Best Of 2018: Memorable Visual Stories Of The Year NPR's list of memorable visual stories includes coverage of the 2018 midterm election, migrant caravans, Puerto Rico's hurricane recovery and, of course, a musical insect invasion.
NPR logo Favorite Visual Stories Of 2018

Favorite Visual Stories Of 2018

Members of the NPR Visuals team used their skills in photography, illustration, data visualizations and video to tell stories that reflect the world around us. The year was filled with political news as we tracked the 2018 midterm elections. We continued our coverage of Puerto Rico's recovery efforts after Hurricane Maria significantly damaged the island in 2017. Photographers documented South American migrants who traveled in caravans in hopes of reaching the U.S.

We worked closely with the NPR investigations team on stories about a silent epidemic of sexual assault of people with intellectual disabilities and how the government has not intervened in continued health problems associated with coal mining. As part of the Above The Fray fellowship, we worked on stories in Papua New Guinea, which has one of the highest rates of intimate partner violence in the world. NPR's international desk reported on the many facets of China's influence around the globe in its series China Unbound.

Stories about everyday life in the U.S. kept us busy as we examined what it's like in prison when working on a college degree or raising children. By partnering with Gene Demby on NPR's Code Switch team, we explained the lasting history of housing segregation in the country. We dug into home price data 10 years after the Great Recession to see where housing affordability stands.

This year, we brought back The Picture Show, a platform that focuses on visual stories. Photographers shared their projects such as discovering new traditions during Eid al-Fitr, documenting a migrant caravan and covering a pageant that crowned Miss Navajo Nation.

There were plenty of stories that took us away from the busy news cycle, including a look at melodic drumming. We answered questions like how birds get oxygen inside their eggs before they hatch. We highlighted the joy of building kites in the Hakimpara Rohingya refugee camp in Bangladesh. Here is a look back at a collection of memorable stories from the year.


Restoring Power To Puerto Rico's Last 2 Percent

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Seven months after Hurricane Maria, thousands of people in the Puerto Rican mountains were still waiting for the lights to come back on. Why was power restoration for the last 2 percent so difficult?


The Sexual Assault Epidemic No One Talks About

Pauline stands in her room after coming home from a day program for adults with intellectual disabilities. She wanted her sexual assault story told. Michelle Gustafson for NPR hide caption

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Michelle Gustafson for NPR

Pauline stands in her room after coming home from a day program for adults with intellectual disabilities. She wanted her sexual assault story told.

Michelle Gustafson for NPR

Pauline is a woman with an intellectual disability. At a time when more women are speaking up about sexual assault — and naming the men who assault or harass them — Pauline also wants her story told.

Her story, NPR found in a yearlong investigation, is a common one for people with intellectual disabilities.

NPR obtained unpublished Justice Department data on sex crimes. The results show that people with intellectual disabilities — women and men — are the victims of sexual assaults at rates more than seven times those for people without disabilities.

It's one of the highest rates of sexual assault of any group in America, and it's hardly talked about at all.


2018 Election Results

Mid-term election Senate races results. NPR hide caption

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Mid-term election Senate races results.

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Republicans and Democrats will split control of Congress next year, with the Democrats winning the House.

Senate Republicans expanded their Senate majority, with President Trump helping in key red states.

House results

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State-by-state results, like Minnesota


In The Coal Counties Of Central Appalachia, Will Trump's Promises Come True?

Kyle Johnson, 22, after an overnight shift at a coal mine in Buchanan County, Va. In the 2016 campaign, Donald Trump promised more work in the coal industry. Carol Guzy for NPR hide caption

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Carol Guzy for NPR

Kyle Johnson, 22, after an overnight shift at a coal mine in Buchanan County, Va. In the 2016 campaign, Donald Trump promised more work in the coal industry.

Carol Guzy for NPR

On May 5, 2016, Donald Trump led a campaign rally in Charleston, W.Va.

