Elizabeth Blair

Elizabeth Blair is a Peabody Award-winning senior producer/reporter on the Arts Desk of NPR News.

Blair produces, edits, and reports arts and cultural segments for NPR's Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition. In this position, she has reported on a range of topics from arts funding to the MeToo movement. She has profiled renowned artists such as Yayoi Kusama and Mikhail Baryshnikov, explored how old women are represented in fairy tales, and reported the origins of the children's classic Curious George. Among her all-time favorite interviews are actors Octavia Spencer and Andy Serkis, comedians Bill Burr and Hari Kondabolu, the rapper K'Naan, and Cookie Monster (in character).

Blair has overseen several, large-scale series including The NPR 100, which explored landmark musical works of the 20th Century, and In Character, which probed the origins of iconic American fictional characters. Along with her colleagues on the Arts Desk and at NPR Music, Blair curated American Anthem, a major series exploring the origins of songs that uplift, rouse, and unite people around a common theme.

Blair's work has received several honors, including two Peabody Awards and a Gracie. She previously lived in Paris, France, where she co-produced Le Jazz Club From Paris with Dee Dee Bridgewater, and the monthly magazine Postcard From Paris.

The annual Kennedy Center Honorees have been announced: choreographer, and actress Debbie Allen; singer-songwriter and activist Joan Baez; country singer-songwriter Garth Brooks; violinist Midori; and actor Dick Van Dyke.

Updated at 12:30pm ET

Back in February, President Trump set the architectural world reeling with a call for traditional designs for new federal buildings. He proposed an executive order, called "Make Federal Buildings Beautiful Again," which took an out-with-the-new, in-with-the-old approach to architecture, calling modern federal buildings constructed over the last five decades "undistinguished," "uninspiring" and "just plain ugly."

The largest and most influential arts advocacy and service organization in the country has responded to sharp criticism over its lack of diversity and commitment to help arts groups lead by and for people of color. Americans For The Arts (which is also one of NPR's financial supporters) conceded that the steps they've taken towards "racial and cultural equity" "have not been enough."

AFTA serves the arts sector in a variety of ways including lobbying Congress, conducting surveys of the sector, training, panels and the like.

The recent surge in COVID-19 cases has resulted in cultural institutions around the country closing, some just a few months after reopening to the public. Today, the Smithsonian announced that seven museums and the National Zoo will close beginning Monday, November 23rd due to the rise in positive cases both in the Washington, D.C. region and nationally. Thanksgiving weekend is typically one of the Smithsonian's busiest times of year.

Jigsaw puzzles have become such a favorite pandemic pastime, retailers are having a hard time keeping them in stock. "There's a global shortage of puzzles actually," says Brian Way, co-owner of the online retailer Puzzle Warehouse. "There's not a factory on the planet that is not months behind on production."

Riva Lehrer is a painter who reimagines "socially challenged" bodies with often fantastical imagery. John Lee Clark, a DeafBlind poet, is a leader in the Protactile movement, a language that communicates through touch.

The Walt Disney Company's theme parks, resorts and cruises have been devastated by COVID-19. Tuesday Disney announced it is laying off 28,000 workers from its Parks, Experiences and Products division.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

TONYA MOSLEY, HOST:

Concert halls and theaters are taking baby steps to reopen. The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., held its first in-person concert, A Time to Sing: An Evening with Renee Fleming and Vanessa Williams. NPR's Elizabeth Blair was there and has this postcard.

Media titan Sumner Redstone, who built the company Viacom into a global empire, died Tuesday at his home in Los Angeles. He was 97. Through shrewd investing and strategic deal-making, Redstone became one of the world's most powerful and unpredictable corporate leaders.

The pandas in D.C., the grizzlies in Oakland, the gorillas in the Bronx are all getting reacquainted with human visitors. As of a month and a half ago, the pandemic had forced 90% of the Association of Zoos & Aquariums' members to close. Today, the AZA reports, about 80% of them have reopened.

The Smithsonian's National Zoo in Washington, D.C., opens its gates to the public for the first time in 19 weeks on Friday — and this week, I was one of the lucky few humans allowed in for a preview.

Five years before the coronavirus pandemic, Bill Gates didn't mince words: "If anything kills over 10 million people in the next few decades, it's most likely to be a highly infectious virus, rather than a war," he said at the 2015 TED conference in Vancouver, Canada.

Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson is not letting the pandemic slow him down. The Roots drummer, DJ, author and entrepreneur is still performing on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, DJ'ing live on Instagram, and he and his Roots' bandmate Tariq "Black Thought" Trotter recently signed a production deal with NBC. As if that weren't enough, tonight he's hosting Questlove's Potluck, a virtual dinner party on the Food Network.

