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Branford Marsalis' 'Ma Rainey' Score Makes 100-Year-Old Blues Sound Relevant Today

There has been plenty to discuss since the release of Ma Rainey's Black Bottom last year. It tells the story of August Wilson and other Black Americans in the 20th century who fled the south and headed north. The film was adapted from a play by Wilson, directed by George C. Wolfe, with Denzel Washington as producer. It also stars Viola Davis as Ma Rainey — the mother of the blues — and the late Chadwick Boseman. But there's more to the film than its star players, especially once the music in the film takes flight.

Saxophonist and bandleader Branford Marsalis was tasked with scoring the film, to make the blues of 100 years ago sound true to the era but still relevant now.

Our New Orleans correspondent Gwen Thompkins talks to Branford Marsalis after a performance of songs from Ma Rainey's Black Bottom. Watch the performance — including a special opening number — via the video player and hear the complete session via the audio player.

Copyright 2021 XPN. To see more, visit XPN.

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.
Gwen Thompkins
Gwen Thompkins hosts Music Inside Out on WWNO in New Orleans.
Since 2017, John Myers has been the producer of NPR's World Cafe, which is produced by WXPN at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. Previously he spent about eight years working on the other side of Philly at WHYY as a producer on the staff of Fresh Air with Terry Gross. John was also a member of the team of public radio veterans recruited to develop original programming for Audible and has worked extensively as a freelance producer. His portfolio includes work for the Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site, The Association for Public Art and the radio documentary, Going Black: The Legacy of Philly Soul Radio. He's taught radio production to preschoolers and college students and, in the late 90's, spent a couple of years traveling around the country as a roadie for the rock band Huffamoose.
Raina Douris, an award-winning radio personality from Toronto, Ontario, comes to World Cafe from the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation), where she was host and writer for the daily live, national morning program Mornings on CBC Music. She was also involved with Canada's highest music honors: hosting the Polaris Music Prize Gala from 2017 to 2019, as well as serving on the jury for both that award and the Juno Awards. Douris has also served as guest host and interviewer for various CBC Music and CBC Radio programs, and red carpet host and interviewer for the Juno Awards and Canadian Country Music Association Awards, as well as a panelist for such renowned CBC programs as Metro Morning, q and CBC News.
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