Gwen Thompkins | KGOU
KGOU

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.

The actor Carol Sutton, who appeared in well more than 100 movies, plays and television shows, died Thursday in New Orleans of complications from the coronavirus. She was 76 years old.

Pope John XXIII said such nice things to her. The National Baptist Convention was no less captivated, as were the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and a host of black and white bishops and preachers and worshippers worldwide. The King and Queen of Denmark wanted more. So did the Empress of Japan, four U.S. presidents, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, broadcaster Studs Terkel, the City of New Orleans, Ed Sullivan and James Baldwin, among others.

This story is part of American Anthem, a yearlong series on songs that rouse, unite, celebrate and call to action. Find more at NPR.org/Anthem.

This essay is one in a series celebrating women whose major contributions in recording occurred before the time frame of NPR Music's list of 150 Greatest Albums Made By Women.

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'

From what people remember, he fell like a tree. Malcolm X — all 6 feet, 4 inches of him — had taken a shotgun blast to the chest and a grouping of smaller-caliber bullets to the torso while onstage at the Audubon Ballroom in Washington Heights on Feb. 21, 1965. After a ghastly moment of stasis, he careened backward. His head hit the floor with a crack.

A detail that witnesses often omit, in part because it seems more of an afterthought given the circumstances, is that Malcolm X never got to say what he'd gone to the Audubon Ballroom to say.

Some music festivals are known for certain specific things; others are known for a broad assortment. The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival is known for everything. The city's arms are just that wide.