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Faculty Spotlight: Althea Legaspi

Nov. 19, 2013 

By Megan Kirby

Yoko Ono. Elliott Smith. The Flaming Lips. In more than a decade as a freelance journalist and music critic, Althea Legaspi has rubbed elbows with some rock stars. She's published with MTV, contributed to WBEZ radio, and even hosted a music-centric web series with Rolling Stone online "back when it was still dial-up." But she doesn't want to be pigeonholed by her famous subjects. "While being passionate about music and having to interview artists is definitely a part of being a music critic, knowing how to write well about music is as important," she says. 

Today, she's bringing her expertise to Columbia College Chicago students as a part-time lecturer with the radio, journalism, and arts, entertainment and media management departments.

How did she get involved with Chicago publications?
After graduating with a creative writing degree from Emerson College in Boston, Legaspi moved to Chicago in ’95.  “I wanted to write about music very badly,” she says.  “I knew I wanted to make that career move, and I knew the markets were in Chicago, LA or New York. Chicago is where I landed.” 

She began writing for the now-defunct Velocity Magazine, a free publication in the city. Friends’ bands started asking her to pen bios, and she got her foot in the door freelancing for Illinois Entertainer—where she later became assistant editor, and then editor-in-chief. In addition, she has produced on-air stories for NPR-affiliate WBEZ—a fitting assignment for a self-proclaimed “NPR junkie.” 

Today, she contributes to the Chicago Tribune and USA Today, and writes columns on MTV’s Buzzworthy blog.

What are her favorite subjects?  
Legaspi’s wide-reaching music interviews include a series about women in rock where she interviewed Koko Taylor and Joan Jett.  She’s covered music fests, reporting on Lollapalooza for USA Today in 2012 and 2013. She travels to international festivals, too, with assignments taking her everywhere from Brazil to Iceland. 

“Music is a part of culture. It’s been a privilege to be able to travel as part of that work,” she says.  

One of her favorite recent assignments had nothing to do with music at all. She covered the Iceland National Assembly for Foreign Policy, reporting on the country's new constitution. “I’m not really a political writer. That’s not really my beat. So it was really neat to write about politics, especially in a place where I've covered music for numerous years,” she says.

What’s the most adventurous class she teaches? 

Legaspi teaches Music Journalism, Radio Interviewing and Writing for Managers, but her most adventurous academic endeavor comes in Covering International Festivals: Iceland. Through this course Legaspi created, she leads students annually on a trip to the Iceland Airwaves Music Festival, where they work together producing an hour-long radio documentary. They also keep a class blog documenting their travels. 

Students propose their own projects, and on the way they gain confidence, technique and expertise.  “Seeing someone who comes in with just the fundamentals grow their voice—that feels amazing,” she says. “That, for me—I feel like I’m going there for the first time.”

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