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Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin

Library director and theater executive Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin was born on April 25, 1945 in Winston-Salem, North Carolina to Thelma N. Holtzclaw, a custodian, and Arthur William Henry Sprinkle, Jr., a factory worker. She received her B.S. degree in education from Winston-Salem State University in 1967 and her M.S. degree in library science from Clark Atlanta University in 1968.

After the completion of her studies, Sprinkle-Hamlin joined the staff of the Free Library of Philadelphia as a children’s librarian. In 1970, she became an information specialist at the Benjamin Banneker Urban Center and in 1973, she became the instructional media center director for the Philadelphia Public Schools while taking education administration classes at Cheyney State University. Sprinkle-Hamlin returned to Winston-Salem State University in 1978 where she served as a public services librarian and assistant director of the university library. In 1979, she joined the Forsyth County Public Library system as department head for children’s outreach. Also in 1979, Sprinkle-Hamlin met her future husband, Larry Leon Hamlin, who was the founder of the North Carolina Black Repertory Company. They married in 1981 and Sprinkle-Hamlin became secretary of the National Black Repertory Company in 1983. Hamlin would go on to found the National Black Theatre Festival in 1989, with the fundraising support of Dr. Maya Angelou. Sprinkle-Hamlin has served on the board of directors for The National Black Theatre Festival since 1991. The Festival grew from thirty performances and 10,000 in attendance in 1989 to over 100 performances and 50,000 in attendance in 2005. In 2007, Hamlin died after an extended illness and Sprinkle-Hamlin carried on her husband’s work becoming executive producer for the National Black Theatre Festival. In 2010, she became president of the board of directors for the North Carolina Black Repertory Company. During this time, Sprinkle-Hamlin also continued to work for the Forsyth County Public Library serving as assistant library director , extension division, associate library director and becoming the library director in 2000. She also served as a library consultant for W.H. Roberts & Associates.

Sprinkle-Hamlin has worked extensively in the Winston-Salem community serving on the board of directors for Family Services, Inc., Forsyth County Smart Start, The Shepherd Center of Greater Winston-Salem and The Diggs Gallery of Winston-Salem University. She has also served as a council member of the American Library Association (ALA), president of the Black Caucus of the American Library Association, Public library Association Board member and chair of the African American Issues Roundtable of the Southeastern Library Association. Sprinkle-Hamlin has received the Roundtable for Ethnic Minority Roadbuilder’s Award, the DEMCO/ALA Black Caucus Award for Excellence in Librarianship and The Chronicle Women of the Year Award. She lives in Pfafftown, North Carolina.

Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on February 23, 2012.

Accession Number

A2012.037

Sex

Female

Interview Date

2/23/2012

Last Name

Sprinkle-Hamlin

Maker Category
Marital Status

Widower

Middle Name

Yvonne

Schools

Winston-Salem State University

Clark Atlanta University

Carter High School

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Sylvia

Birth City, State, Country

Winston-Salem

HM ID

SPR04

Favorite Season

Fall

State

North Carolina

Favorite Vacation Destination

Caribbean

Favorite Quote

All Things Are Possible With Help From God. I Get My Strength From The Lord.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

North Carolina

Birth Date

4/25/1945

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Winston-Salem

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Cake (Strawberry Shortcake)

Short Description

Theater chief executive and library director Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin (1945 - ) was executive producer of the National Black Theatre Festival, and board president of the North Carolina Black Repertory Company. She also directed the Forsyth County Public Library.

Employment

Forsyth County Public Library

Winston-Salem State University

Benjamin Banneker Urban Center

Free Library of Philadelphia

W.H. Roberts & Associates

Fashion Two-Twenty Cosmetics

North Carolina Black Repertory Company

Favorite Color

All Colors

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin talks about her maternal great-grandfather

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Sylvia Hamlin-Sprinkle describes her maternal grandparents

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin talks about her mother's upbringing and education

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin describes her father's background

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin talks about her upbringing

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin recalls Center Grove A.M.E. Zion Church in Tobaccoville, North Carolina

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin remembers Carver Consolidated School in Winston-Salem, North Carolina

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin talks about the book mobile in Forsythe County, North Carolina

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin recalls segregation in Winston-Salem, North Carolina

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin talks about the history of Winston-Salem, North Carolina

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin recalls her early exposure to television and radio

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin remembers her early interest in reading

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin recalls her start at Winston-Salem State College in Winston-Salem, North Carolina

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin remembers her college classmate Earl Monroe

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin describes her decision to pursue a master's in library science

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin remembers Atlanta University in Atlanta, Georgia

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin talks about the education qualifications of a librarian

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin describes her career in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Tape: 2 Story: 11 - Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin remembers her return to Winston-Salem, North Carolina

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin describes how she met her husband, Larry Leon Hamlin

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin talks about Larry Leon Hamlin's theater background

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin recalls the founding of the North Carolina Black Repertory Company Theatre Guild

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin describes the development of the North Carolina Black Repertory Company

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin talks about funding for the North Carolina Black Repertory Company

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin remembers the inaugural National Black Theatre Festival

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin talks about the cost of the National Black Theatre Festival

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin describes the content of the National Black Theatre Festival

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin talks about the North Carolina Black Repertory Company staff

Tape: 3 Story: 10 - Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin describes North Carolina Black Repertory Company's guest artists

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamline talks about the North Carolina Black Repertory Company's marketing strategy

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin describes the highlights of the North Carolina Black Repertory Company

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin talks about support for the North Carolina Black Repertory Company

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin reflects upon Larry Leon Hamlin's legacy, pt. 1

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin reflects upon her career

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin talks about the relevance of public libraries

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin describes her hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin reflects upon her life and legacy

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin talks about her family

Tape: 4 Story: 10 - Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin reflects upon Larry Leon Hamlin's legacy, pt. 2

Tape: 4 Story: 11 - Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin talks about the 2012 season of North Carolina Black Repertory Company

Tape: 4 Story: 12 - Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin describes how she would like to be remembered

