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

George Porter Jr.
Music Inside Out

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?

PJ Morton
Chris Granger

The most heavily traveled road in American music begins in black church congregations, (i.e., Baptist, AME, and Pentecostal, among others), and leads to any and all forms of secular music. That’s the road PJ Morton took, and it has led him on a remarkable professional journey. Morton’s skill set is rooted in gospel music — he grew up the son of two preachers. But as an award-winning songwriter, singer, and producer, as well as the keyboardist in the platinum-selling group Maroon 5, and head of the New Orleans-based Morton Records, he seems especially charmed.

Margie Perez grew up in the suburbs of Washington, DC on a diet of classic rock and Cuban rhythms. As the child of immigrants from Havana, she knew Johnny Pacheco and Celia Cruz recordings just as intimately as she did every Beatles album. And what goes in, eventually comes out. 

Sylvan Esso began as two people who couldn’t sit still. In 2013, the singing songwriter Amelia Meath and the performing producer Nick Sanborn were in North Carolina, working with bands that didn’t enjoy touring. Luckily for them, they found each other. But Meath and Sanborn share more than wanderlust. Theirs is a common musical sensibility that leans toward tender folk harmonies passing though an electronic soundscape. The hard-working duo has released two well-received albums, an EP and a variety of singles. See? They still can’t sit still.

Scott Billington, Irma Thomas, and Dr. John
Scott Billington, Irma Thomas, and Dr. John

There’s a good chance that the name “Scott Billington” is on the back of your favorite album. Make that “albums.” As a long-time music producer for Rounder Records, Billington has tended the most fertile ground of American music. Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, Charlie Rich, Solomon Burke, Irma Thomas, Johnny Adams, James Booker, Dr. John, Buckwheat Zydeco, Duane Allman, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band and the Soul Rebels make up only a partial list of the artists with whom Billington has worked.

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.” 

Despite the throngs of tourists and ever-growing parade of festivals, New Orleans’ nightlife can be surprisingly intimate. The corner bar is often the anchor of a neighborhood’s social life, where friends, strangers, and familiar faces can share drinks, stories, dreams, and failures.

Musicians make great teachers and Music Inside Out is shining a light on some of our favorite faculty:

“Half-shot, hot spot, fleshpot, mascot, young Scott, slingshot.” Singer-songwriter AJ Croce, says that a rhyming dictionary can be a songwriter’s best friend. When Croce listens to a song on the radio, he can sometimes figure out which dictionary the songwriter used. Check out Croce’s video, “Right on Time,” which features his writing process.  

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.”

Louis Armstrong
Louis Armstrong / Louis Armstrong

Perhaps one of the most awe-inspiring facts about Ricky Riccardi, who directs research collections at the Louis Armstrong House Museum Collection in Queens, is that he never argued with his parents. 

Pages