Yo-Yo Ma On His Lifelong Friendships, Music's Connection To Nature & His New Audible Original, 'Beginner's Mind'

Yo-Yo Ma

Photo: Jason Bell


Yo-Yo Ma On His Lifelong Friendships, Music's Connection To Nature & His New Audible Original, 'Beginner's Mind'

In 'Yo-Yo Ma: Beginner's Mind,' the latest entry in Audible's Words + Music series, the household-name cellist examines his place in the world through the lens of a Zen Buddhist concept and with a central question: "Why am I me?"

GRAMMYs/Apr 8, 2021 - 10:26 pm

For decades, Yo-Yo Ma's life has been a Möbius strip of meetings and concerts and airport terminals. Then COVID-19 washed away that hurry-up-and-wait existence for a while.

At his Cambridge home in a snarl of wildlife, the 18-time GRAMMY winner and 27-time nominee crossed into a realm of self-examination. He took inventory of his life history, including his immigrant background, lifelong friendships and role as a 65-year-old classical musician and public figure. Ma also mulled over the Zen Buddhist concept of a beginner's mind. This means a consciousness open to new ideas, unfettered by preconceived notions and eager to play and explore. 

This idea is central to Yo-Yo-Ma: Beginner's Mind, the latest entry in Audible's Words + Music series where Ma explores his roots, relationships and place on Earth in the 21st century. It's always been essential to his art, too. "A beginner's mind is something that I have to practice each time I perform," he reveals to "It doesn't matter… what I did last night or during the full day. I could have played really well last night, but it doesn't matter. What matters is how present I am at the moment of performing."

Beginner's Mind isn't just for Ma fans; it's a must-hear for anyone feeling encumbered by world events and yearning to see the world anew. caught up with the one-of-a-kind cellist to discuss how he linked up with Audible, the nexus of music and nature, race relations in America and setting up youngsters to be stewards of the planet.

The cover image to Yo-Yo Ma's Audible Original: Words + Music: Beginner's Mind.

How are you doing?

I'm OK. I'm happy spring is here. Are you in New Jersey?

I am. I'm in Hackensack, and I can see the trees blooming outside my window.

Oh, that's fantastic. I heard the cherry blossoms have blossomed earlier than they have in 1,200 years.

Incredible. Why do you think that is?

I have no idea. It must be the water! [long belly laugh]

As good an explanation as any. Are you in New England?

Yeah, I'm in Cambridge.

Have you lived there a long time?

Yeah. A long, long time. I went to college in the area in the early '70s. And when I was married in '78, we lived in Cambridge, moved away for a while and then moved back again. So it's been kind of off and on for many decades.

It's certainly a beautiful time to be in this area. I listened to your Audible Original three times. I thought it was beautiful and heartening. How did you link up with Audible for this project? Had you done anything like this before?

You know what's funny? I subscribe to Audible, so I've listened to a lot of historic books. Sometimes, on long car trips, my wife and I would listen to some of the books. We've listened to Hamilton and George Washington and Rust, I think,was another book, and just varied things over the years. 

On my own, I heard James Taylor's [Audible Original, Break Shot: My First 21 Years] maybe a year ago or something. I loved it. I thought, "Gee, that's a very neat thing." So when this came up as an idea, I sort of already had heard the format and thought, "Gee, that's really neat." So I welcomed the chance to put some thoughts down and here we are.

Three times! Are you crazy?

I wanted to prepare! So they approached you, or vice versa?

Yeah, they approached me. I think maybe they had seen a lecture that I had given in Michigan and they thought, "Oh! We might ask this guy to do something." I didn't particularly think… Maybe a lecture would be interesting, but somehow it turned into this.

It's certainly a unique format. How did you come up with the central thesis?

It didn't start with the central thesis, but more or less, I wanted to describe a number of long-term friendships and sort of get to the idea of [incredulous laugh] "How did I become this? This 65-year-old guy thinking the way I do?" Because I didn't always think the way I do, right?

I think the pandemic lent itself to making some forays into self-examination—'Wait, what happened 50 years ago?' I was doing these digital platform concerts with Emanuel Ax, who's featured in it, and it's almost now a 50-year friendship. And I did Songs of Comfort and Hope with Kathy Stott; I've also known her for over 40 years. 

