Stolen Letter From Columbus Found In The Library Of Congress And Returned To Italy

A Carabinieri policeman stands next to a book (bottom) reproducing a letter written by Christopher Columbus in 1493 about his discovery of the New World that had been replaced at Florence's Riccardiana library with a forgery (top) that no one noticed until a few years ago, during a press conference in Rome.

A Carabinieri policeman stands next to a book (bottom) reproducing a letter written by Christopher Columbus in 1493 about his discovery of the New World that had been replaced at Florence’s Riccardiana library with a forgery (top) that no one noticed until a few years ago, during a press conference in Rome. Domenico Stinellis/AP hide caption

toggle caption Domenico Stinellis/AP

The heist of a major historical document apparently went undiscovered for more than 20 years. Now, a stolen letter from Christopher Columbus spreading the news that the world isn’t flat has been returned from the U.S. to Italy.

The 1493 letter from Columbus to his royal patrons Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain details his “voyage of discovery to the Americas,” the Justice Department said in a statement. Copies of the letter, which was written during the transatlantic journey back to Europe, were “instrumental in spreading the news throughout Europe about Columbus’s voyage.”

Justice Department investigator Jamie McCall, who’s involved in the case, tells NPR’s Chris Arnold about this account of Columbus’ historic journey. “Columbus described the native people [as] very quick to provide him with gifts, and friendly: Individuals that would be easy to conquer by the European powers,” McCall says. “I mean, that’s something that stuck out to me.”

The Riccardiana Library in Florence, Italy, housed a copy of the letter. But as Chris reports, the document was stolen at some point before 1992 and “replaced with a forgery that was only recently discovered.”

Then, as Chris reports, it was sold in 1992 at a New York auction for $300,000 and eventually donated to the Library of Congress.

The Justice Department says special agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement were tipped off in 2012 that the letter had been stolen – and was believed to be in the Library of Congress.

First, the investigators confirmed that the letter in Florence was a forgery, according to the Justice Department:

“The inspection determined, among other things, that the text of the forged letter was a high-quality photocopy, that there was no original library stamp from the [Riccardiana] Library and that the stitching patterns did not match original stitching patterns for known Plannck II Columbus Letters.”

Next, they examined the letter at the Library of Congress:

“The experts found, among other things, evidence that chemical bleach had been used to remove the [Riccardiana] Library’s stamp, and that printed characters had been retouched to further disguise the letter’s provenance, or place of origin.”

McCall tells Chris that it appears “a well-meaning collector who didn’t believe the letter was stolen donated it to the library” – which may be a first for the Library of Congress.

According to Reuters, the letter is now valued at $1.13 million.

Now, it has been returned to Rome where it was displayed next to the forged version. In a tweet, Italy’s culture minister Dario Franceschini said, “Thanks to the cultural heritage protection police, Columbus’s letter on the discovery of America will return to (Florence’s) Riccardiana Library,” according to Reuters.

Tornerà, grazie ai Carabinieri Tpc, alla Biblioteca Riccardiana la lettera di Colombo sulla scoperta dell’America. pic.twitter.com/39nHZXbOVM

— Dario Franceschini (@dariofrance) May 18, 2016

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On Anniversary Tour, Bunny Wailer Is Still A Blackheart Man

Bunny Wailer is the last living original member of the legendary reggae group The Wailers. He recently finished his first US tour in more than 20 years.

Bunny Wailer is the last living original member of the legendary reggae group The Wailers. He recently finished his first US tour in more than 20 years. Courtesy of the artist hide caption

toggle caption Courtesy of the artist

The scene was electric at the B.B. King Blues Club in Times Square as Bunny Wailer, 69 years old, took the stage before a capacity crowd.

Born Neville Livingston, Bunny is the last living original member of the legendary reggae group The Wailers, which he founded along with Peter Tosh and Bob Marley in the early 1960s.

From his signature composition “Rastaman Chant” to other Wailers classics, and a few new songs as well, Bunny Wailer delivered a powerful trip down memory lane that night, and showed that he’s still very much in the reggae game. So what made him tour after all these years?