He put on a hard hat and pretended he was shoveling coal. The crowd loved it.

And he made a promise — a variation on one he had been making throughout the campaign — to coal miners.

"Get ready," he told them. "Because you're going to be working your asses off!"


Getting A College Degree, Behind Bars

Inmates at the Staton Correctional Facility in Elmore, Ala., take college classes from Auburn University professors. LA Johnson/NPR hide caption

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LA Johnson/NPR

Inmates at the Staton Correctional Facility in Elmore, Ala., take college classes from Auburn University professors.

LA Johnson/NPR

Inmates are among the least educated people in America, but few prisons offer opportunities beyond a GED certificate. What if people behind bars had access to federal money to help pay for college?


Becoming Miss Navajo Nation

Miss Navajo Nation contestants (from left) Kayla Martinez, 23, of Window Rock, Ariz.; Summer Jake, 25, of Goat Springs, Ariz.; and Autumn Montoya, 21, of Torreon, N.M. Caitlin O'Hara for NPR hide caption

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Caitlin O'Hara for NPR

Miss Navajo Nation contestants (from left) Kayla Martinez, 23, of Window Rock, Ariz.; Summer Jake, 25, of Goat Springs, Ariz.; and Autumn Montoya, 21, of Torreon, N.M.

Caitlin O'Hara for NPR

Beauty — or Hózhó to the Diné, or Navajo, people — symbolizes living in harmony and balance with the Earth, the spirits in the plants and animals, with the sky and with one another. So it's fitting that the Miss Navajo Nation pageant is a weeklong celebration of the Beauty Way in many aspects of a woman's life.

A Personal Testimony Of The Migrant Caravan

José, 30, carries his 1-year-old son, Mateo, as they arrive in Mazatlán, Sinaloa, Mexico, Oct. 24, 2017. On Nov. 10, José and 35 others turned themselves in at the San Ysidro Port of Entry, seeking asylum. His partner, Olivia, and other son, Andrée, are currently staying in Tijuana. (We have omitted the last names of the subjects in this story to protect their identities.) Verónica G. Cárdenas hide caption

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Verónica G. Cárdenas

José, 30, carries his 1-year-old son, Mateo, as they arrive in Mazatlán, Sinaloa, Mexico, Oct. 24, 2017. On Nov. 10, José and 35 others turned themselves in at the San Ysidro Port of Entry, seeking asylum. His partner, Olivia, and other son, Andrée, are currently staying in Tijuana. (We have omitted the last names of the subjects in this story to protect their identities.)

Verónica G. Cárdenas

Caravans of migrants have been organized for over a decade now. However, it wasn't until 2014 that people came together and organized a migrant caravan from the border of Guatemala and Mexico to the U.S.-Mexico border. Besides allowing people to band together to migrate in a much safer way, these caravans are mostly driven by a common theme or goal, whether as assistance to those affected by the earthquakes in Oaxaca and Mexico City or in solidarity with those already traversing the country aboard freight trains in search of a new life in the U.S. or Mexico.

The 2018 caravan was joined in April of this year by Diversidad Sin Fronteras, Diversity Without Borders, the second trans-gay-migrant caravan, which celebrates inclusivity and diversity among migrants.


The New Housing Crisis: Shut Out Of The Market

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Ten years after the housing collapse during the Great Recession, a new and different housing crisis has emerged.

Back then, people were losing their homes as home values crashed and loans went underwater. Today, home values have rebounded, but people who want to buy a new home are often priced out of the market. There are too few homes and too many potential buyers.


'This Little Light Of Mine' Shines On, A Timeless Tool Of Resistance

Angela Hsieh/NPR
Born as a children's song, "This Little Light of Mine" was transformed by the civil rights movement into an anthem of singular power.
Angela Hsieh/NPR

Born as a children's song and transformed by the civil rights movement into an anthem, "This Little Light of Mine" works by letting the singers control their own story.


