Virginia’s Attorney General on Second Amendment sanctuaries; D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson on Councilmember Jack Evans; Virginia Sen.-elect John Bell on his priorities.
From the circus to Broadway, to public radio, Murray Horwitz, the host of WAMU’s The Big Broadcast, has done it all in the entertainment industry.
We sit down with him to look back at his fifty year (and counting) career, hear the stories behind his award-winning work, and find out how he has managed to stay relevant in the rapidly changing world of show business.
Produced by Kayla Hewitt
- Murray Horwitz Playwright; Artist-in-residence, Washington Performing Arts; Host, The Big Broadcast
KOJO NNAMDIIf you happen to think the Dos Equis man is the most interesting man in the world, you haven't met Murray Horwitz. You may know him as the host of WAMU's old-time radio program “The Big Broadcast,” but Murray Horwitz's career in show business goes way back. His first stage role, as a clown at the Ringling Brother Circus. He's a Tony Award-Winning playwright. He was the founding director of the AFI Silver Theater and Cultural Center, a vice president of cultural programming at NPR, and too many other arts-related roles to mention here. So, well, welcome Murray.
MURRAY HORWITZThank you, Kojo. It's exciting to be here.
NNAMDIMurray, although many people may now associate you with places like Washington, D.C. and New York City, you actually grew up in Dayton, Ohio. How did your upbringing in Dayton affect your path, creatively?
HORWITZIn Dayton, Ohio which makes this a little bit of a poignant moment, before I say anything I have a comment, which is, I realize, you know, you have to come to terms with the fact that you've just done 20 minutes on Toni Morrison and now you're going to do twice as much time with me, you have to examine your editorial judgment, you know, on this show, you know...
NNAMDII submit that, before I came on, (unintelligible) did an entire hour on Toni Morrison.
HORWITZNo, that's true. Okay, okay.
NNAMDIAn hour and 20 minutes on Toni Morrison.
HORWITZFair enough, fair enough. But, in any case, Dayton really had a lot to do, I think, with my career, because, first of all, I had a terrific family. My father's a doctor, my mother mostly a homemaker, but also worked in my dad's medical office as a bookkeeper and sort of a practical nurse, but they both had great artistic tastes. They had great taste in music. They took us to a lot of performances in Dayton.
HORWITZIn those days, the road was still alive, so in Dayton, I mean, I saw Ray Walston in “Damn Yankees.” And I saw Isaac Stern with the Dayton Philharmonic. They would take us to see the modern jazz quartet at Antioch College. And so, it was a great place to grow up. And then second, I got a great education in Dayton, a great public school education. And there was a lot of really good, first-rate community theater in Dayton. So it was a good place to kind of learn your craft.
NNAMDIIt's my understanding that you were not a great student in public school. As a matter of fact, you were a terrible student, (laugh) but somehow, you managed to get accepted to Kenyon College.
HORWITZIt's true. I mean, terrible is putting too fine a point on it. (laugh) One of my teachers at Kenyon, Jim Michael, who lived in Washington for many years after he retired, once gave me one of the greatest compliments I ever got. He said, you know, he said, you were one of the two biggest underachievers I ever had at Kenyon. I said, who was the other one? He said, Paul Newman. (laugh) So, I said...
NNAMDIYou're in good company.
HORWITZWe look so much alike, I mean, I understand, you know. But, yeah, I was too busy learning things outside of the classroom, Kojo. We used to go to the Dayton Public Library, and instead of, you know, doing my homework, which I was supposed to be doing, I would browse through the record section. And I would learn a lot about jazz. I'd learn a lot about history from documentary records. And I grazed a lot and...
NNAMDIWe'll talk about, later, how that informed your later career. But in your senior year at Kenyon, you made the decision to go to clown college. What prompted that choice?
HORWITZ(laugh) I always loved comedy, and my kind of specialty on the stage at Kenyon were comic roles. And when I declared a second major, I was an English major, and I declared a drama major -- my only academic distinction, by the way, was a double-major. And when I got to the drama major, the faculty said, well, you know, you should do a one-man show of comic characters and clowns through the ages.
