How people turned pandemic pain into song across history
Louisville musicians make a song for the city amid crisis
Hari Sreenivasan: With so many people sheltering at home, and so much uncertainty about what lies ahead, city leaders are looking for ways to buoy community spirits. The mayor of Louisville, Kentucky thought music could help. NewsHour Weekend's Christopher Booker has more.
Christopher Booker: When Kentucky started staying home, the Louisville orchestra conductor Teddy Abrams thought that for the first time in a long time, he would have some time.
Teddy Abrams: I basically had one day where I thought, well, I guess I am going to have a lot of time on my hands now, and, which has never happened in my life And then the mayor called...
Christopher Booker: Louisville Mayor Greg Fisher was calling Abrams in the hopes he might lead a city initiative designed to keep spirits high during these uncertain times- called Lift Up Lou.
Teddy Abrams: And he said he wanted a Louisville song. You figure out to do that. can you come up with a song that shows off the talent of our city and the diversity of our city and really has a positive message because we need it right now?
Christopher Booker: Abrams agreed, and then sent off some emails to members of the Louisville music community. But then he says, he wasn't sure what to do next.
Teddy Abrams: And then I came back home from a bike ride. And I went straight to the piano and just said I need to come up with something. And I just played the piano track pretty much straight through. I don't really know. We just must have been the right combination of ingredients outside that day and all the musicians got that so that they could start conceiving how they'd add to it.
Christopher Booker: Abrams sent this piano track to an ecclectic mix of 29 Louisville musicians: members of the orchestra, blue grass fiddle players, a beat boxer and rock musicians to work on the music. Meanwhile, an equally diverse group got to work on the lyrics: Jim James of My Morning Jacket, Scott Carney of the band Wax Fang, rapper Jecorey 1200 Arthur and Will Oldham, also known as Bonnie "Prince" Billy."
Will Oldham: Teddy sent some music to start with and then Scott Carney sent a big like chunk of lyrics and so I kind of distilled a few things, rephrased a few things, and then stuck in the chorus And then Jim sang it.
Christopher Booker: The musicians composed and recorded their parts from home sending a file to Abrams co-producer Ben Sollee who put together the full track. After that, they all recorded videos, which were then assembled into one complete performance.
Will Oldham: The sound of Louisville that you hear in there is kind of an effortless, an eagerness to getting together and and feeding off of each other and giving to each other.
Jecorey 1200 Arthur: You have all sorts of different genres represented in this one five-, six- minute piece of music to also reflect the times and what we're going through right now. You have strings provided by the Louisville Orchestra. You have Teddy Abrams, a virtuoso playing piano. You have Jim James singing, Bonnie Prince Billy You have myself emceeing, rapping. What would happen if our people bend it? No one left, no one stranded even though we feel so abandoned? Lets take a moment, to make the moment candid. One time for the front line. Extra daughter or sun time.
Christopher Booker: So then what, how do you how did you approach writing this verse?
Jecorey 1200 Arthur: So from for me, as a black American who descends from slavery, who is the most impacted group of this pandemic, my ancestors used to sing spirituals to to reflect the sorrow, but also give hope for tomorrow. So when I write music, it's in my DNA and I use it to reflect the times that we're going through at that moment. And this song was no different. New start for those who done time. No time to play this weak, not time to say this sweet, everybody stay away six feet, otherwise we might lay six feet. Woo! We gonna need ya'll to get ready. We need each other when the day comes, lift up my city like Teddy, bridge water or Abrams!
Christopher Booker: And this is how the song Lift up Louisville came to be, just a few weeks after Abrams' bike ride.The song will be released worldwide tomorrow. All proceeds from its sale will go to the city's response fund but outside of the financial contribution, Teddy Abrams believes the song will do much more.
Teddy Abrams: This is a document of this time. we are all experiencing this obviously simultaneously as a as a world. And I think we've always looked to our artists to put down the markers that that we then use to understand history. And if we can represent the city in some way and say, here's how Louisville dealt with it and here's what we were thinking at this time, then, that that will have been it's an important accomplishment there.