Updated at 7:13 p.m. ET

Little Richard, the self-described "king and queen" of rock and roll and an outsize influence on everyone from David Bowie to Prince, died Saturday in Tullahoma, Tenn. He was 87 years old.

Bill Sobel, a lawyer for Little Richard, tells NPR that the cause of death was bone cancer. Rolling Stone was the first to report on Little Richard's death.

At a time when we really need to keep a sense of humor, comedy clubs are closed. Stand-up comedians are on lockdown. So what do you do if your career is making people laugh? You can write jokes while you shelter in place, but how do you know if they're funny?

In its quarterly earnings call with investors on Tuesday afternoon, homebound Disney executives offered sobering assessments of the impact of the coronavirus outbreak on the multinational entertainment company's businesses.

With closures of its theme parks, resorts and cruise ships, a shuttered movie business and declining television ad revenue, the company estimates losses to be "as much as $1.4 billion" in the second quarter of 2020.

With mass closings of theaters and museums, cancellations or postponements of exhibitions, concerts, dance performances and more, the arts industry is in "economic freefall" due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the advocacy group Americans For The Arts.

YouTube

If there's a sliver of a silver lining in these uncertain times, it's music — from free virtual

Jim Lehrer, the veteran journalist and writer known for his steady, low-key presence in the often noisy world of TV news, died Thursday. He co-founded PBS' NewsHour and won numerous honors — including Peabody and Emmy awards and a National Humanities Medal — in a career that spanned some 50 years.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Comedian Gina Yashere has toured the world with her standup, filmed specials for Netflix and made regular appearances on "The Daily Show With Trevor Noah."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE DAILY SHOW WITH TREVOR NOAH")

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

"Fiction is life with the dull bits left out." That is just one of the many clever observations of the writer, TV host and cultural critic Clive James, who died at his home in Cambridge, England, on Sunday. James suffered from multiple illnesses in recent years, including leukemia. He was 80 years old.

Dave Chappelle grew up near Washington, D.C. So when he received the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor on Sunday night at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, it was a family affair.

Chappelle's wife and kids were there. A selection of his favorite musicians — people like Yasiin Bey, Common, Erykah Badu, Q-Tip, Frederic Yonnet and John Legend — performed throughout the evening. And his fellow comedians talked about him like he was kin.

Updated at 8:08 p.m. ET

One of TV's most beloved sidekicks has died. Valerie Harper, best known for playing Rhoda Morgenstern on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, died Friday in Los Angeles. She was 80.

As the blunt, self-deprecating Rhoda, Harper created one of the most beloved sitcom characters of the 1970s. The Mary Tyler Moore Show was a ratings powerhouse, centered on best friends Rhoda and Mary Richards, two single women making their way through life, love and career.

The global youth brand MTV has chosen Sheila Nevins to head a new documentary division. Nicknamed the "doyenne of documentaries," Nevins, 80, was the president of HBO Documentary Films. With some 1,500 credits to her name, Nevins has executive produced numerous Oscar, Emmy and Peabody Award-winning films, and received several lifetime achievement awards.

Gains have been made for women and people of color who work in movies and TV, but the numbers remain a long way from proportionately reflecting the U.S. population, according to a new study from UCLA.

The annual Hollywood Diversity Report looks at diversity both in front of and behind the camera. It also looks at box office and ratings.

This story is part of American Anthem, a yearlong series on songs that rouse, unite, celebrate and call to action. Find more at NPR.org/Anthem.


Two years ago this week on the National Mall, amid a sea of pink hats, a piece of music suddenly went from speaking for one to speaking for many.

The vice president came to the Kennedy Center last night. That would be HBO's Veep: Julia Louis-Dreyfus.

The 11-time Emmy Award-winner was in Washington, D.C. to accept the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. Plenty of big names in comedy were there to present it to her.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus grew up in Washington, D.C. She went to Holton-Arms School in Bethesda, Maryland, the same private high school as Christine Blasey Ford — the woman who accused Brett Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her 36 years ago.

It was Tina Fey who first made the connection.

Edwin Hawkins' "Oh Happy Day" was an accidental hit. The song, a gospel-style rework of an 18th century hymn, starts with a jazzy drum beat and a kind of blues pop piano groove. Dorothy Morrison, who sings lead on the recording, remembers at first, the pop feel got a lukewarm reception from the church.

"At first the reaction was, 'Well, we're not sure,' " Morrison says.

Dozens of powerful men, including two at NPR, have lost their jobs and reputations in the cultural reckoning that is the #MeToo movement. Clearly, there's tremendous momentum behind it, but where does it go from here? Do those men have a shot at redemption?

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Pages