The Nation’s Largest African American Video Oral History Collection Mobile search icon Mobile close search icon
Advanced Biography Search
Mobile navigation icon Close mobile navigation icon

Voza Rivers

Theatrical producer Voza Rivers was born on December 27, 1942 in Harlem, New York City. He graduated from George Washington High School in 1961. Rivers obtained his A.S. degree in police science from the College of Police Science and served as a Detective in the New York City Police Department. He received his B.A. degree from John Jay College of Criminal Justice and later completed his studies for the M.A. degree in Communication Arts from New York Institute of Technology, in New York City.

In 1964, Rivers joined Roger Furman’s New Heritage Theatre, and became New Heritage Theatre Group’s executive producer in 1983. Rivers expanded New Heritage Theatre Group’s division and focus by producing a series of South African plays and collaborating with black South African playwright Mbongeni Ngema in the 1980s, educating theatergoers about the horrific impact of the apartheid struggle.

The first South African play, Woza Albert!, heralded for its satirical take on Apartheid, won over twenty awards worldwide. The second collaboration, Asinamali!, went to Broadway and was nominated for a TONY Award. Rivers received acclaim for the introduction and presentation of the third collaboration with Lincoln Center Theatre, Sarafina! the South African musical by Ngema, depicting students involved in the Soweto Riots in opposition to apartheid. The TONY and GRAMMY nominated Sarafina! premiered on Broadway in 1988 at the Cort Theatre, and following 597 performances and 11 previews, closed in 1989.

In 1997, together with playwright, author, director and educator Jamal Joseph, Rivers co-founded the youth group IMPACT Repertory Theatre, nominated for an OSCAR and GRAMMY for Best Song for the film August Rush in 2008.

Rivers has produced award-winning works Off-Broadway as well as productions at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Jazz at Lincoln Center, Manhattan School of Music, Hunter College, Columbia University, City College-Aaron Davis Hall, Carnegie Hall and the world famous Apollo Theater; and has worked with artists including Nina Simone, James Brown, Ray Charles, the Count Basie Orchestra, Tony Bennett, Max Roach, and Celia Cruz.

He has produced more than 1500 events including music events and concerts featuring world-renowned artists in the U.S., South Africa and Japan. He has also produced for artists such as: Nancy Wilson, Ruby Dee, Luther Vandross, Ashford and Simpson, Boy George, George Benson, Tito Puente, Lionel Hampton, Isaac Hayes, Little Jimmy Scott, Miriam Makeba, and Chaka Khan. Films executive produced by Rivers include: Hughes Dream Harlem (Langston Hughes), Sutton: A Man for All Seasons (Percy Sutton), A-Alike (2003 Oscar nominated student film), Lifted (2007) and The Savoy King: Chick Webb & the Music That Changed America (2012).

Rivers has served as chairman of the Harlem Arts Alliance since 2001. From 2015, he has served also as the executive producer of Harlem’s Gertrude Jeannette's The H.A.D.L.E.Y. Players theatre. He is currently the 1st Vice-President of The Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce and is also the Executive Producer and Vice Chairman of HARLEM WEEK.

Voza Rivers was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on April 29, 2018.

Accession Number

A2018.094

Sex

Female

Interview Date

4/29/2018 |and| 10/24/2018

Last Name

Rivers

Maker Category
Occupation
Schools

P.S. 68

George Washington High School

First Name

Voza

Birth City, State, Country

New York

HM ID

RIV03

Favorite Season

Spring

State

New York

Favorite Vacation Destination

Cuba

Favorite Quote

Let My Work Speak For Itself.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

New York

Birth Date

12/27/1942

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

New York

Favorite Food

Broccoli

Short Description

Theatrical director Voza Rivers (1942- ) produced the long running and award winning Sarafina!,on Broadway and served as chairman of the Harlem Arts Alliance and president and executive director of the New Heritage Theatre Group.

Employment

New Heritage Theater

New York Police Department

Greenlight Films

New York Entertainment and Sports Advisors

Favorite Color

Gold

Veronica Claypool

General manager Veronica Claypool was born in Indianapolis, Indiana to Margie and Leander Warner. Claypool attended Shortridge Public High School in Indianapolis, where she graduated in 1966, and moved to New York City in 1970, where she attended Hunter College.

