Archive For The “Music” Category

Oscar-winning lyricist Marilyn Bergman has died at 93

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Oscar-winning lyricist Marilyn Bergman has died at 93

Marilyn Bergman (L) with her husband and partner in lyric-writing, Alan Bergman (R)

Mark Davis/Getty Images

Mark Davis/Getty Images

The Oscar-winning lyricist Marilyn Bergman has died. Along with her husband, Alan, the Bergmans were a renowned music-writing duo whose hits included “The Windmills of Your Mind,” “The Way We Were” and the score for Yentl.

Marilyn Bergman died at her home in Los Angeles on Saturday. She was 93. According to her representatives at Sunshine Sachs, the cause was respiratory failure (non-COVID related). Her husband Alan and daughter Julie Bergman were at her side.

The list of artists who recorded songs by Marilyn and Alan Bergman is a veritable who’s who of American popular music, including Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Rosemary Clooney and Ray Charles. In 2011, Barbra Streisand paid tribute to the Bergmans with the Grammy-nominated album What Matters Most.

Among the dozens of songs whose lyrics they penned together are “Nice and Easy,” “How Do You Keep the Music Playing,” “What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?”, and theme songs to hit TV shows Good Times, Alice and Maude.

Early in her career, Marilyn was one of the few women songwriters to achieve major success. In 1985, she became the first woman elected to the Board of Directors of the American Society of Authors and Publishers (ASCAP).

Marilyn Bergman described how she and her husband worked together in a 2007 interview with WHYY’s Fresh Air: “When we write, we sing as we write. Because lyrics, unlike poetry, are meant to be sung. So he’s always sung and most of the time it’s Alan, who would demonstrate the song for the artist or the producer, director, whoever was on the receiving end of the song.”

The couple collaborated with such composers as Marvin Hamlisch, Michel Legrand, Henry Mancini, Dave Grusin and Quincy Jones. Jones, with whom the Bergmans collaborated on songs for the 1967 movie In The Heat of The Night starring the late Sidney Poitier, paid tribute to the legendary lyricist in tweets.

“My dear, dear, beautiful Marilyn Bergman, to lose you this morning, so close to our brother Sidney, is just crushing me. You, along with your beloved Alan, were the epitome of Nadia Boulanger’s belief that ‘an artist can never be more or less than they are as a human being,” Jones wrote. He continued: “The secret weapon to your songwriting…the unconditional love in your heart for your family, friends, and community. Your lyrics an extension of your being.”

ASCAP President and Chairman, songwriter Paul Williams writes, “It is with deep sadness that I personally, and all of ASCAP, mourn the passing of Marilyn Bergman — one of the greatest lyricists who ever lived and truly ASCAP royalty. She was a brilliant songwriter who together with her husband, Alan Bergman, gave us some of the most beautiful and enduring lyrics of all time. She was a tireless and fierce advocate for music creators not only during her term as President and Chairman of ASCAP but throughout her life. Our community will miss her intelligence, her wit and her wisdom. Alan — we mourn with you and your family.”

In addition to her husband, Alan, Marilyn is survived by their daughter and son-in-law Julie Bergman and iLan Azoulai, and her granddaughter, Emily Sender.

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The Smile, ‘You Will Never Work In Television Again’

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The Smile, ‘You Will Never Work In Television Again’

XL Recordings

Late last May, Radiohead’s Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood debuted The Smile, a new musical project with Sons of Kemet drummer Tom Skinner. The group surprise premiered eight songs during a livestream of Glastonbury Festival’s Live At Worthy Farm, but mostly kept quiet until this week when it dropped its debut single, “You Will Never Work In Television Again.”

With heavy drums, angular guitars and Yorke’s frantic vocals, it’s one of the Glastonbury set’s more intense tracks and brings to mind post-punk acts like Mission of Burma and Swell Maps. Yorke delivers his signature lyrical style with lines like “All thosе beautiful young hopes and dreams, devoured by those evil eyes and those piggy limbs.” Longtime Radiohead collaborator Nigel Godrich produces the track with a minimal amount of flair, letting the urgent guitar chords drive home the music’s message.

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esperanza spalding: Tiny Desk (Home) Concert

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esperanza spalding: Tiny Desk (Home) Concert

Credit: NPR

The Tiny Desk is working from home for the foreseeable future. Introducing NPR Music’s Tiny Desk (home) concerts, bringing you performances from across the country and the world. It’s the same spirit — stripped-down sets, an intimate setting — just a different space.

