Author and historian Studs Terkel died today at the age of 96. The Chicago Tribune has an obituary.
One of the few actors to survive the McCarthy-fueled blacklisting of the 1950s, Studs Terkel returned as a radio personality and author, a career which lasted for the remainder of his life. In 1974, he released his third oral history book Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do.
That same year, Studs was approached by Broadway composer Stephen Schwartz and Nina Faso to adapt his book into a musical. Through the mid-70s, Schwartz and Faso worked on their adaptation, and also commissioned other songwriters to contribute to the score. In 1978, James Taylor was hired. He provided the songs “Millworker” and “Brother Trucker,” which later appeared on James’ album Flag. He also composed the music for “Un Mejor Dia Vendra” (with Spanish lyrics by Matt Landers and Graciella Danielle). “Traffic Jam” from JT was added to future productions.
The show debuted on Broadway on May 14, 1978. While it did not have a long run, it received 6 Tony Award nominations, including Best Original Score. The original Broadway cast album was released that same year, and was re-released on CD in 2001.
In 1982, the PBS program “American Playhouse” aired a televised adaptation of the musical, which included a 70-year-old Studs Terkel as narrator, James Taylor in the role of the truck driver and singing “Brother Trucker,” Eileen Brennan as the millworker and Jennifer Warnes singing “Millworker”. The broadcast was released on DVD in 2002.