America’s Orchestra: Celebrating 125 Years of the Boston Pops

WGBH presents a star-studded celebration of the Boston Pops, featuring some of the greatest moments from the Boston Pops 125-year history. Hosted by Craig Ferguson and conceived and produced by Susan Dangel, with co-producer Dick Bartlett, America’s Orchestra: Celebrating 125 Years of the Boston Pops tells the orchestra’s story—from its beginnings as summertime entertainment for Bostonians to its impressive rise to the national icon and beloved institution it is today. The program will be broadcast on WGBH 2 on Sunday, April 18, at 7 p.m., Sunday, May 16, at 8 p.m., and Wednesday, June 23, at 8 p.m. It will also be made available to PBS affiliates across the country beginning in June (check local listings).

"Celebrating its 125th anniversary this spring, the Boston Pops Orchestra performs the best music of the past and present, appealing to the widest possible audience with a broad spectrum of styles, from jazz to pop, indie rock to big band, film music to the great American songbook, and Broadway to classical, making it the perfect orchestra for people who don’t know they like orchestras!" said Boston Pops Conductor Keith Lockhart. "We hope that the upcoming PBS special reflects this diversity and gives viewers a glimpse into the storied history of this distinctively Boston creation--one of our country's greatest cultural treasures, as vibrant today as it was when it was founded in 1885."

"WGBH has had a long and wonderful history with the Boston Pops Orchestra both on television and radio,” said Laurie Donnelly, the executive producer of Lifestyle Programming at WGBH, which is distributing the program to PBS stations nationwide. "We are delighted to now be celebrating the 125 years that have made it a critical part of the arts landscape in Boston and nationwide."

Affectionately know as "America's Orchestra," the Boston Pops is the most recorded and arguably the most beloved orchestra in the country, beginning with the establishment of the modern-era Pops by Arthur Fiedler and continuing through the innovations introduced by John Williams and the new-millennium Pops spearheaded by Keith Lockhart. America’s Orchestra: Celebrating 125 Years of the Boston Pops illustrates how these three maestros and the musicians of the Boston Pops Orchestra made their way into the hearts and minds of music lovers throughout New England and across the nation. The Boston Pops 125 documentary was made possible by a grant from the Mugar Foundation.

In a highlight of the documentary, Peter Fiedler, son of Arthur Fiedler, provides a rare personal glimpse into the man who brought the Pops to the national stage through hugely successful recordings and the highly acclaimed, award-winning series Evening at Pops on PBS. Through incredible charisma and a keen marketing sensibility, Arthur Fiedler brought virtually every major American performer of his era (1930-1979) to the Pops stage, including Ella Fitzgerald, The Carpenters, Benny Goodman, and Roberta Flack, all of whom are featured in seldom-seen archival performance footage. In a rare, up-close interview, John Williams speaks about the remarkable contribution of Arthur Fiedler, whose incredible success made all future endeavors with the Pops possible. Mr. Williams also describes what the Boston Pops has meant to him over the course of his life, but especially in contrast to his extraordinary career as a film composer. In the documentary John Williams describes the Pops as ”…the greatest musical mix master of all time.” The program shows John Williams working with Bonnie Raitt and John Raitt in footage that features father and daughter singing together for the first time in a performance of Irving Berlin’s “They Say It’s Wonderful.” John Williams and the Pops are also joined by such titans of the music world as Ray Charles, Johnny Cash, and Rosemary Clooney, all of whom perform the iconic hits for which they are best known. And no reflection on John Williams’s contribution to the Pops would be complete without footage of some of the most memorable film moments he’s brought to the Pops over the years.

Keith Lockhart (1995-present), who from the first time he stepped onto the podium was recognized for the incredible energy and vitality he brought to the Pops, reflects on the importance of the Pops as entertainment and his commitment to programming that appeals to music lovers across all levels of experience and musical tastes. In a candid and insightful moment, Keith Lockhart describes the giant sense of responsibility he felt in taking up the Pops mantle, wanting to respect the great accomplishments of his predecessors while at the same time carving his own path forward with the orchestra. Showing his commitment to continuing the orchestra’s collaboration with the great artists of our day, Keith Lockhart is seen leading the Pops in performances with such musical stars as Audra MacDonald, k.d. lang, Michael Feinstein, and Kristin Chenoweth, who sings “For Good,” one of her signature songs from Wicked, for which she created the role of Glinda. This special program also features interviews and/or performances by Josh Groban, James Taylor, Vanessa Williams, Yo-Yo Ma, Wynton Marsalis, and Roberta Flack. Rare footage of favorite artists past and present, including Tony Bennett, Sammy Davis, Jr., and Patti LaBelle, as well as Broadway stars Ethel Merman, Bernadette Peters, Nathan Lane, and Jerry Herman will also be featured.

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