Levar Burton

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Beloved Reading Rainbow host and Star Trek star Levar Burton selects meaningful songs about redemption, spirituality, and acceptance, as well as the ‘quintessential love song’ as part of his Guest DJ set. Levar has been celebrating the 30th anniversary of Reading Rainbow and stars in the TNT show “Perception”.

For More: http://www.levarburton.com/

Track List:

1.    Castles Made of Sand - Jimi Hendrix
2.    A Case of You - Joni Mitchell
3.    Bein' Green - Van Morrison
4.    Redemption Song - Bob Marley & The Wailers
5.    Testify - Dianne Reeves


Eric J Lawerence: Hi, I'm Eric J. Lawrence and I'm here with Levar Burton. In addition to his appearance in the landmark TV mini-series “Roots”, he's beloved by many as the host of the Emmy winning kids show “Reading Rainbow” as well as for his role on “Star Trek: The Next Generation” among many other credits. We're thrilled have him in the studio today to talk about some of the songs that have inspired him over the years as part of KCRW's Guest DJ Project. Levar, thank you so much for coming down. 

Levar Burton: Thanks, Eric.

Eric: What's the first track you got for us?

Levar: Jimi Hendrix, "Castles Made of Sand". I was born in ‘57. Hendrix was the first album I ever bought “Axis: Bold as Love” and this song is really atypical Jimi in that it's really the softer side of Jimi and it's the side of Jimi that I think I like the best.

Song: "Castles Made of Sand" -- Jimi Hendrix 

Eric: That was "Castles Made of Sand" from Jimi Hendrix as selected by our guest Levar Burton. What's the next track you got for us?

Levar: This track is one of my favorite female vocalists of all time, Joni Mitchell. It's a live album “Miles of Aisles” and "A Case of You", for me, is the quintessential love song. I could drink a case of you and I'd still be on my feet. I love this song and for me it really represents all the female vocalists that I've loved over time.

Eric: Where did you encounter Joni first time was that something that you heard at home or was that part of your music discovery?

Levar: I guess I discovered Joni when I got into high school and I really cemented with Joni in college. My early college years at USC were full of Joni Mitchell, Bonnie Raitt, of course, Van Morrison. When I think of Joni, I think of my first couple of years at USC. 

Eric: And that was studying acting?

Levar: I studied theater, yeah, and got Roots as a sophomore and never looked back. 

Song: "A Case of You" -- Joni Mitchell  

Eric: Do you find that music is helpful as a tool to sort of prepare for acting gigs or does it play into your preparation in any way?

Levar: Music has played into my preparation as an actor a couple of times, as a director it plays into my preparation heavily. Music as a mood setter, of course when you're scoring or even when you're doing a temp score, you're always looking for the right music for the moment. So you know storytelling is all about combining the imagery with the intention. And music does that incredibly well.

Eric: That was Joni Mitchell with "A Case of You", the live version from “Miles of Aisles”, as selected by our guest Levar Burton. Well, you mentioned Van Morrison you got a track from him next which track is that?

Levar: This is a track that most people have never heard Van sing -- "Bein' Green" the Joe Raposo song that was made famous by Kermit the Frog. Van is the soundtrack of my life, he absolutely is. He is the singer, poet, philosopher, sinner, saint, redeemer. He's the guy, he's the man! And this to me represents again a side of Van that we don't normally get to experience, but it's as soulful as you wanna be.

Song: "Bein' Green” -- Van Morrison 

Eric: "Bein' Green", as you mentioned, is sort of a song associated with Kermit the Frog and, as a result, children's work. You worked extensively with the Reading Rainbow project and how that sort of connects with kids. What is it about music that works well with kids?

Levar: You know music is a part of who we are. It is an element and aspect of being human, responding to musicality in the world and in life and you know kids are just really plugged in to those basic elemental aspects of what it means to be human. You don’t have to go very far with a kid to engage them in a story or a song, so it doesn't get anymore basic than that. They’re just really open, kids. 

Eric: That was Van Morrison with "Bein' Green" as selected by our guest Levar Burton. What's the next song you got for us?

Levar: Well, this is Bob Marley. It's my favorite Bob Marley tune, "Redemption Song". I had the great good fortune many years ago, at one of the very first Sun Splash Festivals in Montego Bay, to sit outside of my condo and have Ziggy Marley sing this song to a very small group of people. He was a kid and it immediately became my favorite Bob Marley song, because I heard this song through his son's eyes.

Song: "Redemption Song" -- Bob Marley 

Eric: That's sort of a different song for Bob Marley too, because it's not overtly reggae.

Levar: No, it's not, it's more of a spiritual with Bob's foot in it, you know, and it never ceases to move me.

Eric: Bob Marley and the Wailer's with "Redemption Song". 

Eric: That was Bob Marley and the Wailer's with "Redemption Song" as selected by our guest Levar Burton. What's the last song you got for us?

Levar: Well, Eric if I were to have an anthem in life it would be this song. I just love what it says, you know, sometimes we won't understand why life is the way it is. Things don't always go the way you plan them but I believe, this song says, that God and time are synonymous and through time God reveals all things. Be still, stand in love, pay attention.

And those three admonishments really mean a lot to me. Be still because unless you're still, unless you're quiet, you'll never hear that voice within, right? Stand in love -- as far as I can tell that is the only response to being human. We have to stand in love. And pay attention, unless you're really paying attention you might miss something really wonderful in life.

Eric: Those are pretty profound statements and it's arguable that Jazz as a medium doesn't put as much emphasis in the lyrical content, it's about the quality of the voice that's more important, but this is a song clearly that it's the words that are speaking to you. 

Levar: Well, in the hands of a master like Dianne Reeves, a song like "Testify" can elevate itself from an idiom like Jazz to real anthem, to real personal anthem. 

Eric: Well, here it is Dianne Reeves with "Testify".

Song: "Testify" -- Dianne Reeves 

Eric: That was Dianne Reeves with "Testify" as selected by our guest Levar Burton. Levar, thank you so much for coming down.

Levar: Eric J. my pleasure.

Eric: For a complete track listing and to find these songs online go to kcrw.com/guestdjproject and subscribe to the podcast through iTunes.