Inside A North Korea That Is Changing — But At Its Own Pace

The festivities marking the 70th anniversary of North Korea's founding included the Arirang Mass Games, a huge, choreographed event held at May Day Stadium in Pyongyang. Hundreds of dancers, tumblers and musicians performed, while more than 17,000 students in the stands flipped cards to create massive images. Here, cards form a portrait of the late leader Kim Jong Il, who died in 2011. David Guttenfelder for NPR hide caption

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David Guttenfelder for NPR

The festivities marking the 70th anniversary of North Korea's founding included the Arirang Mass Games, a huge, choreographed event held at May Day Stadium in Pyongyang. Hundreds of dancers, tumblers and musicians performed, while more than 17,000 students in the stands flipped cards to create massive images. Here, cards form a portrait of the late leader Kim Jong Il, who died in 2011.

David Guttenfelder for NPR

Signs of change are visible inside North Korea. Once thought of as a Stalinist relic preserved in amber, with empty streets, cold gray buildings and an outdated airport, Pyongyang of today looks increasingly modern, as do a handful of other cities targeted for development. Conditions are worse in less favored areas — there are still shortages of food and electricity — but the country's economy is improving despite sanctions, and, overall, quality of life has come a long way since the famine of the 1990s.

101 Ways To Thwart A Reporter In Pyongyang

North Korea Celebrates 70 Years With Military Parade And Mass Games


How Have Your Members Of Congress Voted On Gun Bills?

Alyson Hurt and Danielle Kurtzleben/NPR
Congressional votes on gun bills.
Alyson Hurt and Danielle Kurtzleben/NPR

After the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history in Las Vegas last year, lawmakers discussed imposing restrictions on "bump stocks." The Las Vegas shooter used that type of gun modification, which allows a semiautomatic weapon to fire like an automatic weapon, and killed 58 people.

After a gunman killed 26 people at a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, a month later in November 2017, lawmakers discussed how they could improve the background check system.

No new laws came of those discussions.


In Papua New Guinea's Sorcery Wars, A Peacemaker Takes On Her Toughest Case

People crowd into a church in the town of Henganofi in the Eastern Highlands of Papua New Guinea for a meeting to end violence resulting from sorcery accusations. In the Eastern Highlands, the accusation of sorcery is a vigilante's rallying cry. Nationally, it's believed to be responsible for dozens of deaths every year. Claire Harbage/NPR hide caption

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Claire Harbage/NPR

People crowd into a church in the town of Henganofi in the Eastern Highlands of Papua New Guinea for a meeting to end violence resulting from sorcery accusations. In the Eastern Highlands, the accusation of sorcery is a vigilante's rallying cry. Nationally, it's believed to be responsible for dozens of deaths every year.

Claire Harbage/NPR

Just after the new year, residents of the small farming community of Johogave in Papua New Guinea had blamed a member of another clan for the deaths of three of their relatives. They claimed that the man — a coffee farmer and father of 10 — had used a form of sorcery known as "poison" to kill them.

In the Eastern Highlands, the accusation of sorcery is a vigilante's rallying cry. Nationally, such accusations are believed to be responsible for dozens of deaths every year.


A 10-Year-Old Kid Is Making Magic With His Kites

Fayes Khamal tests out a kite he's just made in the Rohingya refugee camp in Bangladesh. Allison Joyce for NPR hide caption

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Allison Joyce for NPR

Fayes Khamal tests out a kite he's just made in the Rohingya refugee camp in Bangladesh.

Allison Joyce for NPR

There's no Xbox or PlayStation for most of the kids in the Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh. But there are kites.

In the late afternoon, a steady wind blows over the hills of the Hakimpara refugee camp. Young boys race to a ridge at the top of the settlement to fly homemade kites. Some of the "kites" are little more than a plastic bag flapping on a string. But some are more sophisticated, with long tails and frilly tassels.