And so to be able to work with them during this time and to talk made me think, 'You know? That'd be really great.' Because I treasure these friendships. They're amazing people, musicians, artists—but most of all, friends, and we went through a lot together. So by process of thinking about what we were doing together during this time as well as reminiscing, I sort of got to talking about this sordid life I've been living for years!

I was going to ask how you settled on four stories to tell. But by the way you describe these four essential friendships, it must have been a no-brainer as to who you'd focus on.

Absolutely. There are good things and bad things about touring, and what I've always noticed is that when you move around a lot, the coincidences multiply. 

At first, you think, "Oh my gosh, this is crazy! How come I just met so-and-so at an airport or some random place? How come we bumped into one other? What a coincidence!" But after the fortieth or fiftieth time, you realize, "You know what? That's probably because I'm not stationary. The fact that I don't stop moving [means] the chances of bumping into people multiply.

So many people have influenced me. Certainly, Kathy and Manny, but I thought about the move, being an immigrant, going to college, for example. They also changed me. They really were fundamental in directing my focus on whole different ways of thinking. I mentioned Marlboro [Music School and Festival]; I mentioned the Kalahari [bushmen]. These were seminal moments that changed the way I would think from then on, after that experience.

Yo-Yo Ma in the Kalahari Desert, 1993. Photo courtesy of Yo-Yo Ma.

Early on, you quote something the physicist Richard Feynman told you: "Nature has the greatest imagination of all, but she guards her secrets jealously." What does this mean to you or elicit in your mind?

Oh my goodness. Well, first of all, I think from a musical point of view, we're taught, in a way: "Don't play anything unless you can hear it first." Music, for me, is always—first of all, it stimulates the imagination. And I end up thinking that sound is, in a way, the interpretation of something else. Something that's imagined.

There are some people that think music is just sound, and it's sound for sound's sake. That's absolutely possible, but I think I have a preference for teaching that music also is a translation of thoughts and ideas and feelings and structures and energy and space and time. 

And through sound—the manipulation of sound—you can express all of these things and the person's inner core, or a society's soul or you can represent peoples' voices when they no longer exist or whose voices have been taken away. 

So, nature—I always think that if you think of sound as energy, the phrasing of something always can be described as something in the physical world, as something we've actually experienced. Therefore, when you then tie two notes together for a phrase or to get to a groove, you are trying to replicate, to get into the pocket of that feeling, of that sense. And that is what makes music alive, in my opinion.

Therefore, Richard Feynman saying "Nature has the greatest imagination"—yes, we want to have the greatest imagination possible, and we want to, in fact, practice and discipline our imagination so we can extract something from our experience and then be able to replicate it and get other people into that same state of mind that you are in when you work.

The fact that Richard Feynman—a physicist—said that was extraordinarily helpful to me. In saying, "Yeah, that's right! So it's not about Bach and Beethoven and Bob Dylan and whomever." Yes, it's their genius, but they're also extracting things from nature. And we're part of nature, too. What we extract, we can actually focus on and transmit to another human being. That information, that knowledge can live in somebody else. And my job as a performer is to make that transfer possible.

I looked into the concept of a beginner's mind a little bit. It comes from Zen Buddhist philosophy. And in the Audible Original, you discuss its meaning and extol its value. In your mind, how can we retrieve and restore this ability in adulthood after all these filters have stacked on each other?

One way I try to do it in performance is that often, as musicians, we play at night. We play after we've experienced, often, a full day. I don't know about you, but at 6 p.m., my mind is cluttered from a whole day where things have happened. What we try to do as performers is to have a clear mind and start with a clean slate.

Taking a nap in the afternoon is really important to me because it declutters the mind. I can start the day over in preparation so I can be fully present when I start to play the concert: "I'm going to tell you this story; this is how it begins." And if I have a full day of dreck in my head—of stuff that's gone on—it's going to be harder for me to get to the narrative and be totally present.

So, a beginner's mind is something that I have to practice each time I perform. Because, actually, it doesn't matter to you, if you're in the audience, what I did last night or during the full day. I could have played really well last night, but it doesn't matter. What matters is how present I am at the moment of performing.

