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.

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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.

Zack Smith / Music Inside Out

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.

Guillaume Laurent / Flickr

Consider the musicians.

After the crowd goes home, after they pack their gear and instruments, when their van rolls through the night and the smell of smoke still lingers on their clothes, the bottom line remains. The business of music never sleeps.

Artist royalties, mechanical royalties, revenue streams and recording contracts occupy the minds and sleepless nights of managers and artists the country over as they head to their next gig.

You could fill a college course with everything an artist needs to know. Trust us, they have.

Bob Travis / Flickr

When the microphone switches on, some people freeze. They can’t think of a thing to say. But Terence Blanchard relaxes.

Blanchard does some of his best thinking in front of a microphone and he’s impatient to get his ideas recorded. That might explain why he is so prolific and why he is so good.

Derek Bridges / Flickr

  As noggins in New Orleans go, there is no noggin like that of singer-songwriter Alex McMurray. He’s got more original characters in his head than a Hollywood film library. Why else would McMurray write a song about the man who shot the man who shot Liberty Valance? (Spoiler Alert: John Wayne is in the crosshairs).

Babs Evangelista / Music Inside Out

Meschiya Lake & The Little Big Horns have been playing together as a band since 2009. But their repertoire suggests a much longer, deeper history, dating back to the early part of the last century, when people were buying phonographs and drinking absinthe in its original form.

Zack Smith

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.

From what people remember, he fell like a tree. Malcolm X — all 6 feet, 4 inches of him — had taken a shotgun blast to the chest and a grouping of smaller-caliber bullets to the torso while onstage at the Audubon Ballroom in Washington Heights on Feb. 21, 1965. After a ghastly moment of stasis, he careened backward. His head hit the floor with a crack.

Treewoman8 / Flickr

The excesses of the carnival season are over. So this week, we’re playing sacred music with a foothold in Louisiana. Some songs are religious. Some aren’t. But they’re guaranteed to help get you ready for Easter, or Passover, or whatever day you’ve got circled on the calendar.

Mahalia Jackson, John Boutté, Branford Marsalis, Irma Thomas, Allen Toussaint, and Davell Crawford are in the mix. And so is the brass band that wants to know, “Whatcha gonna do for the rest of your life? Whatcha gonna do to make it right?”

Denny Culbert via John Sellards Design

Songwriters talk about a song being “honest.” And according to David Egan, that’s all about telling the truth about our battles and our triumphs — our loves and losses.

“We write music for grownup people,” he says. “Grownup music for grown-ass people.”

They’re the people you might see at the gas station, or in the grocery store. Or in the mirror.

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