“Well, the time was calling, you know,” he says. “It’s a long time I haven’t been out, and the fans are calling. The promoters are calling. So what do I do?”

That night in New York, he said he was enjoying the tour so far, despite a few hiccups: “I got little flu. You know you come out sometimes and the weather changes, but I’m getting over that.”

This was his first U.S. tour in more than 20 years, though he did have to cancel the last few shows due to illness. The tour was billed as a 40th anniversary celebration of Blackheart Man, his first solo album, released just after he and Peter Tosh left the Wailers.

“Well, the blackheart man is something that is related to our culture, custom and practice,” he explains. “There was a kind of nickname that was given to the Rastaman: the blackheart man. Parents used to tell us, ‘You be careful where you go. Watch out for the blackheart man.’ So we grew up with the blackheart man being that kind of a challenge. Where we are concerned, we still maintain the order of the blackheart man.”

As a kid, Bunny was clearly unimpressed by warnings to stay away from Rastas.

“I’ve been a blackheart man since four years of age,” he says. “I used to play in the gullies, and one day we were there playing, and we just saw a foot come out of a manhole — just a foot. And every man, every youth, run from the scene. And when he came out, he had a flower bag shirt. … He looked at me and said, ‘So why you don’t run?’ I said, ‘For what?’ And I became a Rastaman from that day. From then on until now, my dreadlocks touch the ground when I stand.”

Listening back to early Wailers records like Burnin’ and Catch a Fire, you can’t miss the vocal chemistry these guys had, with Bunny taking the high tenor voice.

“Bob, Peter and myself, we are totally responsible for the Wailers sound, and what the Wailers brought to the world, and left us a legacy,” he says. “The thing about the Wailers is that we are always rehearsing. Always! Until we parted.”

All these years on, Bunny Wailer has no plans to retire. In 2013, he released an album called Reincarnated Souls with 50 tracks. They were all new songs, full of rebel politics and old-time Rastafarian religion, set to classic ska, rocksteady and reggae beats.

On stage at B.B. King’s, Bunny wore a quasi-military uniform — white, to match his white beard — and kept his dreads coiled in a crown above his head. He cuts a mystic presence these days, but says this is no farewell tour.

“I would just like to keep on singing ska, rocksteady and reggae music,” he says. “That’s my legacy: to sing for you people, and to teach you people of what I’ve known by singing this music.”

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Breaking The Cycle Of Sexual Abuse Of Students By Prep School Teachers

Jetta Bernier, executive director of Massachusetts Citizens for Children, is pushing a bill aimed at mandating better vetting of teachers in both private and public schools.

Gary Waters/Ikon Images/Getty Images

When it comes to sexual assault of students, some say private secondary schools are still being a little too private about how they handle misconduct.

A recent Boston Globe investigation found hundreds of students were allegedly abused by teachers and staff at scores of New England prep schools since the 1950s. Many of the perpetrators were quietly let go, and then moved on to re-offend at other schools.

To many who’ve been through private boarding schools, the stories of sexual abuse comes as little surprise. There are not only more opportunities for misconduct with kids at school day and night, but also, arguably more pressure on elite, competitive prep schools to keep such problems private.

“That’s just how it is,” says Maggie Fitzgerald, who enrolled at the Williston Northampton School in western Massachusetts five years ago as it was being sued for trying to cover up a teacher’s sexual misconduct with a student. The news didn’t dissuade her. “I mean, every boarding school has come out that they’ve had one of these scandals. I mean, how was I supposed to find a school that hadn’t?” she asks.

That case eventually settled. Just last year, another faculty member resigned after it came out that he had a relationship with a student in the 1970s. Former administrators knew about it but kept promoting him anyway.

“It reminds me of the Catholic Church,” Fitzgerald says. “[There’s] an air of ‘Let’s keep this quiet [to] protect our brand.’ “

Not Enough Change

Current Williston administrators have apologized, noting that times have changed, and schools everywhere have since changed their ways. But some say, not enough.

“If you’re asking me if I believe there are instances where people duck under table here and push things to the side, I’m quite sure things like that happen regularly, still,” says Paul Reville, the former secretary of education for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and now a professor at Harvard’s graduate school of education.

