Lara Downes Brings Black Voices to the Fore in Her Amplify Series

Paul Kotapish on December 22, 2020
Lara Downes and Rhiannon Giddens in Amplify

Lara Downes isn’t letting the lockdown cramp her creative energies. Since mid-October the dynamic pianist, artist, and activist has been hosting a bi-weekly series of intimate video conversations with forward-thinking Black artists who are reimagining and transforming the world of music. Dubbed “Amplify” and co-produced by NPR Music’s Tom Huizenga, the program has featured prominent artists such as Rhiannon Giddens, Anthony McGill, Helga Davis, Julia Bullock, and Davóne Tines.

Downes described her thinking about the series in a recent NPR article. “In this time of our collective reckoning about historical inequities in American life and art,” she said, “I’m excited to amplify the voices of extraordinary artists of color, shining a bright light on a diverse and rich future that is, in the words of James Weldon Johnson, ‘full of the hope that the present has brought us.’”

On Dec. 26, Downes will host pianist/composer Jon Batiste, nationally recognized bandleader and musical director of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. The pair are slated to discuss a range of topics, including “the challenge of balancing the visionary, idealistic side of artistic creation with the artist’s responsibility to also engage and reflect upon the world as it is.”
Jon Batiste | Credit: Sasha Israel

Learn more about the series in Downes’s 5 Questions interview at I Care If You Listen in November, and listen to the interviews at NPR’s Amplify page or on YouTube.