And They All Sang by Studs Terkel When I heard that Studs Terkel had a new(er) book out that was comprised entirely of interviews with musicians, singers, and composers, I did my best to track it down right away and move it to the top of my must-read pile. If you’ve been looking at this site at all in the past year, you know that Terkel is one of my favorite compilers of the human condition with his writing. He consistently manages to conjure up some of the most meaningful statements I’ve ever read, and the words usually come from “ordinary” people.

And They All Sang differs from his other books in part because all the people he interviews within are rather well known (at least within their particular field). Even though I follow music in general rather closely, I have to admit ignorance in terms of many of the people in the book (mainly opera singers and conductors).

While the above fact didn’t keep me from enjoying the book, I feel like it did hold back what I got out of it. The first one-third to one-half of the book focuses in on these singers and their craft before moving on to different sections that focus on composers (including Leonard Bernstein and Aaron Copeland) that I really enjoyed a lot. From there, he’s onto jazz (including Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie, and Keith Jarrett), blues/folk/rock (including Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger, Janis Joplin), and even includes an interview with Alan Lomax.

Out of all the interviews, the ones with Seeger and Lomax were by far my favorite. The Dylan interview was interesting, but like many done at the peak of his early mysterious phase, it seems much more leading and even slightly more fawning than Terkel usually gets. Seeger flat out had an interesting life and is an amazing storyteller, while as expected Lomax has some great tales to tell as well. His recollections of carrying around the amazingly heavy early “portable” recording equipment are practically worth the price of the book alone.

As a whole, And They All Sang had some great moments, but didn’t engage me quite as much as the usual work from Terkel. If I had a larger appreciation for opera, I probably would have enjoyed the book all the way through, and while there were definitely still interesting things to glean from their interviews, I wished I could relate more.