What is America?

It seems fitting to reflect on our uniquely American values in a year marred by pandemic and social unrest, set against the backdrop of the most consequential Presidential election in the country's history. The last in-person music event I attended was David Byrne's American Utopia in February, just prior to its closing. Little did I know then that it might be my last show of the year. 

This post was inspired by a video of the young descendants of Frederick Douglass reading selections from his famous speech delivered to the Rochester Ladies' Anti-Slavery Society the day after Independence Day of 1852. I was moved to hear his descendants read the words, "The blessings in which you this day rejoice are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity, and independence bequeathed by your fathers is shared by you, not by me. ", knowing that they're still true 168 years after Douglass spoke them.

It was more than a little wistfully that I viewed the last Tiny Desk Concert filmed at NPR HQ prior to the pandemic. I'm not a believer in predestination, but it seems almost divinely inspired that Sudan Archives, an African-American violinist who blends hip-hop and R&B with African and Irish music, would be the artist to record that set. For this Tiny Desk, she eschewed electronic instrumentation in favor of a string quartet. I hope she gives her debut album, Athena, this unplugged Tiny Desk treatment.

Another pleasant surprise was the news that Heartless Bastards had released their first single in five years. A slow-burning meditation on the state of the nation that builds to a thunderous crescendo, "Revolution" not only serves as a fundraiser for the American Civil Liberties Union but also as a reminder of the circumstances in which this country was created. For better or for worse, we're still fighting to live up to those ideals, and to provide equality of opportunity to all Americans.

This is America, a nation in some ways still trying to find its away, taking steps both backwards and forwards, sometimes simultaneously, a fractious confederation of people with their own ideas of how to realize the promise of the founding fathers.