And They All Sang: Adventures of an Eclectic Disc Jockey
By Studs Terkel
The New Press (New York); hardback: 301 pages; $25.95

Few Americans can honestly be described as a "national treasure," but Studs Terkel is certainly one. And there is certainly just one Studs Terkel.

Feisty well into his nineties, Studs still has that unquenchable spirit and that ultimate radio voice. Our world has been bettered by him, in more ways than we can measure.

His newest book is a tribute to that legacy. And They All Sang: Adventures of an Eclectic Disc Jockey is a completely unique and fascinating compendium of Studs's brilliant, vanguard interviews with many of the most important figures in American culture.

Studs is at his incomparable best in the Introduction, explaining the origins of this, his first radio show, The Wax Museum. Soon after World War II, the owner of Chicago's classical music mecca at WFMT gave Studs (and the people of Chicago) the ultimate gift---an hour of radio time in which to do whatever he pleased.

The owner goes unnamed, as does the salary. But Studs fills the prologue with anecdote and legend as only he can tell it. Or, more accurately, sing it.

An asthmatic child, Studs came to worship music as the stuff of life, and to write like a cross between Jack Kerouac and a highbrow music critic who happens to really know his stuff. He masks brilliant dissections of the most sophisticated arias with arias of his own. His impeccable flow and improvised grammar dance along like Ellington or Armstrong.

From Dizzy Gillespie to Leonard Bernstein, from Marian Anderson to Janis Joplin, from Bob Dylan to Aaron Copland, there isn't a musician on the American scene that Studs can't dissect and describe in the most loving and insightful way, all the time writing prose that could---should!---be backed by piano, bass and drums.

From a crowded backstage dressing room at the Aragon Ballroom, Janis Joplin tells him that as a lonely teen in Port Arthur, Texas, she heard a Leadbelly record and "just freaked."

When Studs has the temerity to ask her about the role of good looks in singing, Janis---who has just revealed she "hates" Texans---explains that "you can't sing the blues and have your hair bleached platinum blond and look like a cheerleader. I mean, you gotta have something else going. You gotta be able to act a little, feel a little, think a little, guts."

Bob Dylan talks much the same way. A mere 22 years old when Studs tapes him, Mr. Zimmerman recalls his childhood friends from Hibbing, Minnesota by saying "either me or them has changed."

"They don't have to go out of town," he explains. "Their world is very small."

"Everybody has certain gifts," Dylan adds. "You know, when they're born, and you got enough trouble just trying to find out what it is. I used to play the guitar when I was ten, you know. So I figured maybe my thing is playing the guitar, maybe that's my little gift."

Studs Terkel's "little gift" is to put the heart and soul of America to the loving, compassionate prose of a virtuoso word musician. There are too too many blinding gems in this book to begin to mention. From Louis Armstrong to Jean Ritchie, from Pete Seeger to Ravi Shankar, from Rosa Raisa to Lotte Lehman, And They All Sang is impossible to put down, literally or figuratively. It's a treasure that can be read with pleasure and awe virtually anywhere you open it.

Studs, stick around another 90 years, will you? We need all the music we can get.

HARVEY WASSERMAN'S HISTORY OF THE US is at In the 1980s he appeared on numerous Studs Terkel radio broadcasts, talking about US history, nuclear power and the need for the city of Chicago to go solar, a sentiment Studs quickly put to song.