small. That's why Falstaff can be so big. If he is big like me, I will do it bigger. As it happened to me once. The innkeeper was so big he was twice the size of Falstaff. [Chuckles] So I protest and say, "No, either you choose between the two of us. You send him home." It is always a question of balance. Everything. If you have a beautiful diamond and you put it between other diamonds, big as it is, the beauty disappears. It's a question of balance and proportion. Verdi, when he finished Falstaff, was eighty. When you have a good brain, good health, age means nothing. If the brain is still young, the genius is always there. And he was genius until the last second of his life.
Scarpia [in Puccini's Tosca] is one of my favorite roles. I have done more than eight hundred performances of Scarpia, the most in my career. There is a lot of history in this opera, but also fantasy. A good interpreter, to perform this strong character, must believe that everything about him is historical. So fiction and truth must get together. At first, I thought there really was no Scarpia. Now I've discovered that he and Tosca really existed. I try to find somebody who was supposed to be Scarpia at that time. I found in the Archivio di Stato di Roma a chief of police from that time. He was a Sicilian baron named Scarpia, and he was found killed inside of his door by a knife. He was forty-two years old. In Italian dialect, the nickname "Scarpia" is the net of the spider where the flies have to fall prisoner. That's why I don't run anymore following Tosca to capture her. I don't move. She will be out of her mind, she will be so desperate that she will fall in my open arms. And I say, "Mia, mia," because she can't escape because I'm Scarpia. Even though I was starving for so many years in my career, I was always trying to reach the truth in my character. Especially when I became a producer (director) of these operas.
Floria Tosca was a girl born near Verona, the country of Romeo and Juliet. Ill and penniless, she recovered in a convent. The nuns took care of her. One day, a great Napoli musician was passing through and listened to the singing of this novitiate. He was impressed by the beautiful voice of this girl. He asked the mother superior to release her, to take her to Rome to study. So she went to Rome, where she studied with Cimarosa, who was a revolutionary. In 1799, Napoli was proclaimed the first republic. Yes, with twenty-five supporters [a small laugh]. So the republic was over, finished, and Angelotti escaped to Rome. A fugitive. King Ferdinand liberated Cimarosa in respect of the great musician on condition that he never came back to Napoli. That's why Cimarosa came to Rome and how Floria Tosca studied with him. Cavaradossi was in Paris first, studying with David, the famous painter. Napoleon and the horse, you remember? A glorious painting. His father was a friend of Diderot, and consequently a Voltairean, a friend of Voltaire. That's why the sacristan in Tosca says they are against the church. Cavaradossi decided to come to Rome. It was chic for a painter to come to Italy. At the theater, Tosca was performing. He fell in love with her. Now comes Scarpia. A super-elegant, refined monster. He became the totalitarian chief of the Rome police. He was protected and favorite of Queen Carolina, wife of King Ferdinand, sister of Marie Antoinette. She took Scarpia to Napoli with her and when the revolution broke out took him to Rome. Angelotti, the revolutionary, was a fugitive in Rome, a friend of Cavaradossi. Scarpia in one year was torturing, killing, confiscating property of forty thousand Roman families because they were sympathetic to the revolution.
Scarpia builds up his own character as a super SS image. The pure race. He was very handsome, elegant, fine, knew how to behave. The Church named him Baron Scarpia. But this time, the simple Sicilian origin in him exploded. That's why I have him shouting sometimes, like fury. He cannot control himself 100 percent. I call him a monster because of his self-idolatry. He is sure everything will fall in his arms, even Tosca. The meaning of the word Tosca is il buon falco. Tosca is a very good little falcon. Scarpia is a hunter. If I follow the falcon, I will find the prey. Because if I put jealousy in her heart, she is going out to the villa of Cavaradossi, and if Angelotti is there, my spy, Spoletta, follows her. It's mostly my fantasy. I try to build this kind of interpretation, to believe in this. This helps bring out the fuller truth. You must, especially, remember the history of the epoch.
When Scarpia sends Cavaradossi to the torture chamber, smiling, he invites Tosca to sit down: "Darling, let's talk as good friends ..." So he tries to be a gentleman, to be diplomatic, to charm her. Because he has terrific power of self-control. But sometimes his fury is so strong. He's a man of Sicily, he's a man of blood, he's a man of the country where they grow eggplants, oranges, and the sun is hot. His reaction is also wild sometimes. He's always the hunter, suspicious of everything. Inside the church in the first act, he looks around and sees a little dust there, a little thing that can be a trace of an escaped prisoner.
Can you find any redeeming feature in Scarpia?