And from a slightly different point of view, I think it comes down to first principles. What are the first principles for a musician, or for a physicist, or for a scientist? What's your North Star if you are a leader or if you are a teacher or a doctor? For a physician, maybe it's the Hippocratic Oath. And for a scientist, you want to find the closest thing that can be replicated according to a certain number of conditions of something you're testing. And it has to be true every time you have those conditions. You can't fake your data.

So, what is the most important thing you have to start with? Associated with a beginner's mind is the idea of first principles—which comes from science, but are values that come from philosophy, ethics, religion, society. "Do unto others," right? Society has those principles and we know what they are. 

The question is, are we practicing those things constantly? Because that's what we need to do to build something that people can trust.

Yo-Yo Ma and Emanuel Ax. Photo courtesy of Yo-Yo Ma.

From what you're describing, it sounds like a beginner's mind is easily transmutable to anything, from loving somebody to designing a space shuttle. Anything a human can do can be graceful thanks to first principles.

Yeah, absolutely. And you can see the limitations of that at the beginning of meeting somebody. 

I can tell you, for example, I was kind of shocked when you said you had listened to this thing three times. You could have listened to 20 minutes of it and done an interview. But you didn't. That said something. So either you had nothing better to do and it was set on perpetual play, or you wanted to listen to it. And, my goodness. So, you cared. Maybe I'm taking an overly positive view, but "Oh, wow. Morgan cared." That's amazing because you did more than you needed to in order to get something done. That says something about you and affects how we have our conversation.

I appreciate that, Yo-Yo, because I did care. I took notes and thought about it and slept on it. This was in my hope to elevate it from a good interview to a great one.

But little things, right? You reveal something about your principles when you do little things.

Your first story in the Audible Original is about your family's emigration to the U.S. As you tell it, you and your mother took to this new beginning while your father stayed a little staunchly stuck in his ways. It seems like what you're saying here is that by showing up and leaving the door open to new possibilities is paramount to being a successful and thriving individual. What's your take on that?

I both believe in the goal and process. I think both are incredibly important. I think living fully, the process allows you to reach a goal that actually may change because of the process. I think when you are open to things, that's very often what can happen with ultimate goals. They have shifted.

I think I remember Stephen Colbert saying that he started out as an actor. He wanted to be a serious actor and if you asked him at age 22, "So, you think you want to have a comedy show?" he'd say "You're crazy." But he did it very seriously, the acting bit. And one thing led to another, so he ended up in a goal in an unexpected place. I think my father had more specific goals, and he also was trying to provide for his family. He had to immediately use whatever skills he had [to do so]. It's not like he had immense choice in the matter. 

Hopefully, I'm not at the end of my life. But by the time I do get to the end of my life, I don't know whether I look back and compare what my father might have thought at the end of his life; we may have ended up in the same place. I don't know. Or we may have ended up in very different places. 

And what success might mean for each one of us could be so different because his life was so completely different from mine. What he lived through was something I can hardly imagine. Even for someone who has a good imagination, it's hard to imagine the period of that century that he went through.

When I survey notable people I admire, I've noticed that in youth, they typically wanted to be in a different field than the one we know them for. One of my favorite authors, the media theorist Douglas Rushkoff—do you know the name?

Yep. Yeah.

His roots were in acting, too, but he held onto that sharp left turn. And now, he gives his talks with that theatrical flair. It didn't just go away even though he chose a different path.

Oh, that's neat! That's neat! You know, some of my closest friends that I met in college struggled so much thinking "I do this. I love this. I don't know what to do. People say I have to choose." For two of my friends, it was between music and medicine. They're very talented musicians; they also wanted to be physicians. 

And what they ended up doing—they ended up being physicians, but 30 years later, they ended up being able to incorporate music into the medicine they practice and to incorporate medicine into the music they perform, thereby creating unique careers. They created a place in the universe that didn't exist before from making a fusion of two interests that people did not necessarily think went together.

Yo-Yo Ma at the Trent School in 1962. Photo courtesy of Yo-Yo Ma.

Perhaps it's easier to make that pivot when you're young. In your Audible Original, you say that upon moving to America, you faced a dizzying array of subtle differences from the shape of cheese to cardboard milk cartons instead of glass bottles. Instead of being paralyzed by culture shock, though, these differences fueled your imagination. You were young, though; can an adult cultivate this attitude toward the world?

