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.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OP2o4rBdX-s Sometime around the 11th century, Western composers began to make room on the page for a new kind of sound. These notes would fall outside the key of a piece of music — generally a half-step higher or a half-step lower. They could even sound like a mistake. And that's how accidentals were born. The word "accidental" has all the elegance of a police blotter: accidental homicide ... accidental fall ... accidental overdose. But in music, accidentals are...

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' Lakeya Taylor was walking along...

Did you know that John F. Kennedy was a Republican? Neither did I. But that's what one of my college students guessed in a course on news writing. I asked another kid what period followed the Industrial Age and she said, "The Golden Age?" We moved on. But whenever I'm tempted to despair about a generation that looks ever-forward, I buy a cupcake and a big mug of coffee. That's because Launa Reed works at a cafe in New Orleans that sells the best cupcakes in the history of cupcakes — you can...

Transcript SCOTT SIMON, HOST: Professor Longhair's house has been saved. Now, last year we brought you a story about the piano legend and the nationwide effort to rebuild his home following Hurricane Katrina. Henry Roeland Byrd, better known as Professor Longhair, is widely considered to be the father of modern New Orleans music. He died in 1980, but at carnival time especially, it's evident that Professor Longhair's influence endures. Now, his house will too. Gwen Thompkins brings us this...

Some music festivals are known for certain specific things; others are known for a broad assortment. The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival is known for everything . The city's arms are just that wide. Every performer is welcome. This year, singer Patti Smith held a crowd spellbound in the mud just as easily as Billy Joel lifted his audience off dry ground. Jazz stylist Diane Reeves sang a Fleetwood Mac song on the first weekend just as compellingly as Fleetwood Mac sang its own songs the...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CYT6RkTe26M http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F0Eajg5yTEo 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. "I've had all the other numbers, and this is a better number to have than the...

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 nothing compelling about Henry Roeland Byrd's house — that is, unless you've heard the music he made under his other name,...

Louisiana music has such a hold on music lovers around the world that nearly every popular artist borrows from it. Or replicates it. Or, some might say, steals from it. There's plenty to go around. From classical to Cajun and blues to bounce, Louisiana has expanded the American songbook while teaching the rest of the planet to "shake dat thing." And we haven't even mentioned Louis Armstrong yet. But here's the secret: Louisiana musicians have been borrowing and replicating and, okay, stealing...

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. Well, in one of the city...