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Music Inside Out: PJ Morton

PJ Morton
Chris Granger
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PJ Morton

The most heavily traveled road in American music begins in black church congregations, (i.e., Baptist, AME, and Pentecostal, among others), and leads to any and all forms of secular music. That’s the road PJ Morton took, and it has led him on a remarkable professional journey. Morton’s skill set is rooted in gospel music — he grew up the son of two preachers. But as an award-winning songwriter, singer, and producer, as well as the keyboardist in the platinum-selling group Maroon 5, and head of the New Orleans-based Morton Records, he seems especially charmed.

But Morton says his embrace of secular music was not always popular with gospel fans, who made clear that they wanted him back to help “fight the devil.”

“I’ve been free from that, years ago,” he tells Gwen.

And yet, with rare exception, his secular music embraces wholesome themes of romance and social reconciliation, suggesting the kind of family entertainment that welcomes gospel music lovers into his tent.

Morton counts Stevie Wonder, Brandy, the Beatles, and James Taylor among his musical influences. But he’s also a fan of Prince, D’Angelo, and rapper L’il Wayne. He says great songs aren’t defined by genre — “It’s all soul music at the end of the day.”

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.