I say in the Audible [Original] that the time in your life that you need something new can also affect people very differently. You can go from one space to another space at exactly the same time, but if it's in a different time in your life—my biological family reacted to that very differently. 

So for me, it was the fact that adults actually, sometimes, would talk to me and not talk at me. I liked that. I thought "Gee, that's possible." I didn't know that was possible before. It made a deep impression and made me like this place a lot and want to be part of this place. Rather than feeling that I'm an outsider in this place, it made me want to belong to this place because there was something incredibly attractive about it.

I want to touch on the book The Lies That Bind: Rethinking Identity, which you mention in the Audible Original.

Oh, I love that book!

It'll arrive in the mail soon! Why does the phrase "Why am I me?" resonate with you? Concurrently, when you consider a lifetime of music and self-examination, have you landed on any ballpark percentage of how much nature versus nurture you are?

That question will probably never get resolved.


I see different slivers of it at different times. For example, I may think one thing, but I'm also a grandfather. My wife and I have two children and my daughter now has three grandchildren. We see in both our children different traits of us—and I won't tell you whether they're the good traits of the bad traits! [laughs]

Also, we see this in our grandchildren! We also see traits that possibly come from my wife's father. Their great-grandfather. So definitely, there are personality traits and things that supersede nurture. But I also think that on another level, how important the construction of values [is]. Or when you start with certain values, the lives that get constructed are a result of nurture. 

I think values play an incredible role as genes do. Experience can lead them to make a 90-degree turn, which changes their life, but they're still guided by the values and still have the genes that they came from. So, those are also interesting experiments.

At the end of the Audible Original, you note that "recognizing our shared humanity has never been more central to our survival," and that knocking down racial, gender-based and religious boundaries is conducive to that. Right now, I see a lot of obsession with racial difference, even when it's in the service of "anti-racism." "As a Mexican person, as a Black person, as a white person, as an Asian person..." Is there a productive way to acknowledge our differences without driving artificial wedges between people?

What's interesting is that the United States is not the only multi-ethnic society. Ancient Rome was multi-ethnic. For a while, Rome also was subject to very specific laws that gave rights and privileges to Roman citizens. But you're asking a different question.

I think it's very important to go into the weeds and try and figure that out from our immediate time frame. But I also value perspective. I value the perspective that time can give as well as different disciplines. We can look at ourselves biologically. If we look at ourselves genetically, the huge chasms in racial-ethnic differences become minuscule. 

[We can] look at humanity and our present world from, let's say, what I experienced in Ecuador. When I asked Ecuadorians "What do you think about post-colonial history?" the Ecuadorians looked at me and said "You know, we have a 12,000-year history. 500 years is just not very long." 

I was really stumped. I thought, "Damn, we [might] discover more and more about our past because we have so many ways of knowing about digging into mounds and ice-core samples and we know about tree rings and [radioactivity]—all kinds of data searching." For example, we know what the Iceman ate for his last meal from what they figured out from his stomach.

So if every country started its history from 12,000 years ago, that would put our world religions in a much smaller sliver of history. It changes your perspective. Carl Sagan used to talk about the little blue planet. From an astrophysicist's point of view, we're just a tiny blip. Does that help solve our big problems? No, but it certainly puts our egos and self-importance in a different perspective.

I can look at life from a 65-year-old. If I talk to a 20-year-old, I have a different perspective. But the 20-year-old also has a different perspective, and it's important I listen to the 20-year-old because that 20-year-old is going to live another 60, 70, 80 years, hopefully, and will have a lot to do with shaping the world that the following generations will experience.

It's important to have those conversations so that we can encompass 100 years of experience. And that's what Indigenous folk do. They think in seven generations.

Yo-Yo Ma and his wife, Jill Hornor, at the White House in 2011. Photo: Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images​

In conclusion, let's focus on our current generation. People might be too overwhelmed or bitter or jaded to cultivate a beginner's mind. It's tough to peer into your own mind when you're dragging your kids through Zoom school. What's your advice for those people, to show them they can adopt a mental state where they feel new, fresh and excited about the world?

I think one is not to give up on your ideals. By that, I don't mean be rigid on your ideals. But never forget you always have a beginner's mind. You can be in touch with what you think is good. That doesn't change. 