Yes, even though Scarpia is a monster, he's human. There is one moment in the opera when I like to think that Scarpia can also be human and have a heart, have a human feeling. It is in the end, when he promises to release Cavaradossi. Alone with Tosca, he sings, "I have kept my promise." And she says, "No, I want first to leave the country." And there Puccini wrote, dolce [sings gently], "Do you really want to leave ... now?" And that is very human. He is a man who, for an instant, thinks that his presence, his important position can convince her to make love with him, eh? And when she says, "Okay, I will be your victim, but you give me permission to leave immediately after," this is a terrible disillusion for a man of passion because he's really attracted by the beauty of Tosca. It's a moment in which he opens his arms, his true feeling. He's a man who can really also love, for a second. That's where he is different from Iago. I never attended the opera Tosca in my life. I don't like going to the opera. I have been in the audience only twenty times in my life. I have heard about Antonio Scotti as Scarpia, he sang with Caruso. I have a nice picture of him, he had an aquiline nose. I never heard another Iago, never heard a Simon Boccanegra. [A deep sigh]
Ah, Simon Boccanegra. Maybe my very favorite Verdi role. A challenge to the actor as to the singer. He was the doge of Genoa, like a king. It was a marine republic. He was a friend of Francesco Petrarca. You say Petrarch, the Renaissance man. Simon reads the letter to the council saying Venice and Genoa belong to the same country. I plead peace and love. Stop fighting. This was 1354, five hundred years before Garibaldi and Mazzini. That, for me as an Italian, is a good feeling. The aria he sings, "Plebe! Patrizi! Popolo!" is one of the most moving in all of Verdi. When they dismiss this opera, I feel sad, unhappy, insulted. I'm not talking about Tito Gobbi. Judge me as they like. But I don't like for people to dismiss Verdi's Boccanegra in this light way. With just a shrug.
As the interview ends, we are listening to "Plebe! Patrizi! Popolo!" as Gobbi murmurs, "He's a dying man. He's not shouting. It's his last plea." I am immediately reminded of an interview I once did with Italian basso Salvatore Baccaloni. He said of Chaliapin: "He's the most great artist. When he sing the Boris, he go down in the street near to death with the scarlet fever and he tremble on the stage because he's a near to fall down. Many Boris today sing strong. What kind of sick man is this? Chaliapin was a no singer, was a no actor. When he was Boris, he was Boris."
GERAINT EVANS: THE OUTSIDER 1967, 1974, 1977
The doyen of Welsh opera singers. Though his repertoire included the classic baritone roles in Mozart, Verdi, and Puccini, his antiheroes in Alban Berg's Wozzeck and Benjamin Britten's Peter Grimes (which he directed while playing Captain Balstrode) most affected me. Curiously (or perversely), it was his portrayal of Beckmesser, the awkward town clerk in Wagner's Die Meistersinger, that touched me more than the heroic Hans Sachs or the village's (and Eva's) lover boy, Walther. To get things rolling during our first encounter (having seen his Leporello, Don Giovanni's toady) I asked him to talk about the Don's remarkable number of amorous conquests, especially the distraught Elvira, a rejected lover.
Leporello would sell his own grandmother. This suits the Don, who needs someone to bully around and play games with. And to do his dirty work as well. I try to play Leporello as a dog because that's how the Don treats him. I also did the Don for one season. It was a great decision for me, having already done Leporello, to find out really whether I'm going to play the Don or I'm going back to the dog. When people think of Don Giovanni, they think of a tall, elegant Ezio Pinza, who's a great Don. And of John Brownlee, who was a tall, handsome man. I thought, I'm a little too short. So I put on lifts and this, that, and the other. After that performance I had a long chat with Otto Klemperer, the conductor. He said, "Geraint, you know, it's better to be a very good Leporello than a good Don."
I was fortunate in my early days to work with the conductor Fritz Busch and stage director Karl Ebert. I'm indebted to those two great men. It was Busch who said, "Geraint, you should concentrate on Mozart. Be successful in Mozart, and then the other things will come your way." I love going back to Mozart after singing, say, Wozzeck or some other role, because you cannot cheat in Mozart, you've got to sing. And it's always fresh. I've performed Figaro around five hundred performances, and it's still as fresh as ever. Figaro is the exact opposite of Leporello — the new man who will not take any guff from the count. The most important thing, he was defying an old tradition, the rite of the first night. This is a revolutionary man.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "And They All Sang"
Copyright © 2005 Studs Terkel.
Excerpted by permission of The New Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Foreword by Anthony DeCurtis,
PRELUDE: An American Original,
JOHN JACOB NILES,
TITO GOBBI: Good and Evil,
GERAINT EVANS: The Outsider,
JOHN HAMMOND SR.,
SPIRITUALS, BLUES, FOLK, ROCK,
THOMAS A. DORSEY,
BIG BILL BROONZY,
VARIATIONS ON THE THEME,
JULIAN LEE RAYFORD 263,
POSTLUDE: A Graceful Goodbye,