Smithsonian and Americana Music Foundation Release “Roots to Pop” Series

Series Spotlights Taj Mahal With Allison Russell, Flaco Jiménez With Max Baca, Rhiannon Giddens, The Blind Boys of Alabama with Ruthie Foster
March 20, 2024
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Two women and a man sit on a stage with musical instruments around them, speaking into mics.

Left to right: Krystal Klingenberg, Allison Russell and Taj Mahal.

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, in collaboration with the Americana Music Foundation, is presenting its inaugural “Roots to Pop” series, an initiative connecting contemporary music to the genres at its root through conversations with modern-day practitioners at the vanguard of their craft, as an online series. Beginning March 20, the public can access the conversation series which is laced with live performances. Recorded live at the museum, the videos feature the artists who make the music and provide insight into American musical history, including Taj Mahal, Allison Russell, Flaco Jiménez, Max Baca, Rhiannon Giddens, The Blind Boys of Alabama with Ruthie Foster.

The series explores the American musical past and how it might affect present-day American music. In a conversation format punctuated by live music, Krystal Klingenberg, musicologist, curator and host of the museum’s “Collected” podcast, explores important genres of American music with these artists, discussing their work, influences and legacy. Recordings of the four-installment “Roots to Pop” series are available online.

The four programs took place in the museum’s Taubman Hall of Music, an intimate space that provides excellent acoustics. Klingenberg guides the conversation around themes that resonate with the histories of Americana music and the larger history of the United States, and where appropriate, places objects from the collection in dialogue with the artists.

“Music offers us all a portal into understanding history,” Klingenberg said. “Through these videos, the public can understand the various genres under the umbrella of Americana and how those roots dynamically contribute to the sound of today. By hearing the musical offerings of the artists on stage and learning about the deep legacies of the music they create, visitors encounter American music history in a fresh and thought-provoking way.”

“It has been a privilege to work with the museum’s American music curators to produce these incredible conversations with some of the country’s notable artists at our nation’s most prestigious cultural institution,” said Jed Hilly, executive director of the Americana Music Foundation. “While these events were recorded live in the intimate setting of the Taubman Hall of Music, we are thrilled to share them with a wider audience through this video series.”

The four hour-long programs are:

Taj Mahal, Allison Russell and the Makings of American Music

This opening event of the “Roots to Pop” series focuses on the importance of blues music in the legacy of American popular music and its history as a foundational and ever-vibrant musical scene. Featuring blues legend Taj Mahal in conversation with Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter Allison Russell, this event explores the history of American music and the careers of these two artists through discussion and song.

Flaco Jiménez, Max Baca and Music of the U.S./Mexico Borderlands

This second installment of the series focuses on the music of the borderlands shared by Texas and Mexico and the influential genres of Conjunto and Norteño. Featuring accordion great Flaco Jiménez in conversation with Max Baca of Los Texmaniacs, this event looks at the legacy and influences of the music of the borderland region.

Rhiannon Giddens and Revisiting the American Musical Past

This third installment focuses on musician and Pulitzer prize-winning composer Rhiannon Giddens in conversation on folk music, the banjo and the American musical past. Giddens plays period-specific music on one of the banjos from the National Collection.

The Blind Boys of Alabama, Ruthie Foster and the Legacy of Gospel Music

The final installment of the “Roots to Pop” series features musicians The Blind Boys of Alabama with Ruthie Foster in conversation about the American musical past and how it might affect the American musical present. This event showcases the panelists’ work and their influences on gospel and blues music.

The “Roots to Pop” series is made possible in collaboration with Americana Music Foundation.

About the National Museum of American History

Through incomparable collections, rigorous research and dynamic public outreach, the National Museum of American History seeks to empower people to create a more just and compassionate future by examining, preserving and sharing the complexity of our past. The museum, located on Constitution Avenue N.W., between 12th and 14th streets, is open daily except Dec. 25, between 10 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Admission is free. The doors of the museum are always open online and the virtual museum continues to expand its offerings, including online exhibitions, PK–12 educational materials and programs. The public can follow the museum on social media on Instagram and Facebook. For more information, go to For Smithsonian information, the public may call (202) 633-1000.

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