Enter into esperanza spalding‘s safe space for healing through music and song with a Tiny Desk (home) concert of selections from her Songwrights Apothecary Lab, (S.A.L.) project. A constant iteration of evolutionary ideas, her songwriting workshop is both a bold examination of human existence and resilience and a guided research collaboration with a collective of musicians and researchers in the practices of neuroscience, psychology and music therapy.

“All Formwelas (songs) from the S.A.L. are created through our research, divination, intuition, musicianship, taste, inspiration, and collaborative effort to design songs that enhance a specific salutary affect,” spalding writes on her project site, along with brief descriptions for each of the three Formwelas performed here.

Formwela 3“:”a re-membering with the sun’s vast and perpetual blessing as evidenced by one’s own aliveness and capacity for creating within self and community an un-corruptible home-planet”

Formwela 4“: “the articulation of needs streaming oxygenation through your ancestral vessel/vein of infinite life”

Formwela 8“: “a sound at ease, with no urge to move from that comfort place”

spalding’s performance here is outstanding, and her top notch band, Loving presences (aka singers) and the Magical dance presence (aka dancer) add a dimension of creativity that amplifies the music’s message and nourishes the spirit. Green-screened walls explode to reveal a constellation of imagery that complements the flow of this seductive music. Be sure to watch until the end.


  • “Formwela 3”
  • “Formwela 4”
  • “Formwela 8”
  • “Formwela 3”


  • esperanza spalding: vocals, bass
  • Vuyo (Vuyolwethu) Sotashe: vocals
  • Safa Ishmel-Muhammad: vocals
  • Corey King: vocals, guitar
  • Matthew Stevens: guitar
  • Leo Genovese: piano, Farfisa, Rhodes
  • Aaron Burnett: saxophone
  • Francisco Mela: drums


  • Donna Hope: vocals
  • Jeff Tang: vocals
  • Lileana Blain Cruz: vocals
  • Mariza Scotch: vocals
  • Lisa Lamothe: vocals
  • Diery Prudent: vocals
  • Adobuere Ebiama: vocals
  • Shamel Pitts: dancer, choreographer


  • Director: Adrien GYSTERE Peskine
  • Producer: esperanza spalding
  • Recorded and mixed by Fernando Lodeiro
  • Concept, Direction, Creative Direction, Sets, Editing, Foley, Choreography: Adrien GYSTERE Peskine
  • Choreography: Shamel Pitts
  • Production: Héloïse Darcq
  • Additional Production, Set Design: Anthony Peskine
  • Additional cameras: Jessica Cochran, Daniel Santos, Meg Stacker
  • Assistant Sound Engineer: Quinn McCarthy
  • Sudan Pyramids Footage: Alexis Peskine
  • Wardrobe: JOJO ABOT
  • Recorded at The Creamery Studio


  • Producer: Suraya Mohamed
  • Video Producer: Kara Frame
  • Audio Mastering: Andy Huether
  • Tiny Production Team: Bob Boilen, Bobby Carter, Maia Stern, Josh Rogosin, Joshua Bryant, Sofie Hernandez-Simeonidis
  • Executive Producer: Keith Jenkins
  • Senior VP, Programming: Anya Grundmann

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Morgan Wallen and Adele topped music sales in 2021, according to a year-end report.

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Morgan Wallen and Adele topped music sales in 2021, according to a year-end report.

Adele’s album 30 was among 2021’s chart-toppers, according to a new, year-end report by MRC Data.

Tolga Akmen/AFP via Getty Images

Tolga Akmen/AFP via Getty Images

News flash: we’ve had a lot more time to consume music during the pandemic. While many in-person concerts were canceled or postponed, our devices allowed us to stream our favorite tunes, dance in TikTok videos and, with a click, buy music we can hold in our hands.

According to MRC Data’s 2021 U.S. Year-End Report, the big winners of 2021 were Morgan Wallen, Adele, world music, old favorites and vinyl. The annual report is presented in collaboration with Billboard.