Marines Who Fired Rocket Launchers Now Worry About Their Brains

Sarah Gonzales for NPR
Can troops sustain brain injuries from firing certain powerful weapons? Two Marines who used to fired rocket launchers think they already know.
Sarah Gonzales for NPR

Studies show that troops who repeatedly fire powerful, shoulder-launched weapons can experience short-term problems with memory and thinking. They may also feel nauseous, fatigued and dizzy. In short, they have symptoms like those of a concussion.

It's still not clear whether firing these weapons can lead to long-term brain damage. But retired Marine Chris Ferrari suspects that, for him, it may have.


What It's Like On Both Sides Of The U.S.-Mexico Border's Busiest Crossing

Davi Tatiana Chirino-Santos, 9, and her baby brother, Arnold Jafer Lopez-Santos, crossed the U.S.-Mexico border with their mother, Jessica Carolina Santos Lopez. Though the journey was long, Chirino-Santos is looking forward to creating a better life in the U.S. She wants to study to be a doctor. Claire Harbage/NPR hide caption

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Claire Harbage/NPR

Davi Tatiana Chirino-Santos, 9, and her baby brother, Arnold Jafer Lopez-Santos, crossed the U.S.-Mexico border with their mother, Jessica Carolina Santos Lopez. Though the journey was long, Chirino-Santos is looking forward to creating a better life in the U.S. She wants to study to be a doctor.

Claire Harbage/NPR

The busiest section of the U.S.-Mexico border is the Rio Grande Valley. It's not unusual for Border Patrol agents to catch more than 500 immigrants a day trying to cross into the U.S. along this 55-mile stretch. In spite of increased border security and rising costs to cross, migrants are still determined to make the journey.

NPR spent time on both sides of the border during the summer, where immigration is part of everyday life.


China Unbound

A selection of graphics from the China Unbound series, focusing on the country's global influence. Vanessa Qian/NPR hide caption

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Vanessa Qian/NPR

A selection of graphics from the China Unbound series, focusing on the country's global influence.

Vanessa Qian/NPR

China has spent much of the past 150 years regaining its place on the world stage. Its march to economic behemoth is well-known: a string of impressive breakthroughs, superlatives and the unprecedented creation of wealth that came along the way. China's financial fortunes — especially in the past three decades — have led to greater political influence and diplomatic sway in almost every facet of international life.

Chinese Firms Now Hold Stakes In Over A Dozen European Ports

Australia And New Zealand Are Ground Zero For Chinese Influence

A New Chinese-Funded Railway In Kenya Sparks Debt-Trap Fears

China Lures Taiwan's Latin American Allies


Can You Affect Another Person's Behavior With Your Thoughts?

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Do you think that the private thoughts in your head could influence how other people — or creatures — act? The answer is "Of course not," right? Because to say yes would be to admit you believe in mind control or telekinesis or some other phenomenon usually reserved for superhero comic books.

But early in his career, a research psychologist named Bob Rosenthal wasn't so sure. So to test his hypothesis, he designed a devious experiment.


Wigstock, 'An Iconic Piece of Drag History,' Lets Its Roots Show At 2018 Revival

Nashom Wooden performs onstage during Wigstock on Sept. 1 at the Pier 17 Rooftop in New York. Wigstock, a drag festival that started in the 1980s, returned in 2018. Mengwen Cao for NPR hide caption

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Mengwen Cao for NPR

Nashom Wooden performs onstage during Wigstock on Sept. 1 at the Pier 17 Rooftop in New York. Wigstock, a drag festival that started in the 1980s, returned in 2018.

Mengwen Cao for NPR

Ricky Jones (left) and Orlando Herrera attend Wigstock, which returned after a 17-year hiatus and a massive rise of drag in pop culture. Mengwen Cao for NPR hide caption

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Mengwen Cao for NPR

Ricky Jones (left) and Orlando Herrera attend Wigstock, which returned after a 17-year hiatus and a massive rise of drag in pop culture.

Mengwen Cao for NPR

One late night in the spring of 1984, a group of sauced drag queens leaving Pyramid Club in Manhattan came up with an idea: a Woodstock for drag performers.

