AMPLIFY WITH LARA DOWNES RETURNS The third season of the video conversation series highlights Black creatives as they shape art and culture.


February 2, 2023 - In collaboration with Classical California (KUSC Los Angeles and KDFC San Francisco), NPR Music and Visuals and Lara Downes announce the return of AMPLIFY With Lara Downes, a series of intimate, profoundly personal video conversations with visionary Black artists and cultural leaders who are shaping our creative present and future. The third season launches Thursday, Feb. 2, on, YouTube, and social media platforms with the young jazz sensation Samara Joy, a Grammy nominee and winner of the Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition.

The third season launches Thursday, Feb. 2, on, YouTube, and social media platforms with the young jazz sensation Samara Joy Elena Harroun hide caption

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Elena Harroun

The third season launches Thursday, Feb. 2, on, YouTube, and social media platforms with the young jazz sensation Samara Joy

Elena Harroun

Created and hosted by pianist and recording artist Lara Downes and produced by NPR Music and Visuals, this series invites viewers to experience revealing and open-hearted conversations reflecting on how artists are leading the way into a new age of cultural renaissance.

Guests this season include composer Terence Blanchard, comic W. Kamau Bell, James Beard Award-winning chef Kwame Onwuachi, National Book Award-winning poet Robin Coste Lewis, linguist and author John McWhorter, pianist Gerald Clayton, multidisciplinary artist Samora Pinderhughes and conductor Jonathan Heyward.

These video encounters are a clear representation of "the cusp of a new diversity and fluidity in American arts and culture," Downes says. "The one-on-one conversations are with forward-thinking cultural leaders who play a pivotal role in defining a new era with a bold vision, powerful mission and the inspiring energy of a transformative time," she adds.

"These are the right conversations at the right time," NPR Music producer Tom Huizenga says. "Lara's laid-back yet probing approach elicits personal and meaningful reflections from her guests. And the opportunity to collaborate with Classical California makes this a very special project." James Muhammad, President of Classical California, adds, "Lara Downes is one of America's most forward-thinking arts advocates and performers. It's Classical California's pleasure to engage in this partnership with NPR, which brings fresh and diverse perspectives to the conversations around music."


Pianist Lara Downes has been called "an explorer whose imagination is fired by bringing notice to the underrepresented and forgotten" (The Log Journal). An iconoclast and trailblazer, her dynamic work as a sought-after performer, a Billboard Chart-topping recording artist, a producer, curator, activist and arts advocate positions her as a cultural visionary on the national arts scene.

Downes' musical roadmap seeks inspiration from the legacies of history, family and collective memory, excavating a broad landscape of music to create a series of acclaimed performance and recording projects that serve as gathering spaces for her listeners to find common ground and shared experience. Her recent and upcoming onstage adventures include guest appearances with The Philadelphia Orchestra, the Boston Pops, Detroit Symphony Orchestra, Louisville Orchestra and Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, with recitals and residencies at the Ravinia Festival, the Gilmore Keyboard Festival, the Brevard Music Center and Washington Performing Arts, among many others. She was recently honored as 2022 Classical Woman of the Year by Performance Today.

Downes is the Resident Artist and host of "Evening Music with Lara Downes" on Classical California KUSC and KDFC. Her work has been supported by the Mellon Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Sphinx Organization, the Classical Recording Foundation Award and the Center for Cultural Innovation, among others. Her fierce commitment to activism and advocacy see her working with organizations including Feeding America, the ACLU, the Lower Eastside Girls Club, the Sphinx Organization and Watts Learning Center. ​She is an Artist Ambassador for Headcount, a non-partisan organization that uses the power of music to register voters and promote participation in democracy.

Downes is the creator and curator of Rising Sun Music, a label dedicated to making first recordings of music by Black composers from the 18th century to the present day.

Her next solo album, Love at Last, is coming on the Pentatone label in April 2023.


For more than 15 years, NPR Music's robust music journalism and award-winning original video programming has delighted millions of music fans from all genres. NPR Music collaborates with NPR's news magazines, public radio Member stations and the passionate listener community to celebrate exceptional music and discover emerging artists. Visit to find the complete Tiny Desk concert series, music feature stories, extensive archives of performances, interviews and music reviews. Connect with NPR Music on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.


Classical California is the most-listened-to network of classical music radio stations in America serving more than 800,000 listeners each week. KUSC, located in downtown Los Angeles, serves communities throughout Southern California, and is broadcast on 91.5FM in Los Angeles and Orange County, 88.5FM in Palm Springs, 91.1FM in Thousand Oaks, 93.7FM in Santa Barbara and 99.7FM San Luis Obispo. KDFC, located in downtown San Francisco, serves the Bay area and other communities in Northern California, and is broadcast on 90.3FM in San Francisco, 104.9FM in San Jose, 89.9FM in Napa Wine Country, 103.9FM in Monterey and 92.5FM in Ukiah. Listeners can also hear these stations streaming at, and on their smartphone apps. Classical California also offers a variety of digital content and community events. More information can be found at Classical California's mission is to make a positive impact on individuals and communities by championing the power of classical music.

AMPLIFY With Lara Downes

On, YouTube, and social media platforms

Schedule of Initial Guests

-Feb. 1, Samara Joy (Grammy nominated winner of the Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition.)

-March 1, Jessie Montgomery (composer-in-residence at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra)

-April 5, Samora Pinderhughes (singer, songwriter, multidisciplinary artist)

-May 3, John McWhorter (linguist and author)



For NPR Music: Yanius Alvarado Matos/ NPR Music Media Relations/

For Lara Downes: Lisa Jaehnig / Shuman Associates /


AMPLIFY with Lara Downes premiered as an NPR video series in October 2020, capturing artists' experiences in a time of chaotic upheaval and shift, locked down by the global pandemic while swept up in the national uprising of racial reckoning. In a series of conversations stunning in their immediacy and intimacy, leading Black artists including Jon Batiste, Rhiannon Giddens and Wynton Marsalis revealed their inner thoughts and artistic responses to unprecedented challenges and unexpected awakenings.

Now, in Season 3 of this groundbreaking series, pianist Lara Downes engages visionary artistic innovators to share their perspectives of creative work in a new American era. As the world of the arts undergoes a radical transformation, Downes' guests are leading the way into an age of renaissance, telling new stories and revealing lost histories, breaking boundaries of genre and tradition to embrace the rich and full artistic potential of this 21st century.

Guests this season will include jazz sensation Samara Joy, composers Terence Blanchard and Jessie Montgomery (Musical America 2022 Composer of the Year), comic W. Kamau Bell, poet Robin Coste Lewis, Chef Kwame Onwauchi, composer/pianist Samora Pinderhughes, author John McWhorter, and other musicians, writers and thinkers at the forefront of cultural expansion and evolution.