Walter Ray Watson

At the turn of the 20th Century, millions of African Americans moved from the rural South to the country's Northern cities in search of a new beginning. That time of discovery, awakening and Renaissance came to be known as The Great Migration.

Twenty-three-year-old jazz pianist James Francies has his musical fingerprints all over the place. From leading his own group at 2019'sWinter Jazzfest in New York City to playing shows in Tokyo with guitar legend Pat Metheny, the current pace of Francies's life is constantly in motion.

"It just feels like you're on a plane," Francies says. "Four thousand feet, traveling six hundred miles an hour."

Last fall, Blue Note Records released Flight, Francies's debut album.

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.


By the early 1960s, Nina Simone was well-known to the world as a singer, songwriter and classically trained pianist. But around 1963, as race relations in America hit a boiling point, she made a sharp turn in her music — toward activism.

In 2018, NPR looked back on how events from 50 years ago — the pivotal year of 1968 — shaped our current world. In our "1968: How We Got Here" series, NPR's National Desk and reporters from across the newsroom examined more than 40 events, ideas and movements from that year and sought out to answer a simple question: How did each of those get us to where we are today?

Fifty years ago, photographer and folklorist Roland Freeman hitched his hopes to a humble caravan of mule-driven wagons. The Mule Train left the small town of Marks, in the Mississippi Delta, for Washington, D.C. It was part of Martin Luther King Jr.'s last major effort to mobilize impoverished Americans of different races and ethnic backgrounds.

Rare glimpses of black soldiers from the Civil War come into view, their presence asking nothing more than to be remembered, if not celebrated. The documentary film Through A Lens Darkly draws audiences deep into a world of black photography, and will broadcast Monday on the PBS program Independent Lens.