UNIVERSITY PARK— Artists Delfeayo Marsalis, Lara Downes and Michael Mwenso are just a few of the musical legends who sat down with Penn State School of Music Professor Emeritus Tony Leach for an intimate conversation about the life experiences, struggles, triumphs and joy that brought soul to the page and inspired their careers for episodes of the podcast “In Their Own Words.”

The podcast captures multi-generational interviews with people from the African Diaspora regarding their impact on American music. It is a collaboration between WPSUPenn State School of MusicCenter for the Performing Arts and the Office of Educational Equity.

Leach said the inspiration for “In Their Own Words” came from wanting to capture the journeys of an ever-growing list of artists who are in their prime, or who have become legend. The list was cumbersome, so he narrowed it down to something he knew best, music.

“Center for the Performing Arts does a magnificent job in bringing a very diverse group of performing artists to campus. My African American Music Festival, which the School of Music co-sponsors, always does a wonderful job bringing in a group of people who have either never been to campus or in many cases, spotlighting contributions, growth and development of our alumni,” Leach said. “My thought for capturing the interviews for this project was to partner with all of them and attempt to at least get on the radar of some of these artists.”

Leach was scheduled to travel to Atlanta for the National Convention of the Gospel Music Workshop of America. There, he found his first interview for the podcast with world-class composer, Pennsylvania native and Penn State Alumnus, T.J. Anderson.

“He was not able to travel, because at the time I think he was 94. But we had an absolutely delightful time. I was able to use my cell phone and a wonderful mic and capture a very, very engaging and animated encounter with him,” Leach said. “This really became the germ on which we have expanded this thing.”

When asked to choose a favorite conversation, Leach wouldn’t narrow it down. He said time spent on one episode is special to him in other regards though because it is with one of his former students.

“My mentee Donté Ford, who’s now Doctor Donté Ford at Wheaton College, in Illinois. Donté is from Philadelphia originally, and it was just wonderful to not only know his journey before he got to Penn State, through Penn State and post Penn State, but to see how he has figured out balance within his own intellect,” said Leach. “You have his curiosity about music and people and his need to elevate aspects of African American sacred music in scholarly ways. You know you couldn’t have seen that during his undergraduate years. But that’s who he’s blossomed into. And I’m just so thrilled to have had a part in his journey.”

Leach worked with WPSU Senior Producer and Director Topher Yorks to produce episodes of the podcast and make “In Their Own Words” a reality.

“This was a project that was started two years ago in an effort to record history from the mouths of legends and emerging stars,” said Yorks. “Episodes in season one feature a history making composer, jazz vanguard, Grammy nominated quartet, scene-making band leader, budding educator/arranger and a trio of Pennsylvania musicians who have performed around the world. We have already begun to work on season two.”

Headlining this season are T.J. Anderson, Delfeayo Marsalis, Kings Return, Lara Downes, Michael Mwenso, Reverend Donté Ford, Christyan Seay, Maria Thompson Corley and Fred Dade. Within the many stories and recollections shared, listeners will connect with or be introduced to names like Scott Joplin, James Brown, Bach, Michael Jackson, Rhiannon Giddens, Benjamin Britten, Ellis Marsalis, Gilbert and Sullivan, Mahalia Jackson, Thomas Dorsey, Terence Blanchard, the Sugar Hill Gang and more.

Each episode of “In Their Own Words” is hosted by Leach and narrated by Penn State School of Theatre Professor Emeritus Charles Dumas.

The podcast is free and available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Simplecast and with show notes on the WPSU website.

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