Celebrating 40 Years of PBS's Great Performances

Audra McDonald

Throughout its 40 year history on public television, PBS’s Great Performances has provided viewers with an unparalleled showcase of the best in all genres of the performing arts. 


Commemorating the occasion is "Great Performances 40th Anniversary Celebration," taped at Lincoln Center last November, and airing Friday, October 18 at 9 p.m. on PBS. A stellar roster of diverse alumni gather to share their personal stories of what “Great Performances” has meant to them, with reminiscences and performances by Julie Andrews, Audra McDonald, Don Henley, David Hyde Pierce, Josh Groban, Itzhak Perlman, Peter Martins, Patti Austin and Take 6, Met Opera star Elîna Garanèa and Michael Bublé. Musical performances and anecdotes are interspersed with highlights from some of the most memorable Great Performances of the past, grouped by genre: musical theater, rock, classic and contemporary drama, classical music, dance, jazz, opera, and the pop standards from American Songbook.


“Its simple premise was to provide a home for the world’s greatest artists,” Julie Andrews said. “ The series would be a showcase for the best in music, drama and dance. And as you will see tonight, four decades later, this vision not only succeeded, but it has grown to give viewers across the country a front row seat to the performing arts.”


David Hyde Pierce reminisced about the personal impact of the “Great Performances” dramatic productions. “It brings back a lot of memories of when I was a young person. I used to watch ‘Great Performances’ on PBS, not just Shakespeare but all the other wonderful dramas broadcast by the series. And when I grew up I became an actor.”


Regarding the series’ groundbreaking dance productions, Peter Martins observes, “One of the great things that has made these series great is that they allow great artists like Balanchine, and Jerry Robbins and Martha Graham and Paul Taylor and Alvin Ailey and so many others to collaborate and create an invaluable library of works adapted and supervised by themselves and broadcast to audiences across the country.”


Over the course of its four decades, “Great Performances” has provided a national stage where popular artists not only reveal the surprising dimensions of their creative gifts but often surpass expectations. “Great Performances” has also offered artists the opportunity to celebrate and pay homage to the influential figures in their lives and careers, as well as be the first to spotlight emerging artists with their feature-length television debut.


The program is dedicated to popular music legend Phil Ramone, who served as music producer for the production before his untimely death in March 2013. "Great Performances 40th Anniversary Celebration” launches this year's "PBS Arts Fall Festival," a multi-platform event anchored by seven films that highlight artists and performances from around the country, with related online content.

Courtesy of PBS

Julie Andrews

Courtesy of PBS

Andrew Veyette

Vicki Arkoff

Based in Los Angeles, Vicki Arkoff is Contributor for JustLuxe, reporting on travel, entertainment, lifestyle and autos. She also reports for Atlas Obscura, The Daily Meal, Day Spa Magazine, Prevue, Where Guestbook, and Where Magazine, and is Editor for Holiday Goddess, the online destination for chic women travelers from the editors of Vogue, Cosmopolitan, Grazia, Conde Nast Traveler, Lonely Plan...(Read More)

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