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The Morning Edition Song Project, in which musicians compose an original song about the COVID-19 era, returns this week with country singer-songwriter Lori McKenna. A Nashville writer for hire and solo artist in her own right, McKenna has been spending the year doing songwriting sessions over Zoom from the basement of her family's Boston home.

"When I first started writing as a teenager, people said, 'You got to write what you know,' and I figured well this is what I know," McKenna says. "I know how to be in a family."

Johnny Nash, a singer who scored a No. 1 hit with "I Can See Clearly Now" in 1972, has died. He was 80 years old. His son, Johnny Nash Jr., confirmed his death to The Associated Press, saying his father had died of natural causes at his home in Houston.

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

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

OK. This is a song you may have in your head even if you were not alive when it was a No. 1 hit on Billboard in 1972.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I CAN SEE CLEARLY NOW")

Eddie Van Halen, the guitarist and songwriter who helped give the rock band Van Halen its name and sound, died Tuesday after a battle with cancer. He was 65.

His death was announced by his son, Wolf Van Halen, on Twitter.

"I can't believe I'm having to write this," the statement said, "but my father, Edward Lodewijk Van Halen, has lost his long and arduous battle with cancer this morning. He was the best father I could ever ask for. Every moment I've shared with him on and off stage was a gift."

Linda Ronstadt — the chart-topping, Grammy- and Emmy-winning Rock & Roll Hall of Famer — is due to be honored again this week. This time, she'll receive a Hispanic Heritage Award, in recognition both of her pop music and her smash-hit mariachi albums. Ahead of the virtual ceremony, which will be broadcast by PBS on Oct. 6, she joined NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navarro to talk about the role of her Mexican-American identity in her career and what music she's been listening to lately.

Australian-born singer Helen Reddy, whose hit "I Am Woman" became a feminist anthem in the 1970's, died in Los Angeles on Tuesday afternoon. She was 78 years old.

Her death was announced on Facebook by her children, Traci Donat and Jordan Sommers. Reddy had dementia for several years before her death.

The Morning Edition Song Project, in which musicians compose an original song about the COVID-19 era, returns this week with New Orleans group Tank and the Bangas. When NPR first approached the band over the summer, the pandemic and the George Floyd protests were dominating the news. Asked to compose some music that put her feelings about the words into words, singer Tarriona "Tank" Ball responded with a song simply called "Feelings."

We Amplify Voices

We Amplify Voices releases new music today. Originally known as the Dick and Jane Project, We Amplify Voices or WAV empowers students through songwriting. The kids come up with the themes and lyrics, while Columbus-area musicians record the songs. 

Sufjan Stevens' Fifty States Of Grey

Sep 25, 2020

In 2012, Sufjan Stevens released a cover of "The Star-Spangled Banner." Far from the reverent, vampy and vocally pyrotechnic renditions that ritualistically precede American sporting events, Stevens' version was instead muted and ominous.

Singer-songwriter Sarah Jarosz has been touring since she was 16 years old, so the 2020 quarantine has been an especially unusual year for her.

In the 1970s, there were few singer-songwriters more beloved than Cat Stevens. A lot has changed since his landmark album Tea for the Tillerman. For one, he's a grandfather. For two, he's not even Cat Stevens anymore: He's gone by Yusuf Islam, or simply Yusuf, since his conversion to the Muslim faith later that decade.

Morning Edition has been reaching out to musicians in recent months to get their take on the COVID-19 era, and asking them to write an original song inspired by this tumultuous time. This week's contributors, veteran folk-rock duo Indigo Girls, have lots of experience writing about social issues in their music. But according to member Amy Ray, they had some serious misgivings at first.

Stanley Crouch, the lauded and fiery jazz critic, has died. According to an announcement by his wife, Gloria Nixon-Crouch, Stanley Crouch died at the Calvary Hospital in New York on Wednesday, following nearly a decade of serious health issues.

Updated at 11:49 a.m. ET

Frederick "Toots" Hibbert, the lead singer and songwriter of Toots and the Maytals and one of reggae's foundational figures, died Friday in Kingston, Jamaica. He was 77.

His death was announced on the band's Facebook and Twitter accounts. "It is with the heaviest of hearts to announce that Frederick Nathaniel 'Toots' Hibbert passed away peacefully tonight, surrounded by his family at the University Hospital of the West Indies in Kingston, Jamaica," read the statement.