In 1973, Claypool worked on the production team for the tour and live broadcast of the Jackson 5 from Senegal, West Africa. One year later, Claypool became an associate producer for Metromedia Television in New York City, producing such programs as Midday Live, a daily talk show, Wonderama, a live children’s show and People of Paradise, a documentary filmed in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Claypool joined McCann and Nugent Productions in 1977, working as company manager for over twenty Broadway productions, which included Mass Appeal, Dracula and The Gin Game, as well as the original 1976 Houston Grand Opera European tour of Porgy and Bess. In 1981, Claypool left McCann and Nugent when she was employed as manager for the Broadway and national tours of Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music, including a live broadcast of the performance from the Nederlander Theatre on Broadway. In 1983 and 1984, Claypool was general manager for the Las Vegas national and international tours of the show, Sophisticated Ladies. Upon completion of this tour, Claypool worked as general manager, for The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe, starring Lily Tomlin. 1988 marked Claypool’s move to Los Angeles where she worked as general manager for the Center Theatre Group/ Ahmanson and Doolittle Theatres, working on such performances as Les Liaisons Dangereuses, Phantom of the Opera, Into the Woods, and August Wilson’s The Piano Lesson. In 1990, Claypool worked as assistant production auditor for the Columbia-Tri Star release The Fisher King. The next year, Claypool moved to Blanki & Bodi Productions, working on such pieces Tube Test Two for ABC Productions and Silent Killer: Women and Heart Disease for the American Heart Association. For the next two years, Claypool was the general manager for OBA OBA, a Brazilian production that toured both nationally and internationally.

Claypool managed the Houston Grand Opera tour of Porgy and Bess. After managing this tour, she served as general manager of the Jackie Mason show, Love Thy Neighbor. In 1997, she became managing director of Theatre Development Fund, the country’s largest nonprofit theatrical service organization. In 2005, Claypool married John Gordon Butler in Kona, Hawaii.

Accession Number

A2007.287

Sex

Female

Interview Date

10/12/2007

Last Name

Claypool

Maker Category
Marital Status

Married

Schools

Shortridge High School

Hunter College

First Name

Veronica

Birth City, State, Country

Indianapolis

HM ID

CLA14

Favorite Season

Summer

State

Indiana

Favorite Vacation Destination

Hawaii

Favorite Quote

Let's Just Get It Done.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

New York

Birth Date

7/17/1948

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

New York

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Italian Food

Short Description

Entertainment manager Veronica Claypool (1948 - ) became the managing director of the Theatre Development Fund, the United States' largest not-for-profit theatrical service organization in 1998. She has served as company manager for several staged shows, including the 1994 national tour of "Porgy and Bess."

Employment

Theatre Development Fund

Jackie Mason Show

Houston Grand Opera

Favorite Color

Red

Timing Pairs
0,0:6603,144:7029,151:7526,159:15407,295:25090,385:36940,581:41917,730:53999,870:67397,1108:76670,1191:79220,1243:87395,1411:99384,1592:102231,1641:102961,1655:113911,1881:127370,2012:128932,2044:137381,2209:142422,2441:162030,2619:163110,2657:169670,2711$0,0:136610,2010
DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Veronica Claypool's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Veronica Claypool lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Veronica Claypool describes her mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Veronica Claypool describes her maternal and paternal grandparents

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Veronica Claypool talks about her family background, how her parents met and about moving to New York City

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Veronica Claypool describes growing up in Indianapolis, Indiana

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Veronica Claypool remembers her childhood home in Indianapolis, Indiana

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Veronica Claypool talks about her religious upbringing and her childhood in Indianapolis, Indiana

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Veronica Claypool recalls her grade school years at P.S. 41 and at Shortridge Public High School in Indianapolis, Indiana

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Veronica Claypool recounts her decision to leave Indianapolis, Indiana and move to New York City

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Veronica Claypool talks about moving to New York City in 1970 and applying for a position at CBS

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Veronica Claypool describes working as an audience developer at CBS and attending Hunter College in New York City at night

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Veronica Claypool talks about working for HistoryMaker Earl Graves' Black Enterprise magazine and for Metromedia Television

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Veronica Claypool describes touring Senegal with the Jackson Five

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Veronica Claypool describes producing 'Midday Live' for Metromedia Television

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Veronica Claypool talks about her start in Broadway productions

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Veronica Claypool talks about producing Lena Horne's show 'The Lady and Her Music'

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Veronica Claypool reflects upon her theater production career in the 1970s and 1980s

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Veronica Claypool talks about producing HistoryMaker Vy Higginsen's 'Mama, I Want to Sing,' and about meeting Lily Tomlin

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Veronica Claypool describes the business and challenges of commercial theater production

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Veronica Claypool talks about black theater audiences, and Lily Tomlin's one-woman show 'The Search for Intelligent Life in the Universe'

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Veronica Claypool describes working in theater production in Los Angeles, California and Houston, Texas

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Veronica Claypool describes working with Jackie Mason and with the Theatre Development Fund in New York City

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Veronica Claypool explains the Theatre Development Fund's educational programs in New York City public schools

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Veronica Claypool talks about working as the Theatre Development Fund's Chief Operations Officer

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Veronica Claypool describes working as a nominator for the Tony Awards and the Lucille Lortel Awards.

