Chew a very busy bee


Most know Ray Chew as the musical director for the syndicated series "Showtime at the Apollo." But his musical endeavors go deeper than that. Having just wrapped another stint as musical director for the BET Awards, his lengthy to-do list includes overseeing the music for NBC's new music/game show "The Singing Bee," scoring Alicia Keys' forthcoming third album and tour, directing the music for Donald Trump's pageant properties (Miss USA, Miss Teen USA and Miss Universe) and starting his 16th season with "Apollo."

"A lot of people know me as the 'Apollo guy,' " Chew said during a recent break from his BET and "Singing Bee" duties in Los Angeles. "That's fine, I'll take it. But there was a whole lot to me before the Apollo."

As a popular session pianist and arranger in the late '70s and '80s, Chew played on and collaborated on albums by Gladys Knight, Diana Ross and Ashford & Simpson, among others. After that, "Saturday Night Live" enlisted his talents for a four-year stint. Then the Apollo came knocking.

For "Apollo," he deals with 85-90 pieces of music during one weekend in September and another in February when he tapes the 11-show clusters that comprise the 22-episode season. At these tapings, he's not only working with professional artists but also amateurs competing in the Apollo's infamous talent shows.

On "The Singing Bee," which debuted Tuesday, he works with an ensemble cast of singers -- a mix of known and unknown talents -- with former 'N Sync member Joey Fatone serving as host. Chew describes the musical game show as a combination of "Jeopardy!" and "American Idol." Gleaning clues from musical vignettes, contestants are required to sing their answers to various questions.

Chew has worked with Keys since the beginning and says her new album is Keys still being Keys. "Every time she steps up to write a song, it's just whatever comes. There's no predestination, no trying to do a radio cut that fits a format. It's just Alicia's music."

Additionally, Chew just completed the music for MTV Studios' "Super Sweet 16: The Movie." It bows July 10 on DVD.

"I refuse to be pigeonholed," Chew says. "I'm a composer, arranger and musician who happens to be black. And if all this work means I get a few hours' less sleep, that's OK. I'll be better at the finish line."

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Scream all you want -- the teen tour is going 360. Music impresario Michael Mauldin and Atlantic Records have entered into a new joint venture called Scream Star Entertainment. The Scream tour, a multiact hip-hop bill headlined by T.I. and Ciara, is the first project under the initiative. Also on the Scream lineup are Young Joc, Lloyd and T-Pain.

Mauldin's Mauldin Brand Agency will produce and market the 24-city trek, which is expected to stop in Chicago, New York, Atlanta, Miami, Detroit, Baltimore and Washington. Also in the works is a Scream TV show, which will search for the "Next Scream Star" a la "American Idol," as well as a Scream magazine and radio station.

Mauldin has spent more than 30 years in the music business working as a producer, record executive and entrepreneur. In 1995, he became the first African-American president at Columbia Records, heading its black music division.

Gail Mitchell contributed to this column.