- [Narrator] This program was made possible by contributions to your PBS station from viewers like you.
- The most common thing that I personally have heard from a music exec is that I was too musical.
"Dumb your stuff down so that the masses can digest it."
And as a creative, that's jail to me.
(upbeat music) - [Amna] Hi everyone, this is Beyond the Canvas from PBS Newshour; I'm Amna Nawaz.
Each week, we'll feature stories of artists and creators whose work inspires us every day, and in this episode, it's all about the music.
♪ So many girls I see ♪ are wild and lovable ♪ Now, you just heard from the songwriting duo Louis York, who spent the first half of their careers behind the scenes creating hits for some of the biggest names in the industry.
But, as you'll hear, that success came at a price.
So, Chuck Harmony and Claude Kelly decided to take a risk to step out of the shadows and into the spotlight, making music on their own terms.
In this episode, one of the many themes is integrity.
We'll take a look at how that idea has guided the enduring legacies of Bruce Springsteen, Reba McEntire and Yo-Yo Ma.
But first, back to the sounds of Louis York.
♪ Your time is perfect ♪ ♪ I'm in between love ♪ - [Claude] Everyone we dreamed of working with, as songwriter and producer, we've had the honor of writing very big records for.
- [Chuck] Janet.
- [Claude] Whitney.
- [Chuck] Bruno.
♪ Shoulda known you were trouble ♪ ♪ ♪ From the first kiss ♪ - [Claude] You get known for this one big thing you did.
It's like, "Chuck, give me another Russian Roulette", or, "Claude, give me another Party in the USA."
And if you're always growing and wanting to learn, then that becomes your prison.
It literally drove us crazy, to the point we were gonna quit our passion because of that.
- [Chuck] I was gonna go to seminary, he was gonna go to ... - Get a Master's Degree in World Religion.
- We had this conversation about the music business and what was on the radio, and what was missing.
Big voices, original voices, horn breakdowns, live strings, bridges and modulations, and all these things that make music exciting and passionate.
What can two black men get together and say that is not being said in pop culture?
And we discovered there's a lot.
Louis York was the name of our band.
It was the last thing we came up with.
Our original name was Melancholy.
It shows you how sad we were at the time.
Ran that by a couple people, and they laughed at us.
He's from East Saint Louis, and I'm from New York.
♪ Girls I see are wild and ♪ lovable ♪ As the lyricist, and the guy that's thinking about telling a story, I just don't believe that people are stupid, and they wanna be told stories, they wanna be brought on a journey.
And so, just saying, "Repeat this over and over", or, "Say what you said yesterday", or "That old story works, so repeat it again", is ... - Is a jail.
(piano music) - [Claude] I'm Claude Kelly.
- And I'm Chuck Harmony.
- And we are Louis York, and this is our brief, but spectacular take on ... - Rediscovering our passion for music.
♪ Adore ya, adore ya, ♪ adore ya my Valentine ♪ ♪ Oh whoa, yeah ♪ - Like Louis York, our next guest always knew there had to be meaning in the music.
He was proclaimed rock and roll's next big thing back in 1975, and he became the real deal with albums like Born to Run, Darkness on the Edge of Town, Born in the USA, and many more.
That iconic rumbling tone, delivering stories of American life, is none other than Bruce Springsteen.
Back in 2016, my Newshour colleague, Jeffrey Brown, spoke with Springsteen at his home in New Jersey.
And he learned a little more about how Bruce became The Boss.
♪ Show us the hand of god that ♪ brought death to my hometown ♪ ♪ That brought death to my ♪ hometown ♪ - [Bruce] Most artists I know consider themselves to be phonies, you know, along with feeling that there's something that you're doing that is essential.
Essential to communicate and deeply, deeply real.
♪ Born down in a dead man's town ♪ ♪ - [Jeffrey] Springsteen has been rocking his way through marathon arena sized concerts for decades.
♪ Born in the USA ♪ A kind of working class rock and roll hero to millions of devoted fans.
In the recording studio he built at his rural New Jersey home, we talked about becoming Bruce Springsteen.
The story he tells in his book Born to Run.
- It was a very different type of writing from songwriting.
- In what way?