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin narrates her photographs

DASession

1$1

DATape

3$4

DAStory

6$2

DATitle
Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin remembers the inaugural National Black Theatre Festival
Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin describes the highlights of the North Carolina Black Repertory Company
Transcript
Tell us about the National Black Theatre Festival and how that idea (unclear) (simultaneous).$$(Simultaneous) Okay, so I think in 1988 Larry [Sprinkle-Hamlin's husband, Larry Leon Hamlin] went to a conference that was held in Atlanta, Georgia, and I think he was supposed to write an article on black theaters in America, and I think in writing that article he realized that it was quite a few black companies in America, but they weren't communicating with each other, and they all had the same problem: funding, how do you really get funds? So at first he just thought about having a conference and bringing these theater companies together, but then he decided it would be probably more fun to have a festival, so the idea of the festival came up. So what he did was invited some theater companies that he had relationships with to come to the festival and Dr. Maya Angelou, he went to her with his plans and she gave him a lot of pointers as to what he should do, and she also recommended that he bring in celebrities because, you know, if you have celebrities, that would get a lot of the people who wouldn't come to a theater festival, to come to the festival to see the celebrities. So she helped him to get some named people, known people, to come to the first festival. And Oprah was our first celebrity guest.$$Okay, now from what I've read here, he sort of accidentally bumped into [HistoryMaker] Maya Angelou in the airport, is that true?$$Yeah, yeah, yeah.$$So how does that, well tell us that story.$$Well that's all I know, he started--he bumped into her at an airport and he talked to her about what he wanted to do, because you know she had moved here. She was living here.$$Oh no, I didn't know that.$$Oh, yeah, she lives here now.$$Okay.$$She's a Reynolds Scholar [Nancy Susan Reynolds Scholar] at Wake Forest, Reynolds Scholar for life.$$Wake Forest is?$$Wake Forest University.$$Yeah, that's close by Winston-Salem [North Carolina].$$It's here.$$It's in Winston-Salem?$$Yeah, yeah.$$Okay, all right. A lot of people don't know 'cause the name is Wake Forest and we don't know where it is (laughter).$$It used to be in Wake Forest--$$Okay.$$--North Carolina.$$Yeah.$$Then they moved to Winston-Salem in the '50s [1950s].$$Okay. All right.$$Yeah.$$Okay.$$So she helped him to get it off the ground in 1989.$$All right, okay. So it was her clout that got Oprah Winfrey?$$Yeah, yeah, um-hm.$$And Oprah Winfrey was one of the most popular people in America, if not the most popular.$$Right, (laughter) but I like to tell the story, is that when Larry said he was going to have a festival and Oprah was going to be here and some of the other people who came in 1989, the people in Winston-Salem didn't really believe it. And so you know we have an opening night gala and in 1989 gala tickets were only fifty dollars so the people from across the United States was real excited and so they bought a lot of the tickets. So two weeks before the, the festival then the people around here started believing it. Oh yeah, it's really gonna happen, it's really gone happen, but we were sold out, so a lot of people missed out on the first one. But they haven't missed out any more since then.$$Okay. So how was that first festival? What I read here is that Oprah was there, [HistoryMaker] Ruby Dee, [HistoryMaker] Ossie Davis.$$Yeah.$$Esther Rolle, Cicely Tyson.$$Yeah, all of those people were there.$$Maya Angelou too, was she, was she?$$Oh yeah, she was, yeah, she was chair, the first chair we had, co-chair, the first chair we had for the festival. It was very exciting because it happened, people came. I think we were most excited that people came from all over: from California; New York [New York]; Chicago [Illinois]; Atlanta [Georgia]. You know, they saw it, they believed in us and they came and they had a really good time and we had some really good shows. And so that was the beginning.$Now what have been some of the highlights of the, the Black Repertory's [North Carolina Black Repertory Company] seasons over the years?$$Some of the highlights. Well I think--the milestones that I think that we've--? Creating the guild [North Carolina Black Repertory Company Theatre Guild], I think was a high point. Well, first we'll start with the living room theater, how we start at first marketing the company then creating the guild. We now have what we call--at one point we had a music division, where we had singers and musicians that were involved. I think we have what we call now, Marvtastic Society; that was created in 2003. And in order to be a member of the Marvtastic Society you had to pay a thousand dollars to be a part of that society, and you get some discounts, and that has really worked really well.$$Well tell us what--this is a good time I guess to tell us what does marvtastic mean and where did it come from?$$(Laughter) Well Larry [Sprinkle-Hamlin's husband, Larry Leon Hamlin] coined that word, marvtastic, marvelous and fantastic together, so (laughter) that's what it means. And he came up with that word and then it caught on and everybody started using it, everybody started asking what does it mean and so he decided he would come up with a Marvtastic Society, and these people donate, especially to the festival [National Black Theatre Festival].$$Okay, all right, well keep going. I didn't want to, I just wanted to have you say something about that.$$Yeah, yeah, the Marvtastic Society I think is a milestone. I think the teen theater, having actual--doing the teen theater has been a milestone. And I think our longevity, you know, we been in business since 1979 and we've been through a lot and we're still around and we're still doing the festival. And, of course, the biggest thing is the festival in 1989. And I think in 2007 when Larry passed, people didn't know what was going to happen. You know that year, he passed that--the festival was that year. The festival was in August and he passed in June, so we--the board decided that we should go on and do the festival 'cause we were already working on it. And everybody was there and people were having conversations because they really didn't know what was gonna happen with the festival. But I knew that he really loved the festival and sometimes I feel that the festival probably was one--working really hard late at night, not doing what you're supposed to do health wise probably contributed to his early death. I decided that I would do all I could, along with some other supporters, to make sure that it still happened. And you know I was always in the background. I was the person that worked with the community. I knew a lot of people in the community. I worked a lot with the volunteers and I would be around at the meetings and all of that, so I was in the background so I knew some of the things that were involved. And then he had a lot of people who had worked with him before. We call 'em consultants. Lawrence Evans from New York [New York]; lark hackshaw from Atlanta [Georgia], Artie Reese [Arthur Reese]; those people had worked with him before. So we knew that it had to continue. So we just did what had to be done and we just had to do it without him, but we are doing okay, but his presence, we feel that his presence is still here. We feel his spirit, you know, when we start planning the festival.

Vernell Lillie

Founder and artistic director of Kuntu Repertory Theatre, Vernell Audrey Watson Lillie was born on May 11, 1931, in Hempstead, Texas. Lillie attended Dillard University in New Orleans, Louisiana, where she earned her B.A. degree in speech and drama. In 1958, she completed a six year graduate study at Texas Southern University. She earned her M.A. degree in English from Carnegie Mellon University in 1971, and her D.A. degree in English from Carnegie Mellon University the following year.

In 1974, Lillie established the Kuntu Repertory Theatre with the intent to examine Black life from a sociopolitical-historical perspective. Lillie used drama to educate while entertaining. The theatre naturally developed into a supportive community for black writers, actors and artists. Since its establishment, the theatre has sponsored countless activities which highlight the African American community. Lillie has directed many productions including: The Buffalo Soldiers Plus One, Little Willie Armstrong Jones and Whispers Want to Holler.

Lillie has been the recipient of many prestigious awards including the University of Pittsburgh Chancellor’s Distinguished Teaching Award; the Outstanding Award for Women in the Arts by Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.; and the 2003 Career Achievement in Education Award from the Association for Theatre in Higher Education.

Accession Number

A2008.108

Sex

Female

Interview Date

8/15/2008

Last Name

Lillie

Maker Category
Middle Name

A.

Occupation
Schools

Phillis Wheatley High School

Crawford Elementary School

Dillard University

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Vernell

Birth City, State, Country

Hempstead

HM ID

LIL02

Favorite Season

Spring

State

Texas

Favorite Vacation Destination

Egypt

Favorite Quote

Did You Understand?

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Pennsylvania

Birth Date

5/11/1931

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Pittsburgh

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Gumbo

Short Description

Stage director Vernell Lillie (1931 - ) was founder and artistic director of Kuntu Repertory Theatre, which produced drama that entertained while examining Black life from historical, social and political perspectives. She won the University of Pittsburgh Chancellor’s Distinguished Teaching Award and the Outstanding Award for Women in the Arts from Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.

