Renee Fleming's 'American Voices' Special Will Give Insider Insight on Vocalizing; John O'Hurley's Dog Show Follow-Up

By Stacy Jenel Smith

December 3, 2013 5 min read

You may think you know about singing from watching competition shows such as "The Voice" and "X Factor." However, not until next year will outsiders get the real inside scoop on how great vocals are made — when PBS unveils its hour-long documentary taking viewers behind the scenes at the recent "American Voices" festival at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

"People are shocked by what it takes to be a great singer," says opera superstar Renee Fleming, the host and curator of the event, who is certainly one to know. "It's more than you think. The practice — you have to practice as much as someone who plays an instrument, but singing has other challenges and other difficulties to it as well."

The "American Voices" festival of performances, master sessions, and symposia was recorded for showing on the Kennedy Center website — and is the centerpoint for the yet-to-be scheduled special public TV program that will be presented by Cadillac, a deal finalized just before the event began. With a full spectrum of vocal styles from classical to pop, country to jazz and gospel, "American Voices" was highlighted by a concert including Ben Folds, Alison Krauss, Josh Groban, Norm Lewis, Kim Burrell, Dianne Reeves, Eric Owens, Sutton Foster, Sara Bareilles and Kurt Elling.

According to Fleming, there are "no plans at the present time" for a second "American Voices" conclave next year, but she does say she would love to see it happen. "It would be really great to expand. It's a terrific model, and there's a huge amount of interest."

Fleming's sister, an educator, helped plan the program, and the soprano herself has a passion for education. In fact, she is among the arts luminaries, along with Yo-Yo Ma and others, who helped Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel launch a plan to reinvigorate arts programs in that city's schools. "It's been so great to be able to work in education initiatives with Rahm Emanuel, expanding public arts programs," she says.

The gracious and glamorous "people's diva" also serves as creative consultant to the Lyric Opera of Chicago. And she keeps up a full schedule of performances in North America and abroad, in addition to recording. Her just-released "Guilty Pleasures" album has sparked enormous interest, and not only within opera circles.

"We're having a lot of fun with the new record," she says. "I love the concept and the title, I love that it includes 'Danny Boy,' which is the favorite track of my father."

Putting together "American Voices" and managing her other outside-the-opera-hall activities "has been challenging," she admits, "but it's also very exciting because I've been singing professionally for decades now and it's fun to sort of try my hand at new things."

ON A DIFFERENT NOTE: Speaking of people devoted to music, Rhino Records Co-founder Harold Bronson says he was prompted to write his "The Rhino Records Story: the Revenge of the Music Nerds" tome because, "I thought if I didn't write it, the history of the label would be lost."

The book brings back to life his and Richard Foos' beloved record shop near UCLA, where customers (including recording stars themselves) and staff relished and argued over music — and tells how he and Foos launched their Rhino Records label. "We worked with passionate music fans. Fortunately, because of that, we did not approach it from a financial point of view," he says of the company that would go on to become huge via reissues and novelty recordings, while doing small releases for acts that tended to generate critical acclaim. They had a fantastic run, but it ended 10 years ago. Bronson says it took him about two years to write his book, and the most emotional chapter to handle was the one covering his and Foos' departure from their own company.

DOG STORY: John O'Hurley is pleased to report that his new children's book, "The Perfect Dog," is getting special handling by Purina, sponsors of The National Dog Show that aired Thanksgiving Day. "Purina has really become quite a partner — they're donating copies of "The Perfect Dog" to the Ronald McDonald House in perpetuity, so there will always be a copy for children to read in the Ronald McDonald Houses." Nice.


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