- A pop song's a condensed version of a life in three minutes, whereas when you go to write your prose, you have to find a rhythm in your words, and you have to find your rhythm in the voice that you've found, and the way you're speaking.
- What about that voice, though?
Because in songs, and you know, I think of writers I've talked to, or poets, and they always, the question of; "How much of that is you?"
- I say in your memoir, it's you, you know?
I think that when you're writing your songs, there's always a debate about whether is that you in the songs, or not you in the song?
- What's the answer?
- So, every song has a piece of you in it because just general regret, love.
You know, you have to basically zero in on the truth of those particular emotions, and then you can fill it out in any character and in any circumstance that you want.
If you've written really well, people will swear that it happened to you.
- [Jeffrey] Springsteen grew up in the working class town of Freehold, New Jersey, of Italian and Irish stock.
Adored and spoiled by his mother and grandparents, ignored and denigrated by a brooding, drinking, distant father; a figure who would obsess him personally and musically.
- [Bruce] Initially, I had my conversations with him through my music, and that was the most effective, not the greatest way to do it, but it was certainly, it was the most effective for us.
- I mean, but you write early on, "When my dad looked at me, he didn't see what he needed to see."
- Yeah ... - [Jeffrey] That's kind, well, you're going, "Yeah" now, but I mean, that's hard when you're a young boy.
- It is hard, it is hard, I think that it's a natural thing for parents, to look for reflections of themself in their children, and feel a certain pride there, so if your child is very, very different, or perhaps if he's very, very similar, it makes you uncomfortable, you know?
So, there was a lot of that when I was young, and it took a long time to get through.
♪ Papa, go to bed now, it's ♪ getting late ♪ ♪ Nothing we can say is ♪ gonna change anything now ♪ - [Jeffrey] Reconciliation would come later, along with an understanding of the role of depression in his father's life and his own.
From the beginning though, the young Springsteen showed a ferocious drive and sense of his own mission.
First as a king of the bar bands in central and south Jersey.
I started to make a list of the clubs you played early on.
These are not high rent places, right?
- No, of course not.
- The Angle Inn Trailer Park, Cavitelli's Pizza, the Ivy Club, Surf and Sea Beach Club, Long Branch Italian-American Club, the Pandemonium Club.
You probably remember each and every one of them.
- [Bruce] Yeah, I remember those a lot more than some of the Madison Square Gardens and other things.
- Is that right?
- Of course.
They were all so distinctive in their own way, and they all drew their own little clique of kids, and it was such a formative moment in your life that you know, you were just coming into being.
- You write about your voice.
You say, "About my voice, first of all, I don't have much of one."
- [Jeffrey] Right?
But you worked at it.
- Initially, it just sounded awful.
Just so terribly awful, but there was nothing I could do about it, so I just kept singing and kept singing, kept singing, and I studied other singers, so I'd learn how to phrase, and learn how to breathe, and ...
But the main thing was, I learned how to inhabit my song.
- Which means what?
- You know, what you were singing about was believable and convincing, that's the key to a great singer.
A great singer has to learn how to inhabit a song.
May not be able to hit all the notes, that's okay.
You may not have the clearest tone, you may not have the greatest range, but if you can inhabit your song, you know, you can communicate.
♪ Meet me out in the street, ♪ little girl, tonight ♪ - [Jeffrey] The early songs though, are what I would call like, word drunk.
I mean, there's so many words in there that you're barely catching your breath as you're singing them.
♪ Now the flag of piracy ♪ flew from my mast ♪ ♪ My sails were set wing to wing ♪ ♪ - Well, I was influenced by Dylan very intensely, and I had a rhyming dictionary.
A man armed with a rhyming dictionary is a dangerous man.
(laughs) So, yeah, the words came fast and furious.
- [Jeffrey] A dictionary, and more important, a great band; The E Street Band, which included singer Patti Scialfa, his wife since 1991.
Springsteen never liked his nickname; The Boss.
- [Bruce] I had no credit cards, I had no cheques, I was cash only 'till I was probably 30 years old.
♪ One, two ♪ - [Jeffrey] But The Boss is what he became, deciding early on, that to endure, he would have to treat music like a business.
- Well, that has to happen, you know, if you're a band leader, you know, you need that type of discipline and dedication in the guys you're playing with.
