Lara Downes

In Februrary, Will Liverman released his album Dreams of a New Day. It's a beautiful collection of art songs by Black composers, many in world premiere recordings, that chart the peaks and valleys of the Black American experience, celebrating hope and joy, but too often chronicling pain, violence and loss.

Randall Goosby just got his big break — or one of them, at least. His debut album was released June 25, and it's been the talk of the classical music world. But long before this recording, Randall enjoyed a constant stream of early successes: a concerto debut at age 9, major competition wins, performances with the New York Philharmonic and Cleveland Orchestra, and glowing attention from the press, not to mention the mentorship of violin deity Itzhak Perlman.

Wynton Marsalis is a colossal presence. This is not an exaggeration. The man is truly a living legend as a trumpeter, composer, educator, producer, artistic director, and arts advocate. For decades, his presence has defined the world of jazz, of American art and culture. But he's more than a presence. In every aspect of his work, he is actively, fully and deeply present. He doesn't just show up.

I first read Tayari Jones' 2018 novel An American Marriage on a plane, cover to cover. It seemed like half the people on that plane were reading it too. So were President Obama, Oprah and anyone who follows The New York Times Best Sellers List. It's a beautifully written book, a portrait of a complicated couple and their navigation of an American tragedy.

Carl Hancock Rux is a poet who knows something about baptism by water and trial by fire. He's someone who keeps on keeping on. You can hear it in "The Baptism," a poem he wrote in tribute to two great civil rights activists, John Lewis and C.T. Vivian. In this year of reckoning about race in America, Carl's poem acknowledges and accepts the bottomless depth of our legacy of keeping on:

To be Esperanza Spalding is to be many things that myths are made of — the myths of genius, of creativity, of beauty, of success and stardom. Just to be a female bass player in the man's world of jazz is to be a unicorn, that most mythical creature. To have, on top of that, a voice that spins gold and casts spells — to win a Grammy for an album literally called 12 Little Spells. The possibilities for myth, magic and fairytale are endless.

When Duke Ellington famously coined the phrase "beyond category," he was talking about freedom — of choice, of expression, of belonging. He meant following your heart and your instincts into an artistic territory without borders. And that's the place where violinist Regina Carter makes her home. She plays everything — jazz, classical, R&B, Latin, blues, country, pop, you name it.

Words matter. And Rita Dove's words matter tremendously to untold numbers of readers, including me. As our former U.S. poet laureate, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, author of hundreds of poems, a novel, a play, essays and articles, she's written countless words, all of them full of meaning and melody. Her words bring characters to life and shared experience to light.

The first time I saw Kris Bowers, it was only his hands. You saw them too, if you watched the 2019 movie Green Book. Kris wrote the film score and his hands stood in for the actor Mahershala Ali's in the close-up scenes when the lead character, pianist and composer Don Shirley, is playing the piano.

A few months ago I was scrolling through my phone and found that Jon Batiste had shared my new single with his Instagram followers. I DM'd him my thanks and we chatted about the music and its composer, a Black woman named Florence Price who was a brilliant musical pioneer in the 1930s. We talked about the trailblazers who've come before us and about the work we do to honor their legacy.

Pages