The American Masters Podcast features new interviews with contemporary artists and cultural figures, along with previously unreleased material from the American Masters series’ 30+ years of award-winning documentary films for PBS. Powered by PRX. Subscribe now!
Academy Award-winning actress Lee Grant (“Shampoo,” “In The Heat of the Night,” “Valley of the Dolls”) sits down with American Masters creator Susan Lacy for an in-depth conversation about her upbringing, surviving years on the Hollywood blacklist during the McCarthy era, and her career as an actress and documentary filmmaker. Grant describes how key moments of difficulty in her life emboldened her toward new heights.
Academy Award-winning writer and actor Tarell Alvin McCraney talks about his semi-autobiographical play “In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue,” and the Academy Award-winning film “Moonlight” that followed. He discusses the centrality of Florida to his work, and the importance of building a sense of community above all else. McCraney’s recent work includes the TV series “David Makes Man” on the OWN Network, the Broadway play “Choir Boy,” and a run of shows as part of the prestigious Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago.
In 2019, Joy Harjo became the first Native American Poet Laureate of the United States. She joins us from her hometown Tulsa, Oklahoma to talk about the responsibilities that come with this honor and the importance of representing rich Native American storytelling traditions. She talks about the transcendent nature of language, our human origins as storytellers, our innate connection to the Earth, and lessons she learned from one of her inspirations, writer N. Scott Momaday.
This new bonus episode coincides with the upcoming premiere of American Masters – N. Scott Momaday: Words from a Bear, premiering Monday, November 18 at 9 p.m. on PBS (check local listings), pbs.org/americanmasters and the PBS Video app in honor of Native American Heritage Month.
Best-selling author R.O. Kwon writes with an empathy that can attract religious and non-religious readers alike. She talks about her debut novel, “The Incendiaries,” a fierce story that deals with faith, loss and fanaticism, and describes how her own loss of faith in high school, and the grief that followed, led to this bold new work.
One of the most influential artists of the 20th century, Mark Rothko’s signature style helped define Abstract Expressionism. After a screening of the new American Masters documentary, Rothko: Pictures Must Be Miraculous at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Rothko’s daughter and son, Kate Rothko Prizel and Christopher Rothko, sat down with series executive producer Michael Kantor and director Eric Slade to discuss their father’s legacy. This is a bonus episode of the American Masters Podcast.
A confessional-style comic, Chris Gethard is unafraid to mine his past. He talks about cramming the entire set of his TV show, “The Chris Gethard Show,” into the back of his car’s trunk, and how he pulls off hour-long phone calls with strangers every week on his podcast, “Beautiful Stories from Anonymous People.” Amidst a tumultuous cultural change, Gethard also discusses the current state of comedy and his HBO special, “Career Suicide,” which chronicles his history with depression and anxiety.
Pop icons and twins Tegan and Sara look back at their early days during the height of grunge and rave culture in a new memoir, “High School,” and companion album, “Hey, I’m Just Like You.” The duo discuss the book’s honest account of the drugs, music and relationships they each explored in their formative years, and how they crafted a new album from recently discovered high school demo tapes.
Listen to a preview of what’s to come on Season 4 of the American Masters Podcast, featuring new interviews with artists and cultural figures including musicians Tegan and Sara, playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney, Dr. Michio Kaku, actress Lee Grant, comedian Chris Gethard, author R.O. Kwon and more!
What does it mean to stand on the shoulders of giants? Listen to stories from this season of the American Masters Podcast, and learn more about the people who are changing the way we think. Guests include filmmaker Bo Burnham, musician Boots Riley, artist Miranda July, activist DeRay Mckesson, chef David Chang, author Viet Thanh Nguyen and more. Also hear a preview of next season, featuring actress Lee Grant.
Viet Thanh Nguyen discusses growing up in the U.S. as a refugee from Vietnam, and how writing and reading helped him cope with this difficult experience. He explains how his Pulitzer Prize-winning debut novel “The Sympathizer” (2015) and short story collection “The Refugees” (2017) were partly inspired by problems with cultural representation in American pop culture and literature.
Jeff Daniels discusses his Tony-nominated role as Atticus Finch in the Aaron Sorkin adaptation of “To Kill a Mockingbird” on Broadway. He describes the intense preparation that goes into workshopping characters like Finch, and what makes a great performance. Some of Daniels’ film and TV roles include “The Newsroom,” “Dumb and Dumber,” “The Squid and the Whale,” “The Purple Rose of Cairo,” “The Looming Tower,” and “Godless.”
Musician-turned-filmmaker Boots Riley discusses his award-winning film “Sorry To Bother You,” and the importance of incorporating politics into his work. Riley is also a founding member and lead vocalist of The Coup, a hip-hop group with a penchant for political discourse. In this wide-ranging conversation, Riley describes growing up surrounded by labor organizers and theater.