We came from where professionalism was not a dirty word, as I say, and so we worked like the old soul bands worked.
Very intensely, and very methodically, in great detail.
- Yeah, I mean, you even call it a benevolent dictatorship.
- That's what it is.
- That's what it is.
(laughs) - Small unit democracy, I found early on, didn't work for me, and the band contributes enormously.
I wouldn't have gotten anywhere near where I was without them, but it's basically the buck stops here sort of situation.
- But are you a control freak?
I mean, that's sort of what you, I think, you say that.
- Yes, I am.
(laughs) Probably less now than I used to be, I think when I was young, I was, because you're insecure, you really, you know, you're very controlling.
Now, I'm moderately controlling, I would say.
- But you use that word, 'insecure', because I mean, frankly, I mean, reading this, and it's such a mix of sort of insecurities and sense of self.
- That's the artist's way.
- [Jeffrey] That's the artist's way, explain that to me.
- Most of the artists I know had one person in their life who told them they were the second coming of the baby Jesus, and another person who told them they weren't worth anything, and they believed them both, you know?
And so, you go through the rest of your life in pursuit of both of those things.
Proving that both of those things are true, and you feel like the burden of proof is on you.
It doesn't matter what happened last night or tomorrow night, it's all about what you're doing with this audience right now, and insecurity; natural part of being an artist.
- It was always there.
- Along with a driving, driving, driving ego, vanity and the self confidence, so you've gotta have both of those things, that's what makes it interesting.
That's what makes someone, that's what makes you want to watch someone and want to listen to someone, are those particular complexities.
♪ Glory days well they'll pass ♪ you by ♪ ♪ Glory days in the wink ♪ of a young girl's eye ♪ ♪ Glory days, glory days ♪ - So, how does a singer get to that coveted single name status, like Springsteen?
In country music, at least, it's mostly been a man's world.
You know Johnny and Hank, Willie and Garth, but you also know the voices who had to fight a little bit harder to be heard, like Patsy, Loretta, Dolly and the woman in our next story; Reba.
Last year, I spent some time with Reba McEntire in Nashville looking back at how the little girl from Oklahoma became a global superstar, and a household name.
- Walk down memory lane with lots of great things I've gotten to do.
- [Amna] Over the evolution of her career, Reba McEntire's music has undergone an evolution of its own.
♪ No good, two timin', lies ♪ comin' outta your mouth ♪ She's boosted the bass, cranked the electric guitars and turned up the flash.
♪ She ain't going out like that ♪ ♪ For four decades, she reigning queen of country music has changed with the times, churning out hit after hit, after hit.
♪ I'm a survivor ♪ - Make it more country, like an old Haggard song.
- [Amna] But it wasn't until 2019, McEntire says, that she could finally get back to her musical roots.
♪ And there's no whiskey ♪ stronger than the truth ♪ - Every time I would try to do something very country, you know, the record label or somebody would want me to go more contemporary or what mainstream is at the time, or what radio was playing at the time, so it's just the back to basics, for me.
- Why was that important for you to do at this stage?
- It's my heart, it's me.
At this stage, I've been wanting to do it forever, but finally, I get to.
♪ We're talking Tammy ♪ Wynette kind of pain ♪ Music is very healing.
If you bring something that hurts you out into the open and to the light, the darkness seems to go away.
You've confronted it, you've addressed it, and then you can let it go.
- It's like naming your fears, right?
Once you say it out loud, it's less scary.
- Yeah, and your hurt and your fears, absolutely, let them go.
- Hi, I'm Reba McEntire, and this is- - [Amna] For decades, McEntire has led the charge for women in country music.
Even hosting the Academy of Country Music Awards 15 times.
She'll host again this year, and spoke out on CBS when the top category failed to include a single female nominee.
- I'm missing my girlfriends on this.
Didn't surprise me, but when anything like that happens, I just know us gals, we gotta work harder.
We gotta support each other.
We gotta get in there next year, it's gotta change.
- You recently called it a bro culture, too, the country music.
- Uh huh, yeah.
- [Amna] What'd you mean by that?
- Oh, it's the bro trend, you know, "Hey bro, let's go down to the river and catch some fish, and everybody's a good ol' boys", and that's the bro ... Bro music.
