Murray Horwitz '70

Murray Horwitz '70 works to make public radio a "force for good"

Last March, the Chevalier de L'Ordre des Arts et des Letters (Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters)was bestowed upon Murray Horwitz '70 by the French government in a ceremony at the French Embassy in Washington, D.C. Established in 1957, the award recognizes eminent artists, writers, and other people who have contributed significantly to furthering the arts in France and throughout the world. For Horwitz, the vice president for cultural programming at National Public Radio (NPR), the honor was a validation of his work toward fulfilling the radio network's mission to promote cross-cultural understanding.

Horwitz is a thoughtful man, and it doesn't take much prompting to get him to share his insights regarding the purpose of art and enter-tainment. "Art has to do with communication, and when you communicate for a living, whether it be as a journalist, a scholar, an announcer, or a clown, that communication has a public side. For good or for ill, it will have an effect. I want to be a force for good," he says.

Horwitz's opinions on communication are based on experience, not observation. He has been a professional circus clown, and he has worked for the New York State Assembly (although not simultaneously). He has written newscasts for WINS, acted on the television series Kojak, staged performances at the White House, toured as Sholom Aleichem, and directed the opera program at the National Endowment for the Arts. A lifelong jazz fan, Horwitz brought Ain't Misbehavin' to Broadway and worked as a cowriter with Wynton Marsalis on the twenty-six-part radio series "Making the Music," which won a 1996 Peabody Award. He also appeared with Marsalis in young people's jazz concerts in New York City and Berlin, Germany. Most recently, he contributed lyrics to John Harbison's The Great Gatsby, performed last season at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City.

One might think that a person of such diverse talents could create a career in any area of entertainment. But it is Horwitz's overriding desire to be a "force for good" that has kept him in public radio for the past eleven years, first as director of jazz, classical music, and entertainment programming and now, since 1996, in his present position.

"I could not write some of the stuff that is commercially successful today," he says. "I do, to a large extent, what I like to do, and my aesthetic, which has to do with entertainment as a public service, is out of fashion."

A passionate devotee of radio, especially public radio, as a medium, Horwitz likes to exploit what he sees as radio's strengths as he develops programming. "Radio is more powerful than television for presenting music," he says. "In television, you can't concentrate people's listening the way you can in radio. Just look at some of the PBS shows, like the biography of Louis Armstrong. Out of all those pieces of music presented, only a couple were played all the way through."

Described by NPR's president, Kevin Klose, as someone who "knows more about American culture, past and present, than anyone else I know," Horwitz is of the opinion that music on the radio in the 1950s and 1960s was more inclusive than today's programming. "It was truly a way to develop cultural competency, which is becoming more and more important while the media does less and less to promote it," he says. Through radio, Horwitz believes, people learned about Jews and Italians, about jazz and folk music. Maybe the impressions were stereotypes at first, he allows, but they eventually became more accurate. So, while commercial radio is segmenting its audience into increasingly tiny bits, it is Horwitz's goal for public radio to continue to provide broad cultural instruction.

Comedy is another form of entertainment that Horwitz sees as an important way in which cultures express their individualism. It has always held a special place in his life. His years-long friendship with fellow Dayton, Ohio, native Jonathan Winters '50, which began when they teamed up in a cabaret act, is one of the treasures of his life. Horwitz was thrilled to be present when Winters was awarded the second annual Mark Twain Prize for humor in Washington, D.C., in April. "I really consider him to be a god on earth," he says.

Horwitz sees a major change in the relationship between the performer and the audience since his days of acting in the Impromptu Players, a Kenyon comedy troupe he helped found, and working as a professional clown. In bygone times, he notes, an entertainer took responsibility for the audience's enjoyment. More recently, he explains, the attitude is, "I'm glad you paid your money, you're here, and it's an event whether I'm good or not." This is not a state of affairs that pleases him. "Quality in the arts is a part of what makes us, as a nation, great," he observes. "When the arts are mediocre, we are mediocre also."

Horwitz doesn't leave his passion for art and entertainment at the office door. Married to mezzo-soprano Lisa Miller for more than twenty-five years, he is an opera afficionado. Eldest child Alexander, a junior at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, is a film major and a member of an improvisational comedy troupe. Daughter Ann, a student at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School, "has her mother's voice and a talent for musical theater," says Horwitz. Youngest child Charles has just entered high school. His interests include military history and comparative religions.

"I love it that they all have enthusiasms and curiosity," says Horwitz. How could they not?


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