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Vince Pearson

Kev Marcus and Wil Baptiste — two artists from Fort Lauderdale, Fla. — met 25 years ago, in a high school orchestra class. Growing up, neither one had had much exposure to classical music; both said their parents were more likely to listen to reggae or calypso. Classical music felt like it was supposed to be for other people, which had the effect of drawing them even closer to it. Today, they play as a duo, with Marcus on violin and Baptiste on viola.

The Morning Edition Song Project, where we ask musicians to write an original song about the COVID era, continues today with Lila Downs. The artist grew up splitting her time between Minnesota and Oaxaca, Mexico, and says that she always felt pulled between three different cultures — Indigenous Mixtec, Mexican national and American. So when she agreed to contribute to the series, her tricultural identity played a role.

In more than four decades of music, Barry Gibb and his brothers Robin and Maurice created almost too many hits to count as the pop powerhouse the Bee Gees. Today, at 74, Barry is the last living Gibb brother, and has continued on as a solo artist. If you've only ever associated his name with the disco era, his new album may surprise you: It turns out that the musician, who emigrated from the U.K. to Australia when he and his brothers were kids, has always been a big fan of American country music.

Brandy Clark is known for her vivid character sketches. The Nashville artist put out an album in March 2020, right when the pandemic was starting to shut everything down. After her tour got canceled, Clark started seeing people less — a real problem for someone who likes to write about other people.

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."

In his decades-long career, Peter Guralnick has written about some of the biggest icons in American music. He wrote what may be the definitive books on Elvis Presley, as well as biographies of singer Sam Cooke and Sun Records founder Sam Phillips.

His latest work, Looking to Get Lost: Adventures in Music and Writing, is a collection of essays, based on his interviews with many legends of early rock and roll, blues and country. At the center of it is Guralnick himself — because, in some ways, the book is about his own journey in music journalism.

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.

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."

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.

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.

"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.

It's easy to imagine that Ringo Starr's closet is full of shoe boxes containing old mementos, like the photographs that populate Another Day In The Life, his newest book. The reality is a bit different though.

"If I'm in them, I just lift them off the internet," he says. "Others are what I do on tour when I'm hanging out."

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.

From 1991 to 1994, Nirvana was one of the biggest bands in the world with a look and sound that would come to define the decade's music. At the height of this fame, though, bandleader Kurt Cobain sometimes seemed to be an unwilling participant who had just been swept up and carried away by Nirvana's success. Then, after less than four years of meteoric fame, Cobain died of suicide on April 5, 1994. He was 27.