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4 Musicians Pay Their Gratitude Forward On Thanksgiving

Clockwise from left: Aniba Hotep, Brian McKnight, Isaiah Sharkey, Shoshana Bean.
Clockwise from left: Aniba Hotep, Brian McKnight, Isaiah Sharkey, Shoshana Bean.

If you're a regular All Things Considered listener you know that Thanksgiving Day is all about music. As part of a tradition now four years running, host Ari Shapiro speaks to four different musicians, each one pointing to the next as an artist whose work they are thankful for.

This year's chain of gratitude begins with an especially significant pick for Shapiro, pop vocalist and former Broadway veteran Shoshana Bean — with whom he went to high school — and makes its way to R&B singer-songwriter Brian McKnight, guitarist Isaiah Sharkey and Southern soul singer Aniba Hotep.

Hear the four-part conversation at the audio link on this page, and read excerpts below.

Shoshana Bean

On crossing over from Broadway to pop:"I think there was so much proving I had to do. As soon as people hear you're from Broadway, they just hear you that way, instead of giving you a clean ear. I don't feel like I have anything to prove anymore, and I think that confidence of self kind of shows in my record."

On Brian McKnight:"He was the first person to really look at me as more than a Broadway performer. I've had magical moments like that along the way when I've gotten the opportunity to meet and work with people that I used to think were untouchable, who I held as idols when I was younger — from Michael Jackson to Whitney. Brian is definitely one of them. To merge jazz and R&B in the way he did on a pop record, at the time ... it was innovative. It was new."

Brian McKnight

On paying his success forward to younger artists:"I can't imagine that there's anybody that has made it, in any industry, that didn't get help getting there. When I see somebody that has talent, if there's anything that I can do, I will do that. If it's making a phone call, if it's trying to get them in front of someone that can help them, if it's writing a song with them, if it's something, I always feel like that's paying it forward, for somebody doing something like that for me."

On Isaiah Sharkey:"He sings, he plays, he writes. He's one of the most talented musicians. He's a fantastic guitar player, that's his main instrument. When he came to audition, the first time we did the studio sessions for the album Better, he came in and played Steely Dan note for note, and he won me right there."

Isaiah Sharkey

On going from a backup player to releasing his own music:"I always played with other artists, and I always created at home or on my own spare time. I wanted to do my own music, and put it out for people to experience. I wasn't intending on singing ... but it just so happened the compositions and songs I was writing required vocals and required lyrics, and I felt that it would be really difficult to get some fantastic singers to tour with me consistently. So I said, 'Well, you know, I can hold a note a little bit, so I'll sing.' "

On Aniba Hotep:"Her lyrics touch on a lot of different subjects, from being in love to social issues — just everything you can possibly think of, she writes about. I admire that about her, and she's an incredible singer as well. She can give you an Aretha Franklin type of thing, but she can also give you a Carole King type of vibe or a Brittany Howard type of thing. She's amazing."

Aniba Hotep

On her musical influences growing up: I'm originally from Virginia, from a small town, and there wasn't an urban radio station. So I learned and was fed a lot of the Eagles, The Doors, Jefferson Airplane and a lot of what people call heartland rock. But I also grew up in a baptist church. I'm also a child of hip-hop. As I got older, I got more exposure to jazz — then, in college, all of the psychedelic '60s rock and trip-hop, drum-and-bass from the U.K. Everything that touched me, I'm sure that it comes out in my own interpretation of music."

On the artist she's thankful for,Lianne La Havas:"I think I discovered her maybe five or six years ago, and I thought her tone was just so incredible. ... I love all kinds of music, obviously. But lyrics that seem really personal, and an energy that you can't get anywhere else — like, it's very specific to the person — that's always a draw to me. She provides that in spades."

Christina CalaandFatma Tanisproduced and edited the audio of this interview.

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