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The Musical Universe

 

The Tiny Desk is working from home for the foreseeable future. Introducing NPR Music's Tiny Desk (home) concerts, bringing you performances from across the country and the world. It's the same spirit — stripped-down sets, an intimate setting — just a different space.

A lot of summer camps had to close this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, including Camp Aranu'tiq in New Hampshire, a camp for transgender and nonbinary children. Julie Be is a music therapist who has helped run the camp since it was founded in 2009 and also one half of the children's musical duo Ants on a Log, alongside Anya Rose. So the stuck-at-home campers would feel connected, Be and Rose put out an open call for songs that reflect the trans and nonbinary experience, use gender neutral pronouns or use humor to talk about gender.

We're back with season two of Play It Forward, where we talk with artists about their music and the artists they're thankful for. The band Indigo Girls has shaped a generation of singer-songwriters.

When coronavirus restrictions went into place in Colorado, the isolation impacted not just the music community, but the mental health of the community at large. March was Mental Health Awareness Month, and to spotlight the needs and resources available, The Colorado Sound teamed up with the Bohemian Foundation and SummitStone Health Partners to present "Home But Not Alone," an online concert for a cause, featuring four Colorado bands. Here are some highlights.

Three associates of fallen R&B star R. Kelly were arrested and charged Tuesday by New York federal authorities. The three are accused of attempting to harass, threaten, intimidate and bribe several of Kelly's alleged victims of sexual abuse.

The men are 31-year-old Richard Arline Jr., a self-described friend of the singer; Donnell Russell, 45, a self-described "manager, advisor and friend" of Kelly; and Michael Williams, 37, who prosecutors say is a relative of one of Kelly's former publicists.

Amid the turmoil that followed the murder of George Floyd in South Minneapolis, a history of harassment and abuse in the Twin Cities music scene was exposed by its survivors on social media. In response, three female musicians of color here, announced plans to open a music venue that better represents and serves the community.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

NOEL KING, HOST:

This is the No. 1 pop song in the country right now.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WATERMELON SUGAR")

HARRY STYLES: (Singing) Watermelon sugar high, watermelon sugar high...

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

We're sorry to tell you that Trini Lopez has died. The singer and guitarist was 83, suffered complications from COVID-19.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LEMON TREE")

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

This is a story of a hip-hop artist and his musical collaborator. The artist is Tou Saik Lee. He's Hmong American, and his collaborator is his grandma. Emily Bright reports.

Title tracks often capture the mood, vibe and direction of an album.

The Tiny Desk is working from home for the foreseeable future. Introducing NPR Music's Tiny Desk (home) concerts, bringing you performances from across the country and the world. It's the same spirit — stripped-down sets, an intimate setting — just a different space.

The Tiny Desk is working from home for the foreseeable future. Introducing NPR Music's Tiny Desk (home) concerts, bringing you performances from across the country and the world. It's the same spirit — stripped-down sets, an intimate setting — just a different space.

Pianist Micah Thomas is having the jazz equivalent of a standout rookie season. Just within the last several weeks, he finished his graduate studies at Juilliard and released a terrifically assured debut album called Tide.

It introduces an artist of superb technical facility, along with something even more striking — a deep understanding of the sprawling lineage of modern jazz piano and a youthful determination not to get caught retracing anybody's steps.

NPR Music contributor Stefanie Fernández shares the latest Latin music releases. Catch all these songs and more in the most recent episode of Alt.Latino.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

(SOUNDBITE OF MULA SONG, "AGUA QUE QUEMA")

The series Upright opens with a man hauling an upright piano in a trailer across the bare Australian landscape. He's frazzled and alone at the wheel, guzzling beer and gobbling pills. He gets a text message: "Mate. Time is running out. Don't duck this up."

Ah, spell-check.

Then he drives into a ditch, hears his piano bleat, and the shouts of an angry, profane 16-year-old he's just run into. Upright is the story of two strangers, Lucky and Meg, who take off across the expanse of Australia, scheming, swearing, pilfering, and becoming vital to each other.

Kathleen Edwards had devoted fans and a successful career, with hits on the Billboard Top 40 charts and songwriting awards. But after her last album in 2012, she walked away from the music business. In fact, she opened a cafe in the suburbs of Ottawa, Canada, called Quitters Coffee.