Employment

Julia C. Hester House

Phillis Wheatley High School

Kuntu Repertory Theatre

Favorite Color

Purple, White

Timing Pairs
0,0:3160,63:4661,83:7979,256:17956,313:18466,319:21730,362:22546,371:41160,587:41640,594:42216,602:45240,612:46284,628:50876,689:51716,704:52220,712:60884,805:63835,827:67197,865:67665,870:68250,876:69069,885:75629,934:76105,939:78850,954:88250,1003:89526,1016:92260,1030:109800,1187:117320,1239:120870,1283:127658,1330:133495,1379:136550,1397:138422,1454:147000,1531:147510,1538:151530,1571:152804,1588:174314,1727:178220,1752:178512,1757:179096,1767:179461,1773:180893,1788:183633,1810:202249,1978:225930,2192:234808,2283:235292,2288:235776,2293:257206,2481:258586,2556:271240,2619:271940,2632:286715,2762:291024,2775:292320,2791$0,0:354,10:1888,23:34332,340:40480,447:57960,608:62432,721:64408,761:85224,1011:85868,1020:89900,1029:91062,1052:102294,1250:113606,1370:118371,1411:118639,1416:119041,1424:123445,1471:124775,1498:131012,1563:135057,1598:139400,1663:142238,1726:142668,1732:145592,1772:146624,1804:147570,1818:152622,1838:155376,1897:156105,1907:156429,1912:157806,1943:159750,1981:160479,1994:164910,2028:165977,2040:166656,2048:174300,2126:181780,2200:185680,2231:188207,2245:200386,2368:203596,2425:207638,2505:208484,2516:211398,2562:219728,2606:223906,2671:229635,2753:232640,2770:233570,2782
DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Vernell Lillie's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Vernell Lillie lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Vernell Lillie describes her mother's family background, pt. 1

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Vernell Lillie describes her mother's family background, pt. 2

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Vernell Lillie talks about the community in Brazos Bottom, Texas

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Vernell Lillie remembers her maternal grandfather's home in Bellville, Texas

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Vernell Lillie recalls her childhood visits to Bellville, Texas

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Vernell Lillie describes her father's family background, pt. 1

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Vernell Lillie describes her father's family background, pt. 2

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Vernell Lillie talks about her family's education and occupations

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Vernell Lillie describes her parents' professions

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Vernell Lillie recalls how her parents met

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Vernell Lillie describes her parents' personalities and who she takes after

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Vernell Lillie describes her earliest childhood memory

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Vernell Lillie recalls her childhood in Hempstead, Texas and Houston, Texas

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Vernell Lillie describes her experiences at Crawford Elementary School in Houston, Texas

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Vernell Lillie recalls her teachers at Crawford Elementary School

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Vernell Lillie describes her involvement in the University Interscholastic League

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Vernell Lillie recalls her early interest in theater

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Vernell Lillie remembers the notable African American educators in Houston, Texas

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Vernell Lillie recalls her teachers at Phillis Wheatley High School in Houston, Texas

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Vernell Lillie remembers participating in the I Speak for Democracy oratorical contest

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Vernell Lillie recalls her early involvement with civil rights

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Vernell Lillie describes the Sweatt v. Painter case of 1950

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Vernell Lillie talks about the influence of her education on her life and career

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Vernell Lillie recalls Thurgood Marshall's speech during Sweatt v. Painter, 1950

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Vernell Lillie describes her extracurricular activities at Phillis Wheatley High School

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Vernell Lillie describes her decision to pursue acting

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Vernell Lillie recalls her decision to attend Dillard University in New Orleans, Louisiana

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Vernell Lillie talks about her parents' attitudes towards her theater career

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Vernell Lillie recalls the productions at Dillard University in New Orleans, Louisiana

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Vernell Lillie describes her work at the Julia C. Hester House in Houston, Texas

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Vernell Lillie talks about her theater productions at Julie C. Hester House in Houston, Texas

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Vernell Lillie recalls the beginning of her teaching career at Houston's Phillis Wheatley High School

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Vernell Lillie talks about the first African American play she produced

DASession

1$1

DATape

4$5

DAStory

5$8

DATitle
Vernell Lillie recalls Thurgood Marshall's speech during Sweatt v. Painter, 1950
Vernell Lillie talks about the first African American play she produced
Transcript
Can you give us a sense of what it was like to watch, to be in court when Thurgood Marshall was trying a case [Sweatt v. Painter, 1950]. I mean, do you have, can you kind of describe what took place (simultaneous)?$$(Simultaneous) Yeah, I can remember the physical something. Grover Sellers was kind of heavy and puffy face and it was sweltering hot and I don't remember which month it was, but it was hot in that courtroom. And Thurgood Marshall, and I think it must be my imagination because he had to have been hot too 'cause he was in a suit, but I swear in my memory and it must be what I want to remember, that he did not seem to have perspired at all. And he would start his speech talking in the kind of level and then he would come down and use a little piece of vernacular something, and it was just the most awesome something, and I'm telling you now, I have never been the same after experiencing him in that courtroom. I knew then and there that my life would forever be molding, changing, creating and understanding that whatever I have, it's my responsibility to give back. It, he was, it seems to me he was six feet tall. It was just, and it was the most flowing kind of process, and the thing that he had was dignity, not poking fun at anybody, but it was the cause that he was dealing with. You know, it was not making whites feel ashamed of themselves, it was presenting a case that this young man [Heman Marion Sweatt] had a right to have an education with the tax dollars, and so, that was another gift that I think, that I hope I acquired from him, because it is so easy to be arrogant and to be insulting, you know. And it was so very clear that somehow or another all he wanted to do was let that group there and the world know that these are human beings who are entitled to a quality education by your own state dollars that you're paying, and it was not a piece in which I need to ridicule you or be sarcastic toward you, and sharp tongued toward you that these are the facts as I see them, and these are the grounds from which I am stating what I am saying. And I hope, I hope, I really hope, but sometimes people will tell me I have a sharp tongue, but I do hope that I respect the personality. I don't have to agree with what you believe, but I need to know that when I am presenting to you that which I want, I don't have to demean you, because you are a product of whatever this society has structured, and you have somehow believed it, and I think that fortunately for me, I saw hardworking black men and women all my life from the time I was five years old and I saw them working, and working, and working, and then I saw them lose things and I still saw them maintain their dignity, and Thurgood Marshall just helped reinforce that. It's a wonderful world.$Now what, what year is this when you start teaching?$$Fifty-six [1956].$$Nineteen fifty-six [1956].$$Um-hm.$$Okay.$$And I stayed at Wheatley, I guess I stayed at Wheatley until I left in '69 [1969].$$Okay. Now when did--along the way did you start become more keenly, did you, well, at what point along the way did you start really drawing from black literature and culture?$$I gave an assignment in my class and I can't remember the little guy's name and he's dead now, and he came in, the assignment was Baraka's--Dante's "Inferno" ['The Divine Comedy,' Dante Alighieri].$$About what year is this now?$$Oh that's--$$Sixty-one [1961] (simultaneous)?$$--(simultaneous) it has to be somewhere around like '64ish [1964] or something, '65ish [1965], and demanding that I do a black play, and so he had, had gone to the library on his own, because I certainly didn't introduce Baraka's [Amiri Baraka] 'The Toilet' to him, and he wanted me to do 'The Toilet.'$$Well, that's in, in high school?$$I said, "I'm sorry I have two children that I have to help my husband educate, so I cannot produce Baraka's, 'The Toilet.'"$$'The Toilet' is pretty rough.$$So he kept harassing me. So then I did 'In White America' [Martin Duberman]. So he came back to me that night, he said, "I think you did a very fine job with it," he said, "but, you know, if you had been black and published this as a play, they would have told you that this is nothing but a collage of historical characters talking and moving through history. So now that you've seen whites on your stage, in 'White America,' why don't you do a black play?" And he said, "By the way, 'In White America' it's not any different from what you've been doing all along. You have been using those political collages and statements with your daughters as they are trying to get people to vote." He said, "So Duberman [Martin Duberman] has not done anything different from what you've been doing for the last ten years, dramatic collages and that's not a play. There's no structure in the traditional process that you taught me as a play, so why don't you do a play?" So I, that weekend after the play closed, I think I must have read twenty-five plays and the last one I picked up was guess what, 'Day of Absence' [Douglas Turner Ward] and 'Happy Ending' [Douglas Turner Ward], so that was my absolutely first black play that I produced.$$Now this is in, this is at Phillis Wheatley?$$This is at Phillis Wheatley High School [Houston, Texas], 'Day of Absence,' and that's the photograph that you see out there by my desk. That guy, Andrew, Michael Andrews [ph.], is still acting in D.C. [Washington, D.C.] and he was awesome.$$And this is a play by [HistoryMaker] Douglas Turner Ward.$$Douglas Turner Ward, and I have never since turned back.