HORWITZOne teacher said, you know what John Gielgud does with “The Seven Ages of Man,” you could do that with -- oh, yeah, sure. I'll be John Gielgud for an evening. Sure, no problem. And I started listing some of the roles I wanted to do, and I loved pantomime. I loved slapstick. It was the late '60s. I loved Buster Keaton. I loved the Marx Brothers. And I found out that Ringling had this clown college, which was then in its second year. And so, yeah, next month is exactly 50 years since I applied to the clown college.
NNAMDIAnd it wasn't an easy college to get into.
HORWITZSomebody figured out that, statistically, it was harder to get into that year than Yale Law School, which makes a lot of sense to me, in many ways. But I got into the clown college. I got Kenyon to let me go, which required a vote of the full faculty. And then my parents -- I got my parents to let me go, and they were very supportive. They were great.
HORWITZAnd so I took five weeks out of my senior year and went to Venice, Florida. And at the end of the five weeks, they offered me a contract, and I said, well, you know, I'm a scholar. I have to get back to my books. And so, when I went back and they said, well, keep in touch, and when you graduate in June, if there's a place for you, we'd like to have you. And I did, and there was, and I joined out, as they say on the circus, on the 4th of July, 1970 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
NNAMDIThat was when you finished college, your degree at Kenyon. You went on to work as a clown at the Ringling Brothers Circus. What's it like being a clown? Were you good at it, from the very beginning?
HORWITZNo, absolutely not. Clown college sort of introduced -- it's kind of an audition for Ringling, really, and it was good publicity for Ringling. But it also taught you some of the tools you'd need, if your funny, to express that to a crowd of, you know, 15,000 at Madison Square Garden. But you really learned how to clown on the show, and I was terrible. I just wasn't getting any laughs.
HORWITZAnd, finally, one of my colleagues, he was real circus. His name was Mark Barragon, a Mexican American. His clown name was Zapata, and we had been classmates at clown school. And he was great. He was maybe the greatest circus clown of our generation, died very, very young on a South American show, at the age of 35. But Zap said to me, he said, you know what your problem is? He says, you're out there trying to be funny. And I said, well, isn't that the point? He says, no. He says, just be yourself. You're a funny guy.
HORWITZAnd I think I was actually so dumb, that I actually said to him, what do you mean be myself? And he said, I don't know. You like jazz. You like blues. Do jazz things out there. Do blues things. And, somehow, that translated. And I'll never forget, this was in Syracuse, and I went out on the track at the War Memorial Auditorium that night, and all of a sudden the audience was laughing. And I got rehired, and I was on the Ringling Show for three years.
NNAMDIDid you have a clown name?
HORWITZNo. It was Murray Horwitz, you know, Emmet Kelly, you know, Lou Jacobs. I wasn't as good as those guys, but I just used my own name, like they did.
NNAMDIThe conditions for circus performers were not ideal during your time as a clown at Barnum and Bailey.
NNAMDIHow did you get involved with the circus union?
HORWITZWell, I wasn't a circus union. There is a union called the American Guild of Variety Artists. And, at that time, they represented the clowns and showgirls, as they were known, on the Ringling Show. And they represented the Rockettes, the Radio City Music Hall Rockettes, and I think the Ice Capades performers. And, yeah, there was a colleague of mine, Chris Bricker, who went on to become a union organizer of SEIU and UNITE HERE. But at the ages of, I think, 21 and 22, we decided to become the union shop stewards.
HORWITZWorking conditions were really not good, at all. I mean, sometimes they'd be fine, like at Madison Square Garden, but other times, I remember playing some rodeo building in Texas, where, for the 200 or 250 men and women working on the circus, there was one shower, you know. And we could literally -- we were able to -- they could make us perform seven days a week. And one time, in California, we worked six weeks in a row without a single day off. And it was tough. And so we... (laugh)
NNAMDIAnd people think of it as just fun, right?
HORWITZNo, it's hard work. It's hard work. But there's no training like what, in years ago, would've been vaudeville, or even burlesque. And, on the circus, you had to be in front of an audience twice a day, three times on Saturday. And that was great training.
NNAMDIOn our website, listeners can find a photo gallery of pictures of you, Murray Horwitz, including one of you in your clowning days. You can find that at kojoshow.org. Another picture in the gallery is of you backstage at the Ann Arbor Blues Festival in 1969. What's the story behind that now?
