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.

Five landscape architects unveiled proposals Wednesday to save the sinking Tidal Basin on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. The plans run the gamut from a conservative approach to radical reimaginings.

The Tidal Basin connects centuries of American history and includes memorials to Thomas Jefferson, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Martin Luther King Jr. Some 1.5 million people walk along the basin's rim during the annual Cherry Blossom Festival each spring. But with increased car and foot traffic, the ground underneath is dipping. As sea levels rise, the walkways flood daily.

The Smithsonian Institution has announced that poet Kevin Young will be the next director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. With more than 37,000 objects, the NMAAHC in Washington, D.C., is the largest center dedicated to the African American experience in the country. Young succeeds the museum's founding director, Lonnie G. Bunch III, who was named secretary of the Smithsonian in 2019.

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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.

Burning Man — the dazzling, days-long, annual arts and lovefest drawing 70,000 to the dusty Nevada desert — was cancelled this year. But organizers are trying to capture the quintessential, communal arts experience online.

For this year's theme, Multiverse, teams have created 2D and 3D virtual experiences. The program runs Aug. 30-Sept. 6.

Most of us can't travel overseas right now but we can at least be aurally transported by way of music. Ten vocal ensembles whose members come from 15 different countries will perform in a new, weeklong festival called Vox Virtual beginning August 22nd. They include ANÚNA from Ireland, Insingizi from Zimbabwe, Ensemble Rustavi from Georgia, and Cantus from the U.S.

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.

After longstanding criticism over its lack of diversity, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is continuing to invite more women and minorities to its membership.

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.

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

Money talks ... in verse.

"Money is a kind of poetry," the poet Wallace Stevens once wrote. That might be so, but poems rarely pay the poet's bills. Still, poetry reading in the U.S. has skyrocketed in recent years, according to the National Endowment for the Arts' Survey of Public Participation in the Arts.

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.

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, "Pettifogging people give too much attention to small, unimportant details in a way that shows a limited mind."

On that note, let's dive in.

Petty + fogger = pettifogger

Petty means small or insignificant. A fogger is old slang for a "huckster, a cringing whining beggar."

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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")

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"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.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Happy birthday to one of the most famous streets in America.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CAN YOU TELL ME HOW TO GET TO SESAME STREET?")

THE KIDS: (Singing) Can you tell me how to get, how to get to Sesame Street?

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.

Before Bob Iger took over as CEO of The Walt Disney Co. in 2005, Disney's stock value was stagnant. Its studios, networks and theme parks had lost some of their magic.

"We were embattled and somewhat discouraged and not as optimistic as we needed to be," he says. "And we needed to find our way."

How Iger turned the company around is chronicled in his new business memoir, The Ride of a Lifetime: Lessons Learned from 15 Years as CEO of The Walt Disney Company. The book is being published as he looks toward his retirement in 2021.

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In 2017, the "S****y Media Men" list began making the rounds on the Internet. Coming right on the heels of the downfall of movie producer Harvey Weinstein, the list seemed poised to take down even more men in media. The editable, crowdsourced spreadsheet contained accusations — all made anonymously, that ranged from "creepy" direct messages to "rape" — against prominent figures in journalism and publishing.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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A beloved sidekick has died. Valerie Harper who, of course, played Rhoda Morgenstern on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," has died in Los Angeles. She was 80 years old.

NPR's Elizabeth Blair has this remembrance.

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.

Montreal's annual Just For Laughs festival is best-known as a showcase for current and future stars of stand-up comedy. Not as well known to people who've never been here is that laughs of all kinds can be found outdoors, for free, throughout Montreal's cultural district, the Quartiere des Spectacles. Professional musicians, magicians, acrobats, jugglers, puppeteers — the outdoor performers' punch lines don't need words. That helps, since Just For Laughs/Juste Pour Rire is a bilingual festival for both French and English speaking performers and fans.

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.


The earliest anthems were sacred hymns, religious songs of praise. For this installment of NPR's American Anthem series, we examine a rock and roll hymn — from Ireland.

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Montreal is consumed with comedy this week in nightclubs, outdoor stages and the streets - including the eclectic 12-piece band that goes by the name Fanfarniente Della Strada.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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A moment now to remember a woman with a truly remarkable voice, who died in a New York hospital on July 17, 1959.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GOD BLESS THE CHILD")

BILLIE HOLIDAY: (Singing) But God bless the child that's got his own, that's got his own.

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Stand-up comedian Brian Regan has been on the road performing almost nonstop since the 1980s.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BRIAN REGAN: I'm trying to go to more parties. I'm not good at them. I'm not good at talking to people, which might sound weird in this setting.

(LAUGHTER)

For the past year, NPR has been taking a deep look at American anthems and all the forms they can take. These are the songs that unite us, inspire us or say something about what it means to be an American — songs as traditional as Woody Guthrie's "This Land is Your Land," or as defiant as Public Enemy's "Fight the Power."

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