NPR Staff

Jonathan Rado and Sam France were in eighth grade when they first met and began making music together. Their tastes were simple at first — straight-ahead rock songs banged out on drums and guitars in a garage. But a dramatic shift happened when they decided to take a less linear approach to recording their work.

"I got really into buying cheap, cheap instruments on eBay — lots of xylophones and melodicas and kind of useless junk — and that was kind of everywhere," Rado says. "We'd just kind of play for like 30 minutes, and then chop the best bits down to a three-minute song."

Bill Evans was a genius: The jazz world, which can be roiled by factions and jealousies, usually agrees on that. He was a composer and pianist with a light, lyrical touch that was once described as what you might hear at the gates of heaven. But like many geniuses, Evans died too young — in 1980, at the age of just 51, after years of heavy drinking, cocaine, and heroin addiction.

A new documentary by filmmaker Bruce Spiegel helps capture that genius with interviews of musicians, family members, and archival footage of Bill Evans himself.

A young woman meets a prince and falls in love. That sounds like the start of an old fashioned fairy tale, but in the movie A United Kingdom it's the start of a diplomatic firestorm. The film tells the story of Ruth Williams and Seretse Khama, who married in 1948. Williams was a typist in London; Khama was heir to the throne of Bechuanaland, or modern-day Botswana.

Michael Ryan, 45, is a juvenile judge in Cleveland, Ohio. And like many of the kids who end up in his courtroom, he didn't have an easy childhood.

He adored his mother, he tells his son — also named Michael, 19, at StoryCorps in Cleveland, but she was addicted to heroin.

In America, there is a rare echelon of pop stars so big they only need one name: Madonna, Cher, Prince. In Italy, that name is Zucchero.

At the Oscars this weekend, one spotlight will shine on African-American women in the space race, thanks to the movie Hidden Figures, which is nominated for three Academy Awards, including best picture.

Mae Jemison made history in this field as the first African-American woman in space, as part of the crew on Space Shuttle Endeavour in 1992.

The Brit Awards — the looser, goofier, British-er cousin of the Grammys — are currently underway from the O2 Arena in London. You can see the full list of nominees and winners below.



MasterCard British Album of the Year
WINNER: David Bowie -- Blackstar
The 1975 — I Like It When You Sleep, For You Are So Beautiful yet So Unaware of It
Kano — Made in the Manor
Michael Kiwanuka — Love & Hate
Skepta — Konnichiwa

The human species is about to change dramatically. That's the argument Yuval Noah Harari makes in his new book, Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow.

Harari is a history professor at Hebrew University in Israel. He tells NPR's Ari Shapiro that he expects we will soon engineer our bodies and minds in the same way we now design products.


Interview Highlights

On how we will begin to engineer bodies

Thomas Jefferson wrote the famous words "all men are created equal," but he also owned more than 600 slaves over the course of his life.

His Virginia plantation called Monticello is being renovated to shed more light on the enslaved people who lived and worked there.

One of the most notable of those slaves was Sally Hemings. Jefferson is widely believed to have fathered her six children. The museum is working to restore a restroom believed to be Hemings' living quarters.

Alison Krauss and Buddy Cannon go way back. Cannon, a veteran country songwriter and producer, remembers hiring Krauss to sing harmonies on one of hear after hearing on of her early demos on cassette in the early '90s. "I've been blown away ever since," Cannon says.

Krauss has a new album out called Windy City. Produced by Cannon, it is her first solo album in 18 years. She says her friend's instincts are almost always right.

If you are a fan of sketch comedy, then you'd probably know the name Jordan Peele. He, along with Keegan Michael Key wrote and performed in the acclaimed Comedy Central sketch series Key & Peele. The show, which ran for five seasons, earned a Peabody Award and two Primetime Emmys for its hilarious and deeply pointed take on race and culture.

A popular feature among the sketches on Key & Peele was the way it sometimes mixed humor and horror, for example, the zombies who refused to eat black people.