Wallen’s bad-boy behavior likely helped sales of his release, Dangerous: The Double Album. The album was the top seller across genres, with 3.2 million units sold. In February, 2021 Wallen was caught on video using a racial slur. About four months earlier, Saturday Night Live canceled his debut appearance when he was caught violating the show’s COVID protocols. But in 2021 they invited him back. As Stephen Thompson of NPR Music put it, “Wallen has long had a ‘repeatedly arrested outside Kid Rock’s bar’ vibe to him, although to be fair, he’s only been arrested outside Kid Rock’s bar once.”

UK pop star Adele charmed millions of fans around the world with 30. In its first week, the singer’s fourth studio album sold 839,000 copies, making it the highest album sales debut in four years. In separate record-breaking news, Adele made music history in 2021 when she became the first female artist to have an album spend 10 consecutive years on the Billboard Top 200. That album, 21, was released a decade ago.

Other noteworthy points from the MRC Data report:

– World music “saw a 17.4% rise* in total consumption year-over-year in 2021.” According to MRC Data, “global genres like K-pop and Afro-Pop reached larger than ever audiences in the U.S. courtesy of blockbuster hits like BTS’ ‘Butter’ and Wizkid’s ‘Essence,’ respectively.”

– Vinyl albums surpassed CDs for the first time since 1991, the year MRC Data started measuring music sales. But don’t get your hopes up for selling that old phonograph: Digital music sales dwarf LPs by a long shot.

This year’s MRC Data report also includes some predictions. P-MRC CEO Rob Jonas writes that, in addition to recapping the year’s most-consumed songs and albums, “we also zoomed out to showcase 10 big-picture trends that we think will continue to have a major impact on the ever-changing landscape of
music consumption in the coming year.” Among those trends:

– Streaming isn’t just for Gen Z: “…millennial music listeners outpace them in a few notable territories — including the U.K. and Latin America. Among boomers, Mexico has the highest concentration of weekly music streamers, with 75%. Japan, where physical CD sales are still popular, has the lowest with 34%.”

– A new love for old favorites from the catalog: “Audio on-demand streaming reached a new single-year high of 988.1 billion streams in 2021, which included a notable decline in yearly audio streams of Current music (which decreased 19.4%). For the first time since MRC Data began measuring streaming data, music fans spent more time with Catalog (which was up 29.4% this year).

– Music and video game synergies will continue: “After artists like Travis Scott, J Balvin and Lil Nas X kicked off a virtual concert craze in 2020 with platforms Fortnite and Roblox, music and gaming integrations continued to pick up steam in 2021 and helped drive consumption of the artists’ catalogs.”

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The Grammys are postponed and Sundance is moved online because of omicron surge

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The Grammys are postponed and Sundance is moved online because of omicron surge

A view of a Grammy statue during a performance at the Chicago Chapter 60th Anniversary Concert at Millennium Park on Sept. 16, 2021 in Chicago.

Jeff Schear/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

Jeff Schear/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

It’s official. The 64th annual Grammy Awards are postponed and the Sundance Film Festival has been moved online.

A joint statement on Wednesday by the Recording Academy and CBS blamed the Grammy rescheduling on the omicron variant.

“The health and safety of those in our music community, the live audience, and the hundreds of people who work tirelessly to produce our show remains our top priority,” the statement said. “Given the uncertainty surrounding the Omicron variant, holding the show on January 31 simply contains too many risks.”

This is the second year the Grammys were postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The awards were to take place at Arena, formerly the Staples Center, on Jan. 31. A revised ceremony plan will be announced at a later date.

Also, on Wednesday, the Sundance Film festival announced it will move its in-person Utah events online because of the omicron variant.

“While we’re disappointed to not provide the full hybrid experience and gather in-person as intended, audiences this year will still experience the magic and energy of our Festival with bold new films and XR work, the discovery of new storytellers, direct encounters with artists, and an innovative globally accessible social platform and gallery space,” the festival said in a statement.

Sundance said it will be in touch with all pass and package holders and ticket purchasers because of the changes. The festival will begin on Jan. 20 as planned.

“This was a difficult decision to make. As a nonprofit, our Sundance spirit is in making something work against the odds,” the statement said. “But with case numbers forecasted to peak in our host community the week of the festival we cannot knowingly put our staff and community at risk.”

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Hayes Carll On Mountain Stage

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Hayes Carll On Mountain Stage

Hayes Carll performs on Mountain Stage.

