Narratively’s 10 Best Music Stories

From young cellists in Nairobi to the banjo-plucking journeymen on America’s rails, here’s our nod to those performers who remind us that music is one of the rare art forms that truly binds us all together.

1. The Ol’ Banjo Sounds Good

By Patrick Flanary

From hopping freight trains in West Virginia to living in a trailer park in Brooklyn, Morgan O’Kane is New York’s banjo-playing, tambourine-toting, hillbilly-punk journeyman.

“A touching story about a talented musician whose soul was built for the open road, but whose heart yearns to be at home with his young son. Pro Tip: O’Kane’s own music is the ideal soundtrack to this story; hit play on the video of him dominating his banjo before you start reading.” – Noah Rosenberg, CEO and Editor-in-Chief

2. On The Road Again

By Tara Israel

From Nashville to Brooklyn, touring with Hank Williams III, his devoted entourage, and all that country music baggage.

3. The Life That Swings

By Bogdan Mohora

Recording careers and world tours long behind them, two senior citizen jazz musicians find themselves still making music at unlikely venues.

“Like the musical art form itself, the impressionistic images found in this video capture the spirit, struggle and perseverance of jazz in New York City.” – Ifanyi Bell, Video

4. Bach to the Future in a Nairobi Slum

By Sergio Ramazzotti / Parallelozero

On the edge of a giant dump in one of Kenya’s poorest neighborhoods, a remarkable music program helps children look beyond the squalor of daily life.

5. The Clubhouse that Folk Built

By Jocelyn Arem, in Collaboration with Caffè Lena

From Rufus Wainwright to the late Pete Seeger, American music icons look back on how a dilapidated loft in upstate New York became an essential hotbed of the folk movement.

“A short, but charming portrait of an obscure cafe with a legendary footprint in musical history.” – Vinnie Neuberg, Illustrations Editor

6. Death of a Sidewinder

By W.M. Akers

He was one of the greatest trumpeters of all time, but Lee Morgan’s young life was stopped short by a toxic romance with a woman who saved him, then shot him dead.

“One of the most tragic stories we’ve ever published. It’s about the vulnerability that exists within both artists and people in love. Unfortunately for Morgan, he was both.” – Michael Stahl, Features Editor

7. A Bittersweet Ballad for a Bygone Music City Mash-Up

By Chloë Stillwell

My mom and dad were fun-loving lounge singers with endless energy and outrageous perms to match. Then they became parents, Nashville became “cool,” and we all started to wonder what might have been.

“Chloë really got to the heart of the bittersweet nostalgia of being from somewhere that’s rapidly gentrifying – while telling a great story about being in love and trying to make it.” – Lilly O’Donnell, Deputy Editor and Community Manager

8. Mr. Iraq Takes the Mic

By Claire Jeantet & Fabrice Catérini

A fast-rapping MC injects renewed rhythm into the saga of the Iraqi people.

“Here in the States, it’s pretty impossible to think of anything but violence when we hear about Iraq. But this video goes out of its way to change that.” – Michael

9. The Bible Belt’s Racy New Boyfriend

By Emily McDermott

How a devout young Christian from Tennessee found her calling as an explicit pansexual rapper.

“With the conversations about sex-positive culture and transgender rights evolving so rapidly right now, this sassy gender-bending rapper from the Bible Belt seems even more vital than she did when we published this piece two years ago.” – Brendan Spiegel, Editorial Director

10. Where the Bass Never Stops

By Alden Wicker

Dancing til daylight with Brooklyn’s hyper-friendly, ketamine-fueled, ever-eclectic house music party people.

“A high-octane story that might make you want to have a little more fun than usual this weekend.” – Michael

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