Argentina can be beguiling, but its grand European architecture and lively coffee culture obscure a dark past: In the 1970s and early '80s, thousands of people were tortured and killed under the country's military dictatorship. In many cases, the children of the disappeared were kidnapped, and some of those children were raised by their parents' murderers.

At a time when much of the country says it hates Washington D.C., politics, power brokers, spin doctors, and compromise — not to mention the press — the executive director of the American Press Institute has written a novel that combines all of those features into a thriller. Oh, there's the tiniest bit of sex, too.

These days, you're more likely to come across the concept of a Rorschach test in a cultural context than a clinical one. The actual psychological test — in which participants are asked to interpret 10 symmetric inkblot images — isn't as widely used as it once was. But metaphorically, Rorschach is still our go-to term when something elicits a variety of interpretations among different people.

This weekend marks 75 years since President Roosevelt's executive order that sent Japanese-Americans to internment camps.

Roy Ebihara and his wife, 82-year-old Aiko, were children then, and both were held in camps with their families.

At StoryCorps, 83-year-old Roy told Aiko about what happened in his hometown of Clovis, N.M., in the weeks just before the executive order was issued.

Timothy Showalter is a tough-looking guy with a beard, tattoos and a flat Midwestern accent, who's pretty open about taking drugs. He thinks a lot about where life is taking him.

"I read somewhere that the idea of joy, and to live a joyful life, is different than living a happy life," he tells NPR's Steve Inskeep. "Happiness is fleeting. Happiness is something that you're always going to reach for but you're never gonna quite get or be satisfied with."

The FX show Baskets stars comedian Zach Galifianakis as a French clown school dropout who has moved back home to Bakersfield, Calif. There, he finds work as a rodeo clown and competes with his twin brother for his mother's affection.

It was The Magnificent Seven that inspired Ramin Djawadi, the musician behind Game Of Thrones' iconic soundtrack, to become a film composer.

When greeting card designer Emily McDowell had cancer, she got a lot of cards that just felt weird. "A get-well-soon card is kind of strange if you might not," she tells NPR's Rachel Martin.

So McDowell started writing nontraditional sympathy cards. They say things like "Please let me be the first person to punch the next person who tells you everything happens for a reason. I'm sorry you're going through this."

Maggie Rogers has been making and releasing albums since she was in high school — but last year, her profile got an unexpected boost when a video of her meeting Pharrell Williams went viral.

For decades, the two strong-willed women in Yewande Omotoso's new novel were committed enemies. Hortensia is black, Marion is white and both are widows in their 80s. Their properties — in an affluent neighborhood in Cape Town, South Africa — sit next door to one another. Then, one day, an accident brings them together.

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(SOUNDBITE OF ANDREW LLOYD WEBBER'S "OVERTURE - THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA")

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

This past week, composer Andrew Lloyd Webber hit a milestone.

(SOUNDBITE OF ANDREW LLOYD WEBBER'S "OVERTURE - THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA")

George Saunders is acclaimed as a genius of the short story — and now he's written his first novel. It reads as part Our Town, part ghost story, and even part Ken Burns. It's a story that gives voice to a child who has died, and resonance to the silence of his father, who is enveloped by — and the instrument of — much grief.

On New Year's Eve, 2006, Christine Hyung-Oak Lee developed a splitting headache. She was 33, and her world turned upside down — as in, she literally saw the world upside down. Suddenly, she could hold things in her mind for only 15 minutes at a time. She was a writer who now couldn't recall words or craft sentences. She remembers looking at the phone and thinking to herself: What is the phone number for 911? Days later, she learned she'd had a stroke.

When author Viet Thanh Nguyen was 4 years old, he and his family fled South Vietnam and came to the U.S. as refugees. That's about the same age his own son is now — and Nguyen wonders if his child will ever know the feeling of "otherness" that he knows so well.

"I think it's a very valuable experience," Nguyen tells NPR's Ari Shapiro. "I wish, not only my son, but everybody, had a sense of what it is like to be an outsider, to be an other. Because that's partly what gives rise to compassion and to empathy — the sense that you are not always at the center of the universe."

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