Ken Page

Actor Ken Page was born on January 20, 1954 in St. Louis, Missouri. He was raised by his mother and step-father, Gloria and Garvin Gilstrap. As a youth, he attended St. Louis’ St. Bridget of Erin and St. Nicholas Elementary Schools. While attending St. Nicholas, Page was inspired by the founder of the school’s speech club, Sister Ruth Cecilia, and his older cousin to pursue a career in theater. In 1973, he graduated from Bishop Dubourg High School where he received special training in theatrical arts.

In 1973, Ken Page received a full scholarship to attend Fontbonne College located in Clayton, Missouri where he majored in theater. While attending Fontbonne College, he was cast in his first paid role as “Stewpot” in a theatrical production of South Pacific, a musical that featured Frank Sutton, Mary Travers, and Theresa Merrit. A year later, Page moved to New York, where he began working with the Fanfare Children’s Ensemble. While performing with the Fanfare Children's Ensemble, he made appearances as Jim in a production of Huck Finn. He also worked with the Amas Repertory Theatre and the Henry Street Settlement, starring in the musicals Ragtime Blues and Louis.

Ken Page made his Broadway debut in 1976 starring in an all black revival of Guys and Dolls. Then in 1977, he played the role of the Lion in the hit musical The Wiz. In 1978, Page would later go on to be featured as an original cast member in the Fats Waller musical revue Ain’t Misbehavin’ and was subsequently awarded the Drama Desk Award for his performance. He would later duplicate this performance in an NBC television special and in Paris, France. In 1982, Page originated the role of Old Deuteronomy in the Broadway production of Cats and repeated his performance in a PBS version of the play. During the 1980s, Page made appearances in several films and television sitcoms including Gimme A Break (1984); Sable (1987); Torch Song Trilogy (1988) and Polly (1989). He continued his work in the entertainment industry during the 1990s and was hired to appear in such television shows as Family Matters (1990); South Central (1994) and Touched By An Angel (1995). In 2000, Page starred in the Broadway show Ain’t Nothin’ But The Blues, and in 2006, he was hired as cast member in the musical film DreamGirls .

Ken Page was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on April 4, 2008.

Accession Number

A2008.074

Sex

Male

Interview Date

4/4/2008

Last Name

Page

Maker Category
Occupation
Organizations
Schools

Bishop DuBourg High School

St. Bridget of Erin Elementary School

St. Nicholas Elementary School

Central Catholic St. Nicholas School and Academy

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Ken

Birth City, State, Country

St. Louis

HM ID

PAG01

Favorite Season

Fall

State

Missouri

Favorite Vacation Destination

Egypt

Favorite Quote

No Fools, No Fun.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Missouri

Birth Date

1/20/1954

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

St. Louis

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Pork Fried Rice, Fried Chicken

Short Description

Actor Ken Page (1954 - ) portrayed the Lion in The Wiz, Old Deuteronomy in the American Broadway debut of Cats, and was featured as an original cast member in the Fats Waller musical revue Ain’t Misbehavin’, for which he was awarded the Drama Desk Award.

Employment

AMAS Repertory Theatre (New York, N.Y.)

Municipal Theatre Association of St. Louis. Municipal Opera Orchestra

Broadway Theatre

46th Street Theatre

Manhattan Theater Club

Winter Garden Theatre

NBC

ABC

Goldcrest Films and Television

CBS

Warner Brothers

Prince Edward Theatre

Touchstone Pictures

La Jolla Playhouse, Inc.

Goodman Theater

Fox Broadcasting Company

Dreamworks Pictures and Paramount Pictures Corporation

Favorite Color

Purple

Timing Pairs
0,0:1656,46:1932,51:3726,153:4968,178:11547,303:12045,310:12543,318:12875,323:16112,410:16776,423:18353,450:18851,457:19183,462:26404,573:26728,578:28267,610:29401,652:30211,665:34354,693:34749,699:35381,712:40516,844:48865,969:49363,976:63980,1211:65730,1251:66640,1266:66920,1302:67340,1377:67620,1382:73974,1529:114076,2110:122066,2215:127874,2350:134705,2466:135239,2473:138087,2538:138710,2565:141291,2608:141647,2613:142448,2624:142804,2629:146898,2719:154198,2798:154568,2804:155160,2813:155752,2823:158046,2904:159526,2974:160192,2994:164081,3018:164486,3024:165134,3039:167888,3097:170723,3159:171371,3170:174125,3259:193360,3444:199632,3535:201186,3568:204960,3702:205626,3727:210584,3799:211990,3814:212360,3820:229200,4127:231970,4154:232306,4159:232642,4164:234070,4185:240202,4329:240622,4335:242806,4395:248224,4478:249918,4535:251381,4557:251766,4565:252690,4576:253922,4599:254230,4604:259200,4632:262044,4678:262360,4683:266626,4769:266942,4775:267574,4785:272314,4870:272630,4875:284425,5030:303210,5238:303510,5243:304110,5252:314185,5329:315460,5352:321440,5485$0,0:4880,165:6230,234:14240,396:24230,509:28048,594:45940,845:46472,853:51722,950:53636,973:62012,1102:74020,1353:83830,1660:95717,1803:96033,1811:97218,1831:97771,1839:98956,1888:102590,1965:111138,2133:112924,2231:116684,2359:121687,2397:122255,2407:126231,2520:126515,2525:132337,2716:132692,2857:151502,3069:152000,3076:159056,3242:159412,3247:167070,3384:188597,3789:189754,3821:191890,3854:192246,3859:198600,3923
DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Ken Page's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Ken Page lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Ken Page describes his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Ken Page remembers his maternal grandparents

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Ken Page describes his father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Ken Page describes his earliest childhood memory

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Ken Page talks about his household in St. Louis, Missouri

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Ken Page describes the sights, sounds and smells of his childhood

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Ken Page recalls the Kerry Patch neighborhood in St. Louis, Missouri

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Ken Page describes his early education

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Ken Page recalls developing his musical talent

Tape: 1 Story: 12 - Ken Page describes his childhood personality

Tape: 1 Story: 13 - Ken Page recalls his experiences at St. Nicholas Grade School in St. Louis, Missouri

Tape: 1 Story: 14 - Ken Page talks about his parochial school education

Tape: 1 Story: 15 - Ken Page recalls his early aspirations

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Ken Page recalls his experiences in the Bellarmine Speech League

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Ken Page talks about the role of the Catholicism in St. Louis' African American community

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Ken Page remembers his early mentors

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Ken Page recalls attending Bishop DuBourg High School in St. Louis, Missouri

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Ken Page talks about his idols, pt. 1

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Ken Page talks about his idols, pt. 2

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Ken Page recalls his high school performances

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Ken Page remembers his involvement in the Upward Bound program

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Ken Page recalls his graduation from Bishop DuBourg High School

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Ken Page describes his decision to attend Fontbonne College in St. Louis, Missouri

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Ken Page recalls the progressive nature of Fontbonne College in St. Louis, Missouri

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Ken Page remembers his friend, Mary Lee Nigro

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Ken Page recalls his mentors at Fontbonne College in St. Louis, Missouri

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Ken Page describes the acting methods he learned at Fontbonne College in St. Louis, Missouri

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Ken Page recalls joining The Municipal Opera Association of St. Louis

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Ken Page talks about his decision to move to New York City

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Ken Page recalls moving to New York City

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Ken Page remembers his temporary employment in New York City

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Ken Page recalls joining the Fanfare Children's Ensemble

