Gwen Thompkins

Host of Music Inside Out

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.

Ways to Connect

Big Freedia, the Queen Diva of Bounce, has done more than any other artist to bring the unmistakable New Orleans hip-hop sound to the world. His output is as unrelenting as the bounce beat, with singles, EPs, videos, all-star collaborations, LGBTQ rights advocacy, and a reality television show now entering its sixth season.

This week, we bring you that funky gentleman from the Ninth Ward, Jon Cleary, who talks about his native England, his grandmother, the piano back home, his mum’s songwriting chops, and a variety of other loves.

Cleary grew up listening to New Orleans soul, r&b and funk. And now, we listen to him.

As a multi-instrumentalist and sideman, he’s played with some of the best artists, including Earl King, Bonnie Raitt, Dr. John, Snooks Eaglin, Ernie K-Doe and Walter “Wolfman” Washington. But Cleary is even better fronting his own band and digging into his own groove.

Within Buddhist traditions, “samsara” refers to the karmic cycle of rebirth that a being must travel through on their journey towards enlightenment. While in some traditions this can take many lifetimes to complete, others maintain that, for certain exceptional people, the transformative process can happen within a single lifetime.

Great artists and producers make our show happen, and in this episode we’re hearing from some of the the folks who typically don’t step in front of the microphone. We’re celebrating the end of another successful year by revisiting our favorite live performances, as remembered by Music Inside Out’s producers and friends of the show.

It’s About People Coming Together Over Barriers

Dr. Michael White
Derek Bridges

What do you hear when he plays his clarinet?

Can you hear the bayou? The river? The French Quarter? People sitting on their stoops waiting for someone to deliver the news? Penny parties?

That’s not a clarinet in the doctor’s hands; it’s a time machine.

“I listened to Johnny Dodds’ recordings. I listened to Sidney Bechet. I listened to George Lewis. I listened to Edmond Hall. I listened to Omer Simeon, Barney Bigard, and so many others. And you listen to that and you say, ‘Wow, I would like to capture that feeling.'”

Tomi Lunsford and Gwen Thompkins at Tomi's home in Nashville, TN
Jason Rhein

Like so many other musicians who have made a home in Nashville, singer Tomi Lunsford has spent her life immersed in country music. A native of Asheville, NC, she played in a family band from a young age. Her father, Jim Lunsford, was a journeyman fiddler who played with superstars of classic country and bluegrass such as Roy Acuff, Jim and Jesse McReynolds, Reno and Smiley, Bob Wills, and Marty Robbins. Her great-uncle, Bascom Lamar Lunsford, was a lawyer and famed collector of folk songs from the mountains of North Carolina.

At first, there wasn’t a name for the kind of music that Fats Domino played.

He called it rhythm and blues. But Domino’s songs stretched beyond that category.

In the late 1940s, Domino was working at a mattress factory in New Orleans and playing piano at night. He’d just gotten married … and both his waistline and fan base were expanding. That’s when the bandleader Billy Diamond first called him “Fats” — and predicted he’d have an outsized career.

The Floating World is an ambitious novel set in Louisiana immediately before, during and after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 — a family drama unfolding in the wreckage of breached levees, storm surge and plain old wind and rain. Nearly all of humanity saw the calamity play out in wide focus on the news back then. No story was bigger, or smellier, or more unsanitary or frightening. But author C. Morgan Babst goes small — training her focus on a single New Orleans family and its limited cast of friends, lovers and acquaintances.

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