HORWITZThank you for asking me about that, Kojo. It's really a profound moment, because that festival was exactly 50 years ago last weekend. It was August 1st, 2nd and 3rd, 1969. Somehow, and I'm not sure how, I talked my way backstage. And I got this -- I was on the list, and so I spent all day Saturday and all day Sunday backstage with the likes of Lightnin' Hopkins and Junior Wells and Big Mama Thornton and Charlie Musselwhite.
HORWITZAnd the recordings, the field recordings from that festival were just released, I think, on Jack White's label, Third Man records. And I ordered it right away, as soon as a friend told me about it. And it came in the mail last week. And, Kojo, I opened it up, and there's a great booklet with notes and photographs, and there's a picture of me, at age 19, sitting between Big Joe Williams and the blues disc jockey from Chicago, Big Bill Hill. And at our feet, laid out on the ground, taking a nap, is Howlin' Wolf. And I learned a lot that weekend.
NNAMDIHanging out with legends.
HORWITZYep, yep, yep, yep.
NNAMDIYou left the circus and you moved to New York with the hopes of continuing your career in show business. And while you weren't a cop, you apparently played one on TV. (laugh) Can you talk about the work you were doing when you first got to New York City?
HORWITZ(laugh) Oh, my God, you did such good research. Yes. I was on an episode of “Kojak.” The casting director of “Kojak” was actually a distant relative, and she liked me. She liked my work. And she cast me as a cop and I had a couple scenes with Telly Savalas. I play a very dumb cop who let Maria Schneider escape from a hospital room. And my eldest son is a film director. And he found this episode online, and he cut my scenes together in a really horrible parody of his father, and posted it online. Thankfully, he has taken it down since then, because people started to take it seriously. It was called "Murray Horwitz on Acting." And it was about the most pretentious thing you could imagine. So, I guess my son really does love me, because he took it down.
NNAMDIWell, you eventually started working on a one-man show.
HORWITZYeah well, when I got back to Kenyon, I did this one-man show, that they had asked, of comic characters. And one of the things I did I'd always loved, I'd been introduced by my grandfather, who was -- and all four of my grandparents were immigrants room the old country, as they would say, from Lithuania and Russia. And I'd been introduced by my grandfather to the work of Sholom Aleichem, the great Yiddish short story writer on whose stories "Fiddler on the Roof" is based. And I even found a recording of Howard Da Silva doing Sholom Aleichem stories in the aforementioned Dayton Public Library. And I just fell in love with Sholom Aleichem's work.
HORWITZSo, I did a Sholom Aleichem story as part of my Kenyon senior thesis project. And my mom always said, you know -- once again, comparing me to a great actor, and I'm not a great actor -- said, oh, you see what Hal Holbrook does with Mark Twain. You can do that with Sholom Aleichem. But I ended up doing that. I put together a one-man show of Sholom Aleichem stories, and that became very, very important in my career, because I still do it. I still -- I just did it in Rockville last fall. So, if anybody's listening and they want to see an evening of Sholom Aleichem, get in touch.
HORWITZBut, also, the show opened in Philadelphia, and because Philadelphia's the City of Brotherly Love rather than perceptive critics, I go good reviews. And it attracted the attention of a producer in New York. And even though he ended up not producing it, he introduced me and he said, you need a director because I'd done it myself. And he was right, I did need a director. And he said, there's this young fellow who's been doing a lot of work in Philadelphia. His name is Richard Maltby, Junior. And so that's how Richard and I met.
NNAMDIAnd we'll talk a little bit more about that in a little while. And you mentioned Telly Savalas. I remembered reading -- speaking of multifaceted careers -- that before he played Kojak, who was a tough cop in New York, he was an interpreter at the United Nations.
HORWITZI think he spoke Turkish. Was it Turkish that he -- I don't know, but he was great.
NNAMDIDuring your time in New York, you directed episodes of soap operas, such as “Guiding Light,” “Search for Tomorrow” and “As the World Turns.” So, dish for us. What's the soap opera world like?
HORWITZOh, that's a good question. That's a good question. I was astonished, because I was -- by that time, I was a playwright and lyricist. And, in the theater, the writer is pretty much king. And, in television, there's an old cliché that the theater is a writer's medium, film is a director's medium, and TV is a producer's medium. And, I mean, you got to the set, and directors would routinely dispense with the script, make up lines, do whatever -- you know, they did -- so that was news to me.
