Lauren Onkey

Lauren Onkey is the Senior Director of NPR Music in Washington, DC. In this role, she leads NPR Music's team of journalists, critics, video, and podcast makers, and works with NPR's newsroom and robust Member station network to expand the impact of NPR Music and continue positioning public radio as an essential force in music.

Prior to joining NPR, she was the inaugural Dean and Chair of the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Humanities Center at Cuyahoga Community College in Cleveland, Ohio, where she created a program that provided civic engagement opportunities for students. She served as Vice President of Education and Public Programming at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum from 2008-2015, developing and managing the museum's award-winning education and community programs. She was the executive producer of the museum's Annual Music Masters series and oversaw the Rock Hall's Library and Archives.

Onkey spent fourteen years teaching literature and cultural studies at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana, specializing in postcolonial literature and popular music studies. She is the author of Blackness and Transatlantic Irish Identity: Celtic Soul Brothers (Routledge 2009), an interdisciplinary study of the relationship between Irish and African-American heritage. Over the course of her career she has published many articles in literary studies, popular music studies, women's studies, and pedagogy. Onkey holds doctoral and master's degrees in English from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign and a bachelor's degree in English and Government from the College of William & Mary.

Mac Rebennack, better known as Dr. John, made records for more than 60 years. He died Thursday. He started on guitar, but he made his mark as a piano player, traditional and bold enough to take his place in the pantheon of New Orleans giants like Professor Longhair and Allen Toussaint.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Bandcamp playlist at the bottom of the page.


Mavis Staples turns 80 this summer. She's a respected elder of soul and gospel music, a beloved collaborator with rock musicians, and a living embodiment of gospel music's place in the civil rights movement. But she's no static symbol of the past.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify and Apple Music playlists at the bottom of the page.

At the start of Day 2 at this year's Newport Folk Festival, Curtis Harding lit up the Fort stage with what he calls "slop 'n' soul," a soul-rock hybrid that woke up the crowd. Based in Atlanta, Harding has deep experience as a singer, songwriter and guitarist who uses the conventions of soul to look forward, not back. His powerful set included tracks from his two albums: the great Face Your Fear (one of NPR Music's 10 Best R&B Albums of 2017) and Soul Power, his 2014 debut.

Fifty years after recording "Do the Reggay" in 1968, Toots Hibbert performed the most exuberant set I saw at this year's Newport Folk Festival. Toots and the Maytals helped create reggae in the '60s with some of the most creative and exciting records to come out of Jamaica. The legend's Newport set was packed with songs from throughout his career. The oldest, "I'll Never Grow Old," was originally released in 1963 — when Hibbert was only 21 — and captured the spirit he brought to the show. Hibbert played with joy and energy, keeping his terrific band on its toes.

The finale of the 2018 Newport Folk Festival, A Change is Gonna Come, was a powerful and challenging take on how American music has framed the meaning of civil rights. Masterfully produced by Jon Batiste, the set brought together gospel, folk music, soul, and even the national anthem in captivating and startling arrangements (the Dap-Kings on "This Land is Your Land," to take just one example).

On Saturday night, Bruce Springsteen will perform, for the 236th and final night, Springsteen on Broadway, his intensely personal one-man show at the intimate, 975-seat Walter Kerr Theatre. Just a couple of hours after that, Netflix will make public a document of the show, filmed during a July performance.

When a baby grand piano rolls into the office for a Tiny Desk concert, you expect something special. But none of us could have imagined what it's like to see 15-year old Joey Alexander play that piano with such mastery. The thing is, when you see him play live, you quickly forget his age and get lost in the intense focus of his performance. Alexander and his stellar supporting cast — Reuben Rogers on bass and Kendrick Scott on drums — form a tight trio, locking eyes as Alexander's compositions unfold.

My favorite place to be on Thanksgiving is the kitchen—preferably a crowded kitchen. Bringing a festive meal to the stage, whether it's for two people or twenty, requires a kind of focused chaos that makes me feel, well, grateful. For family, friends and food, of course, but also for arguments, spilled drinks, and recipes that fail. But it requires just the right soundtrack to keep the cooks working and the gratitude flowing. Here's mine, honed over many years in the kitchen. Pass the pie, and cherish the day.

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