Dawn Richard's 'Second Line' Documents Her Mother's Dreams : All Songs Considered WNXP's Jewly Hight shares a conversation with electronic dance artist Dawn Richard and her mom Debbie. Her new album, Second Line, grew out of Dawn's desire to better understand where her mom came from and what matters to her.

Dawn Richard Documents Her Mother's Dreams

Dawn Richard Documents Her Mother's Dreams

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Dawn Richard takes a selfie with her mom Debbie after NPR Music's Listening Party for Second Line. Courtesy of Dawn Richard hide caption

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Courtesy of Dawn Richard

Dawn Richard takes a selfie with her mom Debbie after NPR Music's Listening Party for Second Line.

Courtesy of Dawn Richard

Dawn Richard's new album Second Line: An Electro Revival is a layered take on electronic dance music; it offers immediate, club-friendly pleasures while also inviting more deliberate contemplation. Her fluency in the production techniques and rhythmic and tonal nuances of numerous styles — pop-house, footwork, bounce, electro-R&B, hip-hop and plenty else — free her up to experiment assuredly and shape the music around an epic narrative.

At the center of it are two characters: the protagonist King Creole, a half-android, half-human, self-determining survivor — who mirrors how Richard sees herself moving through a music industry that's perpetually underestimated and misinterpreted her as a many-sided Southern, Black woman — and the warmly uninhibited voice of her real-life mother, Debbie Richard, a Creole-born, former dance instructor and language arts teacher casually cast in the role of narrator.

When Dawn dropped her album on April 30, NPR Music threw a live Listening Party on YouTube. Mother and daughter were both in attendance, participating side by side from their kitchen in their first-ever public conversation together. I served as host and the chat room livened up the proceedings with a steady stream of slyly expressed and movingly sincere appreciation.


We dug into how Dawn's approach to electronic music is as rooted in the culture of her native New Orleans as it is futuristic, and, more than anything else, we dwelled on what she and her mom have come to see in each other. Debbie recalled recognizing that her daughter was going to assert her individuality from the start: "As a little child, she'd always been this free spirit, always, no matter what. If I said, 'This crayon is red,' she would say, 'No, Mommy, that's blue.' And she knew. Oh, I knew what my child was."

Dawn had more recent revelations to share, which grew out of her desire to understand, in adulthood, who her mom is, where she came from and what matters to her.

"When I chose to do this album," she said, turning her eyes to the woman sitting next to her, "I genuinely wanted to know who you were. That was the point. I think for me, especially as a Black woman, it's important. I wanted to know my mom beyond being a mom, because I felt like she lived for us, and most parents do. But as you get older, you start to realize that the journey you have is influenced by what you've learned. I always thought, 'How do I survive this industry?' And then I started to ask my mom, 'What did what was your journey like?' And then I started to see, 'Oh, that's why. Because you were this tenacious being yourself.'"