Gwen Thompkins

Gwen Thompkins is a New Orleans native, NPR veteran and host of WWNO's Music Inside Out, where she brings to bear the knowledge and experience she amassed as senior editor of Weekend Edition, an East Africa correspondent, the holder of Nieman and Watson Fellowships, and as a longtime student of music from around the world.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

It's somehow fitting that a biography of Sarah Vaughan would emerge during the centennial of Ella Fitzgerald. That's been Vaughan's story from the get go. The brilliance of her instrument was, is and ever shall be compared to Fitzgerald's — the First Lady of Song, the darling of rhythm, the swinging-est singer on record.

There are a lot of stories to tell about New Orleans.

There are uplifting stories about new houses, new shops and gigantic drainage projects. There are melancholy stories about everything residents lost in Hurricane Katrina, about all that can never be recovered. There are stories about all that remains to be done, 10 years after the hurricane and the levee failures.

And, throughout it all, there are love stories.

Want to hear one?

'It Was Still Mardi Gras'

In March, country music star Jason Aldean is playing Madison Square Garden. Tickets sold out in 10 minutes. Fans want to hear his latest No. 1 song, "Take a Little Ride."

On the tough side of Terpsichore Street in New Orleans stands a duplex — a two-story, wood-framed building with wood floors, high ceilings and a nice fireplace. But this old house is empty: no furniture, no walls, no electricity, no toilet. Iron bars hide the windows; there's a lockbox on the door. The facade is three different shades of blecch, blurgh and blah.

There's so much water in, around and underneath New Orleans, that the dead spend eternity in tombs above ground.

Most of the tombs now have a similar design: On top, there's space for a wooden coffin or two, and at the bottom lies a potpourri of decanted family remains. Sooner or later, whoever is up high must vacate and settle lower, making room for the newly dead. That's how families stay together — in a desiccated jumble of grandpas, grandmas, siblings and cousins.