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WTTW to produce local content and events for Muhammad Ali, a new PBS Ken Burns film beginning Sunday, September 19 at 7:00 pm on WTTW

For immediate release
Chicago, IL - August 26, 2021

WTTW and its sister classical music radio station WFMT will produce and present special local content in connection with the upcoming four-part documentary series from Ken Burns, MUHAMMAD ALI, beginning on Sunday, September 19 at 7:00 pm on all WTTW platforms – WTTW, the PBS video app, and online at Parts two, three, and four of the series will air on successive nights at 8:00 pm.

MUHAMMAD ALI was directed by Ken Burns and written and co-directed by Sarah Burns and David McMahon. The film follows the life of one of the most consequential men of the 20th century, a three-time heavyweight boxing champion who captivated billions of fans with his combination of speed, agility, and power in the ring, and his charm, wit, and outspokenness outside of it. At the height of his fame, Ali challenged Americans’ racial prejudices, religious biases, and notions about what roles celebrities and athletes play in our society, and inspired people all over the world with his message of pride and self-affirmation. 

Ali was a Chicago South Side resident from roughly the mid-1960s through the late 1970s, a defining period in his life. Having converted to Islam in 1964, he claimed conscientious objector status in refusing to serve in Vietnam. Ali was immediately stripped of his title, banned from boxing, and convicted of draft evasion, a felony for which he could have served five years in prison. While his case was on appeal, Ali made the city of Chicago his home, and became more involved with the Nation of Islam and the civil rights movement, married, started a family, and eventually staged a comeback. WTTW will explore these watershed moments in Ali’s life with a companion website ( that will include an image gallery in partnership with the Chicago History Museum; an episode guide; a Q&A with Sarah Burns and David McMahon; a photo essay by Chicago architecture expert Lee Bey tracing Ali’s footsteps in Chicago; an interview with Ali’s biographer Jonathan Eig, a native Chicagoan who outlines ways that the city shaped Ali before and during his time here; and the storied history of boxing in Chicago, focusing not just on world-famous champions but aspiring amateur boxers finding discipline and purpose in the Golden Gloves tournament. WTTW is also producing two virtual events including a preview and discussion on September 15 in partnership with the Chicago History Museum with Sarah Burns, McMahon, and Chicago History Museum President and CEO, and former head of the Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville, David Lassere; and a performance and talk on September 21 with Kwame Alexander, author of Becoming Muhammad Ali, in partnership with PBS Books. 

PBS has commissioned a mural celebrating Ali that will be painted by Chicago artist Rhamaan Statik on a building wall at 2847 S. Kedzie Avenue in Chicago’s Little Village.

WFMT will publish an interview on September 21 with Jahlil Beats, composer of the score for MUHAMMAD ALI, on and will also host a virtual Classical Conversation on September 9 featuring composer D.J. Sparr and librettist/lead Solomon Howard for the opera Approaching Ali, a one-act chamber opera with music by Sparr and libretto by Mark Campbell and Davis Miller, based on Miller’s memoir The Tao of Muhammad Ali and his story “My Dinner with Ali.” The discussion will focus on the creation of the work and the challenges in portraying one of the most popular people in the world. WFMT will also air a November 1975 Studs Terkel interview with Ali from the Studs Terkel Radio Archive.

MUHAMMAD ALI is a production of Florentine Films and WETA Washington, D.C. Corporate funding for MUHAMMAD ALI was provided by Bank of America. Major funding was provided by David M. Rubenstein. Major funding was also provided by The Arthur Vining Davis Foundations, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and by The Better Angels Society and by its members Alan and Marcia Docter; Mr. and Mrs. Paul Tudor Jones; The Fullerton Family Charitable Fund; Gilchrist and Amy Berg; The Brooke Brown Barzun Philanthropic Foundation, The Owsley Brown III Philanthropic Foundation and The Augusta Brown Holland Philanthropic Foundation; Perry and Donna Golkin; John and Leslie McQuown; John and Catherine Debs; Fred and Donna Seigel; Susan and John Wieland; Stuart and Joanna Brown; Diane and Hal Brierley; Fiddlehead Fund; Rocco and Debby Landesman; McCloskey Family Charitable Trust; Mauree Jane and Mark Perry; and Donna and Richard Strong. 

The WTTW presentation of MUHAMMAD ALI is made possible, in part, by Binny’s Beverage Depot. Major support comes from Rita and John Canning, Marshall Field V, Denny and Sandy Cummings, Sylvia Furner, and WTTW members.

WTTW is the PBS member station in Chicago, committed to creating and presenting unique media content across distinct television and digital channels – WTTW, WTTW Prime, WTTW Create, WTTW World, WTTW PBS Kids 24/7,, and the PBS/WTTW video app. Recognized for award-winning journalism and local productions – such as Chicago Tonight; Chicago by ‘L’; Check, Please!; digital-first series FIRSTHAND, Urban Nature, and Foodphiles; and national productions Prehistoric Road Trip and Nature Cat – WTTW presents the very best in public affairs, arts and culture, nature and science, history and documentary, and children’s public media content. Connect with WTTW on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.

WFMT is one of the world’s most respected classical music radio stations, available on-air at WFMT 98.7FM, online at, and on the WFMT app. WFMT showcases superlative programs, concerts, and live events including the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Grant Park Music Festival, the Metropolitan Opera, the New York Philharmonic, San Francisco Symphony, and Ravinia Festival. WFMT is also a leading producer and syndicator of a diverse selection of outstanding musical series, including Exploring Music with Bill McGlaughlin, the Beethoven Network, and the Jazz Network. Connect with WFMT on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.