Despite a year at a standstill for the music industry — a world without tours, concerts or crowds — musical duo the Black Pumas somehow managed to be seemingly everywhere in 2020: on late-night television, the inauguration of President Biden, and the Grammys. NewsHour Weekend’s Christopher Booker sat down with the duo to discuss their groundbreaking year.
In a year of shutdowns and concert cancellations, the psychedelic soul duo Black Pumas has quite the success story. The Austin, Texas-based pair- who come from very different musical backgrounds – were plucked from relative obscurity when they secured a Grammy nomination last year. Since then, they've scored some pretty high-profile appearances, even without live audiences. NewsHour Weekend's Christopher Booker has the story.
Despite a year in standstill, a world without tours, concerts and crowds, the Black Pumas somehow managed to be seemingly everywhere. On Late-night television. The inauguration of president Biden and most recently, the Grammys.
Formed in 2017 in Austin, Texas the band's breakout started with an unexpected Grammy nomination for Best New Artist category last year. Rolling Stone reporting at the time that the band had only sold "23,000 combined physical and digital copies." While Billie Ellish would take home the Grammy, the nomination announced the national arrival of the Black Pumas.
But the arrival unfolded in way that neither founders, Eric Burton, the lead singer nor Adrian Quesada, producer and band leader, could have imagined.
We were going to be on the road for much of 2020 it was supposed to be like our biggest year yet. We had a lot of festivals, Lollapalooza, Coachella, all the huge, you know, events, but we learned in the end of February that that wasn't going to be a possibility.
When you think about the number of acts that basically had to blow apart their schedules against the idea that there was so much energy and excitement around the Black Pumas, we can never know what would have been, but it didn't seem to really impact your trajectory.
No. It's really been amazing we are just taking it all in day by day. Just when we thought we were going to have a year off, the year got busier.
Their business was driven in part due to the success of their song "Colors." The song, nominated for a grammy, one of three this managed to provide an antidote to a godawful year.
Do you feel at all any disappointment in that, you know, the year that the band popped as it did, that you were kind of forced to, to stay still?
Yes, most definitely, man. I feel mostly for management because these are the guys who kind of have to be creative for us to keep the business afloat, keep bread on the table, keep people inspired and motivated and luckily, we are in company with people who really just love doing this and have done it for quite some time.
To be honest, I'm more of a studio rat kind of homebody. So when we're touring a lot, I'm the first one to be missing home, but then now that we have no tour dates and we don't play for people anymore. So one of those things I'll never take for granted again, I definitely miss that interaction with people and seeing people's reactions in real-time.
Hey everybody, this is Eric Burton and Adrian Quesada.
Like graduations or birthday celebrations, for the band, 2020 was one of socially distanced milestones. Many of their biggest moments came virtually. Perhaps none larger than the inauguration of President Biden.
Congratulations to President Biden and Vice President Harrison on this historic win. We hope you enjoy the music.
To be totally honest. When we taped it, it was kind of hard to grasp the magnitude of it. honestly, until I saw it on Tuesday night in real time in context with all of it was was absolutely incredible. I mean, it brought me to tears to just know that we were part of American history like that. And that song that Eric wrote over a decade ago, is connecting with people on on such a different level now, in this time it's just kind of capturing this time and it's a strong message still that people are kind of adapting their own meaning to.
Colors was written by Burton when he says he was still learning to play guitar.
Do you think this past year has changed you as an artist?
Most definitely, man, it feels like it's it's felt like a very strong transition from trying to figure out what my purpose was as a human being, not knowing if, you know, the artist route was going to be something that I could hold on to for the long run and so now that I've kind of received the amount of validation that I have, that's allowed me some space and time to stay in it. It just comes down to the to the intent and to your reason why you're doing what you're doing. Luckily, I love doing what I'm doing and I think that that is translating.
Regardless of what may come next, both Burton and Quesada say their designs on the future are not being driven by an appetite to expand their success, but a desire just to make more music together.
You know Eric said something that I referenced a few times now, but one time we were on a plane and he took his headphones off and said, 'man, we need to record something new because I need something new to listen to.' And so ultimately, we were making this music for ourselves to listen to. I don't even think I showed early Black Pumas music to anybody, but my wife for months and months.
It's just felt like, we just connect. We have some of the same likeabilities in different music. We're just, we're just friends, you know, and we're having a good time just creating with each other and providing a bit of space like sanctuary and comfort in that.
The Black Pumas are back in the studio and right now schedule to a play a few shows this summer and tour Europe this fall.
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Christopher Booker is a correspondent and producer for PBS NewsHour Weekend covering music, culture, our changing economy and news of the cool and weird. He also teaches at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, following his work with Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism in Chicago and Doha, Qatar.
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