Scott Simon

Paul Thorn is a natural-born Southern storyteller with humble stage banter and musical delivery that's gritty and gruff.

A dog named Abby is back from the dead.

Abby, a black Lab mix, wandered away from her home in Apollo, Pa., outside Pittsburgh, 10 years ago. Abby's owner, Debra Suierveld, and her children looked for their dog but couldn't find her, accepted her loss and had her declared deceased.

And then, 10 years later, they got a call from an animal shelter.

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Candide is a show with a classy pedigree. Voltaire wrote the 1759 novella. It became an operetta in 1956 with a libretto by Lillian Hellman, contributions from Dorothy Parker and Richard Wilbur, the noted poet — and some gorgeous music by Leonard Bernstein. The original production lasted just two months on Broadway, but the score is still a popular favorite — and the show has been revived many times over the years, with Stephen Sondheim, Hugh Wheeler, John Mauceri, and Bernstein himself adding material.

Mary Gauthier is no stranger to the gut punch. The lyrical precision on the folk singer's first eight studio albums is testament to her ability to transform her own trauma into a purposeful and communal narrative.

Violent crime is down in America's big cities.

It may not seem so if you watch crime dramas like CSI, NCIS or Chicago P.D., but homicide, assault and rapes have decreased in big cities since the 1970s. Even Chicago had a 16 percent decline in murders last year, to 650. (In 1974, the city had 970 homicides.)

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Ben Shirley's story is one of redemption. He'd been playing bass in bars, clubs and arenas in the Los Angeles area since he was 15 when he fell down a path of drugs and alcohol. Four bottles of vodka and $360 worth of heroin a day brought him down hard on Skid Row.

It was at the non-profit The Midnight Mission where Shirley turned his life around in 2011. Now, at 53, he's an undergrad in The San Francisco Conservatory of Music's program of Technology and Applied Composition. He debuted an original piece, "We Need Darkness to See the Stars," earlier this month.

The U.S. foster care system is overwhelmed, in part because America's opioid crisis is overwhelming. Thousands of children have had to be taken out of the care of parents or a parent who is addicted.

Indiana is among the states that have seen the largest one-year increase in the number of children who need foster care. Judge Marilyn Moores, who heads the juvenile court in Marion County, which includes Indianapolis, says the health crisis is straining resources in Indiana.

The Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist established their community more than 20 years ago in Ann Arbor, Mich. where music is a daily part of the Catholic nuns' lives in the Motherhouse. With the holiday season looming, the sisters joined NPR's Scott Simon for an in-studio performance and discussion of their latest album, Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring: Christmas with The Dominican Sisters of Mary.

Social media platforms can connect people across the globe — and terrorize people next door.

In a new novel, Ricky Graves is a young man coming to terms with his sexual orientation in a small New Hampshire town. He's tormented by a jerk named Wesley, until Ricky kills him — and then himself.

The news media descend. And after they've gone on to the next sad crime, Ricky's pregnant sister, Alyssa, returns to the town she fled so that she and her shattered mother can get a hold on the terrible event that has taken two lives, and understand the son and brother they loved.

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Michael Hearst, a founding member of the group One Ring Zero, and whose previous projects include Songs For Unusual Creatures and Songs For Ice Cream Trucks, has released another album of the same theme.

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A congressional candidate in Florida drew a little ridicule this week.

Bettina Rodriguez Aguilera, one of the Republicans in the crowded field in Florida's 27th Congressional District, said in 2009 that she was taken aboard a spaceship when she was 7 years old.

She does not mean at Disney World.

"I went in," she says in a 2009 Spanish language interview that appeared on YouTube this week. "There were some round seats that were there, and some quartz rocks that controlled the ship, not like airplanes.

Travis Meadows has done a lot of living. The Nashville-based artist has battled both addiction and cancer, the latter of which claimed his right leg below the knee. He spent years as a missionary, wrote and performed Christian music, then tumbled back into alcoholism. And he's made a name for himself as someone who can spin dark poetry into some of country music's most heart-wrenching songs. (He based his 2011 album Killin' Uncle Buzzy on journal entries he made while in rehab.)

Does honoring someone really always honor them?

Chicago's landmark old Carbon and Carbide Building, designed by the Burnham Brothers in 1929, and clad in black and green stone and gold leaf, to look like a champagne bottle during Prohibition, is currently a Hard Rock Hotel.

But next year, the 40-story building will become The St. Jane Hotel, named in honor of Jane Addams.

Most of us would have to look up the name of J.D. Tippit. He was the Dallas police officer shot and killed in 1963, when he tried to apprehend the man who assassinated President John F. Kennedy. Or Tim McCarthy, the Secret Service agent who took a bullet fired at President Ronald Reagan in 1981.

Some of the great roles for sopranos are often compellingly fragile — and disarmingly forceful – women: Gilda, the favored daughter in Rigoletto; Violeta, the doomed love in La Traviata.

Charity Tillemann-Dick has sung those roles onstage, but her greatest role may be her own life. She is one of 11 brothers and sisters of a Mormon-Jewish family, and was studying at the Franz Liszt Academy of Music when she was diagnosed with a debilitating and ultimately fatal lung disease.

Hugh Hefner made history, and then tripped over it. When I was growing up in Chicago, the formidable women who were my mother's friends considered Playboy a good place to work for a single woman. Women at the Playboy Club were well-paid, got chauffeured home in cabs, and customers — stars, politicians, even, it was rumored, spoiled Middle Eastern princes — were thrown out if they weren't gentlemen.

This week, I went to the Peabody Institute of The Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore to sit in on a conducting class led by Marin Alsop, the music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. The Maestra was showing several Peabody students — aspiring young conductors — some of the fine points of leading an orchestra, as they led musicians through Don Juan, the dramatic tone poem by Richard Strauss.

The husk and soul that characterizes Michael McDonald's voice is recognizable anywhere: alongside the jazz-rock of Steely Dan, during his stints as front man for the Doobie Brothers, or alone, as on Wide Open, his latest solo album.

When crisis strikes, leaders often call for sacrifice. In the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey and in these days before Hurricane Irma churns ashore in Florida, we've seen innumerable Americans volunteer, sacrifice and even risk their lives to help others.

It might be too easy to contrast that generous spirit with the strict practices of major air carriers. But airlines make it pretty much irresistible.

Jerry Lewis could make people laugh with a sneeze. My mother remembered being in an old freight elevator with Jerry at the Chez Paree nightclub in Chicago as it rose slowly in silence to the show floor. Jerry Lewis sneezed. He didn't twist his lips or roll his eyes. Jerry just sneezed: and the waiters, janitors, and showgirls in the elevator erupted in laughter.

When Jerry Lewis died this week, at the age of 91, he was acclaimed as a clown, a genius, a humanitarian and egomaniac, all in the same breath.

Vijay Iyer is an acclaimed jazz pianist, MacArthur winner and Harvard professor of music. His new album, recorded with a six-person band, is called Far From Over. With the band, he says, he wanted to write with "different dance rhythms and dance impulses" in mind; the record also reflects Iyer's belief that jazz is "a category that keeps shifting."

Michael Angelakos founded the musical project Passion Pit as a college student in his dorm room at Emerson College. A decade and four albums later, Angelakos is more than just a musician: He has become an advocate for mental health, too.