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S33 Ep7

Robert Shaw – Man of Many Voices

Premiere: 6/21/2019 | 00:02:43 |

Trace the journey of one of the greatest choral music conductors in the world. With no formal training, Robert Shaw achieved early success in popular music and later became legendary for his interpretations of classical music’s choral masterpieces.

About the Episode

Narrated by David Hyde Pierce, Robert Shaw – Man of Many Voices traces the journey of one of America’s greatest choral music conductors. Renowned for his interpretations of classical music’s choral masterpieces, Robert Shaw (April 30, 1916 – January 25, 1999) had no formal training yet inspired generations of musicians with the power of music. Known as the “dean of American choral singing,” Shaw’s career spanned six decades. He sold millions of recordings and received 16 Grammy Awards, a George Peabody Medal for Outstanding Contributions to Music in America, a Guggenheim fellowship and a National Medal of the Arts.

Amidst the triumphs of his musical career, the documentary reveals the demons that haunted – and sometimes threatened to derail – this complex and flawed man. Insecure in his abilities even as he found success, Shaw drank heavily throughout his career and was prone to angry outbursts. Interviews include musicians Yo-Yo Ma, Sylvia McNair, Alice Parker, Marietta Simpson and Florence Kopleff, as well as family members, admirers and friends, including President Jimmy Carter and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Andrew Young. Packed with powerful performances, the film features a treasure trove of rare archival letters, photographs and concert footage gathered from around the world.

Robert Shaw – Man of Many Voices explores the improbable story of Shaw’s life and career, from his childhood as a preacher’s son in rural Red Bluff, California, to his unexpected move to classical music after popular band leader Fred Waring offered him a job in New York. He quickly made a name for himself as a conductor and led choruses for legendary orchestra conductors from Arturo Toscanini to George Szell. In 1941, he founded the groundbreaking Collegiate Chorale in New York, one of the first racially integrated chorales. An early champion of civil rights, his integrated chorales were among the first to break the color barrier in the American South. Shaw took his inspiring music on the road, bringing his ensembles to small towns across America and to several continents.

Shaw later conducted orchestras and choruses in San Diego, Cleveland and Atlanta, where he served as music director of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra for over 20 years, raising its profile from a regional group to one of national importance. President Jimmy Carter chose Shaw to perform music at his 1977 Presidential Inauguration and appointed him to the National Council on the Arts in 1979. At 72, he left the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and began to guest conduct the nation’s greatest orchestras and lead annual workshops and performances at Carnegie Hall with America’s finest musicians. Shaw died of a massive stroke on January 25, 1999. He had recently recorded Dvořák’s “Stabat Mater,” a piece he had never performed before, and was working on an English translation of Brahms’ “A German Requiem.”


Robert Shaw – Man of Many Voices is directed by Pamela Roberts and Peter Miller. Executive Producer is Kiki Wilson. Producers are Peter Miller, David Druckenmiller, Pamela Roberts, and Kiki Wilson. The film is written by Pamela Roberts, Kiki Wilson, and Peter Miller. Amy Linton is the Editor and Associate Producer. Michael Lines is the Director of Photography. The original score is by Fred Story. Narration is by David Hyde Pierce. Michael Kantor is American Masters series executive producer.

About American Masters
Launched in 1986 on PBS, American Masters has earned 28 Emmy Awards — including 10 for Outstanding Non-Fiction Series and five for Outstanding Non-Fiction Special — 14 Peabodys, an Oscar, three Grammys, two Producers Guild Awards, and many other honors. To further explore the lives and works of masters past and present, American Masters offers streaming video of select films, outtakes, filmmaker interviews, the podcast American Masters: Creative Spark, educational resources, digital original series and more. The series is a production of The WNET Group.

American Masters is available for streaming concurrent with broadcast on all station-branded PBS platforms, including and the PBS Video App, available on iOS, Android, Roku streaming devices, Apple TV, Android TV, Amazon Fire TV, Samsung Smart TV, Chromecast and VIZIO. PBS station members can view many series, documentaries and specials via PBS Passport. For more information about PBS Passport, visit the PBS Passport FAQ website.

