Lauren Onkey

Art Neville's life in music can be described as a straight line, connected directly to rock and roll's first notes. In the first half of the 1950s, musicians were recording R&B tracks — the foundations of rock and roll — at Cosimo Matassa's J&M Studios, led of course by Fats Domino, who recorded his first record there in 1949. Art was never a Fats, but nonetheless was foundational to helping shape the contours of popular music.

Mac Rebennack, better known as Dr. John, made records for more than 60 years. He died Thursday. He started on guitar, but he made his mark as a piano player, traditional and bold enough to take his place in the pantheon of New Orleans giants like Professor Longhair and Allen Toussaint.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Bandcamp playlist at the bottom of the page.


Mavis Staples turns 80 this summer. She's a respected elder of soul and gospel music, a beloved collaborator with rock musicians, and a living embodiment of gospel music's place in the civil rights movement. But she's no static symbol of the past.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify and Apple Music playlists at the bottom of the page.

At the start of Day 2 at this year's Newport Folk Festival, Curtis Harding lit up the Fort stage with what he calls "slop 'n' soul," a soul-rock hybrid that woke up the crowd. Based in Atlanta, Harding has deep experience as a singer, songwriter and guitarist who uses the conventions of soul to look forward, not back. His powerful set included tracks from his two albums: the great Face Your Fear (one of NPR Music's 10 Best R&B Albums of 2017) and Soul Power, his 2014 debut.

Fifty years after recording "Do the Reggay" in 1968, Toots Hibbert performed the most exuberant set I saw at this year's Newport Folk Festival. Toots and the Maytals helped create reggae in the '60s with some of the most creative and exciting records to come out of Jamaica. The legend's Newport set was packed with songs from throughout his career. The oldest, "I'll Never Grow Old," was originally released in 1963 — when Hibbert was only 21 — and captured the spirit he brought to the show. Hibbert played with joy and energy, keeping his terrific band on its toes.

The finale of the 2018 Newport Folk Festival, A Change is Gonna Come, was a powerful and challenging take on how American music has framed the meaning of civil rights. Masterfully produced by Jon Batiste, the set brought together gospel, folk music, soul, and even the national anthem in captivating and startling arrangements (the Dap-Kings on "This Land is Your Land," to take just one example).

On Saturday night, Bruce Springsteen will perform, for the 236th and final night, Springsteen on Broadway, his intensely personal one-man show at the intimate, 975-seat Walter Kerr Theatre. Just a couple of hours after that, Netflix will make public a document of the show, filmed during a July performance.

When a baby grand piano rolls into the office for a Tiny Desk concert, you expect something special. But none of us could have imagined what it's like to see 15-year old Joey Alexander play that piano with such mastery. The thing is, when you see him play live, you quickly forget his age and get lost in the intense focus of his performance. Alexander and his stellar supporting cast — Reuben Rogers on bass and Kendrick Scott on drums — form a tight trio, locking eyes as Alexander's compositions unfold.

My favorite place to be on Thanksgiving is the kitchen—preferably a crowded kitchen. Bringing a festive meal to the stage, whether it's for two people or twenty, requires a kind of focused chaos that makes me feel, well, grateful. For family, friends and food, of course, but also for arguments, spilled drinks, and recipes that fail. But it requires just the right soundtrack to keep the cooks working and the gratitude flowing. Here's mine, honed over many years in the kitchen. Pass the pie, and cherish the day.

"Land of Hope and Dreams," from Bruce Springsteen's forthcoming album Springsteen on Broadway (due out Dec. 14), may not be a song you'd expect to hear at his Tony Award-winning Broadway show. It's one of his most anthemic songs, usually played at scale, with a full band in front of a big crowd.

The saxophonist Big Jay McNeely, a product of the thriving rhythm and blues scene in postwar Los Angeles, died on Sunday in California at the age of 91.

McNeely's honking saxophone and wild stage antics gave form to what would become rock and roll, directly influencing many of the genre's legends.

Though her career carried her from the Baptist churches of Detroit to a life of platinum plaques and diamond-drizzled furs, Aretha Franklin's voice never lost its flavor. Her ability to rouse emotion is a talent few other artists have ever been able to touch. And her piano-playing prowess, which she developed in church, was unmatched. It's the reason she earned the title of Queen of Soul in the 1960s.

Summer heat is a challenge to keeping your cool: it's hard to slow down and not lose your rhythm, your temper, your style. When the temperature crawls up, and the humidity just kinda hangs there, you need music that can help you hang in there with it, not fight it. Ambient music is no match for the heat — groove is essential.