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Ann Powers

Ann Powers is NPR Music's critic and correspondent. She writes for NPR's music news blog, The Record, and she can be heard on NPR's newsmagazines and music programs.

One of the nation's most notable music critics, Powers has been writing for The Record, NPR's blog about finding, making, buying, sharing and talking about music, since April 2011.

Powers served as chief pop music critic at the Los Angeles Times from 2006 until she joined NPR. Prior to the Los Angeles Times, she was senior critic at Blender and senior curator at Experience Music Project. From 1997 to 2001 Powers was a pop critic at The New York Times and before that worked as a senior editor at the Village Voice. Powers began her career working as an editor and columnist at San Francisco Weekly.

Her writing extends beyond blogs, magazines and newspapers. Powers co-wrote Tori Amos: Piece By Piece, with Amos, which was published in 2005. In 1999, Power's book Weird Like Us: My Bohemian America was published. She was the editor, with Evelyn McDonnell, of the 1995 book Rock She Wrote: Women Write About Rock, Rap, and Pop and the editor of Best Music Writing 2010.

After earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in creative writing from San Francisco State University, Powers went on to receive a Master of Arts degree in English from the University of California.

In the liner notes to John Coltrane's 1964 album Live At Birdland, Amiri Baraka (then writing as Le Roi Jones) contemplated the gift the saxophonist and his band offered with this music inspired by the horrific deaths of four Black girls in a Birmingham church bombing inspired by white supremacist hatred. "Listen," Baraka wrote. "What we're given is a slow delicate introspective sadness, almost hopelessness, except for Elvin [Jones], rising in the background like something out of nature... a fattening thunder, storm clouds or jungle war clouds.

"Say their names," the signs read in the streets of America. In 2020, one reckoning shares an unstable boundary with another as protesters masked against the coronavirus expose a different kind of deep debilitation: the racism that permeates American history and the present day, resulting in sudden deaths now recorded and shared on social media, but always present within history, from the arrival of enslaved Africans on the Virginia Coast in 1619 onward.

As technology evolves, so does protest. Awareness of George Floyd's killing at the hands of Minneapolis police officers could only inspire an international grassroots movement because a teenager, Darnella Frazier, decided to record his arrest using her phone and post it to social media. Activists are organizing marches and rallies on Twitter and Instagram, even as they warn participants to be careful of surveillance on those platforms.

Even in the best of times, many look to live music as a crucial resource — a place to turn for comfort, community and relief from anxiety — and can scarcely imagine their lives without it. For the past few months, the coronavirus pandemic has closed down venues around the country, and it's hard to picture when gathering in nightclubs or amphitheaters will be deemed safe again.

Little Richard died on Saturday, May 9, 2020 in Tullahoma, Tenn. at the age of 87. This essay was originally published as part of the book Good Booty: Love and Sex, Black and White, Body and Soul in American Music, written by NPR Music's critic and correspondent Ann Powers and published by Dey Street Books in 2017.

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

John Prine, who died Tuesday from complications of COVID-19, was a foundational figure, guiding light and embodying spirit of Americana music. In recent years his presence at the annual Americana Music Honors and Awards, held every September at Nashville's hallowed Ryman Auditorium, defined that event. Jed Hilly, Executive Director of the Americana Music Association, reflected upon Prine's passing:

When I heard that John Prine was dead, and would never be going to Arnold's Country Kitchen again to nab the last piece of banana cream pie; and that I'd never stand in a packed room full of old hippies and young hipsters and just plain folks and bellow out the words to "In Spite of Ourselves" as he chuckled at all of us; that I'd never meet another young songwriter who'd recently been blessed the wisdom he offered as Nashville's most generous mentor; that old friends like Bonnie Raitt would never grinningly match hi

The Virtuoso

Feb 10, 2020

Turning the Tables is NPR's ongoing multi-platform series dedicated to recentering the popular music canon on voices that have been marginalized, underappreciated, or hidden in plain sight. In 2020, we will publish an occasional series looking closely at the careers of significant women in music, treasured albums or significant scenes. This is the first in the series; find all Turning the Tables content here.

The latest round of Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductions were announced today, and Whitney Houston is the only woman honored.

When Brandi Carlile decided to perform Joni Mitchell's 1971 album Blue in its entirety at Disney Hall – the primary home of the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the site of many classical music premieres — one reason was to remind the audience of the 75-year-old's near-singular status among popular musicians of the past half-century. "We didn't live in the time of Shakespeare, Rembrandt or Beethoven," she said before she began her October 14 performance. "But we live in the time of Joni Mitchell."

