Robert Shaw transformed the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra from a semi-professional group into a world-class ensemble. The documentary, "Robert Shaw -- Man of Many Voices," sairs Friday night on the PBS show "American Masters." CONTRIBUTED: ATLANTA SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA

Robert Shaw documentary airs on PBS show American Masters

The documentary “Robert Shaw -- Man of Many Voices” traces the life of the charismatic maestro who transformed the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra into an international force and set the world’s standard for choral conducting.

On Friday, June 21, that film will reach a national audience when it is broadcast on “American Masters,” the PBS show that has earned 28 Emmys.

The documentary premiered at Symphony Hall in 2016 and has won awards at film festivals around the country. But the screening on PBS, which will also stream the movie for several weeks, will increase its viewership by an order of magnitude. (The show will be repeated on Monday, June 24.)

“From the time we started this film, that was always our holy grail,” said editor Amy Linton. “That was the highest thing we could achieve.”

Getting a documentary placed on PBS isn’t a simple handoff. 

First Linton had to trim the film from 71 to 56 minutes to fit the “American Masters” time slot. Then came extensive vetting of the licensing for every image and sound file.

“You have to document every single photograph, where it came from, who owns the rights to it, and it’s the same thing with the archival footage,” said Linton. “It all has to be legally cleared. So we’re talking about hundreds of photographs.”

Michael Martin, who handled publicity for the documentary, said he and producer Kiki Wilson worked almost full-time for five months to prepare the film for the PBS broadcast.

On Friday night a group of supporters will meet in Midtown to watch the film’s broadcast and to celebrate its debut in front of the “American Masters” audience.

Robert Shaw led the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra from 1967 until 1988. His career is documented in the film, “Robert Shaw -- Man of Many Voices.” FILE
Photo: Celine Bufkin/AJC staff

That group will include Kiki Wilson, a member of the ASO Chorus for the past 38 seasons and a relentless champion of the project. Wilson’s efforts to create a film documenting Shaw’s life began in 1988, when Shaw stepped down as music director at the ASO.

The world needed to know about this man, she said, and Atlanta needed to remember.

“One of the reasons I’ve been so passionate about making this film is I think the Robert Shaw story transcends the music community,” said Wilson in 2016 when the movie premiered.

“This is a guy who had no music education, no piano lessons, no voice lessons, who never took a college course in music, but who had innate talents and managed to be tremendously successful in a world that depends on pedigree.”

“Robert Shaw -- Man of Many Voices” is narrated by David Hyde Pierce and includes interviews with former President Jimmy Carter, former Atlanta mayor and U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young and famed cellist Yo-Yo Ma. It airs at 9 p.m. on GPB.

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