In 1996, Public Radio International teamed up with WGBH Radio Boston to create a nationally-broadcast weekly public radio series focused around Ellen Kushner’s strengths as writer, host and producer: Sound & Spirit, a weekly series of hour-long radio programs exploring the human spirit through music and ideas.
WGBH has made over 90 of the original shows available for listening online. At the link, go straight to Past Episodes to view them alphabetically. Some personal favorites are:
- Dreams (with special guest Neil Gaiman)
- From Canterbury to Graceland
- Gamelan (with the late great Lou Harrison)
- (The) Lord of the Rings
- Out of Finland
- Riddle Me This!
- Surviving Survival (with Terri Windling)
- To End All War
- Tricksters. . . and of course
Programs created particularly for the Jewish Holidays are
- Jonah (Yom Kippur)
- The Door is Opened: A Jewish High Holiday Meditation, the program Kushner produced originally as an independent special, which inspired PRI to suggest a weekly series covering the music and traditions of the world’s peoples.
“When Sound & Spirit made its national debut, I had no idea how much of a change it would make in my life,” says Kushner. “Or, rather, I didn’t realize just what sort of change it would be. Doing a show about the music, traditions and beliefs of people around the world and through the ages meant I had to open myself up to everything, without judging (except, maybe, aesthetically) a huge variety of human experience. I just plain learned a lot about our world, and got to hear some really good music.”
The program debuted in April 1996, and for fourteen years it ran on national public radio stations nationwide, reaching hundreds of thousands of listeners. Fans included Bill Moyers, who called it “the best program on public radio, bar none!”
Each 59 minutes of weekly airtime was an intricate piece of radio art, interweaving music and spoken word, reflecting over 80 hours of work from Ellen and her tiny but mighty staff of researchers, producers and WGBH Radio engineers—one of whom once estimated that each weekly hour of Sound & Spirit contained about 100 different sound cues.
Sound & Spirit gave Ellen the opportunity to travel the country, connecting with public radio listeners in a series of live talks and performances that ranged from staged versions of the radio show to massive community concerts M.C.’d by Ellen in a bravura blend of notes and improv to create what one program director called “a poised, warm and seemingly?effortless rapport with the audience.”
Two of her one-woman touring musical shows, Esther: the Feast of Masks and The Golden Dreydl, were originally created for the series, and Ellen and her remarkable staff also produced two albums: Welcoming Children Into the World and The Golden Dreydl.
Guests included musicians Stella Chiweshe, Sheila Chandra, Mickey Hart, Bob Franke, Frank London, authors Jean Shinoda Bolen, Carol Pearson, Jane Yolen and many more.
When the show ended in June 2010, Ellen wrote this note of farewell to her listeners.