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Music

'Morning Edition Song Project' Will Continue Into 2021

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

All right. For this next story, I actually need to do an important handoff to one of our other co-hosts, Rachel Martin.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Hi, David.

GREENE: Hi.

MARTIN: We're doing this because you're leaving NPR. You're moving on to a new chapter.

GREENE: I am. And I'm not totally ready to talk about any of that yet because we're going to have time to say goodbye on the show tomorrow.

MARTIN: Totally.

GREENE: But I do want to talk to you about this project we've been doing - the MORNING EDITION Song Project - which you are going to be taking over, and that makes me very happy.

MARTIN: Yes. I am super excited about what you have done in this project, along with our producer Vince Pearson. It's just been such a great series.

GREENE: Yeah. I mean, Vince deserves the bulk of the credit for this. I mean, he's just produced something that's been really special. And this is just a taste of what it sounded like.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "QUARANTINED")

CHRISTYLEZ BACON: (Rapping) COVID-tine (ph), can't work a J-O-B. So I'll be in charge of this like it's the same old thing. Man, I wish saw it coming like PST (ph). I'm trying to see the other side of COVID-19.

GREENE: That song is actually called "Quarantined," and it's a song that the rapper Christylez Bacon wrote for us for this project. He's one of the 13 artists who wrote in these episodes that have been airing every two weeks on the program. And these musicians, they followed the news from the initial lockdowns in the pandemic to the protests, to the economic collapse in our country. And I don't know - it's just felt very poetic and really engaging emotionally.

MARTIN: Totally, a different way to make sense of everything happening around us. Can you just remind us how the whole thing got started?

GREENE: Well, I mean, if you remember back - like, we were doing these pieces about how pandemics in the past inspired and influenced art. So Vince and I were talking - I mean, maybe there's a way that someone could write a song about what we were living through in 2020, in the moment. And that's when we were talking to Ketch Secor. He's the lead musician in Old Crow Medicine Show. We didn't know exactly what to expect if we asked him to do this, but he was totally into it. Here he is talking about the song that he wrote for us. It was the first one that we aired. It was called "Pray For America."

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

KETCH SECOR: We as songwriters, we got to keep adding to the canon of songs about America because we need to update it. These are troubling times, and we need new songs about our country to inspire unity.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PRAY FOR AMERICA")

OLD CROW MEDICINE SHOW: (Singing) When sorrows are befalling and shadows darken her door, when the fever spreads and a silent scourge outshines her golden shores.

MARTIN: I love that. I mean, it was just basically your thesis statement for the whole project, huh?

GREENE: Yeah. I mean, he just gave us the template and the message that we've been trying to capture. And what made me nervous, though, is we had asked him to write that song in May, before George Floyd was murdered, before the protests that came to define so much of the year. And we were getting ready to interview him about the song after Floyd was killed, and I'm thinking, like, maybe the song's not going to work anymore. But we realize that that could be part of the conversation, and so I asked Ketch about that and asked him if it still worked.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

SECOR: When you write music, you're trying to make universal statements. Great songs like "Blowin' In The Wind," they're not about particular vantage points. They're not about any particular side or affiliation. Great songs are there for all to enjoy and for all to see themselves in. So writing a song about COVID-19, if it's any good, it ought to be able to translate from a global pandemic to a cry for justice.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PRAY FOR AMERICA")

OLD CROW MEDICINE SHOW: (Singing) Pray for America, our promised land.

MARTIN: Yeah. And I remember - even though the song didn't directly touch on race in America, your conversation did because Ketch had a Black bandmate who had a lot to say about his own experiences with racism in Nashville, right?

GREENE: Yeah, exactly. And that's when it brought it all home. It was a discussion about songcraft, but also, you know, a really intimate and personal conversation about what was taking place around us.

MARTIN: What was it like to try to get other artists involved?

GREENE: It turned out not to be nearly as hard as we expected. You know, I think a lot of artists were just really inspired by the drama of everything happening in 2020. But, you know, there's also the fact that live performances were shut down, and I think a lot of artists just loved the fact that there was this other avenue for expression.

MARTIN: It was such a diverse group of musicians, right? Some uber famous, others were up-and-comers. Was there one that stood out for you, just personally?

GREENE: The Indigo Girls was pretty special.

MARTIN: Yeah.

GREENE: This was apparently the first time they had written a song together in nearly 25 years.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LONG RIDE")

INDIGO GIRLS: (Singing) No food to eat - an epidemic of inequality and a pandemic raging.

MARTIN: Well, this has been an amazing project. It has been so fun, just on a personal level, to hear you in these conversations. You care so much about music and the story behind it. Thank you for doing it.

GREENE: Well, keep it going. I'm excited to see who you bring on and how people try and make sense of 2021.

MARTIN: Yeah, we'll do it. Thanks, David.

GREENE: Thanks, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.