Each year, American Routes celebrates the long Thanksgiving weekend with a sonic cornucopia from the National Heritage Fellows. Since 1982, the National Endowment for the Arts has presented the fellowships – America’s most prestigious award for folk & traditional arts. We’ll hear music and conversation from Fellows in years gone by, like Doc Watson, Staple Singers, Clifton Chenier, Ralph Stanley, B.B. King, Flaco Jimenez and New Orleans’ own Treme Brass Band. Then we present the 2015 Fellows, many performing live from the stage at George Washington University, including the Gee’s Bend quilters, a circus aerialist, Piedmont bluesman, klezmer musicians, mariachis and more.
American Routes follows the journeys made by folklorist Alan Lomax as he documented the diversity of the traditional music of America, in the face of what he felt was the increased threat by popular “monoculture.” We’ll look into Lomax’s work as a sound recordist, cultural theorist, radio host and above all, shaper of 20th century pop culture through his discoveries.
The singer-songwriter Ben Harper has been on the scene since the early ’90s, but now he’s digging deeper into the blues with the legendary harpman Charlie Musselwhite. We’ll talk with Ben about the musical journey from his family’s music store to his recent recording that he calls his “graduation” album. Then an in-studio conversation with a guitarist who has played with Sun Ra and now plays banjo with Preservation Hall, New Orleans’ own Carl LeBlanc.
A conversation with a man of many talents: songwriter, actor, boxer, military man, among many titles, Kris Kristofferson, reflecting on his life in music, his songwriting craft, and the nature of gratitude for his life’s adventures.