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On Being with Krista Tippett is a public radio project delving into the human side of news stories + issues. Curated + edited by senior editor Trent Gilliss.

We publish guest contributions. We edit long; we scrapbook. We do big ideas + deep meaning. We answer questions.

We've even won a couple of Webbys + a Peabody Award.

Herman Cain Sings Gospel Song at The National Press Club

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

Herman Cain is trending on Twitter again. But, this time it’s not for his latest television ad but for his rendition of a gospel song at The National Press Club. Facing some tough questions about the sexual harassment allegations made against him and his tax plan, the current GOP frontrunner for the presidential nomination ended by taking the opportunity to “share a little bit” about his faith with “He Looked Beyond My Faults.” The man can sing.


Happy Birthday to Mahalia Jackson, the Queen of Gospel

by Chris Heagle, technical director

Mahalia Jackson would have been 100 years old today on October 26th. To celebrate, here’s one of her best-loved interpretations, “His Eye Is on the Sparrow.”

She recorded over two dozen albums in her lifetime, won five Grammy awards, and was honored from nearly every direction — from gracing a 32-cent stamp to being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. She appeared in a few films, most memorably perhaps in Imitation of Life and was a smash at the Newport Jazz Festival. Hers was the chosen voice for John F. Kennedy’s inauguration and Martin Luther King Jr’s funeral. Though she was often courted by other artists to crossover and sing jazz or blues, she never did, saying famously, “When you sing gospel you have a feeling there is a cure for what’s wrong.”

Editor’s note (10.16.2011 1:53pm): Thanks to an astute reader, we made a factual error in this post. Mahalia Jackson’s birthday occurs ten days from the date of this posting, on October 26th. We apologize for the error and got a little too excited about sharing this great gospel hymn and remembering this wonderful singer.


Music You Can’t Hear But Know Exists
Trent Gilliss, online editor

Being part of such a large outfit at Minnesota Public Radio, we encounter an awfully eclectic group of talented musicians, writers, artists, actors, performers, politicians… And, oftentimes, these brief introductions with greatness occur in the most mundane ways.

One day you’re accidentally brushing shoulders with former vice president Walter Mondale in the hallway, and another day you’re reading a mass e-mail instructing star-struck employees not to linger while Harry Connick Jr. is being interviewed.

Yesterday, while sitting in the control room of Studio P listening to the final edit of next week’s show with two Vatican astronomers, I look up and peer through the slanted glass only to witness part of the Johannes String Quartet warming up for "a couple of movements from Beethoven’s Quartet Op. 59 No. 1."

Not a whisper from that cello can I hear. But, right then, I pinch myself knowing great aural waves exist in that vacuum across the glass. Sometimes knowing and imagining is enough. But, those mystical, mulled upon wanderings can be made real. The unheard serendipitously takes root in YouTube reality. And, if you look up, you might just realize that Moby and Leela James performed “Walk with Me” in that very same space across the way.

I’ll be “looking up” — and hopefully seeing — the Performance Today recording of the quartet in action, much like this video from artists-in-residence The Parker Quartet (whom I first incorrectly attributed to being in the photo above).


"Everything Will Be Alright"
» download the recording (mp3, 4:34)
Nancy Rosenbaum, Associate Producer

Last month, on a sub-zero Minnesota winter night, I drove to Minneapolis to record a live event in celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Junior’s birthday. My spirit was a bit depleted with the raw, dry cold and a feeling of looming uncertainty about the future. I convinced myself that getting out and being around people (not to mention making a little extra cash) would do me some good.

I wasn’t wrong. That evening, the Minneapolis-based musical troupe Sounds of Blackness was booked to perform. I hadn’t ever heard them before, and boy was I in for a treat. I sat at the back of The Basilica of Saint Mary with my headphones on and let their sweet gospel melodies pour into my ears. One song in particular shook me out of my worried, wired monkey brain. I think the song is called "Everything Will Be Alright." What you’re listening to here is a really great recording of that live performance.

Recently Trent blogged about the music that helped him get through a hard time after being laid off from his dot com job when he was living in England. And Mitch conducted a lively phone interview with author Mary Doria Russell where we learn about the 1980s big hair bands that inspire her. What songs are inspiring or consoling you these days?


Makes Me Wanna Jump & Shout: Religion, Ecstasy & Race
Kate Moos, Managing Producer

We had a cuts-n-copy session this week for an upcoming show on Democrats and religion, with Time Magazine editor Amy Sullivan, herself an Evangelical Christian. Mitch had placed some fabulous music in the rough version of the show: the Campbell Brothers performing Sam Cooke’s yearning "A Change Is Gonna Come". But it gave me pause, because one of the points Amy Sullivan makes in the course of her interview with Krista is that liberal Democrats have historically “delegated” religion to black churches, and have been uninterested in engaging with white Christian piety in this country. Sullivan argues that in 2008 this changed, with much more evidence of a vibrant religious presence — albeit a self-conscious & studiously interfaith one — at the DNC.

Still, it seems to me there is not only a political but a racial divide in how we members of the media, and the liberal “intelligentsia,” perceive devotional practices that fall outside the mainline habit of sitting up straight in church while being lectured.

Sarah Palin, a white person who was at least at one time associated with the energetic devotions of Pentecostal worship is handily dismissed by many liberals as — therefore — a kook. Apparently white people are dismissible if they engage in ecstatic devotion, at least for Jesus. But the same liberal sensibility finds the ecstatic worship of African-American Pentecostalism charming, authentic, and soulful. What gives? I think this is racism of a pernicious variety.

We accept the full-bodied worship of African-Americans because, at least subliminally, they are still The Other — that is, they are other than the dominant, hyper-rational, majority white culture.

I’m not an apologist for Palin or any candidate, nor am I an apologist for Pentecostalism, though I do sometimes find Pentecostalism’s fervor and emotionalism persuasive, beautiful, and deep. I just don’t like what I smell underneath the high-toned dismissal of Palin’s Pentecostal roots, when it’s accompanied by the wholesale enthusiasm for our cultural appropriation of gospel music, blues, and soul.