HORWITZBut it was hard work. It was very rewarding work. I wasn't crazy about a lot of the soaps that I worked on, but it was a lot of fun. And you would start out in the morning very early, 6:30 or 7:00, blocking scenes, working with actors. And by 7:00, 8:00 that night, you had 50 minutes of tape in the can. You had made a little movie, in one day.
NNAMDIWow. Here's Ben in Arlington, Virginia. Ben, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
BENHello. Murray, you had an excerpt from a Pauline Kael broadcast over KPFA, a partial review of “Lolita.” I'm wondering how you were able to obtain that, and how can other people get copies of Pauline Kael programs?
NNAMDIDo you share trade secrets? (laugh)
HORWITZ(laugh) This one -- because, frankly, I think -- I can't tell you exactly -- I don't know if it was okay for us to play that. I think it was, because I think it's probably fair use. But, Ben, you've asked a really great question, and there's a public radio connection, an NPR connection. I was friends with the humorist Roy Blount, Junior. I am still. And Roy, by that time, I guess we were talking to him about being on “Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me” as a regular panelist. And Doug Berman, the producer, called me. He said, what do you think of Roy Blount? I said, why didn't I think of that? What a great idea.
HORWITZAnd Roy's still a fabulous panelist on that show. And Roy lived up in the Berkshires, and he said, Murray, you know, my next door neighbor's Pauline Kael. I said, no, I never met her, but I idolize her. She's wonderful. She's the dean of American film critics. And he said, well, you know, I think maybe she'd be interested in getting some of her broadcasts on the air. So, he sent me a CD of Pauline Kael, who had started on radio at KPFA, as you mentioned.
HORWITZAnd I don't remember. Nothing ever came of it, but I will share one great story. This was probably -- certainly within the last year of Pauline Kael's life, and I spoke to her on the phone. She was very soft-spoken, and she said -- and I said to her, I said, well, maybe we can meet. I see that, in New York, you're going to be doing a lecture at Columbia. I said, are you doing a series of lectures, or is it just the one off? She said, oh, no, at my age, you never plan a series. (laugh) And, unhappily, she died not long thereafter. But that came from those CDs which I have guarded jealously since Roy sent them to me.
NNAMDIOne brief question. You were not just a clown. At some point, you became a clown producer. What does a clown producer do?
HORWITZNot a clown producer, but what we call a producing clown.
NNAMDIA producing clown. There's a distinction.
HORWITZYeah, there is. I mean, there's this whole argot of circus. Like I mentioned, I joined out. That's what you do on the circus. You don't join or you don't enter, you join out. I was a producing clown which is somebody who writes and stages gags, as opposed to a picture clown, who...
NNAMDIYou decide how many people go into the little car? (laugh)
HORWITZ(laugh) As many as possible. Actually, I was actually driving the clown car. I was the designated driver of the clown car my last year on the circus, until I turned too sharply and ran it up the base of a high wire in Miami, and I was summarily relieved of my duties as clown chauffeur. But when you start out, you were the first person in the car, and the last one out. So, you've got 25 people on top of you in that car.
NNAMDIIt sounds like a lot of fun. Not. (laugh) Got to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue this conversation with Murray Horwitz. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIYeah, you're listening to "A Handful of Keys" from Murray Horwitz's hit Broadway show, "Ain't Misbehavin'." You mentioned Richard Maltby, when you started working with him. You started working with him, and later, you worked with him on what would become the Tony Award-winning musical "Ain't Misbehavin'" about the musician, of course, Fats Waller. You had a pretty successful one-man show. So, what led you to writing a Broadway musical inspired by the jazz legend?
HORWITZ(laugh) It just goes to show, you never -- if we'd started out to make a hit Broadway show, I don't think "Ain't Misbehavin'" ever would've happened. We did “An Evening of Sholom Aleichem,” this one-man show, in the cabaret of the then-fledgling Manhattan Theater Club, which is now one of the great regional theaters in America. And it was in a room that seated 65 people. Later, I saw some of the musical shows that Richard did and some other people did in that same cabaret space.
HORWITZAnd cabaret, by the way, is a really great place to start out in the theater, because if you can make things work in a very tight space, with looking people right in the eye in the audience, then you can do it on Broadway. You can do it anywhere. It's really hard to lie to the audience (laugh) in a cabaret.
