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

Professor Longhair
Professor Longhair

The name that our musical guests have most consistently mentioned is Professor Longhair. It began, well, at the beginning. Longhair, whose friends call him Fess, figured into the very first answer from the very first guest on the very first Music Inside Out.

Tomi Lunsford and Gwen Thompkins at Tomi's home in Nashville
Jason Rhein

Like so many other musicians who have made a home in Nashville, singer Tomi Lunsford has spent her life immersed in country music. A native of Asheville, NC, she played in a family band from a young age. 

Her father, Jim Lunsford, was a journeyman fiddler who played with superstars of classic country and bluegrass such as Roy Acuff, Jim and Jesse McReynolds, Reno and Smiley, Bob Wills, and Marty Robbins. Her great-uncle, Bascom Lamar Lunsford, was a lawyer and famed collector of folk songs from the mountains of North Carolina.

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.

For the first ever live recording of Music Inside Out, Gwen caught up with the prodigious and prolific Chris Thile at the George and Joyce Wein Jazz and Heritage Center. He’s barely 36 years-old, but already boasts a lifetime’s worth of achievements. He started learning mandolin as a kindergartener. Three years later, he co-founded the platinum-selling Nickel Creek with his friends Sara and Sean Watkins. The band would become a groundbreaking force in acoustic music.

Danny Barker (1909-1994) was born into that generation of musicians whose lives reflected the arc of jazz from men blowing horns atop mule-drawn wagons to the world stage. From New Orleans to New York and back again, he managed to be both a witness and participant in the evolution of the music.

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.

Big Freedia, the Queen Diva of Bounce, has done more than any other artist to bring the unmistakable New Orleans hip-hop sound to the world. His output is as unrelenting as the bounce beat, with singles, EPs, videos, all-star collaborations, LGBTQ rights advocacy, and a reality television show now entering its sixth season.

This week, we bring you that funky gentleman from the Ninth Ward, Jon Cleary, who talks about his native England, his grandmother, the piano back home, his mum’s songwriting chops, and a variety of other loves.

Cleary grew up listening to New Orleans soul, r&b and funk. And now, we listen to him.

As a multi-instrumentalist and sideman, he’s played with some of the best artists, including Earl King, Bonnie Raitt, Dr. John, Snooks Eaglin, Ernie K-Doe and Walter “Wolfman” Washington. But Cleary is even better fronting his own band and digging into his own groove.

Within Buddhist traditions, “samsara” refers to the karmic cycle of rebirth that a being must travel through on their journey towards enlightenment. While in some traditions this can take many lifetimes to complete, others maintain that, for certain exceptional people, the transformative process can happen within a single lifetime.

Great artists and producers make our show happen, and in this episode we’re hearing from some of the the folks who typically don’t step in front of the microphone. We’re celebrating the end of another successful year by revisiting our favorite live performances, as remembered by Music Inside Out’s producers and friends of the show.

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