the Right Notes
only concerts of doo wop, classic R&B and early rock surprise
as the most successful pledge drive specials in PBS history.
PBS station and its music-obsessed producer are changing the sound
of music, at least on television. MTV? These concert specials
featuring legends in once-in-a-lifetime performances aren't
on any commercial network. They're not originating from New
York, Los Angeles, Chicago or Boston either.
WQED Pittsburgh and T.J.
Lubinsky are responsible for the most successful
series of fundraising specials in public television history, and
it's with music born decades before the CD or Britney Spears --
doo wop, classic R&B and early rock 'n' roll.
fact, Lubinsky, only 30, isn't even old enough to have heard
his favorite music when it first came out. "We've struck
a chord with an audience PBS has never reached before," he
says. "In a way it's recreating those famous Alan Freed
shows at the Paramount with 20 of the biggest artists all on one
stage. For people who heard these songs back then, we give them
a personal time machine and they become teenagers again. For the
rest of us, it's a chance to see what we've never seen
before -- because none of those concerts were taped. And, maybe
most important for us baby boomers, it's a chance to show
our kids how great this music is because they sure won't
hear it on the radio."
began as a local doo wop pledge drive special in 1997 has become
a franchise WQED calls the "American Soundtrack." Its
first national effort, "Doo Wop 50," has grossed $24
million since its 1999 debut, overwhelming the $16 million of
the #2 fundraiser, "The Three Tenors."
was shocked," says Lubinsky. "They asked, 'How
can this happen with doo wop?'" Combined with the sequels
"Doo Wop 51" and "Rock, Rhythm and Doo Wop,"
the trio brought more than $50 million into PBS coffers.
specials include R&B
40: A Soul Spectacular (a gathering of R&B
greats from Motown and other major labels), summer 2002's Soul
& Inspiration (a gospel-centric tribute with
The Impressions, Dixie Hummingbirds, Little Anthony and The Original
Imperials and more) and the forthcoming This
Land Is Your Land (celebrating '60s folk music,
hosted by Tom and Dick Smothers and Judy Collins, and featuring
the Kingston Trio, Limeliters, Highwaymen, Brothers Four, and
Randy Sparks & The Minstrels All Star cast, including Barry
McGuire) and Red,
White & Rock (mainly American early '60s rock
with the Righteous Brothers, Tommy James and Connie Francis, plus
a doo wop tribute including The Chords).
three years, this little Pittsburgh station has recorded nearly
350 artists. "Sure they're older now," says Lubinsky,
"and people today may not know their names but everyone knows
their songs. We are preserving American musical pop culture from
the '50s, '60s and '70s before the original artists are gone forever.
For the doo wop groups, maybe 10 were on 'American Bandstand'
and those tapes were destroyed. When was the last time many of
these artists were on TV? Never! This is doing the right thing
too, for the superstars and those who were never given the proper
credit. We have a real sense of purpose: If we don't do it, it
would never get done."
the way Lubinsky's accomplished the near impossible -- reuniting
groups whose members haven't spoken to each other in decades and
returning to the stage artists who haven't performed in ages.
For "Red, White & Rock," he convinced Ruby Curtis
of Ruby & The Romantics, who hadn't sung in 30 years, to reprise
"Our Day Will Come." For "R&B 40," he
tracked down Eddie Floyd milling corn in Nebraska to sing "Knock
On Wood," brought Ben E. King back together with The Drifters,
and reunited Jerry Butler with the Impressions for the first time
in 40 years.
1957, The Gladiolas, a seminal black act, recorded "Little
Darlin'," written by its Maurice Williams. The Diamonds,
a white ensemble, then recorded the song and had a major hit.
Forty-three years later, Maurice Williams and The Zodiacs joined
The Diamonds for the first time to sing "Little Darlin'"
on "Doo Wop 51." The Diamonds themselves were performing
together for the first time in 40-plus years.
also brought together two incarnations of The Orioles, who had
splintered in 1954. As they sang "Crying In The Chapel,"
he recalls, "they started out mad but by the end they were
holding hands and hugging."
The specials, in expanded editions, are issued on homevideo thanks
to Rhino Records, who helps produce the shows. Besides being a
doo wop aficionado, Rhino founder Richard Foos grew up in Pittsburgh,
home to an unexpected number of doo wop and early rock acts (Del
Vikings, Skyliners, Vogues and Marcels among them). An infrastructure
of oldies radio, fan clubs and local artists still performing
has earned the city the title of "Oldies Capital Of The World."
proposed a three-hour slot for a doo wop special during his first
pledge drive. Offering Rhino box sets as incentives, WQED raised
$180,000, eclipsing the previous record of $60,000 for 1994's
"The Three Tenors." The following year, he taped a two-day
concert the Benedum Center for the Performing Arts in Pittsburgh's
downtown cultural district. Premiering locally in August, in one
night "Doo Wop 50" gained $225,000 in pledges.
had tapped into something but people at other PBS stations still
had no idea what doo wop was," says Lubinsky. Despite a campaign
of phone calls and sending tapes of the program, only a handful
responded positively to the possibility of a countrywide broadcast.
But then, in 1999, the national Public Broadcasting Service gave
its imprimatur -- and the results sang the praises of the show.
New York had once raised $420,000 prompted by a concert of music
from "Les Miserables." "Doo Wop 50" brought
in more than $700,000 in one night. With a subsequent airing,
the total reached $1.3 million. The next year's "Doo Wop
51" earned $12 million nationally.
thought we had done all we could with doo wop," says Lubinsky,
"and as much as I love obscure and regional acts, it's hard
to sell that across the country. There are also major artists
who don't want to be labeled just as doo wop. So we took a major
risk and expanded the concept to pop, R&B and rock."
2001's "Rock, Rhythm And Doo Wop," Lubinsky corralled
the likes of Frankie Valli and Little Anthony and The Imperials.
The installment, aired on some 300 stations, raised $14 million.
Each of those specials ranks in the Top 10 of PBS fundraisers.
WQED and Lubinsky discovered was that the PBS audience had changed
not just in age but in attitude. The demographic had lowered to
50-and-above and this audience wanted music that was more adventurous
than Yanni or John Tesh but more classic than that of '80s hair
bands. This younger audience was also colorblind. Lo and behold,
doo wop was both black and white, R&B and rock, and it appealed
to oldies audiences as well as contemporary fans.
But who would produce a doo wop special? The music wasn't played
on radio, didn't sell in record stores and its audience was much
older than 18. Without those commercial pressures, WQED strode
in and scored a hit. Now "The American Soundtrack" is
attracting younger African-Americans with R&B, whose Motown
and Philly Soul remains much-admired and -sampled in today's music
culture, and younger white females with folk music.
to join the American Soundtrack series is "Rhythm, Love and
Soul" (a sequel to R& B 40: a Soul Spectacular) scheduled
for production in November 2002 followed by "Italian Americans"
and "Music Of Your Life" coming in 2003.
Multimedia Pittsburgh provides educational, cultural and informational
programming, products and services for local and national audiences.
WQED Multimedia Pittsburgh is Telling America's Stories with the
"All-American Documentary," "American Soundtrack"
and "America's Home Cooking."
is the parent company of WQED TV13, WQED-FM 89.3, WQEJ-FM 89.7/Johnstown,
a publishing division which includes PITTSBURGH magazine, local
and national television and radio productions, www.wqed.org and
the WQED Education Resource Center.
Soundtrack Concert Series is a production of WQED Multimedia,
Executive Producer, T.J. Lubinsky and produced in association
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