Gwen Thompkins

Host of Music Inside Out

Gwen Thompkins is a New Orleans native, NPR veteran and host of WWNO's Music Inside Out, where she brings to bear the knowledge and experience she amassed as senior editor of Weekend Edition, an East Africa correspondent, the holder of Nieman and Watson Fellowships, and as a longtime student of music from around the world.

Ways to Connect

Irma Thomas.
Rick Diamond / Music Inside Out

More than six billion people live on the planet, and yet relatively few human voices are recognizable to the naked ear.

Irma Thomas has one of those voices.

For more than 50 years, Thomas has written, recorded and lent her voice to some of the most precious songs that Louisiana has ever produced. Now music lovers all over the world know the contralto that she calls, “Irma’s sound.” This week, Music Inside Out with Gwen Thompkins makes way for the Queen of New Orleans Soul.

Keep it down, y’all. Miss Irma is speaking.

The Zion Harmonizers.
Zack Smith / Music Inside Out

They are rooted in the quartet singing tradition and a capella harmonies from the turn of the last century. For more than 40 years, The Zion Harmonizers enjoyed an unparalleled platform at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, anchoring and curating the Gospel Tent.

In the church of New Orleans jazz, they’ve had the keys to the church of church.

Thank goodness. It’s wonderful.

David Egan.
Denny Culbert

Our afternoon with David Egan at KRVS in Lafayette is one of my favorite afternoons, ever. Having listened to nearly all of what he’d written or recorded, I’d come from New Orleans with an iPod filled with Egan songs and a pile of questions.

Tom McDermott.
Gregg Goldman / Music Inside Out

The day we visited Tom McDermott’s home, the sound of James Booker’s “Classified” greeted us. It was a sweet gesture: walking into a man’s home to the sound of your radio show’s theme music.

McDermott knows how to communicate with a piano.

Blame it on Rio… and ragtime. McDermott has a piano playing style that smacks of sweet melodies, savory harmonies, and spicy Brazilian rhythm. And he serves up all three this hour. Pull up a chair, and enjoy.  

Carlos Miguel Prieto.
Peter Schaaf / Music Inside Out

  Carlos Miguel Prieto says he can’t dance and he’s no good at golf. Those may be the only pursuits that elude him. As a youngster, growing up in Mexico City, he wanted to play violin. So, he did. As a teenager, he wanted to become an engineer. So, he did. As a young man, he wanted to run a business. So, he did. And, in the 1990s, Prieto decided to give up industry and become a symphony conductor. So far, so good.

“I’ve been doing it for about 20 years now and I thought maybe at some point I’m not going to love it as much as I do now,” he told Gwen recently. “I still do.”

Dr. Michael White.
Derek Bridges / Music Inside Out

What do you hear when he plays his clarinet?

 

Can you hear the bayou? The river? The French Quarter? People sitting on their stoops waiting for someone to deliver the news? Penny parties?

That’s not a clarinet in the doctor’s hands; it’s a time machine.  

Fats Domino & Dave Bartholomew.
The Historic New Orleans Collection

At first, there wasn’t a name for the kind of music that Fats Domino played.

He called it rhythm and blues. But Domino’s songs stretched beyond that category.  

Rickie Lee Jones.
MusicInsideOut.org

Rickie Lee Jones says she moved to New Orleans, in part, because she wanted to be around people. In Los Angeles, she was mostly around cars.

So far, so good. People from New Orleans — either real or imagined — are all over her latest effort, “The Other Side of Desire.” And one of Jones’ neighbors here even helped inspire a song on the album.

George Porter, Jr.
MusicInsideOut.org

When George Porter, Jr. was a child, he wanted to become a Catholic priest. But an uncomfortably silent church retreat and an encounter with neighborhood blues musicians helped Porter find his musical calling.

He turned to funk and never looked back.

As the bass player for The Meters, Porter helped create a body of music in the 1960s and 70s that still resonates as some of the funkiest grooves ever recorded.

So what’s the secret to funk?

Gregg Goldman / Music Inside Out

Food may be the most popular subject on the planet. In fact, scientists have long said that men and women think about food more often than almost anything else: more often than global warming or world peace, more than super heroes, more often, even, than sex.

We can’t beat those odds, so this week on Music Inside Out we make a grocery list and dedicate the show to Louisiana songs about food.

Musician and author Ben Sandmel joins us for part of the hour. And we’re serving up songs that will hit the spot and keep you happy, until it’s time to think about food again.

Pages