I think it's kinda going away from that a little bit.
I would really like it to get back to a real strong country, the country of Merle Haggard, Conway Twitty, Ronnie Milsap, Mel Tillis.
I miss that kinda country.
♪ Will there be a ♪ - [Amna] McEntire was raised to love that kind of country on a cattle ranch in Chockie, Oklahoma.
Three of the children, Reba, Pake and Susie, performed as the Singing McEntires, coached by their mother, Jacqueline.
- Pake and Susie and I would be in the living room rehearsing, practicing, learning a new song, and Mama would be in there cooking dinner, and we'd say, "Okay, we got it to where we think it's about right."
And she'd come in there with a spatula, and she'd say, "All right, sing it for me."
She'd listen, and she'd go, "That was perfect, now, do it again."
She'd go back to frying potatoes.
(laughs) The very first song I ever sang in a studio with Pake and Susie in 1971 was the Ballad of John McEntire.
- Do you remember how it goes?
- Oh, yeah.
♪ Gather round me boys, ♪ got a story to tell ♪ ♪ About a friend of mine ♪ that you all know well ♪ ♪ He's an old cow hand and ♪ he's known near and far ♪ ♪ He goes by name of John ♪ McEntire ♪ You know, we weren't really supposed to say 'tar', but it rhymes with far.
(laughs) ♪ Oh say, can you see?
♪ - [Amna] But it was a 1974 solo performance in Oklahoma City when 19 year old McEntire sang the Star Spangled Banner at the National Rodeo Finals that caught the ear of country star, Red Steagall.
♪ 'Cause you're the first time ♪ The next year, McEntire signed her first record deal.
Stepping into a spotlight that stayed with her for over 40 years, and has yet to dim.
29 studio records, 35 number one hits, and 56 million albums sold worldwide.
♪ Last night I prayed the Lord ♪ The songs, she says, helped her navigate the lows, like in 1991, when she lost eight band and team members in a plane crash.
♪ It was red velvet trim ♪ Her music, McEntire says, helps her to keep going, like the rags to riches tale of Fancy.
♪ She said, "Here's your ♪ one chance, Fancy, ♪ ♪ Don't let me down ♪ She's a survivor.
- Why does that speak to you?
- Well, it's a strong woman, a survivor.
She could have just rolled over and died, and totally give up, but she didn't.
She persevered, and did what she had to, to survive.
- That has been a theme in, not just your songs, but your life.
- What is it that you tell yourself in those moments?
How do you keep moving forward?
- The alternative is not a possibility.
It's not even a suggestion to me, to quit.
I'm not a quitter.
I persevere, I continue on.
- [Amna] The halls of McEntire's Nashville office are lined with hallmarks of her career.
- [Reba] The grand entry at a rodeo, see?
The Oklahoma flag, and the- - [Amna] There's a statue of her in that famous red dress.
♪ And then I got me a Georgia ♪ mansion ♪ ♪ And an elegant New York ♪ townhouse flat, hey!
♪ - Daddy told me, he said, he asked me when we got to the awards that night, he said, "Reba, did you have that thing on backwards?"
(laughs) ♪ Now don't let me down now ♪ ♪ Your mama's gonna move you ♪ uptown ♪ - [Amna] There are the albums; 27 of them certified gold, platinum or multi-platinum.
There's memorabilia from 11 movies, countless award shows, and her stint on Broadway, and from her sitcoms, one of which ran for six seasons.
- Let's be perfectly clear.
The color is stunning, it's everything else that's freaky!
- Oh now, Reba.
How about that hair?
- Hairstyle number one.
Are you gonna bring this back?
- [Amna] And then, there's this.
- [Reba] Well, I was the first female to ever be Colonel Sanders.
♪ I'm Colonel Sanders ♪ ♪ Same as always ♪ And they put fringe on my outfit for me, so I was a happy camper.
- Just for you?
- Just for me.
- [Amna] But all the success McEntire says, has not been without sacrifice; something she hinted at in an earlier interview.
You said, "There's a lot of people, a lot of girl singers, who are 10,000 times better than me."
But you said, "They don't have the drive, they don't have the work ethic, they're not willing to sacrifice what it takes to do this."