“Private schools who depend on the tuition of paying customers would rather not raise concerns so that becomes rationale for, ‘Well, let’s just get it off stage with as little fanfare as possible,’ ” he says.

Attorneys for survivors of sexual abuse say they will often discover, after the fact, that schools let an employee go under a confidential deal that requires both sides to keep quiet.

“Schools that have a problem teacher fairly frequently say, ‘Look, if you resign quietly and go somewhere else, we’ll give you a reference saying that you were teacher here and we won’t say anything beyond that,'” says Boston attorney Carmen Durso.

Breaking The Cycle

The practice is known as “passing the trash.” Jetta Bernier, executive director of Massachusetts Citizens for Children, is pushing a bill aimed at stopping it, by mandating better vetting of teachers in both private and public schools. Modeled on laws that have passed in other states, the bill would require a school who’s hiring to specifically ask former employers if an applicant was ever investigated for sexual misconduct. The applicant would have to sign a waiver so his or her former bosses could answer, without worrying about getting sued for defamation.

“We need not be playing games around child protection,” Bernier says. “We need to make sure that our schools put the protection of children first.”

But some teachers have objected.

“I think that putting children’s safety first shouldn’t mean that due process rights for teachers shouldn’t also be considered,” says Matt O’Connor, a spokesman for the American Federation of Teachers in Connecticut, where a similar bill recently passed. The union has protested to the fact that unproven allegations would remain on a teacher’s record, arguing that leaves teachers effectively “presumed guilty.”

“Simply having claims against them is then used against them,” O’Connor says, “so it is a very unfair burden being placed on innocent teachers.”

Many private schools declined to comment for this report. But Peter Upham, head of the Association of Boarding Schools, concedes administrators are in a tough spot when trying to deal with suspicions that haven’t been substantiated.

“It gets a little murkier in terms of how a school properly fulfills its ethical obligation” to alert other schools about unproven allegations, Upham says, “because believe me, there’s defamation lawsuits coming.”

A No-Man’s Land’

Private schools are also vulnerable to getting blindsided by a candidate with a checkered past, since most don’t require teachers to have a state certification or license to teach as public schools do. That means private schools also can’t access the national database that tracks teachers who’ve lost certification due to misconduct.

“If they don’t require certification, then they are in a no-man’s land, ” says Phillip S. Rogers, executive director of the National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification, the nonprofit that runs the database.

For example, Rogers says, if a teacher lost his certification because of misconduct at his most recent job, he could simply leave the school off his resume, and a private school might never know to check there for a reference.

Rogers says the group is considering allowing private schools to start using the database next year.

It’s hardly a perfect system, Rogers says, but it would help private schools at least have the same information that public schools do. “It’s really meant to be a trigger, so then they would know who they needed to call,” he says.

The Association of Boarding Schools says it would welcome that. But Upham says what’s really needed is a database that covers not only certified teachers, but also everyone who works with kids, including in camps and scouting and church groups. Otherwise, he says, there will always be holes in the system that will allow some bad apples to move around undetected.

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Episode 366: How To Make It In The Food Truck Business

Watch the flow of foot traffic. Some streets naturally channel people to one side or the other.

Note: This episode originally ran in April, 2012.

In New York City, thousands of food trucks and carts compete for the business of hungry office workers. Being in the right spot means the difference between fortune and ruin.

There are many rules to finding that perfect parking space. Here are six of them:

  • Hide caption

    Watch the flow of foot traffic. Some streets naturally channel people to one side or the other.
  • Look for office buildings. Office workers are great customers because they are usually hungry and have money. But not all offices are created equal. Creative workers are more adventurous eaters.
    Hide caption

    Look for office buildings. Office workers are great customers because they are usually hungry and have money. But not all offices are created equal. Creative workers are more adventurous eaters.
  • You don't want any other restaurants on the block.
    Hide caption

    You don’t want any other restaurants on the block.
  • You should be located in an area with fewer food carts. If there are others, they should be complementary carts rather than competitors.
    Hide caption

    You should be located in an area with fewer food carts. If there are others, they should be complementary carts rather than competitors.
  • Park near bushes, trees and benches. Street greenery and places to sit down encourage people eat.
    Hide caption

    Park near bushes, trees and benches. Street greenery and places to sit down encourage people eat.
  • Being on the sunny side of the street encourages people to linger. Wide sidewalks also make lines less intrusive.
    Hide caption

    Being on the sunny side of the street encourages people to linger. Wide sidewalks also make lines less intrusive.