I do think that Gen Zs are more in tune with their values in wanting to choose where to shop—thinking more about the food cycle and climate change and living with fewer cars and material goods. Wanting to lead a life that's less segmented, in a way that's using their values. And I think it's the job of someone like me to accelerate giving them custodial responsibility so that they can live a long time and in a way that's good for the world.

I want to encourage that generational dialogue to show that you are capable of responsible caretaking earlier on. For people like me, not to say, "You're got to wait to earn it." Bullst. If you can do it now, do it, and we should help as much as possible because you will make the right decisions because you're closer to not having made certain compromises that get you stuck in golden handcuffs.

Wonderful talking to you, Yo-Yo. I hope we can talk again in the future.

Sure. By the way, Morgan, since we're talking generations, how old are you?


OK. Perfect. So you're just around Gen Z—a little bit above. So good luck, go do it and I hope life goes well for you.

Vijay Iyer On His New Trio Album 'Uneasy,' American Identity & Teaching Black American Music In The 21st Century

ReImagined At Home: Watch Ant Clemons Croon The Cosmic Blues In Performance Of Bill Withers' "Ain't No Sunshine"

Ant Clemons


ReImagined At Home: Watch Ant Clemons Croon The Cosmic Blues In Performance Of Bill Withers' "Ain't No Sunshine"

Singer/songwriter Ant Clemons puts his own spin on Bill Withers' immortal "Ain't No Sunshine" in an exclusive performance for ReImagined At Home.

GRAMMYs/Jun 15, 2021 - 08:13 pm

Why has Bill Withers' immortal hit, "Ain't No Sunshine," endured for decades? And, furthermore, why does it seem set to reverberate throughout the ages?

Could it be because it's blues-based? Because it's relatable to anyone with a pulse? Because virtually anyone with an ounce of zeal can believably yowl the song at karaoke?

Maybe it's for all of those reasons and one more: "Ain't No Sunshine" is flexible

In the latest episode of ReImagined At Home, check out how singer/songwriter Ant Clemons pulls at the song's edges like taffy. With a dose of vocoder and slapback, Clemons recasts the lonesome-lover blues as the lament of a shipwrecked android.

Giving this oft-covered soul classic a whirl, Clemons reminds music lovers exactly why Withers' signature song has staying power far beyond his passing in 2020. It will probably be a standard in 4040, too.

Check out Ant Clemons' cosmic, soulful performance of "Ain't No Sunshine" above and click here to enjoy more episodes of ReImagined At Home.

ReImagined At Home: Keedron Bryant Powerfully Interprets John Legend's Love Song "Ordinary People"


Recordings By Janet Jackson, Louis Armstrong, Odetta & More Inducted Into The National Recording Registry

Janet Jackson

Photo: Christopher Polk/Getty Images


Recordings By Janet Jackson, Louis Armstrong, Odetta & More Inducted Into The National Recording Registry

Selections by Albert King, Labelle, Connie Smith, Nas, Jackson Browne, Pat Metheny, Kermit the Frog and others have also been marked for federal preservation

GRAMMYs/Mar 25, 2021 - 02:37 am

The Librarian of Congress Carla Haden has named 25 new inductees into the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress. They include Janet Jackson’s “Rhythm Nation 1814,” Louis Armstrong’s “When the Saints Go Marching In,” Labelle’s “Lady Marmalade,” Nas’ “Illmatic,” Kool & the Gang’s “Celebration,” Kermit the Frog’s “The Rainbow Connection” and more.

“The National Recording Registry will preserve our history through these vibrant recordings of music and voices that have reflected our humanity and shaped our culture from the past 143 years,” Hayden said in a statement. “We received about 900 public nominations this year for recordings to add to the registry, and we welcome the public’s input as the Library of Congress and its partners preserve the diverse sounds of history and culture.”