Tape: 3 Story: 10 - Ken Page talks about his role in 'Purlie' at the Coconut Grove Playhouse in Miami, Florida

Tape: 3 Story: 11 - Ken Page recalls his first impressions of Los Angeles, California

Tape: 3 Story: 12 - Ken Page talks about the premiere of 'Purlie' in Los Angeles, California

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Ken Page remembers being cast in the all-black production of 'Guys and Dolls'

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Ken Page recalls the criticism against the all-black cast of 'Guys and Dolls'

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Ken Page describes the black theater scene in New York City

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Ken Page recalls being cast in the play, 'The Wiz'

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Ken Page remembers his cast mates in 'The Wiz'

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Ken Page talks about notable African American actors on Broadway

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Ken Page recalls playing Fats Waller in the play, 'Ain't Misbehavin''

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Ken Page describes his creative process

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Ken Page describes the play, 'Ain't Misbehavin''

Tape: 4 Story: 10 - Ken Page talks about the television production of 'Ain't Misbehavin''

Tape: 4 Story: 11 - Ken Page remembers auditioning for 'Cats'

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Ken Page recalls his role as Old Deuteronomy in 'Cats' on Broadway

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Ken Page remembers Andrew Lloyd Webber

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Ken Page recalls his decision to move to Los Angeles, California

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Ken Page describes the theater environment in Los Angeles, California

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Ken Page reflects upon the African American actors in the theater industry

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Ken Page shares his advice for young African American entertainers

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Ken Page describes his hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Ken Page describes how he would like to be remembered

DASession

1$1

DATape

2$4

DAStory

7$11

DATitle
Ken Page recalls his high school performances
Ken Page remembers auditioning for 'Cats'
Transcript
So, you're going through school and you're in high school [Bishop DuBourg High School, St. Louis, Missouri] now and are you still in the--in the speech, speech, speech league at that point? Are you still doing--$$Yeah because the Bellarmine Speech League went into--I think I stayed with it through my second year of high school and then I dropped out.$$Your sophomore year.$$Yeah 'cause then I started doing more theater things in school so then I didn't feel like I wanted to continue with the speech league.$$What were some of your, your highlight roles for you in, in high school, roles that you played?$$Well, there were only a few 'cause we did only one big show a year, you know. The first year of high school, what did I do? It's funny because, you know, there were all other kinds of shows. But any rate, first year, we did 'Funny Girl' [Isobel Lennart] and I was the Ziegfeld Tenor. It was a singing part, so it was really about my voice, you know. And nobody else, interesting enough, could sing it. I was the only--big deal, but I was the only one who could sing it, so I got it, you know what I mean? Second year, we did 'Hello, Dolly!' [Michael Stewart] which interesting--what I think is most interesting about it is it was the first year--my high school was 5,558 students, big school, and there were fifty-eight black students.$$Out of the rest of the five thousand and whatever.$$Out of the 5,550, yeah. And I say that to say that it was the first time there had been an interracial coupling in a show there. I played Horace Vandergelder which is the male lead and this white girl played Dolly [Dolly Gallagher Levi] and it was a big deal. I mean, it--you know, I think back on it and you think, oh god, but it really was a big deal because it had not--$$Did it cause controversy? Did it--$$Oh, yeah.$$Tell us about that.$$It hadn't happened.$$Describe that. Were there--$$From what I know, you know--$$--opposition?$$Yeah. And, again, of course, I'm the student so I'm sure I didn't hear as much of it as, as went on, but I caught the drift of a lot of it. And, you know, her parents had issues whether they wanted her to be on stage with a black man on--you know, and it was that time that everything was--the doors were just creaking open just a little bit.$$This, this would've been early '60s [1960s]?$$This was about '69 [1969], yeah.$$Okay.$$Seventy [1970].$$Okay.$$And in that kind of neighborhood, again, remember I went to school outside of my area, it was a big deal. That we were even in the school was a big deal, you know, because all of us who were there had been brought in from elsewhere 'cause we didn't live in that area.$$How was the--how was the racial climate in school generally or in the neighborhood around there?$$The neighborhood around there probably wasn't as great, but then I didn't really participate in the neighborhood around there. I came in and I went home, you know what I mean, so--$$How about in the school itself?$$The school itself wasn't--I don't remember there being a lot of racial tension. It could be the fact that there were so few of us and, again, because it was a Catholic school, it wasn't tolerated. It was just that simple, you know. And I don't say that every nun or every priest was pro-black either, you know, but the exercise of prejudice was not allowed.$$The blatant open exercise, yeah.$$Right.$$Okay.$$Right.$$So, you're, you're, you're in high school now, you're, you're becoming a--well, before we go further, so what was it--so, the play went on as--'Hello, Dolly!' occurred.$$Yeah, it happened. And, and I'm told now even in retrospect that it changed everything for them because then--and, again, with so many issues like that, it isn't that people are as opposed to it as they think they are, they just have never seen it before.$$It's change.$$It's change, right. So, once it happened, well, they were kind of like, "Oh well, I guess it wasn't so bad after all," you know. They weren't gonna get married and run off into the woods, you know. And then the next year, we did 'Oliver!' [Lionel Bart] and I played Fagin, which was, you know, not a role that required sort of the same thing but, again, they were seeing an African American on the stage. And I should say, my friend, Luther [Luther Clark (ph.)], was in the shows also. He didn't get to do the leads like I did, but he was also there and there was that, you know, so there were the two of us. And then my senior year, we did 'Fiddler on the Roof' [Joseph Stein] which (laughter), you know, I still talk about it in my one man show because here we were in the early '70s [1970s], a Catholic school doing a show about Russian Jews with a black as the lead [Tevye]. And, you know, at the time, you know, there was controversy. But it was interesting because I don't think anybody realized how many real barriers were coming down all at the same time 'cause at that time, even that the Catholic school was doing 'Fiddler on the Roof' was a big deal.$$Give us just a couple bars of 'If I Were a Rich Man' (laughter).$$(Laughter) (Adopts performance voice) "Dear God, you made a lot of poor people. It's no great crime to be poor, but it's no great honor either. So, what would've been so terrible if I had a small fortune?"$$Very good, yes, thank you.$$I'm still waiting to do it again (laughter).$$Yeah, I, I think you should.$$I will. I'm determined. Before they put me in a box, I'm going to do it somewhere.$So, when you left aunt mis- 'Ain't Misbehavin'' [Murray Horwitz and Richard Maltby, Jr.], pardon me, then what did you do?$$What did I do (laughter)? What did I do after I left ain't mis- a lot of my club act and I'm trying to think what was the next real work? There was other things, you know, different--$$Different parts.$$--New York [New York] things, yeah, that came in between. I did a wonderful piece called 'Louis' [Don Evans] which was a play about Louis Armstrong at the New Federal Theatre and they had hopes of it coming to Broadway. And it was myself, Debbie Allen, Ernestine Jackson, Northern J. Calloway played Louis, Tiger Haynes, so we were sort of this hybrid of all the Broadway, all the Broadway shows. They got us all to come do this one show. It didn't go anywhere, unfortunately, but we had a great time doing it. Shortly after, I want to say--I forget, this was about '79 [1979], so somewhere around '81 [1981], there were rumblings of this show that was--I think it had opened in, in London [England], 'Cats' [Andrew Lloyd Webber] and that they were bringing it to New York and blah blah blah blah. You know, everybody was talking about it. I mean, I really didn't think anything of it 'cause I just didn't think anything about it. And I went to the closing performance of 'Ain't Misbehavin'' on Broadway and Bernard Jacobs [Bernard B. Jacobs] who was the head of the Shubert Organization said to me that he thought there was a role in the show for me. And I--to my experience, to my knowledge, I thought the show was really like a dance show, for dancers and so forth. I didn't know it. He said, "I think there's a role that you might really be right for," really--you know. And interesting enough as it comes out now I'm thinking of it chronologically, when he told me about that, we were getting ready to go to L.A. [Los Angeles, California] to film 'Ain't Misbehavin'' so I actually took the music to learn for 'Cats' to L.A. with me and rehearse it. And Armelia [HistoryMaker Armelia McQueen] used to always laugh 'cause she said she could hear me in the shower. Our rooms were back to back and I'd--(singing), "You've heard of several kinds of cats" ["The Ad-Dressing of Cats"]. She said, "I used to hear you in the shower, like, oh god, there's Page [HistoryMaker Ken Page] rehearsing again."$$So, once again, someone--$$Yes.$$--you happened to be where you were--$$Right.$$--just watching the closing performance.$$Right.$$And there it was.$$Right. And I really had no clue about it and they had already been seeing people by this point.$$So, what did you do, just, just go down to the--to the director?$$Well, he--well, he gave me--you know, told me to go get the music and blah blah blah blah and learn it. And they called me in, and this was at the end of the process. They had been seeing people for about seven months at this point. It was a big deal. Everybody was just--as they say in London, their knickers were in a twist about it, you know. And they had me come in the beginning of the week to sing for Trevor Nunn, the director, Gillian Lynne, the choreographer, and Stan Lebowsky [Stanley Lebowsky] was the musical director. And I sang, and they said, well, we want you to come back and do a dramatic reading. I'm thinking, well, I thought this show was music and dance, they want a dramatic reading. So, I did a monologue that I had in Louis ['Louis,' Don Evans] where I played King Oliver, Joe Oliver, and I didn't know that Trevor Nunn--I thought I'd do something, they wouldn't know it, they'd just--you know. And Trevor Nunn was a big jazz (laughter)--and says (adopts British accent), "Oh, Joe Oliver and he was Louis' mentor from--." He had all of this information. I was like (makes noise)--so I had to talk about it. Luckily, I knew, you know. And I realized later that more than the reading, my conversation with him was more my audition.