On today’s show Robert Smith rides along in the Rickshaw Dumpling truck, driving from deep within Brooklyn to the heart of Manhattan in search of hungry customers.

Music: “Searching for Clues” and They Might Be Giants’ “New York City.” Find us: Twitter/Facebook.

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Fact-Checking NPR's Reports On Vegas 'Violence'

Thousands of people gather at the Paris Hotel in Las Vegas for the Nevada State Democratic Convention on May 14, 2016.

Thousands of people gather at the Paris Hotel in Las Vegas for the Nevada State Democratic Convention on May 14, 2016. Michelle Rindels /AP hide caption

toggle caption Michelle Rindels /AP

NPR’s use of the word “violence” and claims of thrown chairs in recent stories about Saturday’s Nevada Democratic Party state convention have come under criticism by supporters of candidate Bernie Sanders.

Listener Ya’akov Sloman, of Mishawaka, Ind., writes:

“In the aftermath of the convention a single report of ‘throwing chairs and rushing the stage’ by an openly partisan ‘journalist’ became the story for every major news outlet. In particular, the dramatic image of ‘throwing chairs’ seemed to strike reporters as great stuff; so it was repeated.

As far as my extensive research can determine (and I am still looking) there is no other evidence of ‘thrown chairs’. This one counterfactual account changes the tone of stories containing it dramatically. If it did not happen, claims of ‘violence’ which depend on it are simply not sustainable.”

A number of listeners and readers have written with similar concerns (not all so polite). The reports they are concerned about include this one from today’s Morning Edition, with the headline, “Nevada Incident Could Make It Difficult For Sanders’ Supporters To Back Clinton” and yesterday’s online-only story, “Bernie Sanders Defends Supporters After Rowdy Protests In Nevada.”

The online story, citing the source of the claims, reported:

“But chaos followed after Sanders supporters allege they were denied being seated at the convention and that the state party chairwoman, Roberta Lange, was slanting the rules in favor of Clinton. In the end, Clinton ended up with 20 delegates out of the state to Sanders’ 15.

Sanders supporters, believing they had been treated unfairly, rushed the stage, threw chairs and were shouting obscenities, according to veteran Nevada journalist Jon Ralston. Even after the convention concluded, many refused to leave and had to be escorted out by security.”

As Sloman notes, other outlets, including The Associated Press, also reported that chairs were thrown. While I have no reason to doubt that reporting, in the extensive video posted on social media in the aftermath of the convention I’ve so far found none of a chair being thrown. One video shows a chair being lifted in the air. Other videos do show angry Sanders supporters rushing toward the stage and shouting obscenities.

Talking Points Memo this afternoon tried to get to the bottom of what happened and the report was inconclusive: “There has been disagreement between Sanders supporters and those critical of their behavior Saturday over how violent the state convention actually was, and who is to blame. Descriptions of the day’s events recount shouting, interruptions, crude names and epithets being lobbed at party officials, and an evening that culminated in a group of Sanders backers rushing towards the stage and even flipping chairs. Only some of those incidents could be backed up by video evidence posted by those at Saturday’s convention and other reports.”

I asked Beth Donovan, NPR’s senior Washington editor, to respond to the concerns. She wrote, “Several members of our staff watched live video that showed a man brandishing a chair. Nevada analyst Jon Ralston, who was in the room and over time has been a very reliable source, reported that a chair was thrown. We okayed using and sourcing his reporting.” But, she added, “When Ralston’s reporting came under question, we adjusted our language,” by not repeating the word “thrown.” Instead, Keith’s report this morning referred to “physical skirmishes.” (It also quoted Nevada Sen. Harry Reid as referring to “violence,” which he did, indeed, do.)