Brian Blauser/Mountain Stage

Brian Blauser/Mountain Stage

  • “You Get it All”
  • “I Wouldn’t Have it Any Other Way”
  • “She’ll Come Back to Me”
  • “Help Me Remember”
  • “This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things”
  • “If It Was Up To Me”

In September 2021, Mountain Stage host Kathy Mattea welcomed Hayes Carll back for his sixth appearance on the program. The Texas singer-songwriter has been on the Americana scene since the early 2000s and has earned himself a legion of fans with his blend of sentimental and tongue-in-cheek country songs.

“He comes from that deep tradition of quintessential Texas songwriters, Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt, who he has said, ‘ruined me and saved me at the same time,’ ” explains Mattea. “These are the kinds of songs I relished playing in late-night jam sessions from West Virginia to Tennessee in my 20s. Songs with wit, edge, wisdom and self-reflection.”

As if daylight was burning, Carll began sharing a set full of songs from his recent album, You Get It All.

“All my will be, all my was, all my cloud of Texas dust / All my humble, all my braggin’, all my on and off the wagon / All my be your place to hide, all my always on your side / All my catch you when you fall, you get it all,” Carll sang, in lyrics from the title cut.

After the rollicking gospel melody of “I Wouldn’t Have it Any Other Way,” Carll shared a set highlight with “Help Me Remember,” a song he co-wrote with John Morningstar, about Carll’s grandfather who he watched lose his struggle with dementia.

“If it’s OK, I’d like to play a sad song for you,” Carll said dryly after that particularly sad song, getting a roar of crowd laughter. Like Willie Nelson, Carll’s superpower is not lingering too long on sad songs and waltzes, and sure enough, he dished up a pandemic-bred story, “This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things,” about Winnie, a dog the shelter swore was a Lab, but was, shall we say, something greater.

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Twitters gone viral: album of endangered bird songs charts in Australia

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Twitters gone viral: album of endangered bird songs charts in Australia

Songs of Disappearance is an collection of bird calls from 53 threatened Australian species. And for a brief spell, it was a best-selling album.


For most of December, Adele had the top selling album in Australia, followed by Ed Sheeran, and then there was this collection of absolute bangers.



“Songs Of Disappearance” – it’s an entire album of calls from endangered Australian birds. Last month, it briefly perched at No. 3 on the country’s top 50 albums chart.

ANTHONY ALBRECHT: Ahead of Taylor Swift – so that’s a really good feeling (laughter).

KELLY: That is Anthony Albrecht, who produced the album with his arts organization, the Bowerbird Collective. He’s a musician, also a Ph.D. candidate at Charles Darwin University, where his adviser is professor Stephen Garnett.

ALBRECHT: I knew it was an ambitious thing to suggest and – I don’t know. Stephen’s a little bit crazy like me, and he said, let’s do this.

CORNISH: “Songs Of Disappearance” was released with a university report that found 1 in 6 Australian bird species are now threatened. Fifty-three of those species are captured on the album.

KELLY: Now, some sing what you might think of as bird songs, but not all of them. Sean Dooley represents the conservation organization BirdLife Australia.

SEAN DOOLEY: So things like the golden bowerbird – it sounds like a death ray from some cheesy ’70s sci-fi series.


DOOLEY: And then you get to the Christmas Island frigatebird, which the male, it has a flap of skin under its chin that it inflates like a giant red balloon. And so when it’s doing these courtship sounds, it looks incredible as well as sounds bizarre.


DOOLEY: And then there’s the Christmas Island imperial pigeon. And when people hear that imperial pigeon, they swear that it’s a human making silly noises. They’re quite magnificently ridiculous.


KELLY: Proceeds from album sales directly benefit Birdlife Australia, and spokesman Sean Dooley says the increased awareness can make a difference.

DOOLEY: When we have community on board, that brings pressure on board to government to do the right thing. And we know that these conservation actions do work.

CORNISH: The Charles Darwin University and BirdLife Australia report does document successes in protecting endangered birds, the hope being that these tweets go viral, more species could be saved.

Copyright © 2022 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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David Bowie joins constellation of stars selling off back catalogs for galactic sums

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David Bowie joins constellation of stars selling off back catalogs for galactic sums

Musician David Bowie speaks onstage while accepting the Webby Lifetime Achievement award at the 11th Annual Webby Awards in 2007.

