1. Duke Ellington’s adaptation of “Rhapsody in Blue” – The Duke Ellington Orchestra

Like a lot of music fans, my playlist is constantly in flux — but this recording from 1962 is always in the mix. When George Gershwin originally composed “Rhapsody in Blue” in 1924, he combined European classical music with American jazz in an attempt to find an “American sound.” Ellington witnessed this experiment, and responded with a series of compositions — “Creole Rhapsody” in 1931, “Symphony in Black” in 1935 and “Black, Brown and Beige” in 1943 — that highlighted the contributions of black Americans to American music culture. In 1959, the conductor Leonard Bernstein re-orchestrated Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” removing most of the original jazz elements. This is the version most listeners know today. Ellington responded with an orchestration that reinstated the jazz elements and then some! His new version was recorded in 1962, and to this day, it holds up as one of the most innovative musical covers ever made. Cat Anderson’s trumpet riffs blow my socks off every time.

  1. “Congratulations” – Dessa

Dessa is a rapper, singer, writer and entrepreneur hailing from Minneapolis, where she is the only female member of the hip-hop collective Doomtree. Dessa spoke with students from my “Music Industry” class a couple of weeks ago, and in prepping for her visit, I got hooked on her music. Lin-Manuel Miranda cut “Congratulations” from the final version of his musical, “Hamilton.”  Luckily, he gave the song a second chance with Dessa on “The Hamilton Mixtape.” This song shows off Dessa’s emotional range, flowing from rhythmically biting sarcasm to lyrical melancholy in just over two minutes. Dessa is also a member of Miranda’s Artists for Puerto Rico collective, which recently released “Almost Like Praying” to raise money for the island’s hurricane victims.

  1. “Why We Build the Wall”– Anaïs Mitchell featuring Greg Brown

This song comes from “Hadestown,” a concept album released by singer-songwriter Anaïs Mitchell in 2010 that retells a variation of the ancient myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. In the retold story, Hades, originally the Greek god of the underworld, is the wealthy mine owner who uses fear as a means of keeping his workers in line. Greg Brown’s booming voice effectively adds to this feeling of gloom on the track. The tune of “Why We Build the Wall” is constructed like a children’s song. The logic of one line leads to the next, until listeners find themselves back where they started. “Why We Build the Wall” was composed over a decade ago, yet listening to the song now, its message seems eerily prescient.

  1. “An die Musik” by Franz Schubert – Ian Bostridge


“An die Musik” offers refuge from the anxieties of life. Austrian composer Franz Schubert composed it in 1817, when he and his close-knit group of friends found themselves under constant threat of being censored or arrested for their political beliefs during the Metternich era in Vienna. For Schubert and his friends, music healed. The song’s structure resembles a love duet, with the melody of the piano responding to the melody of the voice. I melt when I hear world-renowned opera singer Ian Bostridge’s version of this song.

Anna Celenza is the Thomas E. Caestecker Professor of Music at Georgetown University.

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