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Arts and Humanities

Carolina Performing Arts kicks off 20/21 season with Tift Merritt in new streaming series partnership

The live, monthly series will premiere on Sept. 24, as Merritt and fellow artists examine their creative processes and the timely impacts of this year’s events on working artists.

The Spark with Tift Merritt.

Today, Carolina Performing Arts at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill announced a new video livestream series partnership with alumna and local singer/songwriter Tift Merritt.

The live, monthly series will premiere on Sept. 24, as Merritt and fellow artists examine their creative processes and the timely impacts of this year’s events on working artists. The series, which will continue throughout the 20/21 season, is the first of CPA’s fall offerings intended to spark joy and curiosity through the arts.

The Grammy-nominated artist will bring the series she produced for the acclaimed Marfa, Texas, Public Radio home to Carolina. “The Spark with Tift Merritt” is a window into the creative processes of performing artists, revealing the stories not often heard or seen by audiences seated in a concert hall.

“I began collecting artist interviews for Marfa Public Radio many years ago and I am thrilled to continue that work in partnership with Carolina Performing Arts. These conversations are not about neatly packaged finished products, but the not-so-neatly hewn insight that comes from having your hands in the dirt,” said Merritt.

Part of CPA at Home, “The Spark” will premiere its first guest, Grammy-winning singer/songwriter, clawhammer banjo player, and CPA artist-in-residence Abigail Washburn. On Oct. 22, Merritt will interview pianist Pedja Mužijević. On Nov. 19, Merritt will sit down with Wynton Marsalis, renowned trumpeter and the managing and artistic director of Jazz at Lincoln Center. Merritt and Marsalis will also be joined by longtime Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra member Carlos Henriquez.

“I have a deep admiration for Tift’s own artistry, and the way that she thinks about being an artist: the responsibilities and the possibilities. In this time when we can’t gather for performances as we normally might, we’re excited to launch this new way of revealing the depths of the artists with whom we work so closely,” said Amy Russell, Director of Programming at Carolina Performing Arts.

Tift Merritt last performed at CPA to a sold-out crowd in spring 2018. In a nearly 20-year career, she has garnered a Grammy nomination and toured the world with her sonic short stories. A Raleigh native and UNC-Chapel Hill graduate, Merritt has played beloved local venues like Cat’s Cradle and The Cave. Her television appearances include “Austin City Limits” and the “Grand Ole Opry.” NPR has featured her work on “Morning Edition,” “All Things Considered,” “Talk of the Nation” and “Weekend Edition.” A regular contributor to the “Oxford American,” Tift lives and writes in North Carolina with her young daughter. Previous guests on “The Spark” have included artist sculptor Kiki Smith, poet CK Williams and musician Emmylou Harris.

Washburn appeared on the CPA series numerous times, including with her husband Béla Fleck and collaborator Wu Fei. Washburn and Wu’s music is also an integral component of the Global Music Fellows program, a partnership between CPA and UNC World View, supported by Smithsonian Folkways. Mužijević’s partnership with Carolina Performing Arts has grown in recent years, resulting most recently in an intimate concert at CURRENT ArtSpace + Studio featuring the UNC Chamber Singers, which he curated in collaboration with the student artists. With JLCO, Wynton Marsalis has appeared on nearly every season at CPA since its founding.

Registration for “The Spark” is free at carolinaperformingarts.org, and all events will include time for audience Q&A. Further events in the series will be announced later this fall.