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The Arts

Ari Shapiro: Reporter, All Things Considered host and... Performer

Thomas Lauderdale
Thomas Lauderdale
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If you listen to NPR on your way home from work, you're probably familiar with the voice of Ari Shapiro. He's reported around the world and as of last year, he's one of the hosts of All Things Considered.  But when he's on vacation, he uses his voice in a different way. For the past seven years, Shapiro has been a regular guest singer with the "Little Orchestra" known as Pink Martini.  Cooper McKim talks with Ari Shapiro about his career as a performer.

Shapiro began performing with Pink Martini by chance.  He grew up in Portland, Oregon around the same time the group was getting their start there.  During his high school years, Shapiro would go watch the band perform in small bars and clubs.  Soon, he befriended the Pink Martini’s band leader Thomas Lauderdale and their singer, China Forbes.  And for a long time, he was just a fan. Until, "one day, they came to town and I had this barbecue. It went all night, and it turned into this sing-along around my piano. And the next day the band leader Thomas said, 'Hey, we've got a concept for a song we want a man to sing on the next album, but we don't have anybody to sing it. Why don't you sing this song on our album?'" Shapiro says.

"It's unreal to me, not only that I get to perform in these beautiful places, with musicians who I love, but that it's a band that I've been a fan of since I was a kid."

He didn't think it would happen, but soon, he found himself back in Portland at a studio with the band. Shapiro performed the song "But Now I'm Back" on Pink Martini's ‘09 album: Splendor in the Grass.  Band leader, Thomas Lauderdale, followed up with Shapiro soon after, saying now he would have to do a live performance too.  That's how he ended up in front of 18,000 people at the Hollywood Bowl.

"It was an amazing experience. I remember seeing all the camera bulbs flashing, and hearing the crickets and cicadas, and just feeling the glare of the spotlight.  And feeling like it was very surreal that I had not come up with the band playing through these tiny clubs. But somehow I had this incredible privilege and good fortune to just parachute into this beautiful venue," Shapiro recalls.

Since then, Shapiro has been on three more albums and traveled around the world with the group. He's still amazed that this is now his reality. "Literally, I'll sit in the audience listening to sound check, just loving [hearing] these songs that I've now been hearing for more than 20 years, pinching myself that I get to be a part of this band that I've loved so much since I was a kid," he says. 

CHRIS HORNBECKER
Credit CHRIS HORNBECKER
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"PINK MARTINI: A TABLEAU VIVANT"

After seven years with Pink Martini, Shapiro finds that performing tunes with them isn't all that different from his work in radio.  He explains, "because Pink Martini is in so many languages, I feel like in a more kind of emotional way it can do the same thing that a good NPR story can do -- which is take you someplace where you wouldn't otherwise go... it's a connection to people who we might feel very far away from and helping to bridge that gap."

Shapiro will be performing with Pink Martini at the Gaillard Center in Charleston on July 26th.  Until then, he'll be humming on his bicycle to keep his vocal cords fresh.