Donovan went on, “So, was there violence? There was pushing, shoving, and screaming, a chair was brandished and a great deal of hostile and obscene language used. Several editors and reporters saw and heard the video live and later. People on the ground described it as violence. It doesn’t seem a stretch to me.”

Donovan and I disagree on this; “violence,” which NPR more often uses to describe events in war zones, seems too strong a term to me based on the evidence I have seen so far. And the politics team’s own decision to avoid the word “thrown” renders this online-only introduction to Keith’s piece misleading, unless other eyewitnesses come forward to clarify the events: “Sen. Bernie Sanders is answering for violence at the Nevada Democratic Party’s state convention, where his supporters threw chairs and hurled obscenities as Hillary Clinton claimed the most delegates.”

One final note: I do not agree with those who emailed that this reporting is evidence of an NPR bias against Sanders, a claim which many, many listeners and readers have been making to me and online over the course of months. But that is only all the more reason for NPR to be particularly precise in reporting on events such as these.

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With New Products Google Flexes Muscles To Competitors, Regulators

Google Vice President Mario Queiroz talks about the uses of the new Google Home device during the keynote address of the Google I/O conference in Mountain View, Calif.

Google Vice President Mario Queiroz talks about the uses of the new Google Home device during the keynote address of the Google I/O conference in Mountain View, Calif. Eric Risberg/AP hide caption

toggle caption Eric Risberg/AP

The message from Google’s developers’ conference is clear: The company is prepared to take on competitors as well as regulators.

CEO Sundar Pichai and his team were flexing. Big time.

Through a litany of product announcements at the so-called I/O annual conference in Mountain View, Calif. — messaging apps, a personal virtual assistant and a voice-controlled speaker that connects you with it — the company basically said:

We can do chatbots better than Facebook. We can be smarter at home than Amazon Echo. Our personal assistant gets trained on Google search, which is more widely used than Microsoft’s Bing. We’ve got you covered on privacy; just like Apple, our new messaging service is getting end-to-end encryption.

Google has been under scrutiny from regulators in Europe who say its position is too dominant and criticize Google for pulling consumers into bundles of its products.

Well, it looks like Google won’t stop bundling any time soon. The personal assistant, which will work through multiple devices, is an effort to deepen the relationship with customers.

“We want users to have an ongoing two-way dialogue with Google,” said Pichai about the personal assistant. “We think of this as building each user their own individual Google.”

Already 20 percent of queries on Google’s mobile app and Android phones are voice queries — people saying “OK Google” to summon an older assistant called Google Now.

The company’s been working for years to listen better — get what you say when you’re in a noisy place, speaking slang like a human and not a robot, working to complete tasks. The assistant is being integrated into a new chatbot app Allo that helps you make dinner reservations or buy movie tickets.

Google is also releasing a new device called Google Home to help you manage your domestic life. The company wants Home — which looks kind of like a white plastic salt shaker — to have a place at your dinner table and be the all-knowing, helpful extended family you never had.

“It draws on 17 years of innovation in organizing the world’s information to answer questions which are difficult for other assistants to handle,” said Vice President Mario Queiroz.

Emphasis on other. Google leaders acknowledge: Amazon did it first, with the popular Echo. But they contend their device is smarter — and it can operate in a network — taking commands to shut off the lights in one bedroom while playing Spotify in another.

Google did not announce a release date.

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New Report Details The Horrors Of Life Under ISIS In Sirte, Libya

A view of buildings ravaged by fighting in Sirte, Libya, in 2011.

A view of buildings ravaged by fighting in Sirte, Libya, in 2011. Manu Brabo/AP hide caption

toggle caption Manu Brabo/AP

Crucifixions, executions, food shortages, forced prayer: These are features of life in the ISIS stronghold of Sirte, Libya, according to a new Human Rights Watch report.

ISIS has controlled Sirte since last August. The central Mediterranean city is the hometown of Libya’s former dictator Moammar Gadhafi and the site of some of the final battles of Libya’s 2011 revolution. Human Rights Watch interviewed 45 residents of the city for its report, which paints a vivid picture of how ISIS controls every aspect of life, “down to the length of men’s trousers, the breadth and color of women’s gowns, and the instruction students receive in state schools.”