Restaurateur and chef David Chang explores the power of food as a cultural communicator and the influence of immigration on American cuisine. He talks about studying religion in college, his TV series Ugly Delicious and the role models who inspire his work.
Josh Hamilton speaks with actress Lois Smith about how she got her start and the many inspiring figures she’s worked alongside during her decades in film, TV and theater. Forging an enduring legacy, Smith’s film and TV roles include “Lady Bird,” “Twister,” “Minority Report” “Marjorie Prime,” and True Blood. She’s earned Tony Award nominations for her roles in “Grapes of Wrath” (1990) and “Buried Child” (1996) and is a member of Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theater Company.
DeRay Mckesson discusses his debut book “On the Other Side of Freedom: The Case for Hope.” He talks about his early days protesting on the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, and the figures who have inspired him to take action. Mckesson presents an intimate portrait of the Black Lives Matter movement from the front lines through personal memoir, and offers a meditation on politics, justice and freedom.
Miranda July discusses how everyday connections, such as an unlikely friendship with her cab driver, can spark her creativity. She talks about some of her earliest works from childhood, explains her interdisciplinary approach to art and contemplates the double-edged nature of technology and social media.
Sammy Davis, Jr., boldly strove to achieve the American Dream in a time of racial prejudice and shifting political territory. “American Masters – Sammy Davis, Jr.: I’ve Gotta Be Me" director Sam Pollard, writer and co-producer Laurence Maslon and executive producer Michael Kantor revisit some of his biggest controversies through rare interviews with Davis conducted by his biographer Burt Boyar.
Bo Burnham is a comedian-turned-filmmaker who first found fame self-publishing bedroom performances to YouTube. He recently explored that personal experience by writing and directing his debut film, “Eighth Grade.” Josh Hamilton acted in the film, and speaks with Burnham about identity, coming of age in the era of social media and more in a wide-ranging conversation. You’ll also hear from one of Burnham’s comic inspirations, George Carlin, in an exclusive outtake from the PBS series Make ‘Em Laugh: The Funny Business of America (2009).
Listen to a preview of what’s to come on Season 3 of the American Masters Podcast, featuring new interviews with artists and cultural figures including chef and restaurateur David Chang, activist DeRay Mckesson, artist Miranda July, comedian-turned-filmmaker Bo Burnham and more! Led by co-producer and actor Josh Hamilton, hear from the people who are changing the way we think.
Young women entrepreneurs today can find inspiration in the story of Hollywood star Hedy Lamarr. In her time, she was known as the Most Beautiful Woman in the World, but it was her groundbreaking work as an inventor of a secure communications system that has turned her into a legend. Recorded live at the Whitby Hotel in New York, host Michael Kantor moderates a panel including Academy Award-winning actor Susan Sarandon, Rutgers professor and IEEE fellow Emina Soljanin, and filmmaker Alexandra Dean, as they discuss Lamarr’s legacy. Co-executive produced by Sarandon, and directed by Dean, with major support by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, “American Masters – Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story” is streaming now at pbs.org/americanmasters and PBS OTT apps.
The venerable poet, writer, activist, dancer and singer Dr. Maya Angelou teaches that above all else, we are more alike than we are unalike. In this season's final episode, listen to Dr. Angelou share insights into her life as a teacher, what it takes to be courageous and an emotional story from her time in Ghana visiting a wharf where slaves were once sold and traded. [“American Masters – Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise” (2017)]. (Season 2, Episode 10 - Revolutionary Writers)
We sit down with U.S. Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith to discuss the ideas that drive her writing. Considered among the best poets of her generation, Smith won the Pulitzer Prize in 2011 for her collection, "Life on Mars," which melds science and science fiction with the discoveries, failures, and oddities of the human experience. She reads poems from her past collections and from her forthcoming book, "Wade in the Water," to be published in April 2018. (Season 2, Episode 09 - Revolutionary Writers)
Willie Nelson is a superstar of country music (“Red Headed Stranger,” “Shotgun Willie,” “Stardust”). He reinvented the genre as one of the founding fathers of outlaw country, forging a style of music that went against the convention of its time. Filmmaker Steven Cantor sat down with Willie to talk about how he got his start in this 2002 interview. [“American Masters – Willie Nelson: Still Is Still Moving” (2002)]. (Season 2, Episode 08 - Revolutionary Writers)