About The WNET Group
The WNET Group creates inspiring media content and meaningful experiences for diverse audiences nationwide. It is the community-supported home of New York’s THIRTEEN – America’s flagship PBS station – WLIW21, THIRTEEN PBSKids, WLIW World and Create; NJ PBS, New Jersey’s statewide public television network; Long Island’s only NPR station WLIW-FM; ALL ARTS, the arts and culture media provider; and newsroom NJ Spotlight News. Through these channels and streaming platforms, The WNET Group brings arts, culture, education, news, documentary, entertainment and DIY programming to more than five million viewers each month. The WNET Group’s award-winning productions include signature PBS series Nature, Great Performances, American Masters, PBS NewsHour Weekend and Amanpour and Company and trusted local news programs MetroFocus and NJ Spotlight News with Briana Vannozzi. Inspiring curiosity and nurturing dreams, The WNET Group’s award-winning Kids’ Media and Education team produces the PBS KIDS series Cyberchase, interactive Mission US history games, and resources for families, teachers and caregivers. A leading nonprofit public media producer for nearly 60 years, The WNET Group presents and distributes content that fosters lifelong learning, including multiplatform initiatives addressing poverty, jobs, economic opportunity, social justice, understanding and the environment. Through Passport, station members can stream new and archival programming anytime, anywhere. The WNET Group represents the best in public media. Join us.


Support for Robert Shaw – Man of Many Voices is provided by Lessie Bailey Smithgall, The Shubert Organization, Bradley Currey, Jr., The Zeist Foundation, Livingston Foundation, Fox Theatre, The Coca-Cola Foundation, The Vasser Woolley Foundation, Inc., Walter H. and Marjory M. Rich Memorial Fund through SunTrust Trusteed Foundations, and C. Lynn Eden.

Support for American Masters is provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, AARP, Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, Rosalind P. Walter Foundation, Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, Judith & Burton Resnick, Seton Melvin Charitable Trust, The Blanche and Irving Laurie Foundation, The Ambrose Monell Foundation, Lillian Goldman Programming Endowment, Vital Projects Fund, The Philip and Janice Levin Foundation, Ellen and James S. Marcus, The André and Elizabeth Kertész Foundation, Koo and Patricia Yuen and public television viewers.


- [Walter Cronkite] Robert Shaw's lifetime achievement, has been to bring mankind together in song.

(choir music) - [Interviewee] This is a guy who is truly self-invented in the great American tradition.

- [Interviewee] He didn't get lessons in voice and piano, he acquired his skills as an amateur.

- [Interviewee] Shaw at a very young age, no musical training, on national radio.

- [Interviewee] Robert Shaw was white hot.

Whatever the magic was, they all wanted a piece of it.

- [Interviewee] I don't know what to compare to except sort of a rock star.

- [Interviewee] Toscanini recognized his ability and said that Shaw would be his successor as a conductor.

Toscanini, will tell you one of the greatest conductors the world has ever seen.

- [Interviewee] Shaw was on a high wire at each stage of his career.

He repeatedly threw himself into impossible situations.

- [Interviewee] He understood that artists thrive by taking risks.

- [Interviewee] He commissioned new pieces, he preformed new pieces and that was enormously unpopular and got him fired.

- [Interviewee] We were the first group that mixed blacks and whites on stages in the south.

- When they saw Seth sit next to me on the platform, they were outraged.

- [Interviewee] He believed that the arts were able to reach across boundaries and heal racial wounds.

- He would give money to people to buy instruments, and tell the sponsors, take my salary and I'll conduct for nothing this year, but lets get the orchestra back on stage.

- You misconstrude making music with making noise.

- I can just see Robert Shaw just angry and irascible.

He couldn't control himself and yet out of it comes this unbelievable music.

- Singing a piece like this changes lives, goddamit.

It changes lives.

- [Interviewee] He was baring his soul to us when he would talk about this music.

- Cause he was totally in charge and totally dynamic.

- He held in his head and heart the keys to the kingdom.

- There was no previous Robert Shaw and there isn't going to be another one.

- [Jean Stapleton] Robert Shaw made us sing with one voice and the world stopped and listened.


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