American Masters (2016 Season) — The Highwaymen: Friends Till the End

Production Bios

Air date: 05/27/2016

American Masters – The Highwaymen: Friends Till the End

Premieres nationwide Friday, May 27 at 9:00 p.m. ET on PBS (check local listings)

 Production Biographies


Jim Brown

Producer and Director

Jim Brown is a four-time Emmy Award-winning producer/director/writer and cinematographer who is responsible for some of the most popular and critically acclaimed musical documentary programs of the last four decades. These include 50 Years With Peter, Paul (PBS), Billy Joel: A Matter of Trust-The Bridge to Russia (Showtime/Sony Entertainment), American Masters – Pete Seeger: The Power of Song (The Weinstein Company and PBS), Harry Belafonte: Sing Your Song (HBO), the four-part series American Roots Music (PBS and Palm Pictures), The Three Pickers with Doc Watson, Earl Scruggs and Ricky Skaggs with Allison Kraus (PBS and Rounder Records), In The Hank Williams Tradition (PBS), We Shall Overcome (PBS), A Vision Shared: A Tribute To Woody Guthrie and Leadbelly (Showtime and Columbia Records), and The Weavers: Wasn’t That A Time! (MGM/UA and PBS). He has just recently finished directing Free To Rock, documenting how rock and roll and cultural diplomacy played a part in ending the Cold War. Jim has produced and directed over 120 documentaries, concerts and segments for television and had four of his documentaries released theatrically. Many of these programs were televised internationally and commercially distributed as home entertainment.

As a teenager, Brown worked as a gardener for the folklorist Ben Botkin and Lee Hays (who was a founder of The Almanac Singers and The Weavers). He took guitar lessons from Peter Torkelson (who later joined The Monkees) and played in folk and rock bands. After graduating from the NYU Film School, Brown produced and shot segments documenting Hudson River pollution for the magazine-style TV series The 51st State (WNET). He also co-directed and shot documentaries for George Stoney Associates. In his twenties, he formed Jim Brown Productions and directed and produced The Weavers: Wasn’t That A Time! about the blacklisted folk group. It won numerous awards and was distributed theatrically by MGM/UA and televised in 15 countries, including a 30-year period on PBS where it set records as a fundraising special. Roger Ebert named The Weavers: Wasn’t That A Time! one of the 10 Best Films of the Year and it remained one of Ebert’s favorite documentaries.

Brown formed a lifelong friendship with Pete Seeger (who he documented for 40 years), and worked with musicologist Alan Lomax filming the PBS series American Patchwork. Brown later formed Ginger Group Productions with his ex-wife Ginger Brown, and produced a number of television documentaries with his partner Harold Leventhal, a leading impresario in American folk music. Brown continues to run both Ginger Group Productions and Jim Brown Productions and produces and directs several documentaries and television concerts every year, most of which focus on American music. Although he never worked with The Highwaymen, he worked with them individually, filming Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, and Kris Kristofferson at various times.

Brown has been the recipient of multiple grants from The National Endowment for the Arts, The National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Grammy Foundation.

In addition to four Primetime Emmy Awards, he has received an additional four Emmy nominations, a Christopher Award, the CableACE Award for the Best Music Special of the Year, a Gold Plaque (Biography/History) from the Hugo Awards, four Blue Ribbons and the Grand Prize (The Emily) from the American Film Festival, and the Grand Jury Award from the Utah/U.S. Film Festival (which became the Sundance Festival), two Grammy nominations, First Place (Music Documentary) from the US International Film & Video Festival, an RIAA Gold Certified DVD, and Best Historical Recording from the American Association for Independent Music. Brown’s films have been showcased at the Tribeca Film Festival, Silverdocs (now known as AFI Docs), the Berlin International Film Festival, the Cannes Film Festival and the London Film Festival.

When Brown produced and directed A Vision Shared: A Tribute to Woody Guthrie and Leadbelly (which was conceived by Bob Dylan as a means to fund the Smithsonian’s purchase of Folkways Records) it was cited by TV Guide as “the best music special of the year,” was televised in over 25 countries and became a bestselling home video and record, which ultimately raised millions of dollars and secured the purchase of Folkways Records.

Brown is also a tenured professor at the Kanbar Institute of Film and Television at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts and a member of the Directors Guild of America. He is an outdoor enthusiast and gardener who lives in the Hudson Valley.


Michael Kantor

American Masters Series Executive Producer

For more than two decades, award-winning filmmaker Michael Kantor has created outstanding arts programs for television. He joined American Masters as the series’ executive producer April 2014.

His most recent PBS documentary series, Superheroes: A Never-Ending Battle, hosted by Liev Schreiber, premiered in fall 2013 and was nominated for an Emmy Award. Random House published the companion book. In January 2013, Kantor’s Peabody Award-winning film, Broadway Musicals: A Jewish Legacy, aired as part of the Great Performances series on PBS. Narrated by Joel Grey, it included performances by Matthew Broderick, Kelli O’Hara, David Hyde Pierce, Marc Shaiman and many other Broadway talents. In 2012, Kantor produced The Thomashefskys: Music and Memories of a Life in the Yiddish Theater with Michael Tilson Thomas, which aired on PBS and was nominated for a Primetime Emmy. Kantor served as executive producer of the special Give Me the Banjo, hosted by Steve Martin, and created Make ’Em Laugh: The Funny Business of America, the critically acclaimed six-part documentary series hosted by Billy Crystal, which debuted in January 2009. His script for episode four, When I’m Bad, I’m Better: The Groundbreakers, co-authored with Laurence Maslon, was nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award. His landmark six-part series Broadway: The American Musical was hosted by Julie Andrews and honored with the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Nonfiction Series in 2005. That same year, he created three hours of DVD extras for 20th Century Fox’s 40th anniversary release of The Sound of Music.

Kantor wrote, directed and produced the award-winning profile American Masters: Quincy Jones: In the Pocket. With Stephen Ives, he co-directed Cornerstone: An Interstate Adventure for HBO, and produced The West (executive producer Ken Burns). His 20 years of work in documentaries include projects as varied as EGG: the arts show, Coney Island, The Donner Party, Margaret Sanger and Ric Burns’ New York series. As a writer, Kantor created Lullaby of Broadway: Opening Night on 42nd Street, co-authored the companion books to Broadway (Bulfinch) and Make ’Em Laugh (Grand Central Publishing) and has published numerous essays and articles. He is president of Almo Inc., a company that distributes The American Film Theatre series, which includes Edward Albee’s A Delicate Balance (starring Katharine Hepburn), Eugene O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh (Lee Marvin) and Chekhov’s Three Sisters (Laurence Olivier) among its titles. Kantor has served as a Tony nominator and taught documentary filmmaking at the School for Visual Arts in New York City.