MR. ROGERS TRIBUTE Valley company works on project
Working from the Mahoning Valley makes the company's services affordable.
By NANCY TULLIS
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
HOWLAND -- Sitting in a Manhattan recording studio, Chip Atkins couldn't keep the goosebumps from zipping up and down the back of his neck as '70s soul diva Roberta Flack sang a slow, emotional version of her hit "Killing Me Softly."
Despite the goosebumps, Atkins managed to capture the moment on film for his company's latest media project.
Flack and several other legendary music artists are featured on a compact disc and DVD, "Songs From the Neighborhood -- A Tribute to Mr. Rogers," slated for release in late September.
Atkins partnered with John Newbrough in 2003 to form Accent Media, L.L.C., a media production company at 8017 E. Market St., near Howland High School. The company produces video and radio commercials, exercise videos, hunting and fishing videos for several local and national marketing agencies and their clients.
Company founders say working from the Mahoning Valley makes their media services affordable. They were selected to produce the DVD, including all filming and editing, because they had a connection with Memory Lane Syndications, the company funding the project and working with the Rogers estate.
The DVD, now in production by Accent Media, is a behind-the-scenes look at the pop, country and jazz artists recording new arrangements of Fred Rogers' songs in New York and Nashville studios. Atkins said the final track on the CD is "Thank You for Being You," a new song written by the project's music producer, Grammy-winner Dennis Scott. The song is a collaborative effort of all artists who recorded a song for the CD.
Also featured on the CD are artists Amy Grant, B.J. Thomas, CeCe Winans, John Pizzarelli, Maureen McGovern, Bobby Caldwell, Crystal Gayle, Toni Rose, Ricky Skaggs and Donna Summer.
Atkins said the artists agreed to do the CD and DVD because many of them had their own childhood memories of Rogers and his neighborhood. Most of the artists were unaware that Rogers wrote all the songs for the show.
Flack's contribution to the CD is a ballad version of "Won't You Be My Neighbor," the show's title tune. Atkins also was present as '90s pop artist Jon Secada painstakingly recorded all the lead and background vocals for a different arrangement of the same song.
Atkins said the entire project was about two years in the making, and he and Newbrough have been working on it about eight months. He said the two biggest challenges were the logistics of scheduling artists, producers and studios, and for Scott to produce arrangements of Rogers' original songs that would both utilize the diverse talents of the artists, and satisfy the Rogers' estate.
Since the DVD is in the final stages of production, Atkins said he, Newbrough and Roger Hatfield, vice president of product development, haven't had time to step back yet to realize what they've done.
"One day soon we'll look at it and say 'Wow! We did that!' Atkins said. "We are proud of it. We've got a lot of young people working here and we hope this project shows the Mahoning Valley the kind of work we can do."
"Production in places like New York and Nashville are phenomenal, but very expensive," Atkins explained. He said that they offer the area national-level productions -- the same quality work as New York or Nashville -- more affordably.