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Gwen Thompkins

Gwen Thompkins is a New Orleans native, NPR veteran and host of WWNO's Music Inside Out, where she brings to bear the knowledge and experience she amassed as senior editor of Weekend Edition, an East Africa correspondent, the holder of Nieman and Watson Fellowships, and as a longtime student of music from around the world.

There has been plenty to discuss since the release of Ma Rainey's Black Bottom last year. It tells the story of August Wilson and other Black Americans in the 20th century who fled the south and headed north. The film was adapted from a play by Wilson, directed by George C.

Each year, Quint Davis commissions two aerial photographs of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival's massive operation at the Fair Grounds Race Course in Mid-City. The first is a still life: Passels of white tents and purple, green and gold bleachers are easily visible in the frame, grass is still growing in front of the food booths and the stages look quiet. The outside track encircling the field is, if not pristine, nearly so.

There are a lot of stories to tell about New Orleans.

There are uplifting stories about new houses, new shops and gigantic drainage projects. There are melancholy stories about everything residents lost in Hurricane Katrina, about all that can never be recovered. There are stories about all that remains to be done, 10 years after the hurricane and the levee failures.

And, throughout it all, there are love stories.

Want to hear one?

'It Was Still Mardi Gras'

In March, country music star Jason Aldean is playing Madison Square Garden. Tickets sold out in 10 minutes. Fans want to hear his latest No. 1 song, "Take a Little Ride."

The song was written by by Rodney Clawson, Dylan Altman and Jim McCormick — who still chuckles when he hears it. McCormick says a No. 1 song is life-altering.

On the tough side of Terpsichore Street in New Orleans stands a duplex — a two-story, wood-framed building with wood floors, high ceilings and a nice fireplace. But this old house is empty: no furniture, no walls, no electricity, no toilet. Iron bars hide the windows; there's a lockbox on the door. The facade is three different shades of blecch, blurgh and blah.

There's so much water in, around and underneath New Orleans, that the dead spend eternity in tombs above ground.

Most of the tombs now have a similar design: On top, there's space for a wooden coffin or two, and at the bottom lies a potpourri of decanted family remains. Sooner or later, whoever is up high must vacate and settle lower, making room for the newly dead. That's how families stay together — in a desiccated jumble of grandpas, grandmas, siblings and cousins.