The Cincinnati Pops Orchestra was founded in 1977 out of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. Its members are also the members of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, and the Pops is managed by the same administration. The Cincinnati Pops is the alter ego of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, performing a diverse array of musical styles, all bathed in the world-renowned “Cincinnati Sound.” Erich Kunzel, the Pops' founding conductor, continued to lead the Pops until his death in 2009.
In 1965, maestro Max Rudolf invited Erich Kunzel, a young conductor on the faculty of Brown University, to join the Cincinnati Symphony. That October, Erich Kunzel, a Dartmouth graduate and assistant to French conductor Pierre Monteux, conducted his first "8 O'Clock" Pops concert. Over the next four decades, the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra regularly performed for packed houses in Cincinnati's Music Hall and established worldwide recognition through tours and critically acclaimed, best-selling recordings on the Telarc label. Just since 1980, the Cincinnati Pops has sold ten million recordings around the planet.
The growing list of celebrated artists who have collaborated with the Cincinnati Pops include Ella Fitzgerald, Frederica von Stade, Doc Severinsen, Henry Mancini, Mel Tormé, Kristin Chenoweth, Jennifer Holiday, Vanessa Williams, Dave Brubeck, The Temptations, John Williams, Rosemary Clooney, Mandy Patinkin, George Takei, Boyz II Men, Bernadette Peters, and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
The Cincinnati Pops tours nationally and internationally, most recently performing in Beijing as part of the Opening Festivities of the 2008 Summer Olympic Games, the only American orchestra to play the opening weekend (May 2008). In 2005, the Pops completed a historic tour to China and Singapore performing in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. The Cincinnati Pops was the first USA Pops orchestra to perform in China, and also has appeared to enthusiastic audiences in New York’s Carnegie Hall, in Washington D.C. and in Japan and Taiwan.
Following that first historic tour to China, a 2005 editorial in The Cincinnati Enquirer said the tour had “put an exclamation mark on our orchestra’s phenomenal popularity in China, cultivated through its dozens of recordings. For residents of Greater Cincinnati, this success ought to underscore the fact that even among our region’s wealth of cultural treasures, the Pops represents a unique resource that no other city can quite match.”
An estimated 30 million people have viewed eight national telecasts of the Cincinnati Pops on PBS, and the Orchestra has more than 100 available recordings, 56 of which have appeared on the Billboard charts, a record unmatched by any other orchestra, and sales of over 10 million units. The Cincinnati Pops' "Copland: Music of America" won a 1998 Grammy Award, and four other Pops recordings have been nominated for Grammy Awards.
After Erich Kunzel's death on September 1, 2009, John Morris Russell was named in December 2010 as the new Music Director of the Cincinnati Pops, effective September 1, 2011.
In 2012, the Cincinnati Pops released its first recording under John Morris Russell, "Home for the Holidays", on the Orchestra’s own Fanfare Cincinnati label. A second recording, "Superheroes", was released in September 2013 and reached #8 on the Billboard crossover chart.