Flash-forward a year: The first official Wigstock was born in Tompkins Square Park. Over the next 16 years, the performers kept coming and crowds kept swelling, sometimes into the tens of thousands.

Eventually, a combination of inclement weather and trouble getting permits nixed the outdoor festival for good around the turn of the millennium.

But over Labor Day weekend, after a 17-year hiatus and a massive rise of drag in pop culture, Wigstock returned — reborn on a rooftop venue in the city's Seaport District, with a massive sound system and partners like Tony Award-winning actor Neil Patrick Harris and his husband, David Burtka.


VIDEO: Housing Segregation In Everything

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Housing segregation is in everything. But to understand the root of this issue, you have to look at the government-backed policies that created the housing disparities we see today.

Gene Demby explains how these policies came to be and what effect they've had on schools, health, family wealth and policing.


Where The Suburbs Moved Left — And How The Shift Swung Elections

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Democrats will have control of the U.S. House once again beginning in January, thanks, in large part, to their performance in America's suburbs.

As of late November, 38 of the 41 congressional districts that Democrats turned from red to blue were suburban, according to an analysis by The New York Times.

But more granular than congressional districts overall are the counties that compose them. We mapped the percentage of House ballots cast for the party that received the most votes in each suburban county, and we looked at how that compared with 2016.


Why They Marched, In Their Own Words

(Left photo) Jonathan Sterling (front) and Mark Sterling (rear); (Right photo) Kiera McLaughlin Greg Miller for NPR hide caption

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Greg Miller for NPR

(Left photo) Jonathan Sterling (front) and Mark Sterling (rear); (Right photo) Kiera McLaughlin

Greg Miller for NPR

Families, students, teachers and activists descended upon Washington, D.C., having come in droves by car and plane and bus. They chanted, shouted and, in some cases, cried until their voices were hoarse calling for stricter gun regulations.

As students delivered speech after speech, making emotional appeals for action, their supporters listened with rapt attention.

NPR photographed and spoke with some of the people who attended the "March For Our Lives," carrying the emotional weight of the day.


What's The Buzz? Insects Have Invaded My Music

Deborah Lee/NPR
Insects have been an inspiration in music for centuries, from classical composers to tough-as-nails metal bands.
Deborah Lee/NPR

On a summer evening, a soft breeze rustles quietly through the trees. The hum of cicadas fills the air. Bumblebees buzz through flower gardens. Grasshoppers bounce while crickets chirp from the lush grass.

Summertime brings all of nature's musically inclined creatures out to play a symphony every day — and for centuries, insects have been an inspiration in music. Here are six bug-based compositions from throughout music history, from classical composers writing entire insect symphonies to metal bands channeling the attitude of fire ants.


In One Generation, A Farmworker Family Grows College Ambitions

For as long as he can remember, Angel Benavides has missed the beginning of the school year in Texas because his parents, Juan and Aracely Benavides, work in North Dakota until the harvest is through. Elissa Nadworny/NPR hide caption

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Elissa Nadworny/NPR

For as long as he can remember, Angel Benavides has missed the beginning of the school year in Texas because his parents, Juan and Aracely Benavides, work in North Dakota until the harvest is through.

Elissa Nadworny/NPR

Left: The basketball hoop outside Angel's family's mobile home. Right: A mailbox by the road in Minto, N.D. Elissa Nadworny/NPR hide caption

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Elissa Nadworny/NPR

Angel Benavides, a lanky teenager, dribbles down the basketball court of his school gym in Manvel, N.D. It looks like he's going for a layup, but when he realizes he's unguarded, he stops in his tracks and takes a 3-pointer. It's a nice arching shot, but the ball bounces tenuously on the rim and doesn't go in.

It's late June and Angel is already thinking about playing for his high school basketball team in Texas, 1,700 miles away. But he doesn't know whether he'll get there in time for November tryouts.

