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Pianist Lara Downes re-centers the music of the Great Migration

Lara Downes, whose series <em>Rising Sun Music</em> re-centers compositions from historically marginalized composers.
Courtesy of the artist
Lara Downes, whose series Rising Sun Music re-centers compositions from historically marginalized composers.

Today, concert pianist and Amplify co-host Lara Downes continues her transformative Rising Sun Music series, an ongoing investigation into the work of Black American composers overlooked both in their time and in our collective memory. Downes' latest entry is Migration Music, a three-part series focused on music about the Great Migration of the late 19th and 20th centuries. Migration Music weaves together beautiful work from the past and present — capturing the experiences of those who lived through the history-shifting flight of Black Americans from the rural South, and of those reflecting back on it.

"I wanted to capture the experience of the migration both from the perspective of composers who lived it and also from the viewpoint of a young composer who's experiencing a completely different twenty-first-century reality," Downes tells Morning Edition's A Martinez. "Because to me, this story is still being written."

Artists featured in today's conversation are Florence Price, the first Black female composer to have a work performed by a major symphony orchestra; Henry T. Burleigh, whose interactions with Antonin Dvorak changed the course of classical music, and Carlos Simon, whose compositions seek to understand the Great Migration for a modern audience.

To hear music from the series and more from our conversation with Lara Downes, use the audio player above.

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A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.