HORWITZAnd nobody knew me in those days. This would've been 1975, 6. Nobody knew me for more than five minutes without hearing the name Fats Waller from my lips. Because as somebody who loves jazz and somebody who worked professionally in comedy, it's inevitable that I confronted the work of Fats Waller. It was the work I'd been waiting to hear my whole life, (laugh)
HORWITZBut, in those days, 25 years after he -- 35 years after he had died, people had pretty much forgotten about Fats. I mean, jazz fans knew who he was, but he had been a huge star during his lifetime. And I just thought there ought to be something we could do with him on the stage. So, Richard and I finally did an evening of Fats Waller songs at the Manhattan Theater Club, “You Have To Be Lucky.”
HORWITZAnd in our original cast were Andre De Shields, who just won a Tony Award this spring for "Hadestown,” Armelia McQueen, Ken Paige, Nell Carter -- who went onto big TV stardom -- and Irene Cara, who did not go with us to Broadway. Charlene Woodard did, but it was like the five fingers of a golden hand. And it was, like, just this freight train that picked up speed and delivered the goods. We opened at the Manhattan Theater Club in February of 1978, and by the first week in June, we had won the Tony Award for Best Musical on Broadway. It was...
NNAMDIPretty insane timeline. That show won three Tonys, including Best Musical. Went on to win a host of other awards, an Obie, an Emmy and later, in 2010, a Grammy. But it's the Tony that stands out in the theater world. You were a first-time playwright. Did you have any idea how good the show was and how it would be received?
HORWITZYeah, we (laugh) -- my wife Lisa, who was an opera singer, was there actually with one of her conservatory chums for the first invited audience. This is the dress rehearsal of "Ain't Misbehavin'," in this little cabaret. And at the end of the first act, Richard and our collaborator, Arthur Faria, the choreographer, and I were sitting at a table. We were taking notes. Intermission comes. I stand up. I turn toward the back wall, just because all I saw was problems. It was just awful. And I started shaking my head. And I looked at my wife Lisa, and she had her hand to her mouth and she said, oh, my God, this is the greatest thing I ever saw in my life. So, we had an idea that it was a good show.
NNAMDIThe spouse tends to be the most severe critic, so...
HORWITZYes, indeed. Yes, indeed.
NNAMDII just have to mention, in a Tweet, three-time Tony-Award winner and creator of the mega-hit Broadway musical “Hamilton,” Lin-Manuel Miranda, said he is, quoting here, "in your debt, because you bought him his first rhyming dictionary." How did you come to know him?
HORWITZ(laugh) Well, again, you know, my wife Lisa and I had these three wonderful children. Still trying to figure out how that happened. Alex, who's a filmmaker in New York, Anne, who's a political consultant in California, and Charles, who's a Montgomery County police detective, here. And Alex went to Wesleyan University in Connecticut, where eventually, his roommate and one of his best friends was Lin-Manuel Miranda.
HORWITZAnd so we've known him for 20 years. I have to say first, Kojo, that all of this mega-success could not happen to a nicer guy. I mean, he's just wonderful. He's a wonderful spirit. He's a generous spirits. As you said, he called me his first mentor. But he was writing what turned out to be his first Broadway show, “In the Heights,” during his senior year at Wesleyan. And he played the score for it. He said, I want you to, you know, give me notes.
HORWITZAnd so I went to his room, and he was playing the score for me, and I talked to him about rhyme. As a professional lyricist, I said, you know, in hip-hop, especially with records, you can get away with what we would call assonance. You can try and rhyme crazy with baby. But in the theater, you can't really do that, because people are paying -- things are going by too fast. They need rhymes to help get a handhold on what the lyric is saying. And I went to the bookstore, and I bought him a rhyming dictionary. And...
NNAMDIThe rest, as they say, is history. (laugh)
HORWITZ(laugh) The rest is hysteria.
NNAMDIA few years after "Ain't Misbehavin'" hit the Broadway stage, you decided to move to the D.C. area, and eventually took a position at NPR. What led to that?