That's because Angel's parents are farmworkers. In the early 1990s, before Angel was born, his family started migrating from Texas to North Dakota, where there was work harvesting potatoes, corn, beans and beets.

That flexibility is a big deal for employers who rely on seasonal workers to quickly harvest and process crops before they spoil. But it puts workers' kids — more than 300,000 of them nationwide, according to the Department of Education — in a tough situation: keeping their grades up in a system designed for students who start and finish the year at the same school.


How Birds-To-Be Get Oxygen Inside Eggs

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Your body needs oxygen to function — and that was true even before you were born. As you grew inside your mother's womb, even before you had working lungs, your cells were crying out for oxygen. And your mother kindly answered that call. Oxygen and nutrients from her blood made their way down your umbilical cord, through your belly button, and fueled your body.

Now consider a chick — before it has hatched. It's cut off from its mother by a hard shell and a couple of membranes. There's no way for the hen to get her still-developing offspring the oxygen it desperately needs; the pre-hatchling is on its own.

So why don't bird embryos suffocate inside their eggs?


Programs Help Incarcerated Moms Bond With Their Babies In Prison

Kirshawn, 2, makes a new friend with a newborn in a stroller next to him during the inmates' breakfast meal. Eman Mohammed for NPR hide caption

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Eman Mohammed for NPR

Kirshawn, 2, makes a new friend with a newborn in a stroller next to him during the inmates' breakfast meal.

Eman Mohammed for NPR

Washington Corrections Center for Women in Gig Harbor, about a one-hour drive from Seattle, is one of at least eight prisons in the country that allows a small number of women who are pregnant and give birth while incarcerated to keep their newborns with them for a limited time.

Supportive officials say that because women make up the fastest-growing segment of the country's prison population, prison nurseries provide a way for mothers serving time to nurture and maintain a strong bond with their children.


Portraits Of Eid: Ancient Traditions In A New Community

Asaati Nadi (left) and Hamida Ibrahim at Meridian Hill Park in Washington, D.C., on June 15. Eslah Attar hide caption

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Eslah Attar

Asaati Nadi (left) and Hamida Ibrahim at Meridian Hill Park in Washington, D.C., on June 15.

Eslah Attar

When photographer and photo editor Eslah Attar moved to Washington, D.C., in the summer of 2017, she spent Eid al-Fitr alone for the first time. Suddenly, all the things that made Eid special to her were no longer there: the anticipation of staying up late, deciding what to wear and where to eat, and spending the day with family and friends. Her new friends encouraged her to attend Eid at the Islamic Center of Washington, D.C., so she put on her nicest clothes and grabbed a camera.


The Apple That Changed The World

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The mid-20th century was a bad time to be an apple lover. The produce section of supermarkets only had a few apples, and one stood tall above the rest: Mealy, and tough-skinned, it was the Red Delicious.

Back in those days, apples were a commodity, and the race to provide apples at the lowest price suppressed prices for all apple growers and discouraged apple innovation. A few things helped change that world for the better — and chief among them was the discovery of the Honeycrisp.

This is the story of that miracle apple and the innovation that made the business of better apples sustainable — all while hastening the downfall of the Red Delicious.


It's Aliiiiiive! This Year, Our Summer Reader Poll Is All About Horror

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Angela Hsieh/NPR

In honor of Frankenstein's 200th birthday, this year's summer reader poll was all about horror — from classics like Mary Shelley's monster to new favorites, we've got something to scare everyone.


More Than Keeping Time: A Melodic Drumming Demo

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What would you say if I told you that drums can sing? The best jazz drummers have always understood this as fact. Allison Miller has even made it a core part of her artistic mission — as drummer, a composer and a bandleader, notably with her ensemble Boom Tic Boom.

Jazz Night in America recently caught up with Miller, who skillfully demonstrates the concept of "melodic drumming" — using her drums and cymbals, a Duke Ellington tune and a new piece of technology — in our video short.


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