Armelia McQueen

Actress Armelia McQueen was born on January 6, 1952 in Southern Pines, North Carolina to James and Kathleen McQueen. McQueen's parents divorced, and her mother married Robert Brown in New York. As a child, McQueen was raised in Brooklyn, New York where she performed in church plays. She attended P.S. 44 and P.S. 258 and graduated from New York City’s Central Commercial High School in 1969. Afterwards, McQueen briefly enrolled at the Fashion Industry School, where she majored in fashion design. In 1972, she attended the Herbert Berghoff Drama School.

McQueen’s acting career began when she was hired for a role in the production of, Hot & Cold Heroes. She was then hired in 1976 for the role of Tune Ann in the cult classic film Sparkle. Then, in 1978, she made her Broadway debut in the original production of, Ain’t Misbehavin’ ,appearing alongside Irene Cara, Ken Page and Nell Carter. She went on to win a Theatre World Award for Best Debut Performance and appeared in several Broadway productions, including Five, Six, Seven, Eight, Dance and Harrigan and Hart. She also appeared with the national touring companies of the following shows: South Pacific, Jesus Christ Superstar and Hair. During the 1980s, McQueen made several appearances in various films, made-for-television movies and sitcoms including Mr. Belvedere, Frank’s Place, Action Jackson and No Holds Barred.

Later in 1990, she was featured as Whoopi Goldberg’s on screen sister when she starred in the film Ghost. McQueen continued her work throughout the 1990s by appearing in episodes of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Martin and Living Single. She was nominated for the Best Supporting Actress Cable Ace Award for her role as Red Queen on the Disney Channel series, Adventures in Wonderland. Her other credits include Bulworth, All About the Andersons, JAG and That’s So Raven. McQueen currently lives in Los Angeles, California.

Armelia McQueen was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on April 3, 2008.

Accession Number

A2008.072

Sex

Female

Interview Date

4/3/2008

Last Name

McQueen

Maker Category
Occupation
Organizations
Schools

Central Commercial High School

P.S. 44 Marcus Garvey Elementary School

Nathaniel Macon Junior High School 258

Fashion Institute of Technology

Brooklyn Conservatory of Music

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Armelia

Birth City, State, Country

Southern Pines

HM ID

MCQ02

Favorite Season

Fall

State

North Carolina

Favorite Vacation Destination

Maui, Hawaii

Favorite Quote

None

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

California

Birth Date

1/6/1952

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Los Angeles

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Macaroni, Cheese

Short Description

Actress Armelia McQueen (1952 - ) performed in Broadway musicals like 'Ain't Misbehavin,' 'Jesus Christ Superstar,' and 'Hair.' Her film and television credits included 'Sparkle,' 'Ghost,' and 'Living Single.'

Employment

Paramount Pictures, Inc.

Walt Disney Television

Nichol Moon Films

Favorite Color

Red

Timing Pairs
0,0:5621,130:16118,249:16692,261:23360,330:30418,456:46548,759:54742,868:69194,1002:103340,1301:103840,1307:104240,1312:122540,1549:143390,1853:150598,1927:171036,2192:179296,2296:201138,2763:201482,2768:208460,2858:210284,2893:217270,2985$0,0:2072,117:4884,178:5254,184:5550,189:16163,241:18533,288:19086,296:25583,327:26235,332:29398,349:31350,359:31746,366:32010,371:36928,474:37273,480:70282,959:75735,1022:98630,1299:112125,1459:119755,1576:120605,1587:125657,1625:126533,1641:127555,1667:129745,1720:134563,1852:144295,1964:146899,1999:147529,2014:148411,2034:157822,2116:158277,2122:162190,2201:187220,2395:233502,2779:233892,2785:234984,2883:236856,2928:247460,3045:251830,3122:253920,3172:254585,3182:264694,3268:275194,3386:280222,3446:283530,3480:284544,3501:285480,3511:290508,3571:300590,3694
DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Armelia McQueen's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Armelia McQueen lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Armelia McQueen describes her mother's family background and personality

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Armelia McQueen describes her stepfather's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Armelia McQueen talks about her maternal grandmother

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Armelia McQueen remembers her family's move to Brooklyn, New York

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Armelia McQueen lists her siblings and relatives

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Armelia McQueen describes her upbringing

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Armelia McQueen describes the sights, sounds and smells of her childhood

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Armelia McQueen recalls her neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Armelia McQueen remembers her early education

Tape: 1 Story: 12 - Armelia McQueen remembers segregation in Brooklyn, New York

Tape: 1 Story: 13 - Armelia McQueen describes her friends from childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Armelia McQueen remembers her dreams and aspirations

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Armelia McQueen describes her early interest in singing

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Armelia McQueen describes her introduction to acting

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Armelia McQueen remembers the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music in Brooklyn, New York

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Armelia McQueen recalls the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Armelia McQueen remembers the Herbert Berghof Studio in New York City

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Armelia McQueen remembers her mother's death

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Armelia McQueen describes her teacher, Earle Hyman

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Armelia McQueen remembers her early professional acting roles

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Armelia McQueen remembers touring with 'The Who's Tommy,' pt. 1

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Armelia McQueen remembers touring with 'The Who's Tommy,' pt. 2

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Armelia McQueen talks about the attitudes toward plus sized actresses

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Armelia McQueen remembers her acting roles in the early 1970s

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Armelia McQueen talks about supporting her family

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Armelia McQueen recalls travelling to Africa with the company of 'Hair'

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Armelia McQueen remembers her experiences in Africa

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Armelia McQueen reflects upon her travels in Africa

