Arts

New Lara Downes NPR Music Video Series Showcases Visionary Black Musicians

Lara Downes, right, is seen here with Rhiannon Gidden, who appeared on an episode of 
"Amplify with Lara Downes," a bi-month video series with NPR Music.
Lara Downes, right, is seen here with Rhiannon Gidden, who appeared on an episode of "Amplify with Lara Downes," a bi-month video series with NPR Music.
Credit NPR

Throughout recent months, we’ve frequently heard about the importance of amplifying Black voices. This idea is nothing new for renowned pianist Lara Downes, whose work has always been inclusive.

Her latest project is a new, bi-monthly video series for NPR Music called, “Amplify with Lara Downes.” She joined “City Lights” host Lois Reitzes via Zoom to discuss this new series in which she speaks with Black musicians about important and difficult topics, as well as how they’ve been creative during the pandemic.

The series kicked off on Oct. 17 with banjo player Rhiannon Giddens, who is the new artistic director of Silkroad, the cross-cultural music organization.

Interview Highlights:

Why they launched this series:

“It’s been quite a year and as an artist and as an artist of color, I can’t even begin to explain the impact of all of the change and upheaval of this year. As our national story sort of expanded from pandemic to racial divide, racial tension, racial violence, we all just responded in very interesting and very individual ways to that double experience.”

She continued, “What drives me here to share these stories, is really the same thing that drives me at the piano. More than anything else, I am a storyteller. Whether I’m doing that through my music-making or my conversations like this, that’s what I want my legacy to be.”

About the series:

“These are informal conversations with my colleagues, my friends, my fellow travelers. We’re really just sitting down and talking about what we’re making out of this time and what we’re making in this time. I think as musicians we’re looking at how our individual, innermost personhood connects with our music-making in a new way.”

About the release of Downes’ video with Leonard Bernstein’s song, “Take Care of this House:”

“A couple months ago I was just going about my business and I thought about this song ‘Take Care of This House,’ which Bernstein wrote in 1976 as part of a musical called ‘1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.’ It was a real examination of our history, the first 100 years of The White House and really considering our racial history and some pretty deep issues. This song is about The White House as the home and the hope of all of us and our responsibility to take care of it and keep it safe from harm.”

Downes continues, “So I just thought about this song as kind of an anthem and a call to vote, a call to do our civil duty.”

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