John Morris Russell is the conductor of the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra, amassing a strong catalog of recordings with that group since joining it in 2010.
Russell has also led a variety of other orchestras in the U.S. and in Canada, where he won several awards.
Russell was born in Cleveland on June 6, 1960, and grew up in the artistically rich suburb of Shaker Heights, where he played in orchestral, jazz, band, and theatrical ensembles as well as joining a funk horn group. He majored in music at Williams College, earning an honors degree in 1982, and he went on for private conducting lessons at the Cleveland Institute of Music. Russell taught music in a public school and conducted youth orchestras in northern Ohio before going on for a master's degree at the University of Southern California. He also took classes at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London and the Pierre Monteux School for Conductors in Maine. In the late 1990s, after guest conducting stints in both the U.S. and Canada, Russell became assistant conductor of the Cincinnati Pops. He gained notice by substituting for Pops conductor Erich Kunzel at a 1999 concert with just one hour's notice, and by creating a "Classical Roots" series featuring the music of African American composers. Russell remained in that post through 2010, while also holding the conductorship of the Windsor Symphony Orchestra in Ontario (2001-2012), where he received an honorary degree from the University of Windsor. He was named Cincinnati Pops conductor in 2010 after Kunzel's death. He has also served as music director and principal conductor of the Hilton Head Symphony Orchestra, beginning in 2012, and as principal pops conductor of the Buffalo Philharmonic, beginning in 2015.
In Cincinnati, Russell has revived the Cincinnati Pops' recording program, issuing albums on the orchestra's own Fanfare Cincinnati label. These include 2018's American Originals: 1918, which was nominated in 2019 for a Grammy award, and 2019's Voyage, featuring music celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon mission.