Robert Sonkin was born into an orthodox Jewish family in The Bronx, New York, in
1911. Sonkin, who held degrees from both City College (now the City College of the City
University of New York) and Columbia University, founded the speech clinic at City College.
He met Charles L. Todd while they were both working in the Department of
Public Speaking at City College in the late 1930s. In addition to the ethnographic research
Sonkin did with Todd in California, Sonkin also documented the African American community of
Gee's Bend, Alabama, where other FSA work was being carried out. After the onset of
World War II, he participated in an Archive of American Folk Song-sponsored project to
document the man-in-the-street's opinion of the war effort. Like Todd, Sonkin was drafted into
the military during World War II, where he served in the Army Signal Corps.
At the end of the war, Sonkin returned to City College, where he retired
in 1976 and later became professor emeritus of speech. Todd and Sonkin once again undertook a
collaborative project during this period, which resulted in a book titled Alexander Bryan
Johnson: Philosophical Banker, published in 1977. Robert Sonkin died in 1980 at the age
Voices from the Dust Bowl