Gwen Thompkins



Gwen Thompkins is a freelance journalist and writer in New Orleans and host of the weekly public radio program Music Inside Out.  She is the former East Africa correspondent for National Public Radio and was the longtime senior editor of NPR’s Weekend Edition with Scott Simon.  Thompkins was a Nieman Foundation for Journalism fellow at Harvard University. Music Inside Out airs on NPR-affiliates across Louisiana, including WWNO-New Orleans, WRKF-Baton Rouge, and KRVS-Radio Acadie. 



Noon to 12:45 p.m.
State Capitol Building, Senate Chamber
A Life in Jazz

1 p.m. to 1:45 p.m.
Barnes & Noble Bookselling Tent
Book Signing


A Life in Jazz (contributor)

by Danny Barker, edited by Alyn Shipton, with introduction by Gwen Thompkins

Danny Barker (1909–1994) was born when jazz was still in its infancy, and by the time of his death he was known as both a master of the idiom and a guardian of its history. Storyteller, researcher, songwriter, performer, and mentor, Barker was a true griot—an elder statesman of jazz and an international representative of New Orleans and African American culture.

In more than 60 years as a working musician, he followed the evolution of jazz from its New Orleans roots to mainstream success during the swing era to canonization as America’s first wholly original art form. In his career as a songwriter, which yielded the hit “Don’t You Feel My Leg,” Barker combined traditional song forms with sly humor about sex and human nature. More than any other jazz artist, he worked to document the music’s history and to tell the stories of its people.

A Life in Jazz, first published in 1986 and edited by British jazz scholar Alyn Shipton, captures the breadth of Barker’s knowledge and the scope of his vision as a storyteller. His carefully crafted set pieces range from hilarious to harrowing, and he shares memories of jazz greats such as Jelly Roll Morton, Cab Calloway, and Dizzy Gillespie. Barker’s prose reflects the freedom and creativity of jazz while capturing the many injustices, both casual and grand, of life as a black man in midcentury America.

This illustrated edition of A Life in Jazz brings Barker’s autobiography back into print, accompanied by more than 100 images that bring his story to life. Journalist Gwen Thompkins, host of public radio’s Music Inside Out, reflects on Barker’s legacy in her introduction, and the complete discography and song catalog showcase the breadth of Barker’s work. Through his struggles, triumphs, escapades, and musings, A Life in Jazz reflects the freedom, complexity, and beauty of this thoroughly American, black music tradition.


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