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

On Monday August 29, 2005 , Hurricane Katrina made landfall just east of New Orleans. Residents were thrilled to avoid the direct hit that many had predicted. Then the levees failed and the water came anyway. Lots of it. All told, 80 percent of the city was inundated and hundreds of thousands of people scrambled to higher ground.

Too many died. Most of the displaced made their way back to the city. Others never returned.

Like most girls her age, Susan Cowsill watched The Partridge Family every week on television. But unlike most girls her age, she was related to the Partridges, albeit in a Hollywood kind of way. The show was modeled after Cowsill and other members of her singing family.

In the 1960s and early ’70s, The Cowsills were regulars on television, appearing with Ed Sullivan, Johnny Cash and on their own programs. They also had a string of top ten hits, including “The Rain, the Park and Other Things,” and “Hair.”

Dr. Michael White
Derek Bridges / Flickr via

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.

“I listened to Johnny Dodds’ recordings. I listened to Sidney Bechet. I listened to George Lewis. I listened to Edmond Hall. I listened to Omer Simeon, Barney Bigard, and so many others. And you listen to that and you say, ‘Wow, I would like to capture that feeling.'”

A. J. Croce
Shelby Duncan /

It’s easy to tease out the artists who’ve inspired A.J. Croce’s singing over the years — Ray Charles, Paul McCartney*, Buddy Holly, even Ray Davies of The Kinks. He loves early rock n roll and R&B. So perhaps it’s ironic that A.J. rarely sounds like his father, singer-songwriter Jim Croce, who made his mark on music in the late 1960s and early 70s.

With nine albums to his credit and more than 20 years as a touring musician, A.J. Croce is his own man, performing his own music. And a devoted fan base has shown its appreciation for the genre-busting of the younger Croce.

Sweet Crude. l to r Jonathan Arceneaux, Jack Craft, Alexis Marceaux, Marion Tortorich, Stephen MacDonald, Sam Craft, Skyler Stroup.
Zack Smith

Onstage, they don’t look like a traditional rock ‘n roll band. Sure, the seven members of Sweet Crude are kinda young and kinda scrawny and their clothes suggest a GAP-meets-Garanimals flare.

But they carry no guitars. Five of them play percussion. And yes, there’s a glockenspiel in the mix.

Sweet Crude sounds different too. They produce a sophisticated mixture of rhythm, classical strings, and musical theater that’s highly danceable and even educational. That’s because the band sings in English and Louisiana French – a language they’re learning on the job.

David Simon.
American Library Association via Music Inside Out

For most of his working life, David Simon has been telling an epic story of the American city — one corner at a time. First on the pages of The Baltimore Sun, then in the books Homicide: Life on the Killing Streets and The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighborhood.

But it was on television that David Simon found his biggest and most devoted audience. NBC’s Homicide: Life on the Street and HBO’s The Corner and The Wire presented crime and punishment in an entirely new way. Detectives and criminals became extraordinarily ordinary people.

Music Inside Out

From the earliest days of motion pictures, music has played a crucial role in setting the mood for movies. Just take a look at the clip (above) of the final moments of Charlie Chaplin’s 1936 film “Modern Times.”

It’s hard to imagine that scene without the song “Smile.”

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.

In the late 1940s, Domino was working at a mattress factory in New Orleans and playing piano at night. He’d just gotten married… and both his waistline and fan base were expanding. That’s when the bandleader Billy Diamond first called him “Fats” — and predicted he’d have an outsized career.

Jason Marsalis
Music Inside Out

As a child, Jason Marsalis watched old television shows as much for the music as for anything the characters were doing onscreen.

“I became a big fan of reruns of the tv show, The Monkees,” he tells Gwen. “My father thought it was just hilarious that I was into this. But when I look back on it, that was music from the 1960s.”

Music Inside Out

At their best, pop songs conjure exactly what it’s like to be young. The stories are often simple. But they’re not so easy to write.The best pop songs take on the same themes as a great epic poem or a Wagnerian opera. Pop is about the loss of innocence.

Caleb Elliott is a singer-songwriter in Lafayette, Louisiana whose debut pop album is called, Where You Wanna Be. (Check out the video for “Speaking Of.”) He’s new to pop music, but as a classical cellist Caleb Elliott has already played Carnegie Hall.