Melissa Block Looks Back On More Than 12 Years Hosting 'All Things Considered'

Aug 14, 2015
Originally published on August 18, 2015 2:49 pm

You don't host All Things Considered without having a list of memorable interview moments with musicians, actors and authors.

On her last day as host, NPR's Melissa Block takes a look at some of the highlights over her 12 1/2 years as one of the voices of All Things Considered.

She recalls the musical voice of a Louisiana shrimp boat captain who rode out Hurricane Katrina on his boat. And her conversation with the computerized voice of the late film critic Roger Ebert, who could no longer speak after his face was disfigured from multiple cancer surgeries.

"I have voices in my head!" Melissa says. "Indelible voices of some of the many, many characters I've met along the way."

A few years ago, Melissa asked each of The Rolling Stones to discuss one of their songs. While Mick Jagger chose "Gimme Shelter" from the 1969 album Let It Bleed, he also shared his thoughts on one of Melissa's favorite Stones tunes, "Wild Horses."

Melissa started at NPR in 1985 as an editorial assistant for All Things Considered and later became ATC's senior producer. She worked as a New York-based reporter from 1994 to 2002, and her reporting in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks helped earn NPR a Peabody Award.

Melissa will move into a new role as special correspondent for NPR News.

Use the audio player above to hear some of Melissa's favorite moments.

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And, Robert, today, I'm going to say this for the last time. This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.


Well, this - it's not the time you're going to say from NPR News.

BLOCK: No. I will still be with NPR News, but not sitting in the host chair here at ATC.

SIEGEL: Tonight, you're wrapping up 12-and-a-half year run.

BLOCK: Who's counting? Who's counting?

SIEGEL: Well, for all that time - I'm going to speak on behalf of everyone who works on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. We are grateful - we're all grateful for the smarts and the passion and the fun that you've brought.

BLOCK: Well...

SIEGEL: You've been a great colleague and friend here.

BLOCK: Well, it has been a wonderful, wonderful time. And before I go, we're going to spend a little time listening back to some of my favorite moments from these years because I, like you, have voices in my head, Robert - indelible voices of some of the many, many characters I've met along the way.


RICKY ROBIN: Look like about 1500 pounds of shrimp.

BLOCK: Well, would you listen to that? It's Ricky Robin, a shrimp boat captain in Louisiana. I spent a great day with him out on his trawler and heard him talk and talk. He talked about how he rode out Hurricane Katrina on his boat, how he climbed way up on the rigging at the height of the storm.


ROBIN: Well, while I was there, I was just fussing - fussing and raising heck, just fussing at that hurricane. I was furious, out of my mind, angry. I dropped them booms down, said let it blow, blow, blow, blow. And let me tell you, that she did. She blew, blew, blew, blew.

BLOCK: There is such music in that voice. And in its own way, in this next voice, too - the computerized voice of the late film critic Roger Ebert.


ROGER EBERT: (Through voice synthesizer) This is Alex, a voice that came built into my computer.

BLOCK: Roger Ebert could no longer speak, and his face was disfigured after multiple cancer surgeries. He had no lower jaw. He couldn't eat or drink, but he could type. And that's how he chatted when I visited with him and his wife, Chaz, at their home in Chicago a couple of years before his death.


R. EBERT: (Through voice synthesizer) I was advised not to be photographed looking like this. Well, it's how I look, and there's nothing I can do about it. We spend too much time as a society denying illness. It's a fact of life.

BLOCK: Chaz, did you and Roger talk about that?

CHAZ EBERT: Yes, we did talk about it. He listened to people's advice, but he said, frankly, I don't give a damn if someone wants to take a photograph of me looking like this and sell it to the tabloids. And then we came upon the idea - let's take our own photograph and put it out there right now. After that, it was diffused.

R. EBERT: (Through voice synthesizer) The surgeries caused more damage than the cancer.

BLOCK: Doctors have proposed to you a fourth reconstructive surgery. You're shaking your head no. You have said no. Why have you said enough?

R. EBERT: (Through voice synthesizer) I'm going to stop while I'm behind.


R. EBERT: This is the face I have. I accept it.

BLOCK: The late film critic Roger Ebert. Now, he was crazy about a 9-year-old actress who came by our studios all decked out.


QUVENZHANE WALLIS: And back to my boot.

BLOCK: Tell me about your purse. You've brought in a (laughter) - he's great. It's a dog purse. It's a purse that's in the shape of a dog.

WALLIS: Yes, and it has a zipper.

BLOCK: And it has a zipper.

WALLIS: It's crazy.

BLOCK: Quvenzhane Wallis, the youngest best actress nominee ever for her role as a tiny, wild-haired force of nature in the movie "Beasts Of The Southern Wild." In this scene with her father, he's shouting at her to flex her biceps - show me them guns.