The National Recording Preservation Board is an advisory board consisting of professional organizations and experts who aim to preserve important recorded sounds. The Recording Academy is involved on a voting level. The 25 new entries bring the number of musical titles on the registry to 575; the entire sound collection includes nearly 3 million titles. Check out the full list of new inductees below:

National Recording Registry Selections for 2020

  1. Edison’s “St. Louis tinfoil” recording (1878)

  2. “Nikolina” — Hjalmar Peterson (1917) (single)

  3. “Smyrneikos Balos” — Marika Papagika (1928) (single)

  4. “When the Saints Go Marching In” — Louis Armstrong & his Orchestra (1938) (single)

  5. Christmas Eve Broadcast--Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill (December 24, 1941)

  6. “The Guiding Light” — Nov. 22, 1945

  7. “Odetta Sings Ballads and Blues” — Odetta (1957) (album)

  8. “Lord, Keep Me Day by Day” — Albertina Walker and the Caravans (1959) (single)  

  9. Roger Maris hits his 61st homerun (October 1, 1961)

  10. “Aida” — Leontyne Price, (1962) (album)

  11. “Once a Day” — Connie Smith (1964) (single)

  12. “Born Under a Bad Sign” — Albert King (1967) (album)

  13. “Free to Be…You & Me” — Marlo Thomas and Friends (1972) (album)

  14. “The Harder They Come” — Jimmy Cliff (1972) (album)

  15. “Lady Marmalade” — Labelle (1974) (single)

  16. “Late for the Sky” — Jackson Browne (1974) (album)

  17. “Bright Size Life” — Pat Metheny (1976) (album)

  18. “The Rainbow Connection” — Kermit the Frog (1979) (single)

  19. “Celebration” — Kool & the Gang (1980) (single)

  20. “Richard Strauss: Four Last Songs” — Jessye Norman (1983) (album)

  21. “Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814” — Janet Jackson (1989) (album)

  22. “Partners” — Flaco Jiménez (1992) (album)

  23. “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”/”What A Wonderful World” — Israel Kamakawiwo’ole (1993) (single)

  24. “Illmatic” — Nas (1994) (album)

  25. “This American Life: The Giant Pool of Money” (May 9, 2008)

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Let Freedom Ring With The March On Washington GRAMMY Playlist

Celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington with a song

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 05:06 am

On Aug. 28, 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., and declared in his landmark "I Have A Dream" speech, "Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood."

In 2012 The Recording Academy recognized King's speech for its historical significance by inducting the recording into the GRAMMY Hall Of Fame. Delivered before 250,000 people, "I Have A Dream" culminated the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, a rally organized by a coalition of civil rights organizations that called for the passage of meaningful civil rights legislation and a program to provide jobs, among other demands.

Several artists have used music to call for a solid rock of brotherhood and sisterly love over the years. GRAMMY winners Bob Dylan; Peter, Paul & Mary; and Mahalia Jackson were among the performers who stood beside King at the March on Washington and dared to dream of a better America. On Aug. 28 President Barack Obama — joined by fellow GRAMMY winners such as LeAnn Rimes and BeBe Winans and former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton — will deliver his own speech at the Let Freedom Ring Commemoration and Call to Action bell-ringing ceremony at the Lincoln Memorial, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington.

As bells toll throughout the country, we encourage you to let freedom ring by marching to the beat of our March on Washington 50th anniversary GRAMMY playlist.

"Blowin' In The Wind"
Peter, Paul & Mary, Best Performance By A Vocal Group, Best Folk Recording, 1963; GRAMMY Hall Of Fame, inducted 2003

Peter, Paul & Mary's cover of Bob Dylan's popular protest song was one of two songs performed by the trio at the March on Washington. The two-time GRAMMY-winning track fittingly asked marchers, "How many roads must a man walk down/Before you call him a man?" The answer, of course, was blowin' in the wind.

"A Change Is Gonna Come"
Sam Cooke, GRAMMY Hall Of Fame, inducted 2000

Considered one of the defining anthems of the civil rights movement, "A Change Is Gonna Come" was released in 1964 by R&B singer Cooke as a response to Dylan's "Blowin' In The Wind." Cooke's harrowing track was voted No. 12 on Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time list and epitomizes the hope and change King called for 50 years ago.                   

Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, GRAMMY Hall Of Fame, inducted 2009

Although written by Canadian Neil Young, "Ohio" spoke to the outrage many felt over the Kent State shootings in Kent, Ohio, in 1970. The song openly questioned the deaths of four unarmed students who were killed by the Ohio National Guard during a campus Vietnam War protest.   

"Get Up, Stand Up"
Bob Marley & The Wailers, GRAMMY Hall Of Fame, inducted 1999

Written by Bob Marley and Peter Tosh, this classic reggae tune was featured on the Wailers' 1973 album Burnin'. The group's signature call to action demanded people "get up, stand up/Stand up for your rights." In 1999 the track was the first reggae song to be inducted into the GRAMMY Hall Of Fame.

