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'Law & Order' Star Inspired By Jazz, Soul, Blues

May 14, 2012
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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

And now it's time for the occasional feature we call "In Your Ear." That's where we talk with some of our guests about the music they love. Today, we get the personal playlist of S. Epatha Merkerson. She's the award-winning actress best known for her role as Lt. Anita Van Buren on "Law & Order."

She spoke with us about her latest series, "Find Our Missing." The program spotlights the cases of missing people of color who are, in fact, over-represented among the cases of missing persons, but whose circumstances often don't seem to attract media attention.

But on a happier note, here's what's playing in her ear.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BLACK NARCISSUS")

S. EPATHA MERKERSON: Hi. This is S. Epatha Merkerson, and this is what's in my ear.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BLACK NARCISSUS")

MERKERSON: "Black Narcissus" - Joe Henderson, big band, beautiful song.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BLACK NARCISSUS")

MERKERSON: I just love the melody. And whenever I need to calm down and put my thoughts in order, "Black Narcissus" is a song that I tend to play.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BLACK NARCISSUS")

MERKERSON: I'm just like, a huge Chaka Khan fan. And so I would probably go to "Melody Lingers On." [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: The title of the song is "Melody Still Lingers On (Night in Tunisia)."]

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MELODY STILL LINGERS ON, NIGHT IN TUNISIA")

MERKERSON: It's a combination of rhythm and blues, and "Night in Tunisia."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MELODY STILL LINGERS ON, NIGHT IN TUNISIA")

MERKERSON: And she actually has Dizzy Gillespie playing on it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MELODY STILL LINGERS ON, NIGHT IN TUNISIA")

CHAKA KHAN: A long time ago in the '40s, Dizzy and Bird gave us this song. They called it "A Night In Tunisia," and the melody still lingers on.

MERKERSON: One song I'm listening to is "Katrina's Eyes," by Christian Scott.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "KATRINA'S EYES")

MERKERSON: It's just beautifully rendered. And I believe it's a story of the hurricane as well. And so you feel it in the music; you feel this sort of slow pacing of the water coming. You feel the devastation, and you feel the strength of the people in the song.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "KATRINA'S EYES")

KHAN: I think he is an incredible artist - Christian Scott.

MERKERSON: I also listen to Joni Mitchell, "Blue."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BLUE")

JONI MITCHELL: (Singing) Blue, songs are like tattoos, you know, I've been to sea before. Crown and anchor me, or let me sail away.

MERKERSON: Joni Mitchell just chills you out.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BLUE")

MITCHELL: (Singing) Hey Blue, there is a song for you.

MERKERSON: So there are a few things that had been in my ear lately.

MARTIN: That was the award-winning actress S. Epatha Merkerson - of "Law & Order" fame, and the host of the TV One series "Find Our Missing" - telling us what's playing in her ear. To listen to my previous conversation with her, please go to NPR.org, and click on the Programs tab for TELL ME MORE.

And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Let's talk more tomorrow. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.