DWIGHT HENRY: (As Wink) Who the man?

WALLIS: (As Hushpuppy) I'm the man.

HENRY: (As Wink) Yeah, you the man. Who the man?

WALLIS: (As Hushpuppy) I'm the man.

HENRY: (As Wink) Yeah, you the man.

BLOCK: That's you saying, I'm the man, Quvenzhane, with your dad. Do you ever find yourself doing that at home, saying that line?

WALLIS: Whenever I'm at, like, at home and riding my scooter, they stop me and they're like, who's the man? I'm like, I'm not going to tell you.

BLOCK: (Laughter). You mean people at home in Houma, La.?

WALLIS: Yes, my friends. They be like, who's the man? I'm like, I don't know.

BLOCK: (Laughter).

There have been so many times over the years when I've just about falling out of my chair laughing. You just never know what might come out of a guest's mouth.


PAUL THORN: (Singing) You're like a hot biscuit I want to eat.

BLOCK: Case in point - singer Paul thorn from Tupelo, Miss.


THORN: (Singing) Oh, when I get you in the shadows, I'm going lay you on the floor.


BLOCK: Yeah, yeah. Not too much ambiguity there, huh, Paul Thorn?

THORN: No. It's like, cook me some grits, woman. You're like a hot biscuit I want to eat.

BLOCK: Have you used that line before?

THORN: I use it on my wife all the time.

BLOCK: (Laughter).

THORN: I sneak up behind her while she's washing the dishes.

BLOCK: And how does that go over?

THORN: Well, it depends on if she's ovulating or not, you know...

BLOCK: (Laughter).

THORN: ...Because that's when they really seem to like that kind of thing the most, you know? But it's just a braggadocio, machismo song. And I think there's a place for that, especially with all the mainstream music today being when men saying - you know, they're whining and crying about, oh, please come back and, I'm nothing without you. And when they say I'm nothing without you, I always think, well, no wonder she left because you're nothing.

BLOCK: (Laughter).

THORN: You know, if you have something to bring to the table, she wouldn't have left.


MICK JAGGER: High Melissa and this is Mick Jagger here. Nice to be on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

BLOCK: OK, maybe he wasn't entirely sure what the name of our show is. A few years ago, we asked each of the Rolling Stones to pick one of their songs to talk about. And Mick Jagger - oh, let's just call him Mick. Mick chose "Gimme Shelter."


JAGGER: Oh, that's my harmonica part. It's only two notes, but it shows what you can do in two notes.

BLOCK: Let's hear. Let's crank that up right there.



BLOCK: It is just two notes.

JAGGER: It is just two notes.

BLOCK: (Laughter).

JAGGER: That's because it's in a crummy key for the harmonica (laughter). Anyways...

BLOCK: (Laughter). You shouldn't have told me that. It just spoiled the whole illusion of what you're doing there.

JAGGER: It's not spoilage. It just shows you what you can do in two notes.

BLOCK: There you go.

JAGGER: You don't have to play - it's economy of style (laughter).

BLOCK: Well, you're getting ready to go out for a few shows - a couple in England and a few here. What do you do to get ready? It's such a physical thing that you do. And you're how old now?

JAGGER: I don't know.

BLOCK: Uh-huh.

JAGGER: That's Charlie's line.


JAGGER: How old are you, Melissa?

BLOCK: I'm 50.

JAGGER: Oh, that's a nice age.

BLOCK: It's a round number.

JAGGER: It's a very nice age.

BLOCK: OK, I realize when I should have said to Mick Jagger was I'm exactly as old as your band - ah, blew it. Anyway, here's how our conversation ended.


BLOCK: You know, none of the members of the Rolling Stones chose the song that I kind of hoped one of you would.

JAGGER: Which was what?

BLOCK: "Wild Horses."

JAGGER: Oh, lovely. It's quite a favorite of mine to do as the ballad that, as we don't do that many. Being a rock band, we do - we've got lots of ballads, but we don't do many. We could do a whole show of ballads if we wanted, but everyone would be bored to tears probably. But, you know, we do only a couple per show, so we have to select them. And I quite often select that one.


JAGGER: (Singing) Childhood living...

BLOCK: Well, Mick Jagger, it's been great to talk to you. Thank you so much.

JAGGER: Nice to talk to you, Melissa. And I hope it all comes out for you well.

BLOCK: Thank you, and likewise.

JAGGER: Bye-bye.


JAGGER: (Singing) The things you wanted, I bought them for you, graceless lady.

BLOCK: I'm leaving ALL THINGS CONSIDERED with a huge amount of gratitude to everybody I've worked with over these years, also to my extraordinary family and, of course, most of all, to you, our listeners. See you on the radio.


JAGGER: (Singing) Slide through my hands. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.