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By Ann Powers

In 1981, after reading the paraplegic veteran Ron Kovic's memoir Born on the Fourth of July, Bruce Springsteen staged a concert to benefit the advocacy group Vietnam Veterans of America. For the encore, he played a song he hadn't performed before and hasn't since.

Here's a thing you should know before watching Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story, Martin Scorsese's new Netflix documentary about one of the most notorious rock tours in the genre's history: Bob Dylan is messing with you. Dylan has been messing with people since his first braggadocio days in Greenwich Village, when his made-up tales of wandering the Southwest with a circus helped convince his friends in the folk scene that he was the real proletarian deal.

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

"I wouldn't have pursued music but for trouble," Joni Mitchell once said. Mitchell was referring to real problems — her childhood time spent bedridden with polio and the life-shaping loss she experienced after giving her daughter up for adoption in 1965. Those events solidified the drive that pushed Mitchell forward from small-potatoes rural Canada toward the American meccas where she would prove to be the magnet shifting the needle of pop. But trouble, in all its manifestations, is also Mitchell's muse.

Last night in Nashville's CMA Theater, Miranda Lambert described Pistol Annies' work dynamic as a rolling slumber party. But — to turn a phrase that is, as Lambert herself might say, corny as hell — these women are wide awake.

AMERICANAFEST just ended and we're back from Nashville with 10 thrilling tunes for you. The artists are, for the most part, emerging musicians who tackle this diverse genre from all angles.

Defining Americana isn't easy. At the festival, there were musicians from all around the world. Some were rooted in blues, jazz, boogie rock, bluegrass, soul, gospel, comedy, country, Tejano and much more.

Prince is everything. Yes, I'm using a meme-ably meaningless phrase to describe the most fascinating artist to reign during my lifetime, but it's nearly factual for the Purple One: the intense reconsideration so many listeners have given his work since his death in April 2016 continues to reveal new facets of his genius and his work's cultural importance.

It's easy to love, worship and seek to emulate Joni Mitchell – but it's not so easy to pay proper tribute to her. That's why celebrations centered on her music are so fun. They challenge each performer, usually a besotted Joni devotee, to engage her tricky rhythms and find footing in her sometimes octave-jumping melodies; to parse her words — those phrases piercing through the particular into the universal — without slavishly imitating her Canadian cadences.

Last summer I took my daughter to Vans Warped Tour for the first time. She'd been clamoring to go since the first time she'd walked into a Hot Topic store and bought a t-shirt emblazoned with the logo of the band Black Veil Brides; deeply devoted to that band and its sweetly philosophical, doe-eyed singer Andy Biersack, she'd even had their album cover painted on her eleventh birthday cake. By age 13 she'd become utterly versed in current pop-punk and grunge-indebted metal, shouting along to her playlists of Neck Deep and Attila songs in the car.

In music and the culture it reflects, 2017 was predictably unpredictable: idols fell, empires shook, consensus was scarce. This conversation is one of five on The Record with artists, makers and thinkers whose work captured something unique about a chaotic year, and hinted at bigger revelations around the bend.

With the nominees recently announced, the 60th Annual Grammy Awards return to New York City, taking place at Madison Square Garden on January 28. Over the years, World Cafe has had numerous visits from those nominated and those who've won.

Emily West is one of those rare talents who leaves new fans wondering: Where have you been all my life? Her voice has the raw power and gem-like beauty of an old-fashioned pop star; indeed, she won second place on television's America's Got Talent in 2014.

Since she was 16, when her first hit, "Tim McGraw," explored how a girl's pop-star crush could enhance a high school romance with a boy not quite up to the task, Taylor Swift has been tracing the way her generation thinks, talks and texts about love. She's particularly gifted at connecting what young women consume with the ways in which they build their relationships.

I am a Bowie girl. Not literally: I'm a little too young to have swiped my face with glitter and run out in lime-green platforms to see David Bowie storming through America in 1972 and 1973 with the Spiders from Mars, when he sent queer and alien dispatches across a heartland primed for them by Stonewall and women's lib and the sexual revolution but also feeling the slap of the Silent Majority as the Nixon era lumbered on.

All hail pop rock! Few categories in contemporary music are more maligned, yet what resides within this one can be tremendously energizing, adventurous and fun.

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