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Learn more about the storytellers from our Topic Talks: Music event.

Thank you so much for coming to our show.

If you want to know more about tonight’s storytellers and keep up with them, read on. Explore other fascinating stories about the impact of music in our lives in our Music issue, which includes the short documentary Broken Orchestra, about a program trying to make the most of a failing music-education system; a candid conversation about regrets with Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy; a visit to a storefront church where anyone can grab the mic and sing; an exploration of the history of the Jubilee Singers, the first group to bring songs of slavery to the public; and a wild ride through the greatest (and pettiest) feuds, disputes, and rivalries in country music. We hope you enjoy these stories, and we have lots more where that came from.

— Team Topic


Alison Fensterstock (“The Collector”) writes about American music and culture for outlets including NPR, Pitchfork, Rolling Stone, and others. She’s also a substitute DJ on New Orleans’ award-winning community radio station, WWOZ 90.7 FM, where she plays vintage blues, R&B, Americana, and country.


Documentary filmmaker Sam Green (“A Drink with Louis”) took a short break from his tour for A Thousand Thoughts, an immersive live cinema experience and collaboration with the Kronos Quartet, to join us tonight. In case you missed it, you might also want to check out this short film he directed, currently screening on Topic, Julius Caesar Was Buried in a Pet Cemetery.

Harvard-educated artist and beatboxer extraordinaire Devon Guinn (“The Beat Goes On”) taught himself to beatbox by watching videos, attending events, and living with the crew at “The Beatbox House” in Brooklyn. He enjoys performing for and educating people about this innovative art form through live and audio performances.

Since winning the Tony Award for her role as Nabulungi in The Book of Mormon in 2011, Nikki M. James (“Love You for Free”) has appeared on many a Broadway stage, as well as both the small and big screens. You may have seen Nikki’s most recent work as Violet Bell, a media consultant on the Fox legal drama Proven Innocent.

Britt Julious (“Fight Song”) is a multifaceted storyteller who edits and writes about a wide range of topics, from health (as editorial director of Cancer Wellness magazine) to music (as a music and nightlife columnist for the Chicago Tribune). Her work focuses on the intersection of art, culture, race, feminism, and politics.

John Cameron Mitchell (“Homunculus,” “Love You for Free,” and “The End of Love”) is the uber-talented creator of Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Tonight we heard three songs from his ambitious new musical podcast, Anthem: Homunculus, which tells the story of a failed artist who launches an app-based “tumor telethon” to crowdfund his cancer treatment. Check out the podcast and get a free three-month subscription to Luminary Premium by clicking here.

A staff writer at Rolling Stone—where she covers music, fandom, and pop culture—Brittany Spanos (“Sing At Your Own Risk”) is behind this evening’s quirky story about the most murderous karaoke songs. Delve into more of Spanos’s unique POV and read her latest Rolling Stone piece about Smash Mouth’s 20-year-old hit, “All Star.”

When Jason Ward (“Good Tweets”) was 14, he saw a peregrine falcon eating a pigeon on the windowsill of the South Bronx homeless shelter where his family was living. And the rest is history. Learn more about Jason’s contagious enthusiasm for birds and the natural world by checking out his new documentary series, Birds of North America, on Topic.

Composer, lyricist, and musician Bryan Weller (“Homunculus,” “Love You for Free,” and “The End of Love”) has collaborated with John Cameron Mitchell on several projects, including writing and performing several songs for the soundtrack of the film How to Talk to Girls at Parties. The two teamed up again to cocreate the musical podcast Anthem: Homunculus.


We’d also like to thank the brilliant artists and illustrators who helped breathe life into tonight’s show: Danou “Jenny” He (“Good Tweets”), Calum Heath (“The Collector”), Min Liu (“The Beat Goes On”), Justine Kurland (“Fight Song”), Zak Tebbal (“Sing At Your Own Risk”), Brian Ulrich (“The Collector”), and Xirin (“Fight Song”).

We hope you were inspired to take a stand by the rousing performance of the Resistance Revival Chorus (“Fight Song”). We’d also like to extend an extra-special thanks to our incredibly talented musical collaborators, composer Michael Hearst (“Good Tweets”), composer and musician Brian Cavanagh-Strong (“The Collector” and “Fight Song”), and the band: drummer Emma Ford, guitarist Alex Nolan, bassist Mike Preen, and cellist Samuel Quiggins!

Did you enjoy tonight’s show? Please spread the word. We’ll be back at the NYU Skirball Center this fall for another Topic Talks (this time, it’ll be all about food!) and we’d love to have you and your crew join us. You can find us on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, or right here at Stay up to date with all things Topic by signing up for our newsletter here.


Johnny Buffalo, Tommy Chen, Foundation Media LLC, HfM Franz Liszt Weimar, and Mad Rasana Official.


Thank you to our sponsor, Luminary, for helping to make this night possible. You can listen to all 10 episodes of Anthem: Homunculus exclusively on Luminary, a free podcast app and premium subscription content network, where Luminary Premium subscribers have access to more than 40 podcasts, such as On Second Thought with Trevor Noah, Under the Skin with Russell Brand, The C-Word with Lena Dunham, Wisdom From the Top with Guy Raz, The Rewatchables 1999 from The Ringer, and Hear to Slay with Roxane Gay and Tressie McMillan Cottom.

Enjoy 3 months of Luminary Premium on us. Click here for your free trial. *

* $7.99 per month after. Terms apply.


We’d also like to tip our hat to our community partners for their support: Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute, DOC NYC, MFA Visual Narrative at the School for Visual Arts, NewFest, and Tribeca Film Festival.

Photographs by Mengwen Cao

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