American Routes

Saturdays at 7 p.m. and Sundays at 6 p.m.
  • Hosted by Nick Spitzer

American Routes is a two-hour weekly excursion into American music, spanning eras and genres—roots rock and soul, blues and country, jazz, gospel and beyond.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
American Routes

This week on American Routes Shortcuts, we’re recalling the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King. We’ll hear memories of the Civil Rights leader from Harry Belafonte, former Raelette and preacher Mable John, and the great singer, Mavis Staples.

Nick Spitzer: Most people know Harry Belafonte from his calypso hit, the “Banana Boat Song.” But Belafonte’s efforts to improve conditions for people of color show more of the man. Harry was a friend of Martin Luther King, and produced “Long Road to Freedom,” an anthology of Black music.

Words and Music in the Spirit of Martin Luther King Jr.

Jan 9, 2018

American Routes reflects on the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. in words and music. Join us as we speak with those who knew Dr. King, from music scholar Albert Murray and historian Julian Bond to musicians Mavis Staples, Harry Belafonte and Mable John. Also, Mississippi riverboat captain Doc Hawley shares a unique memory of Memphis. Plus songs of freedom, deliverance and hope to commemorate this holiday weekend.

American Routes Shortcuts: Mavis Staples

Jan 5, 2018
Mavis Staples
American Routes

This week on American Routes Shortcuts, we feature gospel and R&B singer Mavis Staples, from the second installment of our show all about Bob Dylan. Bob Dylan admired the civil rights songs of the Staples singers and would hear them on tour in the early 60s. Mavis Staples remembers when her father, Pops, heard Dylan for the first time and how Dylan’s protest lyrics influenced their family in return.

How Many Roads: Bob Dylan’s Back Pages Volume II

Jan 2, 2018

In this second edition of "How Many Roads?" Bob Dylan's Back Pages, we'll rejoin the great American wordsmith by listening to his work from the last 25 years. We won't forget the historic and ancient roots of his modern sounds, from the Old Testament to the Civil Rights movement. We'll hear from collaborators and friends, Mavis Staples and Joan Baez, and from Kris Kristofferson who overheard Dylan's recording sessions while working as a custodian in Nashville.

American Routes Shortcuts: Joan Baez

Dec 29, 2017
Joan Baez
American Routes

We go to Bob Dylan’s back pages and hear from American folk singer, songwriter, and activist, Joan Baez, who helped bring Dylan into the spotlight. Baez and Dylan collaborated frequently and briefly became involved romantically. Host Nick Spitzer speaks with Joan Baez about her favorite love ballads, Bob Dylan going electric, and what it’s like to be the subject of songs, known worldwide.

NS: I wonder, is there a single love song over the years that most endures for you?

JB: A single love song?

"How Many Roads…?” Bob Dylan’s Back Pages

Dec 26, 2017

Bob Dylan’s songs are part of American consciousness, with sources and symbols drawing from old-time country and folk, blues and ballads, ancient and modern poetry, the beauties and absurdities of life, love and loss.  His contributions to the big river of songs have grown and been recognized worldwide.  The young man from Hibbing, Minnesota, is now an elder… a Nobel Laureate; but his listeners didn’t need that or any such weathervane to prize Bob Dylan. It was, and is, always in his words and voice,  music and memory where fans and friends found inspiration.

American Routes Shortcuts: Irma Thomas

Dec 22, 2017
Irma Thomas
American Routes

Irma Thomas launched her career as a teenager and still tears the house down at age 76. Irma grew up singing in church and auditioned with Specialty Records at age 13. She was turned away for being too young, but proved ready by 18 and charted her first hit in 1959, “Don’t Mess With My Man,” on Ron Records. She went on to record hits for Minit, Imperial, and Chess. In 2007, Irma won a Grammy for her album “After the Rain” on Rounder Records.

Holiday Soul and Spirits

Dec 19, 2017

For this special holiday edition of American Routes, we get into the spirit of the season with live performances by Irma Thomas, the Soul Queen of New Orleans, and gospel greats the Blind Boys of Alabama at Preservation Hall in the French Quarter. Blind Boys’ founding member Jimmy Carter tells of his long life on the road through the Jim Crow south and around the world, and Irma Thomas describes her gospel roots and soul music’s role in protest and healing.

American Routes Shortcuts: Rik De Lisle

Dec 15, 2017
Rik De Lisle
American Routes

This week on American Routes Shortcuts, we speak with American G.I. Rik De Lisle, who spun records for the Armed Forces Network during the Cold War. He signed up for the military at 17 to escape life in Milwaukee, and in 1978 he was transferred to West Berlin. Rik’s rock broadcast made him a hero, especially among the East German audience who risked punishment to hear the electrifying sounds coming out of the West. 

Rockin’ Behind the Iron Curtain: To Russia With Love

Dec 12, 2017

During the Cold War, the U.S. State Department started sending jazz musicians overseas with the tactical aim of using their hot licks to thaw relations with Eastern Bloc countries. Jazz great Dave Brubeck recalls how Louis Armstrong, a.k.a. “Ambassador Satch,” won international hearts and minds with his trumpet. Band member Arvell Shaw saw Armstrong literally disarm Russian guards in East Berlin. Meanwhile, fear of nuclear war with the Soviets infiltrated American popular consciousness resulting in gospel, bluegrass and pop odes to and protests against atomic weapons.