Bryan Bedder/Getty Images

Bryan Bedder/Getty Images

Cue “Changes.”

Warner Chappell Music has bought the publishing rights to David Bowie’s catalog of songs for what may be more than $250 million, according to some reports. The musician died almost exactly five years ago, on Jan. 10, 2016, after a diagnosis of liver cancer.

“This fantastic pact with the David Bowie estate opens up a universe of opportunities to take his extraordinary music into dynamic new places,” enthused WCM’s co-chair and COO, Carianne Marshall in a statement. “This isn’t merely a catalog, but a living, breathing collection of timeless songs that are as powerful and resonant today as they were when they were first written.”

The announcement follows a string of similar ones over the past two years; Bruce Springsteen, Paul Simon, Bob Dylan, Stevie Nicks and Neil Young are just some of the stars who have recently sold off substantial rights to their music.

(It should be noted: There are huge differences between royalties for songwriting and performance. Some of these deals are just for publishing, as with the Bowie deal; others also include the original recordings, known as masters.)

Springsteen sold his entire back catalog – including songwriting and recordings – to Sony Music Group, according to a Dec. 16 announcement. Industry reports placed the purchase at north of $500 million.

Bruce Springsteen carrying a guitar and singing onstage

Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for SUFH

Even before the official announcement of the purchase in May, Sony Music Group’s chairman, Rob Stringer, told investors he’s spent about $1.5 billion just on music acquisitions since the beginning of the year.

“Including rights to some of the most iconic artists of all time, such as Paul Simon,” he gloated.

Serona Elton used to work with the major labels. Now she’s a professor and associate dean at the University of Miami Frost School of Music. She compares being a celebrity musician with a catalog of hits to owning property someplace like Austin, Texas. “It’s scorching hot,” she exclaims. “Hot, hot, hot!”

“All of a sudden the market is crazy and everyone’s paying ridiculous sums of money,” she says. “And people worry it’s a bubble. Maybe it’s the right time to sell.”

But we’re talking about huge musicians who are not exactly starving artists, and famously careful about creative control. Why sell of so much of their precious back catalogs?

“The pandemic is part of it,” explains Tatiana Cirisano, a music analyst at MIDiA Research. “Touring has been stalled for some time. It could be stalled again. “

Even Springsteen took a hit when it came to revenues from live performances and touring last year. And, Cirisano points out, these musicians’ accountants know very well that capital gains taxes may change unfavorably for people holding such assets. Moreover – to be blunt – many of these musicians are senior citizens. They’re planning their estates.


When Bob Dylan sold his entire songwriting catalog to Universal Music Publishing Group last year, it included music he’d written more than 50 years ago. So he’s taking a lump sum now, rather than counting on royalties from whenever “Mr. Tambourine Man” goes viral on whatever platform might be most popular in a few decades. Even younger artists like Shakira and Calvin Harris recently sold parts of their back catalogs because corporations are paying so much for them.

Rob Stringer of Sony Music Group told investors this spring not to worry about the price of these acquisitions. Stocks go up and down, but lucrative music rights feel safer, he noted, due to Spotify, Apple and other streaming and subscription services.

“The number of users of paid music streaming services went up by almost 100 million in 2020 to 443 million globally, ” he explained. “Many research analysts are projecting this figure to well exceed one billion by 2030. In the music publishing market, streaming is driving similar sustained growth. The publishing industry achieved its seventh straight year of consecutive expansion, rising 5.2 percent in 2020,” he continued.

Synergy is also the name of the game here; when Sony buys up Springsteen’s music, they can use it more easily in movies and TV made by Sony studios. Other artists on Sony labels can sample or cover his songs, and whenever a Bruce Springsteen biopic comes out, you can bet a Sony movie studio will make it.

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Sesame Street composer Stephen Lawrence has died at 82

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Sesame Street composer Stephen Lawrence has died at 82

Composer Stephen J. Lawrence

Courtesy of Cathy Lawrence

Courtesy of Cathy Lawrence

If you were a kid in the 1970s and your parents let you watch TV, you heard the music of Stephen Lawrence. From Muppets to major stars, Lawrence composed the music for hundreds of Sesame Street songs. He also served as music director for Free to Be… You and Me, the beloved children’s music album conceived and produced by actress Marlo Thomas, and composed songs for the project, including the title track, with the late lyricist Bruce Hart.