Will Oldham is an enigmatic singer/songwriter who commonly performs under the name Bonnie "Prince" Billy. For decades, his music and lyrics have explored the human experience with great intensity and respect. With an ear finely tuned to history, Oldham speaks candidly about the role music plays in the past, present and future of our culture in this new interview. (Season 2, Episode 07 - Revolutionary Writers)
Edgar Allan Poe is a global literary icon, best known for his Gothic horror tales. Actor Denis O’Hare stars as Poe in the new documentary “American Masters – Edgar Allan Poe: Buried Alive.” Listen to O'Hare read “The Raven” and “Annabel Lee” with an original score by Damon Hardjowirogo (Infinity Shred), then learn about the poems and Poe’s legacy from Dennis Paoli, professor of gothic fiction at Hunter College. The documentary premieres October 30 at 9 p.m. on PBS (check local listings) and will be available to stream on Halloween via pbs.org/americanmasters and PBS OTT apps, as well as on DVD and digital download from PBS Distribution. (Season 2, Episode 06 - Revolutionary Writers)
Known as "The Horror Master," John Carpenter is Hollywood's ultimate auteur of fright. In this new interview, the writer, director and composer talks about his career and the constantly shifting horror landscape. Internationally renowned for genre classics including "Halloween," "They Live," "Escape from New York," "The Thing" and "Christine," he is touring this fall in support of his new album, "Anthology: Movie Themes 1974-1998." (Season 2, Episode 05 - Revolutionary Writers)
In this new interview, comedian Margaret Cho talks about her career and the role comedy plays in dealing with the current social climate. An outspoken advocate for LGBT, Asian-American and women’s rights, Cho created the first primetime sitcom featuring an Asian-American cast, and currently she can be seen performing stand-up on her “Fresh Off The Bloat” comedy tour. (Season 2, Episode 04 - Revolutionary Writers)
Satire is often described as one of the most powerful tools against tyranny. Listen to a previously unreleased interview with legendary comedian Mel Brooks, who reveals how his experience as a soldier in the U.S. Army during World War II led to his groundbreaking satirical comedy “The Producers.” Brooks earned Oscar® and Tony® awards for writing the hit film and musical, cementing his status as one of America’s sharpest wits. [“American Masters – Mel Brooks: Make A Noise” (2013)]. (Season 2, Episode 03 - Revolutionary Writers)
“American Masters: Tyrus” filmmaker Pamela Tom interviews filmmakers/artists Robert Kondo and Dice Tsutsumi, who discuss their Oscar-nominated animated short “The Dam Keeper” and artist Tyrus Wong’s influence on their work. See their work and learn more about Wong in “American Masters: Tyrus,” premiering September 8 at 9 p.m. on PBS (check local listings) and streaming September 9 at http://pbs.org/americanmasters and PBS OTT apps.
Witch hunts, political hysteria, and paranoia! Listen to previously unreleased interviews with Tony- and Pulitzer-winning playwright Arthur Miller and actresses Madeleine Sherwood and Lee Grant, who explore the themes of Miller’s landmark play The Crucible (1953). Published amidst the milieu of government persecution when McCarthyism struck Hollywood, the play is a stark and powerful allegory of the era with lasting implications. [“American Masters – Arthur Miller, Elia Kazan and the Blacklist: None Without Sin” (2003)]. (Season 2, Episode 02 - Revolutionary Writers)
Season 2 of the American Masters Podcast looks at the artists that challenge and shape our thoughts through the power of the written word. We begin with a new interview with Pulitzer Prize-winner and MacArthur “Genius” Award recipient Suzan-Lori Parks (Topdog/Underdog, The Red Letter Plays, Venus), who discusses her writing, inspirations and teaching the arts, and performs original music. (Season 2, Episode 01 - Revolutionary Writers)
Host and series executive producer Michael Kantor sits down with Ruben Santiago-Hudson, director of August Wilson’s Jitney, which makes its Broadway debut this week at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre. Santiago-Hudson discusses the impact that Wilson has made as one of the most prolific African-American playwrights of the 20th century. Tune in to your local PBS station for American Masters – August Wilson: The Ground on Which I Stand, which airs tonight, January 20th at 10 PM EST (Check your local listings).
Listen as host and series executive producer Michael Kantor sits down with Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, co-directors of American Masters – Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You. The two veteran filmmakers share their experiences working in the film industry, and most recently with nonagenarian producer Norman Lear as their subject. The documentary is streaming now at http://pbs.org/americanmasters and is available on DVD, Blu-ray and Digital HD from PBS Distribution. (Season 1, Episode 10 - Women on Women)
Comedian Hasan Minhaj, senior correspondent for The Daily Show, shares a personal story with legendary producer Norman Lear, recorded live at this summer’s New York premiere of American Masters – Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You. The documentary premieres nationwide Tuesday, October 25 at 9 p.m. on PBS (check local listings) and is available on DVD, Blu-ray and Digital HD from PBS Distribution.
