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.
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.
A full list of all episodes can be found archived here.
As of 2019, WGBH has changed its archives and these shows are not currently available. We are working on finding a solution, so check this space. Meanwhile, if you would like to request a particular show be made available for temporary online access, contact WGBH’s Open Vault here.
“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.
2004 Gracie Allen Award: Esther: The Feast of Masks
2003 Gracie Allen Award: Surviving Survival: A September 11th, 2002 Special
2002 Gracie Allen Award: The Golden Dreydl: A Klezmer Nutcracker
Presented by American Women in Radio and Television
2003 Gabriel Award: Best National Release:
Surviving Survival: A September 11th, 2002 Special
2000 Gabriel Award, Best National Release: Fathers and Sons
1999 Gabriel Award, Best National Release: The Spirit Confined
Presented by Unda-USA
2001 Clarion Award, Best Regular Feature Program: Breakups
2000 Clarion Award, Best Regular Feature Program: Friendship
1999 Clarion Award, Best Regular Feature Program: multiple programs
Presented by the Association for Women in Communications
2000 Gold CINDY Award, Domestic National Broadcast: Rome
Presented by the International Association of Audio Visual Communicators
2000 Wilbur Award, Best Radio Program: Gardens
1999 Wilbur Award, Best Radio Program: The Afterlife
Presented by the Religion Communicators Council
1998 NFCB Silver Reel, National Fundraising Spots
Presented by the National Federation of Community Broadcasters
1997 International Radio Festival of New York,
Gold Medal Best Writing: The Road to Santiago
Presented by the New York Festivals