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Mary Chapin Carpenter on ‘Songs from Home’ and a new album as a tonic for the times

Five-time Grammy-winner Mary Chapin Carpenter has sold 15 million records and was scheduled to spend the summer touring and releasing a new album. But when the pandemic hit, she shifted to "Songs from Home" online, attracting a huge following. In song and in conversation with Amna Nawaz, Chapin Carpenter addresses our current challenges. It's part of our ongoing arts and culture series, Canvas.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Finally tonight: Five-time Grammy award-winning singer/songwriter Mary Chapin Carpenter is the only artist to have won four consecutive Grammy Awards for best female country vocal performance.

    She has sold more than 15 million records, with a new album coming out this summer. She's also been attracting millions on social media during the pandemic with a special series.

    Amna Nawaz caught up with her recently about these difficult times, and her response in song.

    It's part of our ongoing arts and culture series, Canvas.

  • Mary Chapin Carpenter:

    Hi, everyone. Welcome back to Songs From Home. I'm here with who you know who.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    It's this kind of casual interaction that's attracted a legion of fans, old and new, to Mary Chapin Carpenter's Songs From Home series, her online mini-performances which began early on during the pandemic.

    Carpenter lives on this farm, deep in the Virginia countryside, and has traded concert venues packed with thousands of cheering fans for the quiet, intimate small stage of her kitchen, where Angus the dog and White Kitty often act as the audience.

    She shared with us the title track from her 16th album coming out in August titled "The Dirt and the Stars."

    What's that been like for you to introduce new music into the world when we're all kind of changing or living in a world that's changed?

  • Mary Chapin Carpenter:

    I wanted to be able to just do something to be a positive force during a time, and we need music no matter what. So why not put the record out?

    I definitely am still scribbling songs, working on things. Ideas still come to me. Of course, I have got a lot of time on my hands to think and to try to follow the muse.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    The recipe for Songs From Home social media series is simple. It's just Carpenter, her acoustic guitar, and a moment of music to reflect.

    Some of the music is an escape, but I should mention you have never shied away from the tough stuff. That includes on the new album. There's some political stuff in there.

    As a songwriter, as an artist, as a creator, do you feel that that is a responsibility, that to weigh in on those kinds of things?

  • Mary Chapin Carpenter:

    Absolutely.

    I have never understood why people say, shut up and sing, or you shouldn't put your own feelings towards the world, and you shouldn't use your position as a soapbox. And I have never thought of it as that.

    I always see it as, I'm simply speaking to my own feelings. And I always have and I always will.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    To that end, Carpenter spoke directly to the unrest and ongoing Black Lives Matter marches around the country

  • Mary Chapin Carpenter:

    In these incredibly difficult weeks, words fail me. So I will sing instead.

    (MUSIC)

  • Amna Nawaz:

    She had previously addressed head on her discontent with the Trump administration in a song last year called "Our Man Walter Cronkite," assailing attacks on the free press.

  • Mary Chapin Carpenter:

    I grew up in a house where, every Monday through Friday, my parents turned on the television, and Walter Cronkite was in our house.

    I started thinking, what would Walter Cronkite think, the most trusted man in America, being called the — an enemy of the American people? I don't think that we would stand for that.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Her own journey has now changed. She would have been on tour with her friend and longtime collaborator Shawn Colvin across the country. But Carpenter is optimistic that time will return.

  • Mary Chapin Carpenter:

    I believe that, when it is safe to come back and gather again and hear live music, that it will be just as important, if not more so, to everyone.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    How about another Song From Home? What do you say?

  • Mary Chapin Carpenter:

    I would love to play a song.

    (MUSIC)

  • Mary Chapin Carpenter:

    So, until the next time, you know what to do. Stay well, stay strong, and stay mighty.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Amna Nawaz.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Boy, is that just what we needed.

    Thank you, Mary Chapin Carpenter. And thank you, Amna.

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