Lara Downes

Lara Downes is among the foremost American pianists of her generation, a trailblazer both on and off the stage, whose musical roadmap seeks inspiration from the legacies of history, family and collective memory. As a chart-topping recording artist, a powerfully charismatic performer, a curator and tastemaker, Downes is recognized as a cultural visionary on the national arts scene.

Downes' forays into the broad landscape of American music have created a series of acclaimed recordings, including America Again, hailed by The Boston Globe as "a balm for a country riven by disunion."

With a fierce commitment to arts advocacy, Downes enjoys creative collaborations with a range of leading artists, including multi-instrumentalist, composer and singer Rhiannon Giddens, cellist Yo-Yo Ma, pianist Simone Dinnerstein, folk icon Judy Collins, writer Adam Gopnik, and former U.S. poet laureate Rita Dove. Her close partnerships with prominent composers span genres and generations, with premieres and commissions coming from Jennifer Higdon, John Corigliano, Stephen Schwartz, Paola Prestini, Clarice Assad, Michael Abels, and many others.

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.

Davóne Tines' instagram handle is @alsoanoperasinger. It's apt because he is many things: scholar, composer, writer, producer, entrepreneur, activist. He's also one of the most fascinating opera singers of his generation. His taste runs towards uncharted territory; he creates new roles with an expressive intensity of voice and body to reveal the complex humanity of each character he inhabits.

Julia Bullock is an artist who dares you to find new adjectives. The soprano is often described as "radiant," an overused word that actually describes her surprisingly well. Onstage, she's a shapeshifter, ranging from elegant and commanding to bewitching, provocative and dangerous – but consistently intelligent and nuanced. Offstage, she can be goofy.

The first time I saw Helga Davis, she was wearing a column of white satin, standing in a pool of white light, shining. She was singing Judy Collins' "Wings of Angels," a song about grief and loss, but also about the power of love to transcend time and place, life and death. She was magnetic. You could have heard the softest whisper of an angel's wing in the spellbound silence.

Anthony McGill is a musician's musician. You might remember his performance with Yo-Yo Ma, Itzhak Perlman and Gabriela Montero at President Obama's inauguration in 2009. You might have seen him leading the clarinet section at the New York Philharmonic, or as a soloist on stages around the world.

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