HORWITZWhat got me down here was a job at the National Endowment for the Arts, in what was then the opera musical theater program. And so I became an arts administrator, and learned about (laugh) arts administration and grant applications and things like that. One of my colleagues there is a legendary fellow in the world of arts presenting. His name is Peter Pennekamp. He's from Northwest California. And he knew that I knew radio. At Kenyon, I had managed my college radio station and had been news director and done all that stuff. Did a little bit of radio.
HORWITZMy first job in New York when I left the circus, Kojo, was as a news writer for WINS. We used to say -- in the newsroom we'd say, you give us 22 minutes, we'll give you the world. (laugh) Of course, it'll be the same world we give you every 22 minutes, but don't...
HORWITZSo, he knew that I knew radio, and he hired me to be what he called the artistic director at NPR. And so my title was -- eventually, I took over from his position, which was vice president of Cultural Programming, but I had one of the great job titles in America, Kojo. I was the director of Jazz, Classical Music and Entertainment Programming at NPR. And, you know, I'd be at a party and give somebody my card, and they'd go, can I come and work for you, please? (laugh)
NNAMDIWell, during your time at NPR, you helped to create one of the most popular shows in the station's history, the quiz show "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me." How'd that come about?
HORWITZWell, listeners won't be astonished to know by now that I really was looking for comedy, you know. And NPR sometimes gets the reputation of being humorless, and nothing could be further from the truth. But I had it in mind to do a gameshow, a quiz show. The best comedy show on NPR at that time was Cartalk. And the producer was, not a slave to subway fashion, benevolent overlord Doug Berman. And I knew that Doug was the only guy -- there were two guys I thought who really knew public radio and who really knew comedy, and that's Doug and me.
HORWITZAnd I wanted to do -- I made it very difficult for Doug, because I wanted to do everything. I wanted to host the show, I wanted to write the show, I wanted to produce the show.
NNAMDIThat's who you are.
HORWITZYeah, yeah, and I couldn't do it. My ego was getting in the way. But finally, we managed to cobble enough money together. Nobody at NPR wanted to give us any money for this show. But my dear colleague Andy Trudeau -- who's still here in the Washington area -- Andy and I manage to secret some money away, and we hired Dougy.
HORWITZAnd his recollection's a little different from mine. I remember wanting to do a kind of team competition show, and he said, no, what about a news quiz? And that made perfect sense to me, because for NPR news listeners, a quiz show would, you know, be perfect. And now you can say the rest is history, because Dougy did a great job at that.
NNAMDIAfter the Cultural Programming Department at NPR was eliminated you went on to become the founding director of the AFI Theater and Cultural Center in Silver Spring. That ambitious project restored and revived the Silver Theater, built back in 1938 by noted architect John Eberson. For those who don't know, tell us what the idea was, and what made you want to branch out into that world.
HORWITZWell, necessity. I still had a family to support. And, as you say, NPR eliminated cultural programming. A lot of those shows are still around, though, and NPR Music kind of grew out of what we had done there. But I knew -- this is good point, Kojo. In everything I've done, I've really been lucky in that I knew the art form. So, I didn't know anything about arts administration, but I knew musical theater and I knew opera.
HORWITZI didn't know anything about public radio, but I knew radio. I knew how to make good radio. And I didn't know anything about the movies, except I knew how to make them. I'd been a TV director. And if you really know the art form, you can learn the rest of it. That's no big deal. So, I was enthusiastic about it. And Ray Barry, who runs the theater now, was a great teacher and helper. And the idea behind it, to answer your question, was we wanted to put these movies in context. We didn't want people just to -- if you want to come and see a first-run movie, that was fine. But we also wanted them to understand why Olivia de Havilland was important or why, you know, name a great director, you know, Elia Kazan, was important.
HORWITZAnd so we would introduce the movies. A real, live individual would introduce a lot of the movies. And I'm still very proud of what we accomplished there, because also, we managed to help revivify the Silver Spring community.
HORWITZYou did maybe one of your first Kojo In Your Communities at the Silver, right?
NNAMDISilver Spring Theater, that's right.
HORWITZYeah, I remember, you were there. And it really did mean a lot to the people there, and still does.
NNAMDIAt this point in your career, you've been known to refer to yourself as semi-retired. Currently, you devote your time to two part-time projects. We all know the one we do here, “The Big Broadcast,” but listeners may not know about your other job at the Washington Performing Arts Society. What is Washington Performing Arts, and what led you there?
