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Branford Marsalis' 'Ma Rainey' Score Makes 100-Year-Old Blues Sound Relevant Today


Branford Marsalis
Eric Ryan Anderson, Courtesy of the artist

Branford Marsalis

There has been plenty to discuss since the release of Ma Rainey's Black Bottom last year. It tells the story of August Wilson and other Black Americans in the 20th century who fled the south and headed north. The film was adapted from a play by Wilson, directed by George C. Wolfe, with Denzel Washington as producer. It also stars Viola Davis as Ma Rainey — the mother of the blues — and the late Chadwick Boseman. But there's more to the film than its star players, especially once the music in the film takes flight.

Saxophonist and bandleader Branford Marsalis was tasked with scoring the film, to make the blues of 100 years ago sound true to the era but still relevant now.

Our New Orleans correspondent Gwen Thompkins talks to Branford Marsalis after a performance of songs from Ma Rainey's Black Bottom. Watch the performance — including a special opening number — via the video player and hear the complete session via the audio player.

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