Skip to main content

Watch Live: Witness Denounces ‘Fictional’ Ukraine Election Interference

AMERICAN MASTERS: Robert Shaw - Man Of Many Voices

Airs Friday, June 28, 2019 at 9 p.m. on KPBS 2

Robert Shaw in concert, mid-1990s.

Credit: Courtesy of Bard Wrisley/ Atlanta Symphony Orchestra

Above: Robert Shaw in concert, mid-1990s.

Narrated by David Hyde Pierce, AMERICAN MASTERS “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 – Jan. 25, 1999) had no formal training yet inspired generations of musicians with the power of music.

Robert Shaw – Man of Many Voices: Preview

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.

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.

Photo credit: Courtesy of Gilmore Music Library of Yale University

Robert Shaw was a popular figure both on and off the radio.

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.

Photo credit: Courtesy of Carter Presidential Library

President and Mrs. Jimmy Carter (right) greet Robert Shaw (left) at the White House, March 1980.

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.

Choral Music Conductor Robert Shaw Was Self-Taught

Robert Shaw became popular in an intensely competitive business where musical pedigree is highly valued. And yet, he was not a gifted singer and lacked formal training as a keyboardist and conductor.

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.

Robert Shaw Was an Early Champion of Civil Rights

Robert Shaw's integrated chorales were among the first to break the color barrier in the American South. He took his inspiring music on the road, bringing his ensembles to small towns across America and to several continents.

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.

Photo credit: Courtesy of Joe DeCasseres/ Atlanta Symphony Orchestra

Robert Shaw energetically conducts an Atlanta rehearsal. (undated photo)

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.

Photo credit: Courtesy of Courtesy Atlanta Symphony Orchestra

Robert Shaw in concert at Carnegie Hall, April 3, 1980.

Shaw died of a massive stroke on Jan. 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.”

Noteworthy Facts:

  • The U.S. State Department sent the Robert Shaw Chorale on several extensive tours through Europe, the Soviet Union, Latin America, and the Middle East.
  • Shaw’s album “Christmas Hymns and Carols” was the first certified gold record by a classical artist.
  • In 1978, Shaw and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra recorded the first digital classical album, Stravinsky’s “Firebird Suite,” an all-orchestral piece.
  • Robert Shaw was self-taught and did not plan on a career in music. Shaw became popular in an intensely competitive business where musical pedigree is highly valued. And yet, he was not a gifted singer, lacked formal training as a keyboardist and conductor and, as a young man, never dreamed of having a life in music.
  • Robert Shaw advocated for integrated ensembles and audiences during the civil rights movement. Shaw’s Collegiate Chorale of the 1940s was one of the first integrated musical ensembles of its kind. He refused to perform unless audiences were integrated. The maestro was specific – not just access, but access to the better seats in the hall.

Photo credit: Courtesy of Gilmore Music Library of Yale University

Robert Shaw in rehearsal asking more of his ensemble. (undated photo)

Watch On Your Schedule:

Episodes are available to stream on demand for a limited time after broadcast. Extend your viewing window with KPBS Passport, video streaming for members ($60 yearly) using your computer, smartphone, tablet, Roku, AppleTV, Amazon Fire or Chromecast. Learn how to activate your benefit now.

Subscribe To The American Masters Podcast:

Listen to new interviews with contemporary artists, along with previously unreleased interviews from the series' award-winning documentary films. Subscribe now

Join The Discussion:

AMERICAN MASTERS is on Facebook, Instagram, tumblr, and you can follow @PBSAmerMasters on Twitter. #AmericanMastersPBS

Robert Shaw The Film is on Facebook.

Credits:

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.

FEATURED PODCAST

San Diego News Matters podcast branding

KPBS' daily news podcast covering local politics, education, health, environment, the border and more. New episodes are ready weekday mornings so you can listen on your morning commute.

Want more KPBS news?
Find us on Twitter and Facebook, or sign up for our newsletters.

To view PDF documents, Download Acrobat Reader.