What did you mean by that?
- Just that.
They want it, but they don't want to have to do everything you have to do to get there.
You have to stay away from home a lot, you have to leave your kids home with a nanny, you have to say no to a lot of great things that you would get to do at home and with family, like missing your kids' championship hockey game.
You can't be there because you're shooting a movie in LA.
A lot of that stuff, I wish, if I could go back, what would I do?
How would I do it again?
Now, knowing what I know now.
But you can't look back, you can't live on regrets.
- You wouldn't do it differently if you had to?
- I don't know.
- It sounds like you think about it.
- Yeah, I do, I do.
But like I said, there's no need of crying over spilt milk, you just gotta go on, take today and move forward.
♪ All the women I am ♪ - [Amna] In the meantime, McEntire says, she'll continue to write her own story.
♪ For all the woman I am ♪ For artists like Reba, writing your own story means connecting with your past.
For world renowned cellist, Yo-Yo Ma, music has become a way for him to connect different cultures and communities.
In this essay, Ma describes how music can be a form of storytelling that transcends language and cultural barriers.
(Bach's Cello Suite No 1 plays) - I'm 62 years old, and I've been playing this four stringed instrument for 59 years.
The prelude to Bach's first cello suite is the first piece I ever learned, and I still love it.
I was four years old at the time, one measure each day.
(Bach's Cello Suite No 1 plays) As a child, the simple accomplishment of being able to play a whole song was very satisfying, but over the years, I've come to see that this music has a different force.
It can heal, it can inspire, it can create wonder, and it was written 300 years ago by a man who never traveled more than a few hundred miles from the place where he was born.
But whenever I play it for an audience, I see that it still speaks to us, no matter what year we're living in, where we are, and what language we speak.
(Bach's Cello Suite No 1 plays) This isn't just Bach, food, art, science, storytelling, they all help us to understand ourselves, each other, and our environment, through head and heart.
This is culture.
By calling on the imagination and the powers of observation we all have, culture helps us to tell our story, just as Bach did, 300 years ago.
Just as his music does today.
Culture tells a story that's about us, about our neighbors, about our country, our planet, our universe.
A story that brings all of us together as a species.
I believe that culture is essential to our survival.
It is how we invent, how we bring the new and the old together, how we can all imagine a better future.
(Bach's Cello Suite No 1 plays) I used to say that culture needs a seat at the table in equal part in our economic and political conversation.
I now believe that it is the ground on which everything else is built.
It is where the global and local, rural and urban, present and future confront one another.
Culture turns the other into us, and it does this through trust, imagination and empathy.
So, let's tell each other our stories, and make it our epic; one for the ages.
(Bach's Cello Suite No 1 plays) - And there's never been a more important time to understand each other than today.
Now, each artist you just heard from in this program has a unique sound and story, but what brings them together is their belief in the power of music to inspire, heal and unite.
You can see and hear much more from all the artists you met today, including clips of Bruce Springsteen reading from his memoir, that's on our website.
- [Narrator] Pbs.org/newshour/canvas and tune in to the PBS Newshour each night for even more Canvas Arts and Culture reporting.
- [Amna] Coming up on Beyond the Canvas.
♪ First time I'm thinking past ♪ tomorrow ♪ - [Amna] Lin-Manuel Miranda; the award winning creator of the Broadway sensation Hamilton.
- What I'm always on the hunt for when I'm writing a song are details.
Let's make the founders of our country look like what our country looks like now.
- [Amna] Renowned actor Bryan Cranston.
- [Bryan] The first thing I look for when I read a script is; does the story move me?
- [Amna] Hear some of today's brightest stars share their passion for the stage.
I'm Amna Nawaz, for all of us at the PBS Newshour, thanks for joining me here on Beyond the Canvas.
We'll see you soon.
♪ Born to run ♪ ♪ Hey!
♪ ♪ Wendy, let me in, I ♪ wanna be your friend ♪ ♪ I wanna guard your dreams and ♪ visions ♪ ♪ Just wrap your legs ♪ ♪ ["I'm on Fire" by Bruce ♪ Springsteen] ♪ ♪ [soft instrumental music] ♪ - [Narrator] This program was made possible by contributions to your PBS station from viewers like you, thank you.