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Renee Graham's Picks For Quintessentially American Music

American composers, singers and other musicians have produced some great music, from country-western to jazz and hip-hop. In a new Here & Now series, host Robin Young asks people to share a playlist of songs they view as quintessentially American music. Up first is Here & Now pop culture critic Renee Graham, who shares the playlist below.

9 American Song Picks From Renee Graham

“Don’t Fence Me In,” co-written by Cole Porter (Peru, Ind.), performed by Ella Fitzgerald(Newport News, Va.). A song about freedom, as represented by a cowboy who craves “land, lots of land ‘neath the starry skies above.”


“Summertime,” written by George Gershwin (Brooklyn), performed by Leontyne Price (Laurel, Miss.). From the first great American opera, “Porgy and Bess,” no song better evokes the mood of a lazy summer day.


“Goodnight Irene,” written by Huddie Ledbetter, better known as Leadbelly (Mooringsport, La.) and performed by Leon Russell (Lawton, Okla.). It’s a dark song about a troubled marriage, with suicidal references.


“Please Accept My Love,” written/performed by B.B. King (Itta Bena, Mississippi). Could have chosen anything from B.B. King. He is the undisputed King of the Blues — quintessential American music.


“Up in Jerusalem” often called “Walk in Jerusalem.” As is often the case with early gospel songs, there’s no definitive songwriter, but this was arranged by the great Mahalia Jackson (New Orleans) who also sings it.


“Mississippi Goddam” written/performed by Nina Simone (Tryon, N.C.). One of the great protest songs of the civil rights era, protest songs being a staple of American music.


“I Wish I Knew (How It Would Feel to Be Free)” written by Billy Taylor (Greenville, N.C.), performed by singer-songwriter Nick Hakim (Washington D.C.). It’s a jazz song, a gospel song, it’s an ode to an imagined life without restraints or limitations.

“Chasing Time,”  Azealia Banks (Harlem). One of hip-hop’s brightest stars, this is from her just released debut studio album “Broke With Expensive Taste.” One of the year’s big rap releases.

“American Music,” written by Gordon Gano and performed by the Violent Femmes.


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