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Armelia McQueen describes the reviews of 'Hair' in Africa

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Armelia McQueen describes her experiences as an actor in Africa

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Armelia McQueen remembers her return trip to the United States

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Armelia McQueen remembers auditioning for 'Sparkle'

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Armelia McQueen recalls her introduction to the Hollywood entertainment industry

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Armelia McQueen remembers filming 'Sparkle'

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Armelia McQueen describes her career after 'Sparkle'

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Armelia McQueen remembers the cast of 'Guys and Dolls'

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Armelia McQueen remembers auditioning for 'Ain't Misbehavin''

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Armelia McQueen remembers the cast of 'Ain't Misbehavin''

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Armelia McQueen talks about 'Ain't Misbehavin''

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Armelia McQueen describes the stars of 'Ain't Misbehavin',' pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Armelia McQueen remembers the production of 'Ain't Misbehavin''

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Armelia McQueen describes the characters in 'Ain't Misbehavin''

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Armelia McQueen recalls the reunion of the original cast of 'Ain't Misbehavin''

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Armelia McQueen recalls mounting 'Ain't Misbehavin'' in Paris, France

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Armelia McQueen recalls the black community's response to 'Ain't Misbehavin''

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Armelia McQueen describes her hopes for the black theater community

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Armelia McQueen recalls moving to Los Angeles, California

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Armelia McQueen describes the televised version of 'Ain't Misbehavin''

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Armelia McQueen talks about the changes in the entertainment industry

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Armelia McQueen describes her advice to aspiring entertainers, pt. 1

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Armelia McQueen describes her advice to aspiring entertainers, pt. 2

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Armelia McQueen describes her hopes for African American artists

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Armelia McQueen reflects upon her legacy

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Armelia McQueen narrates her photographs

DASession

1$1

DATape

4$5

DAStory

6$1

DATitle
Armelia McQueen describes her career after 'Sparkle'
Armelia McQueen talks about 'Ain't Misbehavin''
Transcript
So the film, when you, when you were done shooting it wa- did you stay or did you return back to New York [New York]?$$No, I went back home after that. 'Cause we were getting ready for it to open and there was supposed to be a lot of publicity and fanfare and whatnot. And I was a supporting role so it wasn't any evidence if I would be the one going on the road. But then 'All the President's Men' came out and all the--and that they got our publicity money. So the publicity for 'Sparkle' was very small, you know, it got, got pushed, you know.$$You came back home after shooting the movie, now what did you do while you were waiting for this to be released?$$Well, I just tried to settle in and see what else I could get into, you know. That was just such a high, you know, shooting a film. And then I g- I went back to theater and, and then I went to do--is that '74 [1974], '75 [1975] the film came out. Just, you know, doing theater, you know.$$Anything of note that you'd like to mention during that time period after 'Sparkle'?$$No, 'cause I didn't do--I did 'On Toby Time' [Harley Hackett], which was gonna be pre-Broadway. That was '75 [1975], yeah. And I played female lead in that, which was great with Maurice Hines [HistoryMaker Maurice Hines, Jr.], we're still friends, we're, we're good friends. Amii Stewart who--she did 'Knock-' 'Knock on Wood,' she, she did a repeat of that song and she moved to London [England]. Do you remember that song? Obba Babatunde, Hinton Battle. Hinton Battle is a wonderful choreographer, wonderful dancer. He was in 'Dreamgirls.' I don't know if you know him. George Hillman, the Hillman brothers [George Hillman and Christopher Hillman] from way back in the day. And I say way back in the day, they were like the Nicholas brothers [HistoryMaker Fayard Nicholas and Harold Nicholas], the older men, and he was my partner. And we were like Desi Smith [ph.], you know, kind of era. I learned to tap through him you know for this particular role and whatnot. And, and so we were, like I said, pre-Broadway bound, but it never took off because of money, a lot of money situations got into that. And then I went to do 'Guys and Dolls,' and that's when I met Ri- Richard Roundtree.$$Now the movie comes out--$$Um-hm.$$--what is that like for you in New York now?$$Wonderful because in the neighborhoods, all of the neighborhoods, people recognized me. So people would just call my name out, Tune Ann, you know, driving the cars, "Oh aren't you Tune Ann, aren't you that girl in the film?" you know. And I was like, "Yes," you know. You know, and my brothers [Robert Brown, Jr. and David Brown (ph.)] and my brothers were like (gesture), and my dad [Robert Brown, Sr.] was the same way, you know. Very excited about it. And you know, it's different from being in theater, you get recognized more with film. Many thousands of people see it as opposed to theater, you know, and so it was a lot of recognition with that.$Ms. McQueen [HistoryMaker Armelia McQueen], 'Ain't Misbehavin'' [Murray Horwitz and Richard Maltby, Jr.], what's the storyline behind that particular musical?$$The storyline was about Fats Waller, famous pianist, comedian, singer. And they decided that they wanted to honor him and do a musical about Fats Waller, who was not well known in, in our community during that time, in the '70s [1970s]. Back in the '30s [1930s] and '40s [1940s] he was known. So they wanted to bring some of his music to light. People know the music like, "Sit Down and Write Myself a Letter" ["I'm Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter"], "It's a Sin to Tell a Lie." But they didn't know who did it, who wrote it. And so they decided that they wanted to do this musical about him. And Luther Henderson who is a great, who has now passed, great musician was our conductor and arranger. Murray Horwitz, it was his idea. Richard Maltby [Richard Maltby, Jr.] was the director and Arthur Faria was the choreographer.$$And what was your role?$$My role was of Aremlia McQueen is a role that I established. And it was a woman with a chameleon, many characters. I played many characters. And it's a woman that would be in that day and what she'd do and, and--each of the women, the "Squeeze Me" girl was, you know, a, a sweet candy little woman that men would, you know, love to bite and squeeze, you know, so I, I came up with her. You know, because of the song, the song dictated it, you know, what 'cause it's "oh daddy squeeze me and squeeze me again." So you, you, you form your characters from the, the music. And "That Ain't Right" lady was that lady who we'd talked about playing cards and cursing and you know, eating chicken, but yet she was a lady, but she got down low, yeah.$$So you actually formulated these characters outside of the music, the characters been totally written or did you kind of go into the song themselves and decide?$$The characters were never written. All the characters that we formed that we did, we did ourselves, so.$$Oh, could you--could you sing a piece from a, from a, from just a small portion of one of those songs, just anything?$$Oh my god.$$How about the daddy squeeze me?$$Okay, okay, wait a minute. You put me on the spot. (Singing) "Oh daddy squeeze me and squeeze me again. Oh papa don't stop 'til I tell you when. Oh daddy squeeze me and kiss me some more just like we did before. Your papa cupid is standing close by. Oh daddy don't let your sweet baby cry, just pick me up on your knee I just get so, you know, oh when you squeeze me."$$Bravo (claps hands), that's beautiful (simultaneous).$$(Simultaneous) Oh god, I haven't done that for years. And you never forget it though, you know, never forget it.$$It's good. So, so those characters, so everybody developed their own character?$$Yes.$$So they gave you the freedom to do that?$$Yes, yes.$$And what did they say when they saw the character development, wha- what did the writers--'cause you know they have their idea?$$Well, the, the director and the choreographer, they were just happy for you to come up with that, you know. Then they could, they could then mold, you know. The character of Fats Waller was really kind of established because of my dear friend [HistoryMaker] Ken Page who looks like him, you know. And of course who is a wonderful comedian, actor, so he captured him, you know. Because this man was alive, he was real and so he captured him. The other characters, we were like people from that era, you know. And Nell [Nell Carter] was like, oh I don't know the character's name, but Luther Henderson called her name, you know, it reminded him of those women.

