PBS’ harmonic role

'Adult' artists blossom within public TV realm

PBS has had a crucial role in breaking a number of “adult” artists in recent years, most prominently Josh Groban and most recently the Celtic Woman band.

And when artists blossom within the PBS realm — whether it be a Broadway star, opera singer or doo-wop act — they shoot to the top of the pledge drive charts, where labels can play benefactor and the Public Broadcasting System can dole out CDs by the truckload.

Sensing the formula was ripe for revamping, EMI’s Blue Note Group decided to take a different tack in launching a roster of PBS-ready singers. Company’s Manhattan Records created its own special for PBS to broadcast, secured the rights to release the DVD of the special, and timed the release of three albums to the PBS airings.

Financing a special — to some degree the equivalent of renting the room — is a bit out of the ordinary, but even more striking is the fact that Blue Note Group is unveiling three tyro acts in one special. Most specs are dedicated to a single act, and those acts generally have some renown.

“There were no huge expectations for Celtic Woman” when we signed the band, says Bruce Lundvall, president and CEO of Blue Note Label Group, “and we were pleasantly surprised when it came in at No. 4. Here we staged the concert, shot it in HD and paid for the production and had the artists spend the last nine months performing and promoting the PBS (connection).”

The artists — countertenor Ryland Angel, soprano Giorgia Fumanti and the duo of Sasha & Shawna — are all releasing their debut discs March 6 on BNLG imprint Manhattan Records, the label that released “Celtic Woman” and has seen it sell 143,000 copies in three weeks of release. PBS stations will begin broadcasting the special featuring the three rookies, “Heavenly Voices,” on March 1. In New York, WLIW will broadcast it March 12 and in Los Angeles, KOCE airs the spec March 15.

Manhattan will also release the DVD of “Heavenly Voices,” which features the live show augmented with shots of the artists’ home areas — Tuscany, Wales and New England — March 6.

Lundvall, who has been in the music business for 47 years and long associated with the rebirth of Blue Note two decades ago, has cemented the label’s modern image through its success with Norah Jones. The Blue Note Group, which has the mission of appealing to the “adult” audience, encompasses the legendary jazz imprint plus Manhattan, classical diskery Angel and the New Age label Narada.

Blue Note has releases on tap from young jazz musicians (Robert Glasper, Jason Moran, Bill Charlap), established jazz stars (Andrew Hill, Wynton Marsalis) and a pop veteran (Suzanne Vega). None of them will be promoted via PBS.

“Different audience,” Lundvall says, matter of factly. “Wouldn’t work.”

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