A New NPR show by Lara Downes Puts the Year 2020 on Trial — and Will Win

“These are the times that try men’s souls,” wrote Thomas Paine inThe American Crisis,” in the inaugural issue of The Pennsylvania Journal in December, 1776. “[T]he summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.”

Paine, of course, was writing about the crisis of the U.S. colonies’ war for independence from Britain and attempting to boost morale among American troops in the wake of their loss of New York City to British troops, particularly to stem the tide of American soldiers who, faced with seemingly overwhelming odds, had elected to leave the fight and return to their homes and families.

But Paine’s words surely resonate distressingly with the tribulations of the year 2020. With (as of this writing) 222,781 U.S. deaths due to COVID-19, 8,219,831 total cases, and about 43,000 new cases being added in the U.S. every day; concentration camps illegally separating and detaining migrant families at the U.S. border, hate crimes at a record high; police murders of Blacks continuing unabated and unpunished, and racism committed and embraced at the highest governmental levels since the Republican Party’s victories in November 2016, the times — and specifically the year 2020 — seem determined to “try [our] souls.”

But now creator and host Lara Downes and co-producer Tom Huizenga are putting 2020 on trial with a new series of biweekly video conversations with leading Black musicians. AMPLIFY “invites viewers to experience raw, revealing, and open-hearted conversations reflecting on how artists are responding and creating in this time of profound challenge and change.” Its star-studded lead-off roster of guests includes Rhiannon Giddens, Anthony McGill, Sheku Kanneh-Mason and family, Davóne Tines, and Helga Davis — all “visionary Black musicians who are shaping the present and future” of the musical art, and leaders whose cultural and social leadership offers very real and inspiring hope in the American crisis of 2020, just as Paine’s words offered hope to the suffering American troops late that watershed year of 1776.

AMPLIFY puts the challenges of 2020 on trial. I, for one, believe that it will win, that it will create a new reality out of the “visions of a bright light on a diverse and rich future that is, in the words of James Weldon Johnson, ‘full of the hope that the present has brought us.’”

AMPLIFY premieres on Saturday, October 17 on, YouTube, and social media platforms. To learn more, go here.

Originally published at on October 16, 2020.



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