Lawrence died on December 30 at Clara Maass Medical Center in Belleville, N.J. He was 82. His wife, Cathy Lawrence, tells NPR that he suffered “puzzling symptoms for years that got sharply worse in the last few months.”

Stephen J. Lawrence was tremendously proud to have provided the melodies and harmonies to songs performed by vocalists he admired.

“What do Marlo Thomas, Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Roberta Flack, Dionne Warwick, Mel Brooks, Rosey Grier, and Harry Belafonte have in common?” he wrote on his website. “They all performed on the million selling record and/or Emmy winning special, ‘Free to Be…You and Me.’ I was the Music Director and composed the title song and four others for the landmark project and I am going to tell you, from the beginning, how we created the music.”

Sony Music Entertainment

“He was adorable and fun, but he was very serious about the music,” Marlo Thomas tells NPR. Free to Be… You and Me was “a project for children that was non-sexist and non-racist, and would give them a feeling of power, both boys and girls,” Thomas explains.

She remembers when Lawrence and Hart first played her the title track. “They had called it ‘Free to be you and me, Gymboree’—you know, lyricists love those little triplets,” Thomas remembers, “And I didn’t like the gymboree part, but I loved it right away. I loved the lyric. I love the idea of the horses running free, but the music was so perfect.”

Stephen Lawrence grew up in Great Neck, N.Y. His father worked at a glue factory. His wife, Cathy Lawrence, a New York cantor, says Stephen “was one of those five-year-olds who could walk to the piano and play anything.” He wasn’t much of a sight-reader, she elaborates, but could pick up just about anything by ear.

His father, who also was a musician, “loved to show Stephen off,” she says. When friends were over, “he would have Stephen sit under the piano and his father would play a chord and Stephen would call out the notes,” she says. Cathy says one of Stephen’s closest friends growing up was Joe Frank, who would later become a cult favorite on KCRW and public radio nationwide. She says Stephen and Joe shared a “goofy and mischievous” sense of humor. On their wedding day, Cathy says, Lawrence serenaded her with “If I Were,” the song he originally wrote for Kermit.

It was Sesame Street colleague Carole Hart who recommended her husband Bruce and Stephen Lawrence for Free to Be… You and Me. Lawrence talked about the process of writing the title track with WNYC Soundcheck host John Schaefer for a 40th-anniversary tribute to the album. “Banjo was perfect” for the intro, he said, “It is sort of timeless. It says joy,” Lawrence continued, “It says ‘Listen-up, this is an unusual instrument you don’t hear every day.'”

Lawrence went on to say the record company figured the album would sell about 15,000 copies. It went on to sell well over a million and counting.

“It’s a phenomenon. It doesn’t go away,” Lawrence told Schaefer. Much like the composer’s work itself.

Stephen Lawrence

For his 82nd birthday, Stephen Lawrence posted a seven minute YouTube video of some of the music for which he was most proud: “Free to Be… You and Me,” Rex Smith singing “You Take My Breath Away” from the TV movie Sooner Or Later, Mama Cass’ “One Way Ticket,” Olivia Newton John’s “Who Are You Now,” Sesame Street numbers “If Moon Was Cookie,” “If I Were,” and “Fuzzy & Blue,” and music for the Robert DeNiro film Bang the Drum Slowly and the horror flick Alice Sweet Alice.

In a statement, Sesame Street alum Sonia Monzano wrote of Lawrence, “He wrote music that was accessible to the young and yet sophisticated enough to engage adults.” Sesame Workshop tweeted, “Thank you for bringing smiles, laughter, and the gift of music to our neighborhood.” Cathy Lawrence says her husband loved being recognized for his work…and would be “so happy” with what people are saying now.

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C. Tangana embraces tradition on his groundbreaking album, ‘El Madrileño’

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C. Tangana embraces tradition on his groundbreaking album, ‘El Madrileño’
C. Tangana

Javier Ruiz/Courtesy of the artist

“El Madrileño” — the man from Madrid.

That’s the easiest way to describe Antón Álvarez Alfaro, who performs as C. Tangana.

But it’s also the title of his 2021 album — an ambitious musical journey across generations, genres, and lyrical traditions that earned him a 2022 Grammy nomination for Best Latin Rock or Alternative Album.

