Music News

When the curtain rises on the Metropolitan Opera's new production of Verdi's Otello tonight, opera fans will quickly notice what's not there. For the first time since the opera was first staged at the Met in 1891, a white singer performing the title role will not be wearing makeup to darken his complexion to play the Moor at the center of the tragedy.

The Blues Finds A Home In A South Central Garage

Sep 19, 2015

One sun-baked residential street in South Central Los Angeles is regularly bombarded by the chorus of jets cruising toward Los Angeles International Airport. Unless you're in Franklin Bell's garage, where the walls soak up the raw, earthy chords of L.A. blues.

Gala event tribute speeches are often so much fluff—in the right hands, however, they ascend to the level of the poetic. On Wednesday night in Nashville, Robyn Hitchcock's paean to his longtime friends and collaborators Gillian Welch and David Rawlings hit that high mark. Handing them a Lifetime Achievement prize at the Americana Honors and Awards, Hitchcock wove a tale that was also a dream history of American roots music itself. It was so good we decided to publish it. Do they give awards for awards show speeches? The man in the polka-dot shirt deserves one.

Kevin Sylvester says that when most people see a 6-foot-2-inch, 260-pound black man, they don't expect him to also be a classically trained violinist. A recent exchange with a woman in an elevator, when he happened to have his instrument with him in its case, drove that point home.

Rock fans who are going to Metallica's concert in Quebec City Wednesday will see an unusual sight: a 48-foot tanker truck filled with Metallica-branded beer. Made at the Labatt facility, the beer is to commemorate the band as it opens a large new venue, the Centre Vidéotron.

The Centre Vidéotron says:

"Budweiser has partnered with legendary rock band Metallica to channel the brute force of this historic show and be inspired by its vibrations, its energy and its decibels to create a beer in the image of the power of rock."

NPR Music is in Nashville all this week for the 16th annual AmericanaFest. So the newest episode of All Songs Considered offers a big bundle of music from some of the acts who are playing the festival that the team is most excited to see. Before leaving D.C., Bob called up NPR Music's Ann Powers and NPR Music contributor Jewly Hight in Music City to talk about what Americana means, and who its newest and most promising voices are.

Mystical, monk-like, reclusive — those are a few words often used to describe Arvo Pärt. His music gets labeled as timeless, spiritual and meditative. The Estonian composer, born 80 years ago today, is perhaps all of these things ... and maybe none of them.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Sam Smith first melted hearts with his song "Stay With Me."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "STAY WITH ME")

SAM SMITH: (Singing) Oh, won't you stay with me 'cause you're all I need.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

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If you're in the middle of a road trip this Labor Day weekend, turn up your radio.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

It may be the most famous song in the world — but you probably don't know it by the name it was originally called. "Happy Birthday to You," that little ditty that floats above cakes and candles the world over, was written by Mildred and Patty Hill, two sisters from Louisville, Ky.

The sisters wrote the song in the 1890s for Patty's kindergarten students — and they'd intended it to be sung in classrooms, as "Good Morning To All."

Hours before it was scheduled to screen at the Telluride Film Festival, the Aretha Franklin documentary Amazing Grace has been pulled, after a federal court granted the singer an injunction. The film centers on footage shot by late director Sydney Pollack at a 1972 Franklin concert.

More than 20 years into Lil Wayne's career, the froggy-voiced, diminutive rapper is hardly ever described as an elder statesman.

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In case you didn't stay up late to watch the MTV Video Music Awards, there are really only two moments that matter.

They'll be the talk of the water cooler today, so you might as well take a look. Here are the two moments that matter:

1. After receiving the Video Vanguard award, the rapper Kanye West delivered a 13-minute soliloquy in which he sorta, kinda apologized for his past behavior and then he got ahead of the news cycle by announcing he's running for president in 2020.

The well-established soundscape at Burning Man is an audio layer cake of dubstep and techno. More than 60,000 people will gather in the Nevada desert next week for the annual arts festival — and many of them will spend their nights at post-apocalyptic raves, spinning fiery hula hoops and passing ChapStick around the dance floor.

"Eat, sleep, rave, repeat. Eat, sleep, rave, repeat," was the refrain of one song played all over the playa last year.

Both the song and its video fit many people's idea of Canada: clever and smiling. But the man who wrote lyrics telling Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, "It's time for you to go," has been put on leave from his job as a federal scientist at Canada's environmental agency.

News about the stock market's ups and downs hardly comes as music to the ears — unless you happen to be experimental musician Jace Clayton.

Clayton, who also performs and records as DJ /rupture, is working on a new composition called Gbadu And The Moirai Index, which uses an algorithm to translate the market's movements into a piece for four voices. Each singer plays a mythological character — the Moirai are the three Greek goddesses of fate, and Gbadu is a dual-gendered West African fate deity.

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NPR's David Greene talks to members of the rock band Yo La Tengo at the end of their stint as Morning Edition's in-house band for a day, and throws it to them for a song.

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Lots of magazines do big lists, but few rely on them as heavily as Rolling Stone does. The magazine cranks out a list for just about every aspect of popular music. All promise authoritative, canonical overviews of various elements of the art; at their best, these offer context and critical insight, helping readers fill gaps in their knowledge.

It was known as the "Swankiest Night Spot in the South" and considered one of the most famous clubs in the network of black cabarets known as the "Chitlin' Circuit." During the era of segregation, it was the cultural mecca of black New Orleans — what the Savoy Ballroom was to Harlem. Little Richard, a frequent performer there, even composed a song about the place.

Billboard magazine used to be known as "the bible of the music business," a trade publication trusted for its straightforward analysis of industry trends. But an anonymous questionnaire that leaked online last Thursday has some readers questioning Billboard's journalistic skills and integrity.

When listeners aren't writing to NPR to comment on a story, they mostly just want to know what music was played between segments. We call those buttons or breaks or deadrolls, and they give a breath after reporting a tragedy, lighten the mood after you most definitely cried during StoryCorps, or seize a moment to be ridiculously cheeky. How could you not play Katy Perry's "Hot N Cold" following a story about why women shiver in the office?

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