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Veronica Claypool describes working for the Lucille Lortel Awards and with the Open Doors theater education program

Tape: 3 Story: 10 - Veronica Claypool talks about HistoryMakers Woodie King and Stephanie Hughley, and other role models in the theater business

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Veronica Claypool talks about the Alliance of New York State Arts Organizations and the League of Professional Theatre Women

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Veronica Claypool describes her husband, Jack Butler

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Veronica Claypool reflects upon her career and her legacy

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Veronica Claypool showcases the work of opera singer Kenn Hicks, who has worked with HistoryMaker Herbie Hancock and bassist Marcus Miller

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Veronica Claypool narrates her photographs, pt. 1

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Veronica Claypool narrates her photographs, pt. 2

DASession

1$1

DATape

2$3

DAStory

7$1

DATitle
Veronica Claypool talks about her start in Broadway productions
Veronica Claypool talks about producing HistoryMaker Vy Higginsen's 'Mama, I Want to Sing,' and about meeting Lily Tomlin
Transcript
What shows were you going to and what was the atmosphere in Broadway like then? Did lots of people go? Was it similar to TV where people were really excited about going to see shows?$$I think so but I felt that there were two--there was a sort of a dichotomy in the--the audiences. There was black theatre and there was Broadway. I didn't understand that but I walked right out of television into Broadway so it was a very different time but, you know, you had 'Raisin In The Sun,' you had--there were a lot of shows that had set the precedent, you know.$$And were those shows that were on Broadway?$$On Broadway, uh-hum.$$The black shows?$$Uh-hum.$$And then--$$'The Wiz,' you had, you know, there was--there was a lot of, at that time, there was a lot happening.$$And then what, on Broadway, what kinds of shows were popular? Probably the same?$$The same.$$But--$$Because they would be moved the same way they are today. They would start Off-Broadway and then be moved to Broadway. You know, 'Serafina,' you know, there was--there were just a whole host of expressions at the time.$$So what was your first job in Broadway?$$My first job on Broadway was 'Barnum,' I think was my--and otherwise we were doing--I was working in an office that did a spate of shows and so we had a--Pilobolus dance company, a dance theatre. We had 'Barnum' which was a musical. We were managing them at the time. But the first one that we produced was 'Dracula' with Frank Langella and that was very exciting because it was a very groundbreaking time and then we did a lot of plays, mostly plays.$$And where were your shows?$$On Broadway.$$In various places?$$They were on Broadway.$$Various theatres?$$Uh-hum.$$And did you also do a tour of 'Porgy and Bess'?$$Yes, that came at the end of my apprenticeship. You have to do a three-year apprenticeship which was very much like going to law school. We called it the "bar" because you had to do three years of an apprenticeship, then you had to take a--a six-hour written test and then a three-hour oral because as a manager, the only person who can go to jail who has a position of responsibility in terms of money, is the manager, and that's what I was pursuing.$$So this is all Broadway managers?$$That's correct.$$Now and then?$$Absolutely, it's a union position. Everything on Broadway is a union position but that's what it takes to get into the union.$$I see. So, how long did you take--make that an initial stint on Broadway where you were--you're working with McCann and Nugent Productions?$$McCann and Nugent. I did, yes, and I did my apprenticeship, that was three years.$$Okay.$$Then I--I was admitted into the union.$$Okay.$$And then I just never stopped.$How did you meet Lily Tomlin?$$Well, that was--that was a great story. I was--after the Lena Horne show closed, and after 'Sophisticated Ladies' was done, I actually took a tour of [HM] Vy Higginsen's show, 'Mama, I Want To Sing' out on the road. So, we were out in Detroit [Michigan] and I got a phone call that Lily Tomlin was bringing her one-woman show to New York [New York City, New York] and she wanted to meet me and I thought, I wonder why, you know. But I had sort of developed this reputation as someone who--who dealt with star personalities and one-person shows. So, I flew in, met with her and it was a great interview and flew back and she's--I got a call the next day saying, you know, can you--when can you start? So I, you know, told Vy I was going to go do this show and 'Mama' kept touring and I came back to New York and the process with Lily's show was that it was being developed. Now when I walked into Lena Horne, it was already an entity, it was--the show was done, it was, you know, existed and it was already up and running.$$So in an instance like that, what's--what do you then need to do?$$What is my job?$$Yes.$$My job is--it's like starting a small business every time you open a show. So my job is to, you know, create--negotiate the contract with the theatre, create the timeline for when we start selling, work with the box office but in the Lily Tomlin case, because the show was being developed, it was, you know, Jane [Wagner] and Lily were actually in the creative process, so there was a lot involved in terms of technicians and special effects and negotiating all of that and understanding what that was going to be in terms of the cost of the show. Because she was a one-woman show that she was producing and in a sense directing, I mean, it was--it was--it had to be a really tight unit and it takes--that's a twenty-four seven involvement when it's a one-woman show like that. And so it's, it's based on personality so she has to feel comfortable with you.