Ronald "Khalis" Bell, a co-founder, songwriter, saxophonist, vocalist and producer of the chart-topping group Kool & The Gang, died Wednesday morning at his home in the U.S. Virgin Islands. He was 68.

Bell's death was confirmed by a Universal Music publicist, though no cause was provided.

Gary Peacock, a versatile bassist who collaborated with some of the 20th century's most notable jazz musicians, has died. He was 85.

His family confirmed in a statement to NPR that Peacock died peacefully Friday, Sept. 4, at his home in upstate New York. No cause of death was provided.

Over a career that spanned seven decades, he played on recordings alongside Albert Ayler, Paul Bley, Bill Evans and Keith Jarrett, among many others.

For the Morning Edition Song Project, we've asked musicians to capture life in the era of COVID-19 by writing an original song that describes this turbulent moment. When we contacted Colin Meloy of The Decemberists, he had an idea ready to go. He says "Slint, Spiderland" was something he had been jotting down as a sort of musical journal entry.

When your breakthrough record is a post-sobriety look back, where do you go next? There's certainly no shortage of recorded music that covers the "before." Sometimes there's a clear line-in-the-sand in an artist's catalog; other times, there's no obvious intervention, no discernible divide. Nashville singer-songwriter Ruston Kelly's answer, Shape & Destroy, is more refinement than reinvention; a statement of purpose, it offers a path forward in which the process of recovery continues with resolve.

Six months ago, Scott Hammontree's job consisted of long nights spent at his music venue, The Intersection, where, as operating partner, he's been helping to break artists like Eric Church for nearly two decades. But, almost every day since Apr. 24, Hammontree has woken up, picked up the phone or logged on to a video conference app and started calling Washington, advocating for federal relief that could save homegrown businesses like his.

In Germany, several thousand volunteers attended a pop-up concert as part of an experiment to understand how COVID-19 spreads in large-scale stadium events — and how to prevent it.

These days The Mavericks are known as a hot, swinging nine-piece outfit. Before that, there were country record deals, and even further back, a stint in the South Florida alternative scene. The one thing the group hadn't done in its 30-year existence was record an album entirely in Spanish, until now; its new full-length is called En Español.

Long before Raul Malo became The Mavericks' famously expressive lead singer, he learned how to communicate growing up in a bilingual Miami household.

This year's Tiny Desk Contest wrapped up at the beginning of August with the announcement of our winner, Linda Diaz, and her song "Green Tea Ice Cream." But NPR Music's panel of judges saw over 6000 entries from around the country, and there was more than one incredible submission.

Justin Townes Earle, the award-winning singer-songwriter and son of Steve Earle, has died. He was 38.

Earle's death was announced in a post on his Facebook page that reads:

It is with tremendous sadness that we inform you of the passing of our son, husband, father and friend Justin. So many of you have relied on his music and lyrics over the years and we hope that his music will continue to guide you on your journeys.

No cause of death was given.

"I feel like we kind of manifested this."

That's Becca Mancari's playful, pop-psychology-informed proclamation to her music-making peer and fellow interviewee S.G. Goodman, near the end of our three-way Zoom session. Mancari is referring to the sense of kinship the two singer-songwriters have shared ever since a six-month period several years back, when they were both based in Nashville. Of course, we at World Cafe were unaware that they had a track record of comparing outlooks, talking shop and even, on one occasion, sharing the use of a tour van.

UPDATE: The listening party has ended.

This Friday at 4 p.m. ET, join us for an online listening party for Bright Eyes' new album, Down in the Weeds, Where the World Once Was, hosted by All Songs Considered's Bob Boilen and featuring a live conversation with Bright Eyes members Conor Oberst, Mike Mogis and Nathaniel Walcott.

Steve Grossman, a saxophonist whose lunging projection, sure rhythmic footing and clarity of attack helped propel him into the spotlight in the 1970s, notably in bands led by Miles Davis and Elvin Jones, died on Aug. 13 at Glen Cove Hospital in Glen Cove, N.Y. He was 69. The cause was cardiac arrest after a long illness, his brother Myles Grossman confirmed to NPR.

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.

Colin Pate was toiling away at his North Philadelphia recording studio in late June when he received an unbelievable text message: "Secret show at Johnny Brenda's tonight, 6:30."

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