American Pops Orchestra presents star-studded performances on PBS

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews the American Pops Orchestra (Part 1)

Luke Frazier has been on a mission since founding American Pops Orchestra in 2015.

“I started the group because I was concerned that a lot of classic American music [is] largely being forgotten by younger people,” Frazier told WTOP. “There are too many people that I go to dinner with [who] can’t even tell me the last time they went to an orchestra concert. … It’s preserving the great American music, bringing people together and saying that the orchestra deserves to live.”

While the group typically performs at Arena Stage, it’s recently expanded virtually.

“We expanded during COVID,” Frazier said. “In March of last year, I told our team, ‘We’re not going to sit around and have a group think and dream up how to pivot, we’re just going to go! We kept doing it and we’ve now done literally hundreds of performances since last March with millions of viewers. … In all these hundreds of performances, we’ve not had a single case of COVID.”

Viewers can watch the “We Are Family” concert on PBS this Friday at 10 p.m.

“We’ve got to do everything we can do love each other more, listen to each other more deeply and build bridges,” Frazier said. “It’s a fabulous cast: Rayshun LaMarr from ‘The Voice,’ TV’s Gabrielle Ruiz, Morgan James’ Postmodern Jukebox, DC’s very own Nova Payton superstar. We’ve got Brittany Foster, our principal flute, doing an amazing brand new flute with the orchestra.”

The four-part PBS series “One Voice” kicks off with two concerts on May 28.

The first explores how Broadway songs crossed over to become pop hits.

“The host for the first episode is Tony and Grammy winner Jessie Mueller from the musical ‘Waitress’ or ‘Beautiful’ [performing] a mash-up of her two iconic roles,” Frazier said. “We also have Amber Iman from ‘Hamilton,’ Luke Hawkins, the principal tapper for Harry Connick Jr., Sam Simahk from the national tour of ‘My Fair Lady’ [and] Alexis Michelle from ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race.'”

The second explores “sacred music” that crossed over from church to pop radio.

“Think Elvis Presley, Mahalia Jackson, Sam Cooke and how that music crossed over,” Frazier said. “That’s hosted by Michelle Williams of Destiny’s Child, Adam Heiman from ‘Hadestown’ on Broadway, Maureen McKay from the Metropolitan Opera. We’ve got a 16-year-old organist, ‘American Idol’ star Justin Guarini, all jam-packed into this action-packed hour.”

APO has a dozen shows upcoming on PBS later this year.

“We’re honored that PBS has placed so much trust in us,” Frazier said.

Virtually, you can enjoy the trivia series “Name That Tune” on Facebook Live, including themed programs like “It Takes Two,” “Performers with Pride” and “Kids Movies and Cartoons.”

The group also brings the “Get to Know the Orchestra Game Show” across 44 states.

“This is actually for school kids grades 3 through 5,” Frazier said. “75% of the schools we visited have never had an orchestra come into their school. … I’m doing live demonstrations with my musicians in real time with kids across the country, asking questions, raising their hands. … The second half of each of these one-hour interactions is a real-time game show, mailing out prizes.”

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews the American Pops Orchestra (Part 2)

Listen to our full conversation here.

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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