We remember novelist Gloria Naylor, who died September 28, 2016, at the age of 66. Best known for The Women of Brewster Place, which received the National Book Award in 1983, and was adapted into a 1989 miniseries produced by Oprah Winfrey, Naylor speaks compassionately and critically about the notion of the American Dream. She explores this theme in three American classics: Nella Larsen’s novel Passing (1929), F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby (1925) and John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath (1939). This never-before-heard interview is from director Michael Epstein’s American Masters – Novel Reflections on the American Dream (2007). (Season 1, Episode 09 - Women on Women)
Listen to singer-songwriters Joan Baez and Dar Williams perform as a duet in this impromptu rendition of “If I Wrote You”, written by Dar Williams. This exclusive performance is from the cutting room floor of award-winning filmmaker Mary Wharton’s American Masters – Joan Baez: How Sweet the Sound (2009). (Season 1, Episode 08 Bonus Track - Women on Women)
American folk music icon Joan Baez began her singer-songwriting career during the 1960s counterculture movement and celebrated her 75th birthday this year. Listen in on this conversation between Baez and fellow singer-songwriter Dar Williams as they share anecdotes about life on the road together, their musical collaborations and how they’ve influenced each other’s lives and art. This never-before-heard interview is from the cutting room floor of award-winning filmmaker Mary Wharton’s American Masters – Joan Baez: How Sweet the Sound (2009). (Season 1, Episode 08 - Women on Women)
Before jazz legend Ella Fitzgerald became the First Lady of Song and earned 13 Grammy Awards, she spent much of her teenage years as an orphan, finding odd jobs to get by and, at times, living on the street. Filmmaker Charlotte Zwerin interviews journalist Nina Bernstein and Fitzgerald’s longtime friend June Norton, who discuss one of the singer’s most difficult periods. Enduring harsh conditions at an abusive reformatory program in Hudson, New York, Fitzgerald faced prejudiced policies common in the institutional racism of the 1930s child welfare system. She battled through this adversity to achieve a career driven by sheer determination and talent [American Masters – Ella Fitzgerald: Something to Live For (1999)]. (Season 1, Episode 07 - Women on Women)
Celebrate the 2016 U.S. Open with tennis superstars Chris Evert and Venus Williams, who discuss athlete and social icon Billie Jean King’s impact both on and off the tennis court with filmmaker James Erskine. King won 39 Grand Slam titles, including a record 20 titles at Wimbledon, and was the first female athlete to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom. A lifelong champion for social change and equality, she’s created new inroads for both genders in and out of sports. [American Masters: Billie Jean King (2013)]. (Season 1, Episode 06 - Women on Women)
Singer-songwriter, poet and visual artist Patti Smith discusses the early days of punk rock. In this never-before-heard interview from American Masters – Lou Reed: Rock-And-Roll Heart (1998) conducted by filmmaker Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, Smith paints a picture of the vibrant music scene of 1970s New York City, talks about her influences and shares her thoughts on art, poetry, censorship and punk. (Season 1, Episode 05 - Women on Women)
Late comedian, actress, producer and television legend Lucille Ball would have turned 105 years old this year on August 6. Celebrate her birthday with actresses Doris Singleton, Fran Drescher, and Carol Burnett, who discuss Lucy's successes and challenges as one of America's first women media moguls and television sensations. Lucy’s contributions helped flip the script on the role of women in comedy: an impact that is still felt to this day [American Masters – Finding Lucy (2000)]. (Season 1, Episode 04 - Women on Women)
American comedian, actor and nonagenarian Betty White sits down with director Kyra Thompson to discuss the life and career of comedian, actor, singer and writer Carol Burnett. White shares personal anecdotes from her time spent working with Burnett and talks about The Carol Burnett Show’s lasting influence, Lucille Ball and how comedy and audiences have changed [American Masters – Carol Burnett: A Woman of Character (2007)]. (Season 1, Episode 03 - Women on Women)
American singer, dancer, actress and civil rights activist Lena Horne discusses the difficulties of navigating the 1940s and 1950s Hollywood studio system and her involvement in the civil rights movement. As a trailblazing person of color within the entertainment industry, Horne recollects times spent with Count Basie, Medgar Evers, Billy Strayhorn and others [American Masters – Lena Horne: In Her Own Voice (1996)]. (Season 1, Episode 02 - Women on Women)
The first season of the American Masters Podcast presents interviews with influential women discussing women who have impacted our cultural landscape. Who better to kick off the season than American journalist and activist Gloria Steinem? Listen to her conversation with the late documentary filmmaker Gail Levin as they take a critical look at the life and career of Marilyn Monroe [American Masters – Marilyn: Still Life (2006)]. (Season 1, Episode 01 - Women on Women)
The poet Muriel Rukeyser once wrote that the Universe is made of stories, not of atoms. The American Masters Podcast brings you previously unreleased long-form interviews from the series' 30+ years of award-winning documentary films. Listen to host and series executive producer Michael Kantor preview just a few of the many enduring voices from our archive that have left an indelible impression on our cultural landscape. Come back soon to hear our first full episode and subscribe now!