“We were filled with hope. Then step by step, Daesh [ISIS] took over. Now we feel we are cursed,” one resident who fled Sirte told HRW.

The city drew international attention in February 2015 when an ISIS video showed its fighters decapitating 21 men, almost all of them Egyptian Coptic Christians who were kidnapped in Sirte.

In its new report, Human Rights Watch says it documented 28 other killings by ISIS in the Sirte area between mid-February 2015 and mid-February 2016. These amounted to “scenes of horror – public beheadings, corpses in orange jumpsuits hanging from scaffolding in what they referred to as ‘crucifixions,’ and masked fighters snatching men from their beds at night.” That’s in addition to “scores” of rival fighters disappeared by ISIS and presumed dead, the rights group says.

For example, Human Rights Watch documented the execution of 23-year-old Amjad bin Sasi, who was accused of “insulting God.” According to two family members, “ISIS enforcers burst into bin Sasi’s house and hauled him to jail for allegedly naming God while swearing as he brawled with a neighbor earlier that day.” He was brought before an ISIS judge and, three days later, shot dead in a public execution. His family says they haven’t received his body, because ISIS will not allow them to bury him in a Muslim cemetery – they consider him a non-believer.

The report details other cases where people have been taken from their beds at night and executed for being suspected “spies.” Others were killed for preaching against ISIS, or for conducting “sorcery.”ISIS keeps a tight grip on the day-to-day activities of the Sirte population, according to the report. Residents say morality police “aided by informants patrolled the streets threatening, fining or flogging men for smoking, listening to music, or failing to ensure their wives and sisters were covered head to toe in loose black abayas, and hauling boys and men into mosques for prayer and mandatory religious education classes.”

The militant group has taken control of the city’s schools, port, air base, power station, and radio station, the reports says. At least two-thirds of Sirte’s population has fled since ISIS took over.

And amid widespread food shortages, the report says ISIS is funneling reserves to its fighters at the expense of local residents:

“The group is failing to provide basic necessities to the local population. Instead it is diverting food, medicine, fuel, and cash, along with homes it confiscated from residents who fled, to as many as 1,800 fighters, police and functionaries it has amassed in the city.”

According to the report, ISIS fighters have destroyed “at least 20 homes belonging to fighters from prominent local families who joined militias trying to ousted the group.”

And five times a day during prayer times, ISIS enforcers comb the streets, “herding residents into mosques and ordering merchants to close their shops from the start of the prayers of al-Asr in the mid-afternoon until the end of the prayer of al-Isha after nightfall, current and displaced residents said.” They say the punishment for not attending is flogging, according to the report.

Additionally, women are not allowed to leave their homes without a male relative and fully covered according to the ISIS guidelines. Likewise, “shop owners are whipped and their shops are closed if they receive an unaccompanied woman.”

Chaos has erupted in Libya since the ouster of Gadhafi, with two separate governments each claiming authority. A U.N.-brokered agreement signed in December was meant to unify the two into one. But as The Associated Press reports, the agreement only has “patchy support” and the government’s head Fayez Serraj “has been ensconced in a naval base in Tripoli since his return to the country in March, unable to exercise much power beyond his office walls — much like his predecessors.”

ISIS, which first appeared in Libya in 2014, has benefited from Libya’s ongoing chaos and now has multiple local affiliates. Human Rights Watch says the militant group controls some 120 miles of Mediterranean coastline, where Sirte lies.

As NPR’s Michele Kelemen reported, the U.S. is considering sending weapons to the U.N.-backed government. John Kirby, spokesman for Secretary of State John Kerry, says “it will take time to make sure weapons get to the right groups in Libya and don’t just add to the chaos,” Michele reported.

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On Corinne Bailey Rae's New Album, A Focus On Renewal

Corinne Bailey Rae's new album, The Heart Speaks in Whispers, focuses on hope and transformation.

