Notes from America

Notes from America

Notes from America with Kai Wright is a show about the unfinished business of our history, and its grip on our future.

Episodes

February 6, 2023 26 min

In the spirit of the Grammys, Emil Wilbekin, a founding editor of VIBE, offers a first-person history of Black popular music, from Soul Train to Beyoncé.

On Notes from America we focus on Black history regularly, but to celebrate this year’s Black History Month, we’re thinking about it in the present tense. In our series Black History Is Now, we’ll bring you conversations with people who consider their work to be a continuum of Bla...

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When it comes to police reform, a retired NYPD detective argues that policing as a profession must evolve or go away completely. 

The problem of police violence, and the excessive use of force in Black and Brown communities in particular, has spanned centuries and retired NYPD detective Marq Claxton says that the force’s stubborn, insular culture was built to last. Claxton, co-founder of the organization 100 Blacks In Law Enforceme...

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The release of brutal footage of the killing of 29-year-old Tyre Nichols by police officers in Memphis furthers an all-too-familiar conversation about accountability and police violence.

The Black community in Memphis and nationwide is processing the details of Tyre Nichols’ killing at the hands of law enforcement - from the race of the police officers to the footage of the beating and why this is a persistent problem in America. T...

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A mass shooting in Monterey Park, California – on the eve of Lunar New Year – sent shockwaves through the predominantly Asian American ethnoburb and the Asian American community nationwide.

The toll of mass shootings this year in the U.S. is already in the dozens in just the first month of 2023. In Monterey Park, California, a majority Asian American community shaken by loss of lives at the hands of an armed gunman, emotions are hi...

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Estrangement isn’t linear. For those who have severed ties or been cut off, it can be necessary, empowering, devastating and confounding—all at once. 

A recent series from WNYC’s Death, Sex & Money podcast explores the complexities of estrangement, which they define as an experience of feeling cut off from a relationship or a community that once felt like home. Death, Sex & Money host Anna Sale teams up with Kai Wright to e...

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What made Louis Armstrong’s music so groundbreaking? And after he broke that ground, why were later generations of Black people reluctant to embrace him? 

From his renditions of “On The Sunny Side Of The Street” to “What A Wonderful World,” trumpeter and vocalist Louis Armstrong is cemented in history as a jazz icon. But for many Black people – especially those in the mid-twentieth century – his presentation was degrading and recei...

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How does Martin Luther King Jr.’s generation of young, gifted, and Black people inspire today’s changemakers and their ideas for how to achieve racial justice?

The Apollo has a decades-long tradition of serving as a convener for local community residents as well as people from across New York City and the world. That tradition continues as The Apollo partners with WNYC for the annual celebration of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. a...

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January 12, 2023 33 min

From near-fisticuffs on the House floor to Kevin McCarthy’s concessions to win the gavel, the chaotic start for the 118th Congress has finally settled – with consequences for us all. 

In his bid for speakership, newly elected House speaker Kevin McCarthy made a host of promises to some of the Republican Party’s most extremist members – including Qanon conspiracists and election deniers. The future of the new Congress and what led t...

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January 9, 2023 31 min

The Great Resignation. Quiet quitting. These concepts allegedly defined the way we worked last year. Will anything change in 2023?

Journalist Anne Helen Petersen, co-author of Out of Office: The Big Problem and Bigger Promise of Working From Home and host of the Crooked Media podcast Work Appropriate,  has made a name for herself examining Americans’ relationships to work. She joins host Kai Wright to discuss these relationships an...

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Faith Ringgold’s art is an intimate dialogue and debate between generations of Black women, stretching from the formerly enslaved to today.

Producer Rahima Nasa takes host Kai Wright to an exhibit displaying artist Faith Ringgold’s work. We learn about Ringgold’s story and the political beliefs that shaped her art, plus we hear about the impact of Ringgold’s work from her daughter, art historian and feminist scholar Michele Wallace...

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January 2, 2023 32 min

Afrofuturism is an old idea that’s reaching new people. Hollywood production designer Hannah Beachler walks us through some fantastical, imagined paths to Black liberation.

There is a cosmic vision of Black freedom seen across universes from Seneca Village to Wakanda, exemplified across artistry from Sun Ra to Lil Nas X. Among the culture makers propelling the Afrofuturism movement is Hannah Beachler, an Academy Award-winning produ...

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Folashade Olatunde, a WNYC Radio Rookie, shares a series of open and honest audio diaries, inviting listeners on her journey to rebuild a relationship with her dad.Her dad went to prison when she was two years old. She used to go visit him all the time with her mom. Until her parents got divorced. Now, it’s been more than a decade since she saw her father. In this extended version of an installment of Radio Rookies, Olatunde shares...

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December 26, 2022 32 min

For author Jason Reynolds, the key to writing compelling young adult literature is reconnecting with the formative childhood experiences that made him. He has become a rockstar among kids and young adults for books like As Brave As You and Ghost that tell honest stories about Black childhood. The author joins host Kai Wright to discuss his storytelling philosophy, successes, fears and relationship with his mother. Hear more from Ja...

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Throughout her career, American contralto Marian Anderson performed a repertoire well ahead of her time.

At a time when the dominant art form was anti-Black minstrelsy, famed contralto Marian Anderson made a name for herself performing classical music. Host Kai Wright is joined by WQXR’s Terrance McKnight to discuss Anderson’s legacy, and her journey to global music stardom.

Companion listening for this episode:

Billy Porter on Bri...

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What does a next level victory look like for an Emmy, Grammy and Tony winner? For actor Billy Porter - it’s an authentic sense of self.

Actor and singer Billy Porter has spent decades bringing his full Black and queer self to his art. From Kinky Boots on Broadway to FX’s Pose, the actor credits his success to one huge victory–finding meaningful spaces for himself. But these spaces didn’t come until later in his life. Host Kai Wrigh...

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December 15, 2022 31 min

The soundtrack to our winter holidays is dominated by standards. But among the songs most of us know by heart are bold new tunes by artists who hope to capture our hearts with lyrics and melodies that evoke both nostalgia and new traditions. Lindsay Kimball, Program Director for Minnesota Public Radio’s renowned music station The Current, joins host Kai Wright to talk about what she considers when curating music for the station’s h...

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From Broadway to Frozen, Idina Menzel has captivated young and old audiences alike. A new documentary about her journey as a performer reveals how she worked to land her dream gig.

Actor and singer Idina Menzel has played a series of roles that inspire empowerment and a quest for identity. Her critically acclaimed turns on Broadway in Rent and Wicked and her voice work as Elsa in Disney’s Frozen have made her an intergenerational s...

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More than a million users have reportedly left the Twitter app since owner Elon Musk took over, but for some the decision to log off for good isn’t easy.

Love it or hate it, Twitter has been a major stage for political unrest, pop culture pinnacles, social justice movements, and community engagement. Now, users who’ve found a home on the app are debating what’s next. Many have decided to leave in the wake of Elon Musk’s takeover of...

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It’s been twenty years since five men who were convicted as kids in the “Central Park jogger case” were exonerated. Their story has resonance in today’s crime-panicked United States.

In 1989, amid a national and local panic about crime, five Black and Latino teenage boys were accused of a raping a woman in New York’s Central Park. Despite inconsistencies in their coerced, false confessions and other evidence, they were convicted. T...

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You could say all 50 states are in something of a long-distance relationship, and it’s long past the honeymoon phase. But if we’re so divided, should we just break up already?

Whether it’s political disarray, an ever-changing spectrum of state laws or social unrest, some may feel like the United States is more divided than ever. But, history shows that our country’s actually been divided from the start. Host Kai Wright talks with a...

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