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

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.

Music Inside Out

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.

Fantail Media / Flickr

There’s a reason why lions prefer the company of other lions. Just ask Reggie Scanlan. As a bass player, Scanlan worked with James Booker and Professor Longhair before starting a 33-year run with the Radiators. He’s now in a band of all-stars called the New Orleans Suspects.

Gregg Goldman

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.

Kevin Dooley / Flickr

The Wide Open Road is a Cultural Icon
But Wait Until You Hear the Stories These Folks Tell

This week, Music Inside Out features Louisiana musicians telling stories of their experiences around the world.

Alex McMurray, Shannon Powell, the Pfister Sisters and Jim McCormick couldn’t sound more different on stage. But they’re all road-tested, having talked, played, sung or cooked their way out of tight spots in Nashville, Germany, Greece and Japan.

Music Inside Out

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.

Since then, others have conjured his name when describing the best of New Orleans music. As it turns out, Longhair — who died in 1980 — remains a guiding spirit to musicians and music lovers everywhere. So as a matter of duty and privilege, we’re spreading the joy.

Matt Robinson / Elephant Quilt Productions

What do you get when you combine modern jazz, the music of Woody Guthrie, Delta blues, and Antonín Dvořák’s “American” String Quartet?

You get Luke Winslow-King.

Born and raised in Michigan, a crime landed him in New Orleans. But, ever the optimist, Winslow-King decided to stay. And yet, the road has been more of a home in recent years. While he’s back home now, Winslow-King spent the final months of 2013 on a European tour.

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.

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