California’s Next Joan Didion Can Sing

Phoebe Bridgers Offers an Homage to, and an Improvement on, the Classic Golden State Interpreter

California’s next Joan Didion might be an improvement on the original.

For one thing, she can sing.

Phoebe Bridgers, a brilliant and versatile 26-year-old musician and songwriter, isn’t just contending for four Grammy awards this March. She is challenging the status of Joan Didion, now 86, as the most nationally respected and quotable of California interpreters.

Such a challenge is long overdue. It’s been 40 years since New York Times critic Michiko Kakutani declared that “California belongs to Joan Didion,” and the British novelist Martin Amis (backhandedly) praised her “almost embarrassingly sharp ear …

Looking for Jazz Uplift Under Lockdown | Zocalo Public Square • Arizona State University • Smithsonian

Looking for Jazz Uplift Under Lockdown

A Music Critic Considers the Power of Time-Honored Rituals When They Can’t Happen as They Should

Three days after the September 11 terrorist attacks I left my Brooklyn home, tracing backward the trail that thick billows of smoke had blown across the East River, to hear …

The Composer Who Saved King Kong—and Transformed Movie Music | Zocalo Public Square • Arizona State University • Smithsonian

The Composer Who Saved King Kong—and Transformed Movie Music

The Masterful Max Steiner’s Career and Life Were as Dramatic as Any Hollywood Picture

An international crisis triggers record unemployment. Hollywood bleeds red as movie theaters shutter. And one major studio faces imminent closure, putting all its hopes on a would-be blockbuster.

The year is …

The Greek-American R&B Legend Who Passed as Black

Johnny Otis Felt He Had Been ‘Saved’ by the Political, Spiritual, and Moral Force of African-American Culture 

If a role exists in black music that Johnny Otis couldn’t play, it would be hard to find. Known as the godfather of rhythm and blues, Otis was a bandleader, …

How African American Spirituals Moved From Cotton Fields to Concert Halls

After the Civil War, Touring Groups of Black College Singers Popularized Slavery-Era Songs, Giving Rise to a New Musical Genre

“Swing low, sweet chariot….” These words are familiar to many Americans, who might sing them in worship, in Sunday school, around campfires, in school, and in community choruses. But …