Collaborations, Loyal Fans Nourish Crooner Josh Groban's Career
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
August 22, 2007
By Dave Tianen
He has choir-boy looks and opera-singer chops.

The combination of the two has elevated 26-year-old Josh Groban to star status. Discovered by producer David Foster, Groban was singing with Sarah Brightman while still a teenager.

A star turn on Ally McBeal and a 2002 PBS concert connected the dark-eyed, boyish crooner with a loyal female fan base that has grown over the course of three albums. His most recent album, 2006's Awake -- currently No. 1 on Billboard's Classical Crossover -- has nudged Groban's ''popera'' style in new directions, thanks to collaborations with jazzer Herbie Hancock and African ensemble Ladysmith Black Mambazo.

Q.My favorite track on the new album is Weeping. Ladysmith Black Mambazo appears on two songs on Awake. I have to think that surprised a lot of people.

A. I first heard them -- I didn't know the name of the group -- I heard those voices on the Paul Simon Graceland CD when I was 9 or 10 years old. Just the pathos they had in their voices was unreal.

That CD kind of introduced me to the sounds of South Africa. From an early age I learned all about African music.

It just felt with the third project and having more creative control, I wanted to explore some of those influences. So it was nice to find that I could go there and work with some of my heroes, do a little experiment with it. And it actually worked.

Q.I know you were a drama student. How did you acquire your facility with languages?

A. When I was in high school, I studied Japanese for four years. That has not helped me yet in the music business except when I go to Japan.

As far as singing goes, with classical voice training I would sing songs in Italian and French and Spanish, so it just kind of happened naturally.

Q.You've done a lot of duets in what is still a pretty young career: Streisand, Charlotte Church, Sarah Brightman, Celine Dion. What is it you like about that format?

A. I love the idea of collaborating with another voice, especially if the two voices are different but the songs allow both to really breathe. I love collaborating, whether in writing or performing.

Q.Obviously your fan base is female. How do you connect with the guys in the audience?

A. I'm a guy. I'd like to think there are other guys who would like to listen to this.

It's nice to see, sometimes, the girlfriends and the wives pull the guys along, and by the end of the shows they're on their feet, too.

Yeah, it's some romantic music, but the guys do it because they love their girls. It's a nice present for them to bring their girlfriends or wives to the show.

Q.My sense is that quite a few of your fans are ladies who are quite a bit older than you. Is this a mom thing or a Mrs. Robinson thing?

A. You know, I don't know, but it has definitely skewed younger since we've been doing the arena shows in the last couple years. As we've done VH1 and Live Aid, we've been able to get a younger audience.

But I agree. From the beginning we've had kind of an older female fan base. I think it's a real combination of both, to be honest. Sometimes I think, `Oh, these sweet ladies. They give me nice gifts. It's like a motherly thing.'

And then I'll be sitting on the edge of the stage, and someone will do something really inappropriate. [Jokingly] ``How dare you? You're trying to seduce me!''

Yeah, I think there's definitely a Mrs. Robinson side to some of those older fans.