In collaboration with KUSC Los Angeles/KDFC San Francisco, NPR Music and Lara Downes announce the return of AMPLIFY With Lara Downes, a bi-weekly series of intimate and deeply personal video conversations with visionary Black artists and cultural leaders who are shaping our creative present and future. The second season launches Saturday March 13th with award-winning composer and pianist Kris Bowers (Green Book, Bridgerton) on, YouTube and social media platforms.

Initial guests also include former U.S. Poet Laureate Rita Dove (March 27), chef, writer and opera singer Alexander Smalls (April 10) and violinist Regina Carter (April 24).

Created and hosted by pianist, artist/citizen and newly named KDFC radio host Lara Downes, and co-produced by NPR Music’s classical editor Tom Huizenga, this series invites viewers to experience revealing and open-hearted conversations reflecting on how artists are responding and creating in this time of profound challenge and change.

These video encounters are a clear representation of what Downes sees as “the cusp of a new inclusion and diversity in classical music.” The one-on-one conversations are with forward-thinking cultural leaders who play a pivotal role in defining “a new era with bold vision, powerful mission and the inspiring energy of a transformative time.”

“It brings me great joy to hear from so many viewers that they are finding energy, inspiration and affirmation in these conversations,” says Downes. “Season 2 brings profound perspectives on life and art from a diverse line-up of guests including composers Kris Bowers and Jessie Montgomery, poet Rita Dove, violinist Regina Carter and author Tayari Jones.”

“These are the right conversations at the right time. Lara’s laid-back yet probing approach elicits personal and meaningful reflections from her guests,” Huizenga says. “And the opportunity to collaborate with KDFC and KUSC makes this a very special, important project.” Mark Steimetz of KUSC/KDFC adds, “We’re excited to have Lara on our radio team, and to now work with NPR on this partnership.”


Pianist Lara Downes has been called “an explorer whose imagination is fired by bringing notice to the underrepresented and forgotten” (The Log Journal). An iconoclast and trailblazer, her dynamic work as a sought-after performer, a Billboard Chart-topping recording artist, a producer, curator, activist and arts advocate positions her as a cultural visionary on the national arts scene.

Downes’ musical roadmap seeks inspiration from the legacies of history, family and collective memory, excavating the broad landscape of American music to create a series of acclaimed performance and recording projects that serve as gathering spaces for her listeners to find common ground and shared experience.

Downes was recently appointed Resident Artist for KDFC and KUSC and hosts “Evening Music with Lara Downes” on KDFC. She is the inaugural Artist Citizen in Residence for the Manhattan School of Music, as well as a Fellow of the Loghaven Artist Residency. Her work has been supported by the Mellon Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Sphinx Organization, the Classical Recording Foundation Award, the University of California Innovator of the Year Award and the Center for Cultural Innovation, among others.

Downes’ artistry has been called “a musical ray of hope” by NBC News, “luscious, moody and dreamy” by The New York Times, and “addicting” by The Huffington Post. She is equally at home on major stages including the Kennedy Center, Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, Boston Symphony Hall, the Ravinia Festival, Tanglewood, and Washington Performing Arts, and clubs and intimate venues including Joe’s Pub, National Sawdust and Le Poisson Rouge.

Her newest project, Rising Sun Music, is a digital recording series devoted to revealing the lineage and legacy of Black concert music in America.

Downes’ fierce commitment to activism and advocacy see her working with organizations including Feeding America, the ACLU, the Lower Eastside Girls Club, the Sphinx Organization, and Watts Learning Center. She is an Artist Ambassador for Headcount, a non-partisan organization that uses the power of music to register voters and promote participation in democracy.


For more than a decade, NPR Music’s robust music journalism and award-winning original video programming has delighted millions of music fans from all genres. NPR Music collaborates with NPR’s news magazines, public radio Member stations and the passionate listener community to celebrate exceptional music and discover emerging artists. Visit to find the complete Tiny Desk concert series, music feature stories, extensive archives of performances, interviews and music reviews. Connect with NPR Music on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.


KUSC in Los Angeles and KDFC in San Francisco are part of the University of Southern California Radio Group, a classical music radio service of 10 signals across California. The stations nurture a love of classical music, create compelling experiences and welcome all on the journey. Through the radio, smartphone apps and the websites and, the stations champion the power of classical music in people’s lives.

AMPLIFY With Lara Downes

Every other Saturday on, YouTube, and social media platforms

Schedule of Initial Guests

-March 13th, Kris Bowers (scored Oscar-winning Green Book and TV hit Bridgerton)

-March 27th, Rita Dove (poet and former US Poet Laureate)

-April 10th, Alexander Smalls (chef/writer/opera singer)

-April 24th, Regina Carter (recording artist and violinist)