StoryCorps in LA: Preserving Oral Histories


Cheech Marin of the Grammy award winning comedy duo Cheech and Chong

Dina Zempsky recalls being interviewed by her then 13-year-old son Sam inside the StoryCorps mobile booth at New York City’s Grand Central Station back in 2007. It was also the first time that mother and her middle child had an intimate forty-minute conversation about their family history, about traditions passed on by their elders and recalling early childhood memories that Sam was too young to remember.

“We live in a pretty noisy household – three kids, two cats and a loud dad- we are a loud, boisterous family were people often talk over each other,” said Zempsky, the manager of the StoryCorps Mobile Tour.  “The Storycorps booth gave my son and me the opportunity to have a quiet and focused conversation.”[/raw]

Since its debut in 2005, thousands of Americans have followed Zempsky’s lead into the soundproofed, silver bullet-like trailer to tell their tales and have them live on for anyone to listen to at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.

And now StoryCorps has come back to LA, two years after its last visit. The mobile airstream trailer will be parked outside the California African American Museum in Exposition Park  until Nov. 16, and Angelenos are invited to enter and tell their stories.  StoryCorps and KPCC, Los Angeles’ Nation Public Radio station, have partnered together and a selection of local interviews recorded also may air nationally on NPR’s Morning Edition.   The mobile booth has proven so popular that spots are filling up quickly and a reservation is required.

Indeed, since 2003, more than 50,000 interviews across the country have been recorded with StoryCorps, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to recording, sharing and preserving the stories of people from all backgrounds and beliefs.

In celebration of StoryCorps 10th Anniversary and the opening day of the trailer at the California African American Museum, civic leaders and entertainers recently took part in the StoryCorps kickoff event.  Among the attendees was third generation Angeleno Cheech Marin of the Grammy award winning comedy duo Cheech and Chong.

Marin recorded his story in the StoryCorps mobile trailer to share his story of growing up in South Central Los Angeles by 30th and Exposition and how growing up in Los Angeles influenced his acting career.

“If you don’t tell your own story someone else will tell your story and it’s better to get it from the horse’s mouth,” said Marin.  “I hope that the recording will inspire kids in the same situation.  I grew up in a low social-economic neighborhood and if I can do it then they can too.”

At the event, Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas spoke to the historic significance of preserving America’s history through the stories of its people.  The Supervisor noted that StoryCorps is a modern day incarnation of the Slave Narrative Collection, a project of the Federal Writers’ Project of the Works Progress Administration. The collection which was obtained by interviewers who fanned out across the south,  contains over 2,000 interviews with former slaves, including first-hand accounts of being captured in Africa, sold in the United States, plantation life and the world after emancipation as well as the songs that the elderly women and men could remember.

“Those recordings were the seeds for an American folk music renaissance, “said the Chairman. “During the civil rights movement, those songs were a hammer of justice.   So the seeds we plant today, through Story Corps, will no doubt blossom and enrich future generations in ways that we cannot even begin to imagine for centuries to come.”

Reservations can be made by calling StoryCorps’ 24-hour, toll-free reservation line at 1-800-850-4406 or visiting