Walter Ray Watson | KERA News

Walter Ray Watson

Walter Ray Watson is a senior producer for NPR News.

Watson joined NPR in 1987 as a production assistant on Weekend Edition Sunday, working when the program was hosted by Susan Stamberg and later by Liane Hansen.

He is working on the music series "American Anthem." In 2018, Watson produced stories for the special series "1968: How We Got Here." Previously, he helped launch the Code Switch podcast covering race and identity.

During his tenure at Weekend Edition Sunday, he produced stories on organ donor transplants in Pittsburgh, the threatened closing of Harlem's Apollo Theatre, and countless music features — a signature of the Sunday morning program — including performance-chats with Joni Mitchell, Charles Lloyd, and Awadagin Pratt. He traveled to Topeka, Kansas, with education correspondent Claudio Sanchez to mark the 40th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education. As a reporter, he has profiled jazz musician Jason Moran, writer Junot Diaz, dancer-choreographer Bebe Miller, and Brazilian singer Milton Nascimento.

Watson was supervising senior producer of the weekend broadcasts of All Things Considered for more than eight years. He oversaw coverage of the impeachment vote of President Clinton, the contested 2000 presidential election between George W. Bush and Al Gore, and Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath.

He's proud of his work in South Africa with NPR correspondent Renee Montagne when NPR examined that country two years after the election of Nelson Mandela. He's also worked on stories of recovery after Hurricane Katrina and the immediate impact of Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Watson won a George Foster Peabody Award in 2013 with host-correspondent Michele Norris for Norris' original storytelling project on race and identity, "The Race Card Project." He won an award the next year for best radio feature from the National Association of Black Journalists on the discovery and restoration of a rare 1913 silent feature film starring Bert Williams and a large African American cast.

Born in Louisiana, he grew up in Chicago. Before coming to NPR, he was a staff writer for The New Pittsburgh Courier, a bi-weekly African American newspaper. Watson earned a bachelor's degree from the University of Pittsburgh.

At the turn of the 20th Century, millions of African Americans moved from the rural South to the country's Northern cities in search of a new beginning. That time of discovery, awakening and Renaissance came to be known as The Great Migration.

Twenty-three-year-old jazz pianist James Francies has his musical fingerprints all over the place. From leading his own group at 2019'sWinter Jazzfest in New York City to playing shows in Tokyo with guitar legend Pat Metheny, the current pace of Francies's life is constantly in motion.

"It just feels like you're on a plane," Francies says. "Four thousand feet, traveling six hundred miles an hour."

Last fall, Blue Note Records released Flight, Francies's debut album.

This story is part of American Anthem, a yearlong series on songs that rouse, unite, celebrate and call to action. Find more at NPR.org/Anthem.


By the early 1960s, Nina Simone was well-known to the world as a singer, songwriter and classically trained pianist. But around 1963, as race relations in America hit a boiling point, she made a sharp turn in her music — toward activism.

In 2018, NPR looked back on how events from 50 years ago — the pivotal year of 1968 — shaped our current world. In our "1968: How We Got Here" series, NPR's National Desk and reporters from across the newsroom examined more than 40 events, ideas and movements from that year and sought out to answer a simple question: How did each of those get us to where we are today?

Updated at 6:55 p.m. ET on Nov. 16

Shirley Chisholm's celebrated win on election night, Nov. 5, 1968, still resonates with today's election cycle, 50 years later. She became the first black woman ever elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. Over the years, her victory is often cited as inspiration for women running for public office.

Fifty years ago, photographer and folklorist Roland Freeman hitched his hopes to a humble caravan of mule-driven wagons. The Mule Train left the small town of Marks, in the Mississippi Delta, for Washington, D.C. It was part of Martin Luther King Jr.'s last major effort to mobilize impoverished Americans of different races and ethnic backgrounds.