HORWITZWell, it is Washington Performing Arts, and we've reformed old society, yeah. But, no, I went over there, actually, as the development director, for a while. And then, thank goodness, we got a new president and CEO, Jenny Bilfield, who has quick established herself as one of the greats on the art scene in Washington. And thank goodness, she came into my office one day (laugh) and said, you're in the wrong job. She said, I can get somebody to raise money, but you should be doing shows for us.
HORWITZAnd so I'm not artist-in-residence at Washington Performing Arts, and it's great. Because if there's an idea I really wanted to do, like in 2014, when I realized it was the 75th anniversary of Marion Anderson's great recital on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, we did a concert at DAR Constitution Hall, from which she had been banned. And we had everybody from MC Hammer to Jesse Norman to Wolf Blitzer on the stage, paying tribute to Marion Anderson.
HORWITZAnd next year is the Centennial of the great Hazel Scott, who was -- I mean, Alicia Keys paid tribute to her on the Grammys this year, but mostly, people don't know about Hazel. And she was a friend. She had befriended me in New York, and I was really eager to do -- so we're going to be doing some events. We got the cooperation of her son, Adam Clayton Powell III...
NNAMDI... Adam Clayton Powell III, who happens to be my friend.
HORWITZYes, indeed. And he's got some extraordinary resources, some of her tunes. So, we're going to be doing some tributes to Hazel next year. And there's another public radio connection. We're going to open our season this year with “Pink Martini,” which is Ari Shapiro's favorite band. So, you know, you should look out for that.
NNAMDIWell, “The Big Broadcast” is the longest-running program on WAMU. You took over in 2016. What did you want to bring to that show after its host Ed Walker's 24 years hosting?
HORWITZYeah, what I told my kids was -- as you said, took over in -- well, I didn't take -- 16, I guess, I took on...
HORWITZYeah, and, you know, first of all, it was founded by John Hickman, who had the show for about 25 years, and passed away. Ed had it for 25 years, and passed away. And I told my kids, hey, 2041's going to be a big year for you. (laugh) But what I wanted to bring to it -- and thanks for asking -- is I realize now that I barely -- you and I talked about this on my show, because you really grew up with old-time radio. There wasn't any television in your house.
HORWITZI grew up right at the tail end of -- I mean, I remember “Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar” and “Gunsmoke” on the air. And I actually remember “Amos and Andy” on the air. And we're going to have to deal with that, eventually, on “The Big Broadcast.” And the way we deal with it is by putting these things in context. So, I figured, you know, I'm going to be 70 years old next month. And if I'm that old and one of the last people who remembers old-time radio, most people don't remember it.
HORWITZWhen the show started, it was a nostalgia show. But it's not a nostalgia show now. You know, nobody's around...
NNAMDI(overlapping) As a result of which, a lot of very young kids now listen to the show.
HORWITZIt's true. It's true.
NNAMDIBecause it's not a nostalgia show for them.
HORWITZWe love it when we get emails from a 12-year-old, saying, what did that mean on “The Jack Benny Show”? So, especially with the comedies, and especially with somebody like Fred Allen, they make a joke about, you know, Harold Stassen, and I've got to explain to the audience who Harold Stassen was. If you don't know, look it up. But -- so, we have a lot of fun with it. Jill Ahrold Bailey and Douglas Bell are collaborators on the show. And we're just very excited about bringing this great art form -- which only flourished, really, for about 35 years, but, as the aforementioned Andy Trudeau says, still has truths to tell us -- to a new audience.
NNAMDIMurray Horwitz. He's been in show business for 50 years. He's now host of WAMU's “The Big Broadcast.” Murray, always a pleasure. Thank you so much for joining us.
HORWITZThanks so much for asking, Kojo.
NNAMDIDon't forget to check out pictures of Murray from his clown days today on our website, kojoshow.org. And, before we go, let's hear a song. This is “By the Shore," a song from the 1999 opera, "The Great Gatsby."
NNAMDIComing up tomorrow on The Politics Hour, Paul Smedberg, the new Metro Board chair, will be here to talk about what's next for WMATA. Plus, Prince George's State's Attorney Aisha Braveboy will join us. That's all on The Politics Hour. It starts tomorrow, at noon. Until then, thank you for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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