The musicians we listened to in 2014

It’s almost 2015. Before we ring it in with bursting fireworks and swirling confetti, we want to reflect on some of the great Art Beat stories from this past year.

Today we’re asking, which musicians did we listen to in 2014? We heard about the Beatles before they inspired mania and violinists Joshua Bell’s redo of a train station concert. We learned from musicians who used their art to protest the shootings in Ferguson and about an organization that helps struggling blues artists stay on their feet. And so many more.

Here are some highlights from the NewsHour’s music coverage in 2014. Take a listen:

Newly released recordings reveal Beatles before they inspired maniabeatles Before the Beatles took America by storm, Paul, John, Ringo and George were featured on BBC radio programs 53 times. Those Beatles performances, recorded between 1962 and 1965, have now been released. Jeffrey Brown talked to Kevin Howlett of BBC about his laborious search for many of these live, early, pre-Beatlemania recordings.

One of Africa’s biggest stars uses empowering song to lift up women and girlsAngélique KidjoBenin-born Angelique Kidjo has made the empowerment of women and girls a part of her music and life’s work for decades. The Grammy winner has attracted a global following with her mix of African and Western music styles and lyrics in a number of different languages. Jeffrey Brown profiled Kidjo latest album, “Eve,” as well as her new memoir, “Spirit Rising: My Life My Music.”

Charles Bradley, a new force in old-fashioned soul, channels past heartaches for ‘Victim of Lovebradleyportait2 Singer Charles Bradley was making a living as a James Brown cover act when he was “discovered” by Daptone, a record label helping bring about a resurgence of soul music. These days, Bradley’s songs reflect the story of his own past, drawing a growing number of fans to his gospel of soul and heartbreak. Jeffrey Brown shared the story of the singer’s breakthrough and latest album.

Jason Moran strikes up the band — and a conversation — to enthrall new jazz listenersjasonmoran4Jason Moran, one of today’s best-known younger jazz musicians, is a true believer that his art form can transport and transform an audience. Now the artistic director for jazz at the Kennedy Center in Washington, the musician has a public platform to share his passion. Jeffrey Brown interviewed Moran about his work to bring the jazz experience to more people.

What drives Willie Nelson to keep singing and travelingwillienelson2Country legend Willie Nelson, 81, is still on the road. Jeffrey Brown sits down with Nelson to talk about the burst of songwriting behind his new album, “Band of Brothers,” controlling his temper and how he stays fit on tour.

Blues musician John Németh gets ‘greasy’ in MemphisJohn Nemeth concertstillJohn Németh says he fell in love with the blues as a teenager growing up in Idaho. Decades later, he’s touring to promote his new album, “Memphis Grease.” Art Beat sat down with Németh before a show at Gypsy Sally’s in Washington, D.C., to talk about his new album and the state of the blues.

Soul musician Curtis Harding on keeping with tradition and staying currentCurtis Harding Soul musician Curtis Harding originally wanted to be an oceanographer, but growing up in a musical family left its mark. “My mother’s a gospel singer. My sister plays piano. We all sang in the church, sang on the road,” he says. Harding talked to Art Beat before a concert at DC9 in Washington, D.C., about his debut album, “Soul Power.”

Artists protest through song in the wake of Ferguson shootingU.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has authorized a second autopsy of Michael Brown to be conducted by a federal medical examiner. Scott Olson, Getty Images News

What does a 21st century protest song sound like? If you’re folk musician Ezra Furman, it echoes of Bob Dylan. If you’re legendary songwriter Lauryn Hill, it borrows from Rodgers and Hammerstein. If you’re hip hop artist J. Cole, it’s an elegy with a beat. Though these artist span the musical spectrum, the shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown and subsequent protests in Ferguson, Missouri, have inspired them all to put their reactions into song.

Agnes Obel taps into the piano’s ‘dreamy nature’Agnes ObelDanish musician Agnes Obel grew up surrounded by guitars, pianos, marimbas and double basses. Her father collected and sold instruments and her mother was a classical pianist, so you can say that music is in her blood. She doesn’t like to describe her sound, but when she does, her first choice is as “piano music.” Obel spoke to Art Beat about her second album, “Aventine” and her “piano music” before a concert at the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C.

Violinist Joshua Bell turns train station into concert hall to encourage arts educationJoshua Bell performs BachA superstar of classical music might normally draw a huge crowd, but that wasn’t the case when violin virtuoso Joshua Bell held an impromptu recital in a Metro station in 2007 — largely ignored by a few thousand commuters. In September, Bell returned to give a performance at Washington’s Union Station, and this time people paid attention. Jeffrey Brown sat down with Bell to talk about the 2007 experiment and why this year’s performance was different.

Music Maker eases the blues for down-and-out artistsPhoto courtesy Tim and Denise Duffy

For every American musician who makes it big, there are many, many more who eke out a living to be able to afford new guitar strings. The Music Maker Foundation, based in North Carolina, helps struggling blues artists meet their basic needs, record their music and book tours. Jeffrey Brown reports on their efforts to preserve American culture and keep the music coming.

The modern music industry was shaped by a man you’ve never heard ofRalph Peer in the 1930s. Photo courtesy of the Peer family archives

Ralph Peer popularized the genres of country, blues, jazz, gospel and Latin. His story begins in the era of the wind-up crank cylinder and ends in the age of color television and is told in the new book, “Ralph Peer and the Making of Popular Roots Music.”

Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn meld marriage with musical collaborationbelafleckDespite playing a common instrument, celebrated banjo players Abigail Washburn and Bela Fleck have kept their musical careers separate. But after performing together as a favor to a relative, the two realized their different styles could be complementary, leading to a new collaboration and a family tour complete with their 21-month-old son.

Kennedy Center honors Al Green for soul and staying poweralgreen1Al Green was one of five artists honored at the Kennedy Center this year. Jeffrey Brown talks to the singer, whose iconic voice has stirred souls with pop music and gospel for decades, about a life of making music and preaching.

This is M.E.’ embraces Melissa Etheridge’s musical spectrummelissa_etheridgeSinger-songwriter Melissa Etheridge has been known for her country and rock hits, but on her new album, “This Is M.E.,” she also adds R&B and soul to the mix. Gwen Ifill sat down with the veteran musician to discuss her artistic evolution and the realities of making an album today.

YouTube crooner all about that upright bass and then somePhoto by Ariel Min/PBS NewsHour

Kate Davis’ ’40s-style jazz rendition of Meghan Trainor’s pop hit “All About That Bass” has garnered more than 8 million views on YouTube since September. But she isn’t only about that one instrument. Davis talked to Art Beat about her attraction to the bass and writing her own songs before a performance at Black Rock Center for the Arts in Germantown, Maryland.

Handwritten lyrics and unpublished photos expose new side of Nick DrakeForty years after his death, musician Nick Drake's sister wants to set the record straight, to provide a "fuller picture of someone who was basically an enigma." She published "Nick Drake: Remembered for a While," “the authorized companion” to the artist’s music earlier this week.

Forty years ago, musician Nick Drake died at age 26, and is often remembered today as a “solitary, misunderstood lonely poet.” Now his sister wants to set the record straight, to provide a fuller picture of the artist. The result is “Nick Drake: Remembered for a While,” an authorized companion to his work.

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