Two PBS programs take close look at history

Rick's Reviews

Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr. hosts new episodes of “Finding Your Roots.” (Photo courtesy of PBS)

(KGET) — History is the driving factor behind two productions debuting this week on Valley PBS (seen locally on Channel 18). The second half of the sixth season of “Finding Your Roots” begins at 8 p.m. Oct. 13 to offer a look at the personal history of several celebrities. If you are more interested in musical history, “Great Performances: Grammy Salute to Music Legends” airs at 9 p.m. Oct. 19.

“Roots” host, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., takes a close look at the world of fashion and meets three icons of style: Diane von Furstenberg, Narciso Rodriguez and RuPaul Charles. The series uses cutting-edge DNA research and old-school genealogical sleuthing to reveal long-buried secrets about those being featured. This leads to an examination of each guest’s family personalizes history while emphasizing the human connections that unite us.

Gates, the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor at Harvard University and director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research, stresses that this series is very important now because of how it shows what we have in common, both as Americans and as human beings, despite our apparent differences.

“The stories we find in our guests’ family trees demonstrate over and over that we are fundamentally a blended nation, bonded by shared values. We draw strength from our diversity, and despite our apparent phenotypical differences, at the level of the genome we are 99.9 percent the same,” Gates says.

There has been no shortage of subjects for the series. Gates has a “fantasy list” of those he would like to feature and he gets phone calls constantly from those who would like to be part of the PBS series. But his wish list has been put on hold as he has a waiting list of 100 names already in line for his look into their family histories.

The way Gates approaches the show has changed over the six seasons.

“When I started this, I only did African Americans. I used to think that everybody else knew their family tree but Black people. Turns out nobody knows their family tree,” Gates says. “It takes a long time. We haven’t struck out yet. We have a pretty good record of finding ancestry. It just takes a long time. But every day more and more records are being digitized.

“As a scholar of African American studies, I am involved in retrieving records of Black people all the time. There’s no greater gift. There’s no greater gift than seeing the names and dates of your ancestors restored in your large family tree that we present as the gift that we give to each of the guests. People break down and cry.”

The other new program this week on PBS looks at those who have had a great influence on the history of music. “Great Performances: Grammy Salute To Music Legends,” hosted by Grammy Award winner Jimmy Jam, includes the 2020 Lifetime Achievement Award honorees Chicago, Roberta Flack, Isaac Hayes, Iggy Pop, John Prine, Public Enemy and Sister Rosetta Tharpe. Ken Ehrlich, Philip Glass and Frank Walker receive Trustees Award honors while George Augspurger is recognized with the Technical Grammy Award.

Jam is excited about this year’s group of honorees.

“I have to say Chicago was my favorite group growing up. I was a sax player when I was younger, and I tried to play all their horn parts. I was a drummer, and I tried to play all their drum parts,” Jam says. “The first concert my parents took me to when I was young was a Chicago concert.

“When my partner Terry and I were inducted into the hall of fame, we went in the same year as Robert Lamm of Chicago. So I got to meet my hero. It is a great thing what music does. We want to always give a little bit of that flavor and that connectivity on the show.”

The tribute includes performances by Laurie Anderson, Philip Bailey, Brandi Carlile, Cynthia Erivo, Chris Isaak, Jason Isbell & Amanda Shires, Cyndi Lauper, Sam Moore, Leslie Odom, Jr., and Yola. Presenters include Rhiannon Giddens, Joe Mantegna, John Legend, LL COOL J, Greg Phillinganes, Henry Rollins, and Don Was.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.