Walter Ray Watson

At the turn of the 20th Century, millions of African Americans moved from the rural South to the country's Northern cities in search of a new beginning. That time of discovery, awakening and Renaissance came to be known as The Great Migration.

Twenty-three-year-old jazz pianist James Francies has his musical fingerprints all over the place. From leading his own group at 2019'sWinter Jazzfest in New York City to playing shows in Tokyo with guitar legend Pat Metheny, the current pace of Francies's life is constantly in motion.

"It just feels like you're on a plane," Francies says. "Four thousand feet, traveling six hundred miles an hour."

Last fall, Blue Note Records released Flight, Francies's debut album.

This story is part of American Anthem, a yearlong series on songs that rouse, unite, celebrate and call to action. Find more at NPR.org/Anthem.


By the early 1960s, Nina Simone was well-known to the world as a singer, songwriter and classically trained pianist. But around 1963, as race relations in America hit a boiling point, she made a sharp turn in her music — toward activism.

Fifty years ago, photographer and folklorist Roland Freeman hitched his hopes to a humble caravan of mule-driven wagons. The Mule Train left the small town of Marks, in the Mississippi Delta, for Washington, D.C. It was part of Martin Luther King Jr.'s last major effort to mobilize impoverished Americans of different races and ethnic backgrounds.