There are hints of tango, urbano, rock , Spanish copla — and they’re all seamlessly brought together by Tangana’s modern approach to the rich musical heritage that shaped his worldview.

He spoke with NPR’s Eyder Peralta about making a 180 from rap to folklore, working with the flamenco maestros and decolonizing Spain’s cultural mindset towards Latin America.

The following has been condensed for clarity and length.

Interview Highlights

On going from Spanish trap to folklore music

Well, I’ve been listening to that music my whole life, but I had never tried it in the studio. So I was 28 years old or 29, something like that. And I started feeling like the [other] music wasn’t enough for me, that my ambitions were bigger in the moment. So I just started to do the music that I’ve been listening [to] my whole life. “El Madrileño” es el resultado.

On working with Gipsy Kings and pushing the boundaries of flamenco

I’m a huge fan of Gipsy Kings. I still play them in every party that I have. They’re like legends, but they’re also a little bit criticized by the purists of flamenco here in Spain. So for me it’s like a statement to do a collaboration with them because I’m not a purist, and this is an album which talks about not being a purist and being mixed and trying to make culture go outside the boundaries. It was kind of, “OK, what do you want for this song?” And my dream was to have them, so it’s crazy for me.

On his songwriting process

No soy muy técnico, I didn’t study music. But I have this kind of feeling about popular music. In Spain, we don’t understand popular as “pop.” Pop music is like mainstream. But here in Spain, when we say popular, it’s talking about tradition. Talking about feelings that everyone has, or something you get from your grandpa. That is the popular thing. Something a grandpa and su nieto can vibe to. So when I write a song, normally, it’s something easy. It’s not pretentious. It’s always trying to get to the heart of simple things and most people can understand.

On sonic layers of his song “Muriendo de Envidia” with Cuban guitarist Eliades Ochoa

We start with a classic rumba son called “Lola.” It’s a son that El Pescaílla used to sing to Lola Flores, who is one of the biggest names in Spanish music. So we start there, but we have the special kind of color of the Eliades [Ochoa] guitar, which is a mix between a classic guitar and tres Cubano. It’s a mix that he only has that instrument. He made it and it’s the instrument that he plays. And then the son continua con un son cubano with a mambo. You know, the origin of salsa is in Cuba. So it’s kind of a mix of the traditional way of playing son, and the modern way, or the Fania way, ’70s way of Nuyorican salsa.

On what he describes as Spain’s “colonial mindset” toward Latin American music

I think it’s something about an older generation. They used to think that Spain was culturally the main one, and the other countries were trying to reach the level of Spain. And that is something that my generation — we don’t feel good about it, and we don’t feel it’s real because we grew up listening to Latin music and having all those superstars. No se, sentíamos que eran mucho más grandes que los Españoles. And the people here were looking only at themselves, y estaban equivocados.

They were wrong because creian que estrellas from here from Spain were bigger, and they weren’t. And we were listening to [Latin] music. And also with the reggaeton, the explosion of reggaeton — it was super clear that the culture with our language estaba dominada por el Caribe fundamentalmente, pero en general por América Latina. So I think with this album, a lot of people — old people here from Spain — les ha dado un paso hacia esa música y ese reconocimiento.

On whether he was worried about cultural appropriation by taking on Latin genres for this album

I think es como un topic de nuestra generación. It’s something that everyone’s having on their minds. But I really feel that el Mediterraneo — you know España, Marruecos, Turkia, Grecia e Italia — it’s not the same here as it is in the United States, you know? For us, being mixed is the natural thing. We don’t understand culture, we don’t understand progress, and we don’t understand society without mixing. So my approach is only trying to reflect that. Lo mismo que con los maestros. If you want to reach a level, you have to go to that level and work with the people on that level. So it’s the same with culture. If you want to understand bachata, you have to go to the Dominican Republic and dance in a little bodega there.

On his Tiny Desk performance, which became the the top-streamed Tiny Desk of 2021

The first time that we played live in the pandemia was in the Tiny Desk concert — the first time we were together. We had to [take] a lot of tests, after being with no one for months. And then we just stayed together for one day. And that’s a real party. We were eating and drinking, and we were there having real fun for the first time in a long period. We were feeling it. That’s a very special piece for me. I think it’s something very meaningful for Spanish people because it represents our way of living music, and I’m super proud and also super grateful for being able to do that.

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