This week, NPR Music launched The South Got Something To Say: A Celebration Of Southern Rap. The project is centered around a canon of 130 greatest releases by Southern rappers; it was assembled by a team, led by critic Briana Younger, of Southern critics, scholars and writers representing the Carolinas, Georgia, Florida, Maryland, Mississippi, Texas, Tennessee, Louisiana and Virginia.

There are two kinds of reactions to Beyoncé's new Black Is King video: lavish praise – and deep criticism. The praise comes from her many fans and from many reviewers. The criticism often comes from Africans.

We are both from Africa. Esther Ngumbi was born and grew up in Kenya. Ifeanyi Nsofor was born and grew up in Nigeria. We can understand the critiques – and have some of our own. But in the end, we think the positives outweigh the problems.

"What you n***** know about the Dirty South?" When Cool Breeze and Goodie Mob posed that question in 1995, they weren't really looking for an answer from anybody in particular because obviously, they already knew it — not a gotdamn thing. The question came up just three months after André 3000 declared "the South's got something to say" as audience members booed after OutKast won the Best New Group trophy at the Source Awards.

Hip-hop has been an integral component in Tiny Desk's success for quite a while now. Rappers from across the globe have played the Desk and helped to enrich our ever-evolving legacy. With hip-hop in particular, geography plays such a large part in 'how' artists express themselves, and none quite so much as Southern emcees. To celebrate the launch of NPR Music's Southern Rap canon this week, we're picking five performances from Southern hip-hop artists.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

All right. Time now for an espresso shot of musical endorphins.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GREENE: When the pandemic forced summer music festivals to cancel, banjo players felt particularly unstrung.

Alan Menken composed the song "Prince Ali," memorably sung by Robin Williams in Disney's 1992 animated feature Aladdin, while sitting at the lyricist's hospital bed. His friend, Howard Ashman, was dying.

"His life was pitifully cut short, unfortunately, as were many at that time," says Menken. "But Howard's [death], for me, is the most personally difficult and his spirit remains very, very present still; there's something about Howard that is not just a statistic in the battle against AIDS. But as an artist, he's extremely vital — even now."

Phil Elverum has built and battled entire universes. From 1996-2003, his band, The Microphones, was mostly just him alone in a studio, as friends from Olympia sang and banged on instruments as needed. With a bull-headed bravado that comes from a dreamer's naïveté, chests swelled to the size of the moon, the dead flew off as vultures and the dawn promised something new every morning.

Helen Jones Woods, who played trombone with the International Sweethearts of Rhythm, a history-making all-female big band that toured widely during World War II, died of COVID-19 on July 25 in Sarasota, Fla. She was 96.

Her daughter Cathy Hughes, founder and chairperson of the broadcast media company Urban One, confirmed the details of her death to NPR.

Helen Jones Woods, who played trombone with the International Sweethearts of Rhythm, a history-making all-female big band that toured widely during World War II, died of COVID-19 on July 25 in Sarasota, Fla. She was 96.

Her daughter Cathy Hughes, founder and chairperson of the broadcast media company Urban One, confirmed the details of her death to NPR.

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Back in April, during the early days of COVID-19, Bon Iver dropped a seemingly free-standing single called "

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

(SOUNDBITE OF SHIRLEY COLLINS SONG, "THE MERRY GOLDEN TREE")

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

This essay is part of The South Got Something To Say: A Celebration Of Southern Rap, NPR Music's canon of the best songs, albums and mixtapes by Southern rappers. The project — created by a team of Southern critics, scholars and writers and led by Briana Younger — is an enthusiastic celebration that recenters the South as a creative center in hip-hop and acknowledges the region's wide-ranging contributions to the genre.

Things are very different in 2020, and maybe David Longstreth had a hunch when he started work on the new project from the Dirty Projectors, a band with a lineup that has consistently rotated around him over the last 20 years. They jettisoned the traditional album format for a series of five EPs.

YouTube

For the Morning Edition Song Project, the show has been reaching out to musicians in recent weeks for their take on the era of COVID-19, asking them to put their thoughts to music in a

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