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David Greene

The Black Lives Matter movement became an international phenomenon in 2020. As protesters took to the streets in cities across the U.S. in the aftermath of the police killing of George Floyd, a Black man in Minneapolis, Minn., so did demonstrators in other countries — all with a similar message: Black lives matter.

"There is a George Floyd in every country," South Africa-based journalist Lynsey Chutel tells NPR's David Greene during a recent roundtable interview.

Adam Weiner sings and plays piano like an old school rock and roller in the band Low Cut Connie. Like so many musicians this year, Weiner saw all his gigs go up in smoke.

From the outset, 2020 has been a roller coaster for R&B singer PJ Morton. It began in January when he won a Grammy and lost one of his heroes, basketball star Kobe Bryant.

"Of course, it's amazing to win a Grammy, but there was a dark cloud," Morton says. "So for me, even before the pandemic, it kind of started as a weird year."

The Morning Edition Song Project, in which musicians compose an original song about the COVID-19 era, returns this week with multi-genre singer-songwriter Thao Nguyen, leader of the band Thao & the Get Down Stay Down. Early this September, the San Francisco-based musician stepped onto her porch to find polluted air and falling ash — the fallout of the wildfires raging on the West Coast.

It took Wisconsin more than seven months to reach 100,000 coronavirus cases. On Monday, just five weeks later, it reached 200,000.

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."

Combine vibrating urbano bass that conjures classic Daddy Yankee, a silky R&B voice that could make Prince blush and textures reminiscent of John Carpenter's Halloween score, and you've got the latest album from Gabriel Garzón-Montano.

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."

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.

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.

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It's been a brutal year for Americans.

The relentless spread of COVID-19, the ensuing economic crisis and the reckoning around social injustice has made this a year like none other.

NPR wanted to know how these cataclysmic, consequential events have affected American families and how those experiences might shape their political choices in the upcoming presidential election.

First, a pandemic, then economic collapse and now there are mass demonstrations over police brutality and racism.

In times of upheaval like this, music can be an escape. Maybe a way to reflect or try to make sense of things. This is what led to a new series we're launching today. For the Morning Edition Song Project, we've been asking musicians to write and perform an original song for us.

George Floyd was buried in his hometown of Houston, Texas, this week. Floyd left his mark on the city through his friends and family, but also through the music he made under the name Big Floyd.

George Floyd grew up in Houston's Third Ward — the home of the city's hip-hop and rap scene. Floyd used to spend hours in producer DjD's home studio, making the kind of slow-the-music-down form of rap made famous by the late DJ Screw, who also knew and worked with Floyd.

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More than 100,000 Americans have now died from COVID-19.

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Is it time for states to reopen their economies? President Trump really wants it to happen. But the question is whether or not it's safe.

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People around the world are reporting that birds are much louder these days.

But Sue Anne Zollinger, an ornithologist from Manchester Metropolitan University, cautions: Don't believe everything you hear.

With the decrease in traffic, there's less noise pollution. That means birds have less noise to compete with, she says. (Scroll down to the end of this story to listen for yourself.)

"Entirely Different Stars," from Lukas Nelson's newest album, Naked Garden, is a song many people might relate to right about now. It's a fantasy about grabbing that special someone and blasting off to a less troubled planet.

The book we're talking about right now almost didn't exist.

Little Legends celebrates exceptional men in black history; it's by the author-illustrator Vashti Harrison. She says she thought long and hard about taking on this subject matter, because she relates more to women's stories.

Glenn Hurst didn't grow up dreaming of becoming a doctor. But eventually, he made his way into health care, taking a job placing doctors in small towns. Traveling farm country, he says, the work moved him in ways he didn't expect.

"To see the physicians in those communities helping those people stay in their fields, helping those people's families be safe ... I decided that I wanted to be part of something rural and I wanted to be part of health care," he says.

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If there were ever a person stuck in a place he never wanted to be, it's Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

Zelenskiy had been in his post for only two months when he had that infamous July 25 phone call with President Trump — during which Trump asked the Ukrainian president to help investigate former Vice President Joe Biden. For Zelenskiy, the call made what was already a delicate diplomatic situation even more complicated.

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After weeks of raucous, jubilant protests and sometimes violent attempts to quell them, there was celebration in the streets of Beirut today.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting in foreign language).

Neil Young has easily one of the most recognizable names in American music, and his familiar voice isn't getting quieter with time. He has played with a lot of people over the years: There was Buffalo Springfield and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. But Crazy Horse has outlasted all of them.

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The U.S. women's soccer team is still savoring its victory after capturing the World Cup championship this summer. But off the field, the players continue to battle a gender discrimination case against their employer, the U.S. Soccer Federation.

The women are demanding pay equal to that of their counterparts on the men's national soccer team. U.S. Soccer says it pays women more than men in salaries and game bonuses.

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