"Born In The U.S.A."
Bruce Springsteen, Record Of The Year nominee, 1985

Though often misinterpreted as a patriotic anthem, "Born In The U.S.A." actually speaks to the desperate flip side of the American dream encountered by some Vietnam War veterans. Still, the album of the same name garnered a GRAMMY nomination for Album Of The Year, spawned no less than seven Top 10 hits and was inducted into the GRAMMY Hall Of Fame in 2012.

"Fight The Power"
Public Enemy, Best Rap Performance nominee, 1989  

It might take a nation of millions to hold back listeners of Public Enemy's confrontational and controversial hit "Fight The Power." Chosen by director Spike Lee as the musical theme for his 1989 film Do The Right Thing, the track calls out everyone from Elvis to the American government, imploring people to "fight the powers that be."                         

"Guerrilla Radio"
Rage Against The Machine, Best Hard Rock Performance, 2000

Featured on Rage Against The Machine's 1999 GRAMMY-nominated album The Battle Of Los Angeles, "Guerrilla Radio" is the band's call to cut off the lights, turn up the radio and tune out those they describe as "vultures who thirst for blood and oil."

"Revolution 1"
The Beatles, The Beatles, GRAMMY Hall Of Fame, inducted 2000

A year before John Lennon and Yoko Ono famously held a two-week bed-in for peace in 1969, the Beatles released this Lennon/McCartney penned tune featured on The Beatles ("The White Album"). The song spoke to Lennon's skepticism about some of the radical tactics used to protest the Vietnam War, offering the tongue-in-cheek guarantee that everything was "gonna be alright."

Edwin Starr, Best R&B Vocal Performance, Male nominee, 1970

Written by Barrett Strong and Norman Whitfield in protest of the Vietnam War, "War" was originally recorded by the Temptations. Starr's version of this classic track helped him achieve legendary status on the soul circuit. His cover was intense and direct, simply stating: "I said, war, good gawd ya'll/What is it good for?/Absolutely nothing!"  

"The Times They Are A-Changin'"      
Bob Dylan, GRAMMY Hall Of Fame, inducted 2013

After the release of "Blowin' In The Wind," Dylan provided another anthemic protest song with "The Times They Are A-Changin'." Since its release in 1964, the song has been covered by artists such as the Beach Boys, Joan Baez, Phil Collins, Billy Joel, and Nina Simone, among others, during both challenging and ever-changing times.

"What The World Needs Now Is Love"
Jackie DeShannon, GRAMMY Hall Of Fame, inducted 2008

After all the protests, marches and calls for change have quieted down, arguably no song should be cranked up as loud as DeShannon's 1965 hit "What The World Needs Now Is Love." Per DeShannon: All we need "is love, sweet love/No, not just for some, but for everyone."

Know a song that changed the world? Let us know in the comments.

Press Play At Home: Watch Dodie Perform A Morning-After Version Of "Four Tequilas Down"



Press Play At Home: Watch Dodie Perform A Morning-After Version Of "Four Tequilas Down"

In the latest episode of Press Play At Home, singer/songwriter dodie conjures a bleary last call in a hushed performance of "Four Tequilas Down"

GRAMMYs/Jun 24, 2021 - 07:38 pm

"Four Tequilas Down" is as much a song as it is a memory—a half-remembered one. "Did you make your eyes blur?/So that in the dark, I'd look like her?" dodie, the song's writer and performer, asks. To almost anyone who's engaged in a buzzed rebound, that detail alone should elicit a wince of recognition.

Such is dodie's beyond-her-years mastery of her craft: Over a simple, spare chord progression, she can use an economy of words to twist the knife. "So just hold me like you mean it," dodie sings at the song's end. "We'll pretend because we need it."

In the latest episode of Press Play At Home, watch dodie stretch her songwriting muscles while conjuring a chemically altered Saturday night—and the Sunday morning full of regrets, too.

Check out dodie's hushed-yet-intense performance of "Four Tequilas Down" above and click here to enjoy more episodes of Press Play At Home.

Press Play At Home: Watch Yola Perform A Rock-Solid Rendition Of "Stand For Myself"