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Music lovers around the world reveled in Josh Groban's voice, his pristine operatic baritone soaring on a number of hit albums that made dramatic orchestrations cool to listen to. The multiplatinum recording artist forever changed the musical landscape with his commanding voice that fused classical, pop, and rock-n-roll seamlessly, all of it coming out of this slight-in-build, unlikely-looking artist. Groban sold millions of records since he first burst onto the music scene in the early millennium, thanks to his boy-next-door looks that defied the conventional idea of the robust male opera singer and a voice that wrapped around ballads with an earnest yearning and sadness. Many of his albums like "Josh Groban" (2001), "Closer" (2003) and "Awake" (2006) all nabbed top spots on the Billboard pop and adult contemporary charts. He consistently played to sold-out crowds worldwide, making him an international superstar before he was even 30 years old. Groban's beautiful, angelic voice was his legacy, but it was a genuine, almost humble, connection to his audience that made him one of the world's most loved and influential singers of his generation.
Joshua Winslow Groban was born on Feb. 27, 1981 in Los Angeles. His father, an executive headhunter, was of Russian-Jewish descent, and his schoolteacher mother was Norwegian American. He had a younger brother who shared his birth date, but was born four years later. After attending Bridges Academy in Los Angeles, the young man made the unlikely decision to train to be an opera singer at the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts. Life seemed ordinary for the budding classical singer up until 1998 when Groban's vocal coach introduced him to David Foster, a veteran music producer and proven starmaker. Foster was at the time organizing the music for the inaugural of California Governor Gray Davis. Hoping to include some fresh, new music, Foster contacted Groban's vocal coach, who immediately sent a demo tape of his young musical protégé, which sealed the deal for the veteran producer.
As one of Foster's singers, Groban performed in several high-profile events, but it was not until the 1998 Grammy Awards that the recording industry first had a taste of Groban's talent. Groban was tapped to duet with Celine Dion on the song "The Prayer" after her partner, the legendary Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli, was unable to attend. Groban's powerful rendition of the inspirational song blew everyone away, including Dion, the orchestra, and talk show host Rosie O'Donnell. Impressed with his flawless lyrical baritone, the "Queen of Nice" booked Groban to appear on "The Rosie O'Donnell Show" (NBC, 1996-2002) in 1999, introducing him as "Opera Boy." Despite the adulation he was just starting to receive, Groban enrolled as a musical theater major at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. He left after only a few months to fulfill the demands of his now burgeoning career.
By early 2000, Groban's indisputably rich voice and angelic personal appeal was gaining the attention of not only music lovers, but also of Hollywood executives who realized he was unique commodity that needed exposure. In 2001, Groban landed a guest role as a shy teenager on the hit TV series "Ally McBeal" (Fox, 1997-2002). During the show's 2001 season finale, Groban captured the hearts of millions of viewers with his performance of the ballad "You're Still You." The response from "Ally McBeal" fans was so phenomenal, that the show's producers brought him back the following season to with his rendition of "To Where You Are." With an astonishingly powerful voice, nearly perfect intonation, soulful eyes, and a crown of dark ringlets that made his millions of fans (called Grobanites) swoon, Groban was every music producer's dream come true. He soared to the top of the charts and sold millions each time he released an album, regardless of whether it was studio-produced or live in concert. His debut album
Josh Groban, an amazing compilation of songs in both English and Italian that showcased Groban's smooth and smoky vocal stylings, went double-platinum only six months after its release. His sophomore effort, Closer, sold almost 400,000 copies in its first week and earned Groban a Grammy Award nomination in 2005 for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance, thanks to the hit single "You Raise Me Up." On his next offering, Awake, Groban explored yet another side of his creativity by writing and co-producing several songs on the album, which remarkably debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard album chart. He also collaborated on the LP with other artists, including Dave Matthews, Herbie Hancock, Imogen Heap, and Glen Ballard, among others. By this time, Groban's recordings had been nominated for more than a dozen awards including the American Music Award, World Music Award, and the Grammys. Riding high at the peak of his fame, he also lent his voice to several film soundtracks, including an Academy Award-winning rendition of "Believe" from the animated film "The Polar Express" (2005).
On stage, Groban was an even more dynamic celebrity. In 2004, he performed songs from the album Closer to a sold-out crowd at the Greek Theater in Los Angeles. The concert was released on the CD/DVD "Live at the Greek" (2004) and ran as a "Great Performances Special" on PBS that same year. He also released the DVD "Awake Live" (2008), which featured some of his greatest hits as well as a recording of his energetic performance at Salt Lake City's EnergySolutions Arena. Groban kept gaining an ever-widening audience with diverse musical tastes, thanks to his distinctly powerful voice. Between February and October 2007, he filled every arena on his 81-city "Awake World Tour," captivating fans from North America, Europe, Australia, and the Philippines. With an impressive list of chart-toppers under his belt, a holiday album was inevitable. In 2007, Groban recorded Noël, a Christmas album that he recorded with the London Philharmonic. It initially spent seven weeks on the Billboard chart but shot to the No. 1 with a little help from Oprah Winfrey, who had invited Groban to sing for one unsuspecting fan on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" (syndicated, 1986-2011). The iconic talk show queen, who had the Midas touch when it came to endorsements, gave Groban's album the boost it needed to move up the pop chart.
At this point in his career, Groban had shared the stage with some of the most illustrious names in the music industry, including Barbra Streisand, Mariah Carey, Celine Dion and Andrea Bocelli; he dueted with the latter in a tribute to the legendary Luciano Pavarotti at the 2008 Grammy Awards. One of Groban's most memorable performances was at the closing ceremonies of the Winter Olympics in 2002, when he silenced the crowd as he dueted with fellow classical-pop superstar Charlotte Church on "The Prayer." In July 2007, Groban's duet with British songbird Sarah Brightman became the highlight of Prince William and Harry's tribute to their late mother, "Concert for Diana," which was broadcast to more than 500 million homes across the globe.
Despite his level of fame, Groban managed to keep his personal life somewhat of a mystery. Strong family ties, carefully scripted appearances, and a genuinely down-to-earth personality kept the golden boy at a relatively safe distance from the paparazzi, despite dating "Mad Men" (AMC, 2007-15) star January Jones for three years, as well as a rumored brief fling with pop sensation Katy Perry. Because of his powerful pipes and unassuming nature, often overlooked were his comedic sensibilities. Groban's over-the-top yet earnest crooning of "I'm F***king Ben Affleck" in Jimmy Kimmel's viral video was a highlight in 2008. Groban, along with an A-list cast that included Brad Pitt, Cameron Diaz, Robin Williams and Harrison Ford, appeared in Kimmel's hilarious video spoof about his "relationship" with Ben Affleck, in answer to his real-life girlfriend Sarah Silverman's own viral video, "I'm F***cking Matt Damon." In 2009, Groban made a cameo appearance in an episode of the hit comedy series "Glee" (Fox, 2009-15), in which he played against type as a cruel and arrogant version of himself.
By Candy Cuenco
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