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'A Chance Of A Great Spiritual Awakening': Rhiannon Giddens Talks With Lara Downes

In the 1920s, a renaissance happened in Harlem. Black artists migrated north, rejecting centuries of a tragic status quo. They inspired each other to make art that expressed an audacious new vision of Black beauty, Black hope, Black truth and Black pride. A century later, Black artists are coming together again, somehow, though not physically this time.

Welcome to Amplify With Lara Downes, where you can eavesdrop on my intimate conversations with visionary Black musicians who share what they're making in this time of transformation — of reckoning, reimagining and maybe rebirth.

We're reaching out from our isolation in quarantine, inspiring each other to reject our own tired status quo, to dream the future, make something bold and meaningful of this time and in this time.

One day in July, I ventured out with my kids to march for Black lives at the state capitol here in California — people of all colors, chanting for change. Looking around me, I felt a jolt of something unfamiliar and realized it was hope. When we got home, I sat down at my piano, pressed "record" on a vintage cassette deck and played music by great Black artists who made music from the struggles of their time; spirituals, freedom songs — music by Florence Price and Nina Simone — single takes, unfiltered. On the mixtape you can hear the wind in the big elm tree outside my window. It's imperfect and I treasure it: the music I made on the day when I remembered hope.

The artists who are my guests on Amplify With Lara Downes have all had similar moments of awakening during this tragic and transformative year, when we saw our way to making "good trouble." We took a stand and dared to express something as audacious as hope.

Join us here — and on YouTube — and we'll tell you about what we're making.

This week, Rhiannon Giddens joins me from her kitchen table. Rhiannon is my friend and soul sister, my fellow traveler on the path that leads to the deep center of American music. We've both been trailblazing for a long time, excavating our own areas of the musical landscape, meeting each other here and there along the way. In this year of staying home and standing still, we reflect together on the long miles we've traveled so far and what we've found on our journeys, envisioning the wide open road ahead.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Lara Downes is among the foremost American pianists of her generation, a trailblazer both on and off the stage, whose musical roadmap seeks inspiration from the legacies of history, family and collective memory. As a chart-topping recording artist, a powerfully charismatic performer, a curator and tastemaker, Downes is recognized as a cultural visionary on the national arts scene.