Corinne Bailey Rae’s new album, The Heart Speaks in Whispers, focuses on hope and transformation. Alexandra Valenti/Courtesy of the artist hide caption

toggle caption Alexandra Valenti/Courtesy of the artist

Corinne Bailey Rae has traveled great distances in her music. The UK singer’s self-titled debut album came out 10 years ago; all sunshiny pop, it was a huge hit. Her second album, The Sea took an emotional turn, coming shortly after her husband of seven years died suddenly. Rae was 29.

Now, Rae has released her third album, The Heart Speaks in Whispers. She spoke with NPR’s Ari Shapiro about how her latest songs reflect her experiences with loss, transformation and newfound love. You can hear their conversation at the audio link, or read on for an edited version.

Ari Shapiro: Let’s talk about the song “Stop Where You Are.” You’ve got this lyric, “Lying in the dark, your seeds will grow / Miracles just like a winter rose.”

Corinne Bailey Rae: That song really came about through thinking about nature, and the things that nature tells us. You know, I think that nature has such a powerful message about moving from dark to light, and bitterness to sweetness. I love the idea of the winter rose that’s sort of sleeping underneath the soil. Underneath all the snow is this plant that was growing and developing and could present itself as this beautiful flower in this time where everything else around it is very barren.

And like the flower, the song bursts out.

YouTube

Yeah, I love the way that the song develops. I wanted it to start off really intimate. You know, the song is about how it’s really important to be in the moment and be present. I’ve learned to do it more and more, I guess, as I’ve just gotten to sort of how rich life can be, and how fragile life can be as well.

What is it that has taught you those lessons? And what is it that pulls you away from the present moment?

I think that I’ve learned a lot in the last few years about the fragility of life. You know, losing my husband in 2008, that was a completely unexpected thing. And that process of grief and mourning that has taught me a lot about life, and how we never know how long we have. I think that every day should be savored, and so a lot of “Stop Where You Are” comes out of that idea that life is really precious, the people around us are precious, and every single moment is worth celebrating.

This idea of transition from darkness to light, from bitterness to sweetness, seems to come up in song after song on this album — for example, the song “Caramel.”

For me, that song was amazing because I felt like so much of it came through in this really subconscious way. I was playing my guitar and that first line, “It isn’t love, but pain, that makes you brave” — I had no intention of singing that. I hadn’t written it down. But as I played my guitar, this phrase just came out. And I was able to look at it and think, “What does this mean?” and realize I was writing a song about transformation and renewal.

I love that image of caramel — and how, if you’ve only been tasting bitter things, exactly how sweet something like that tastes to you. And the idea of feeling that love was a possible thing — I compare it in the song to dawn, and the idea of the sun slowly coming up. I think that’s really what that transformation time has been about for me: that it’s been a very gradual process, but how, when that sun does finally come up, it appears to be so bright. When you finally taste the sweetness, it appears to be so sweet. It’s so thrown into relief because of what you’ve experienced.

Even in what sounds like the most poppy, upbeat track on the album, “Tell Me,” there’s this idea: “There will be heartbreaks and blue skies / But feel it all, walk tall, don’t close your eyes.” Like, just get through it and you will emerge.

That’s a really important thing for me, the idea of telling young people there will be blue skies and there will be heartbreak. I think that it’s really important for young people to know that life is not expecting it always to be this kind of sunshiny, easy thing, but [rather] being able to sort of roll with it and be pushed around by it and be able to survive it, and know when you have to hide, and when you have to sort of hunker down, and when you can re-emerge.

And you can speak with credibility about coming through darkness because you have not only experienced the darkness, but you’ve fallen in love again. You are married now to your longtime producer.

That’s true! Steve [Brown] and I got married three years ago. The amazing thing for me was that I never really thought I would be able to experience love again in this sort of uncomplicated way. And it was even more incredible for me that it was someone I had known for a long time and been friends with for a very long time. It’s been really a great joy in my life to find this relationship with him.

You know, a big theme of the record, for me, is hope. And the reason I say a big theme of the record for me is because I feel like the album has been making itself known to me. I haven’t sort of sat down and thought, “These are the themes, these are the ideas, these are the songs.” I really feel that just in being still and being quiet and letting the songs kind of float in, it’s really been this dream-like thing for me — almost like a process of waking up.

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