Even if you don’t listen to NPR’s Morning Edition, you probably know its theme song. It’s one of those timeless jingles that lives in the background of daily life—it’s so familiar that you hardly notice it.
“People tell me, ‘Your music is the soundtrack to my life,’” says BJ Leiderman, who composed the jazzy intro back in 1979.
Now, after its nearly 40-year life span, the Morning Edition song is getting reborn. At the end of April, the morning show’s staff asked listeners to send in their own renditions of the theme to get played on the air. More than 70 people took up the task, posting recordings on SoundCloud.
Lindsay Totty, an associate producer and director of Morning Edition, listened to every one of the renditions, a grab-bag of blues, techno, indie rock, dubstep and classical. “The people [submitting songs] come from all walks of life,” Totty says. “There’s a Grammy-winning blues guitarist, independent composers, indie musicians, young kids.” One version is a piano performance by a 7-year-old boy, whose parents posted the recording.
Last week, the show chose three songs to play on air. One of them was a bluesy guitar rendition by 61-year-old Josh Sklair, who was Etta James’s music director and band leader for 25 years. “It was such an impulsive thing,” says Sklair, a long-time NPR listener. “The whole thing involved about 10 or 15 minutes.”
Even though Sklair has had a successful career, winning a Grammy in 2003 as the producer on the Etta James album Let’s Roll, he says the struggle as musician never stops. “If I see an opportunity and relate to it, I go after it,” he says. “And that’s what I did.”
Leiderman, the original Morning Edition song composer who also wrote the themes for Weekend Edition, Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me!, Car Talk, and Marketplace, relates to Sklair’s struggle. He says he’s fortunate to be associated with NPR since the 70s: “I’m the luckiest composer on earth.”
Although music is just a small part of the shows, Leiderman, whose forthcoming jazz album is called National Public Leiderman, thinks it goes a long way. “Music does something that an announcer or copy on a printed page can’t do,” he says. “It sets up an emotion it bypasses your brain and goes right to your heart.”
Morning Edition is taking submissions until May 31.