Melba Moore

Singer, stage actress, and musical singer Melba Moore was born Beatrice Melba Smith on October 29, 1945 in New York City. The daughter of Detroit bandleader, Ted Hill, Moore was raised by mother, Gertrude Melba Smith and stepfather, Clement Leroy Moorman, alsoa professional musicians. As a youth, Moore’s passion was dancing, however, when her stepfather made her take piano lessons, she began to admire jazz and blues pianists. Moore attended Newark, New Jersey’s Waverly Elementary School and Cleveland Junior High School. After graduating from the High School of Performing Arts, she enrolled in Montclair State Teachers College. Later, Moore went on to earn her B.A. degree in music.

Moore returned to the Newark Public Schools and student taught at the Pershine Avenue Elementary School. As a teacher, Moore began to perform with other teachers that formed a cultural performance group called Black Voices. In 1968, Moore began to work at various studios in Manhattan where she provided background vocals for the likes of Frank Sinatra and Aretha Franklin. While working at one such session, Moore was encouraged to audition for the Broadway musical Hair in 1968. She succeeded Diane Keaton in the lead role in 1969.

Moore went on to play recurring roles in several hit Broadway productions including Purlie, which she won a Tony Award for Best Supporting Actress in a Musical, Inacent Black, Timbuktu and Les Misérables. In 1975, alongside her then-husband Charles Huggins, Moore formed Hush Productions and signed R&B artist Freddie Jackson. That same year, she released her Grammy-nominated, debut album entitled Peach Melba. Throughout the 1980s, Moore made appearances on several television and movie productions including Ellis Island. In 2003, she was featured alongside Beyoncé Knowles and Cuba Gooding, Jr. as “Bessie Cooley” in The Fighting Temptations.

Moore lives in New York City.

Melba Moore was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on April 28, 2010.

Accession Number

A2008.008

Sex

Female

Interview Date

2/4/2008 |and| 4/28/2010

Last Name

Moore

Marital Status

Divorced

Organizations
Schools

Arts High School

Waverly Elementary School

Cleveland Junior High School

St. Thomas the Apostle School

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Melba

Birth City, State, Country

New York

HM ID

MOO13

Favorite Season

All Seasons

Sponsor

A and E

State

New York

Favorite Vacation Destination

None

Favorite Quote

Praise The Lord.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

New Jersey

Birth Date

10/29/1945

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Guttenberg

Country

United States

Favorite Food

None

Short Description

Stage actress, musical singer, and singer Melba Moore (1945 - ) won the Tony Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role in Purlie. She was also a recording artist, and received a Grammy nomination for her song, 'Lean on Me.'

Main Sponsor
Main Sponsor URL
Favorite Color

Red

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Melba Moore's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Melba Moore lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Melba Moore describes her mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Melba Moore describes her mother's upbringing

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Melba Moore talks about her mother's Creole heritage

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Melba Moore describes her mother's musical career

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Melba Moore talks about her biological father

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Melba Moore describes how her mother and stepfather met

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Melba Moore talks about her mother and stepfather's musical style

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Melba Moore talks about the nightclub venues in Atlantic City, New Jersey

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Melba Moore describes her earliest childhood memory

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Melba Moore remembers the Harlem neighborhood of New York City

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Melba Moore describes the sights, sounds and smells of her childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Melba Moore remembers her early dance lessons

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Melba Moore talks about moving from New York City to Newark, New Jersey

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Melba Moore talks about her family

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Melba Moore describes her schooling

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Melba Moore talks about her early involvement in the performing arts

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Melba Moore talks about her favorite black performers

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Melba Moore talks about her career aspirations

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Melba Moore recalls studying music education at Montclair State College in Montclair, New Jersey

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Melba Moore describes her experiences as a music teacher

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Melba Moore talks about touring in the segregated South

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Melba Moore talks about her relationship with her stepfather

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Melba Moore recalls the start of her performance career

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Melba Moore remembers joining the all-black Voices, Inc. ensemble

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Melba Moore talks about her career as a backup singer

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Melba Moore remembers her nanny

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Melba Moore talks about developing her confidence

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Melba Moore remembers the cast of the Broadway production of 'Hair'

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Melba Moore talks about why she left the production of 'Hair'

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Melba Moore talks about her role in the Broadway production of 'Purlie'

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Melba Moore talks about the African American performers on Broadway

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Melba Moore talks about 'The Melba Moore-Clifton Davis Show'

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Melba Moore remembers her struggle with addiction

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Melba Moore recalls meeting Charles Huggins

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Melba Moore talks about her husband, Charles Huggins

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Melba Moore remembers her mother's death and her divorce

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Melba Moore talks about Hush Productions

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Melba Moore talks about her acting career and album 'Peach Melba'

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Melba Moore remembers working with Eartha Kitt

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Melba Moore talks about her crossover to acting

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Melba Moore recalls how her ex-husband ruined her reputation

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Melba Moore talks about reviving her career after her divorce

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Melba Moore talks about the gospel music theatre circuit

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Melba Moore remembers becoming estranged from her daughter

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Melba Moore talks about Bill Cosby and Camille Cosby's role in caring for her daughter

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Melba Moore recalls securing a part in 'Les Miserables' on Broadway

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Melba Moore describes her experience in the role of Fantine in 'Les Miserables'

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Melba Moore talks about her experiences with the record industry

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Melba Moore recalls her transition to gospel music

Tape: 6 Story: 9 - Melba Moore talks about working with gospel music artists and songwriters

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Melba Moore talks about the gospel music circuit in the Midwest

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Melba Moore describes the basis of her religious faith

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Melba Moore talks about the parallels between her life and her acting roles

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Melba Moore talks about her faith's influence on her career

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Melba Moore remembers 'The Fighting Temptations'

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Melba Moore talks about the role of music in the African American community

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - Melba Moore describes her daily life

Tape: 7 Story: 8 - Melba Moore talks about the Broadway revival of 'Hair'

Tape: 8 Story: 1 - Melba Moore describes her hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 8 Story: 2 - Melba Moore reflects upon her life

Tape: 8 Story: 3 - Melba Moore talks about the status of black women in the arts

Tape: 8 Story: 4 - Melba Moore reflects upon her legacy

Tape: 8 Story: 5 - Melba Moore talks about her family

Tape: 8 Story: 6 - Melba Moore describes how she would like to be remembered

DASession

1$2

DATape

4$6

DAStory

3$2

DATitle
Melba Moore remembers the cast of the Broadway production of 'Hair'
Melba Moore talks about the gospel music theatre circuit
Transcript
We were talking about the beginning of 'Hair' ['Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical'], and, and you said you really didn't know what it was about when you got involved, you didn't know what a hippie--really what the hippies were doing and or what (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) Well, one of the things that happens, we were invited to do the recording session as with anything dates you know that these songwriters and producers come in, and you meet each other, and you see the music and you say, "Hi," and, you know, make friends with each other. And when they came in the studio when Jim Rado [James Rado] and Gerry Ragni [Gerome Ragni] came in and Galt MacDermot, Jim and Gerry had no shoes, they had raggedy jeans that were tore up, you know, like it was on purpose, and they had these T-shirts on that I'd like to say looked like their mother didn't teach them how to separate the colors from the white in the laundry (laughter). And they said they were tie dyed. So I said, "Well, where the man's shoes at? Why don't he comb his hair?" You know, I mean, I said, "Oh, my god, these are hippies," (laughter).$$These guys were young men and in those days they weren't poor or were they?$$They very well to do. Yeah.$$Yeah, I think a lot of people would, you know, when they think of someone barefoot and, you know, dressed down, are poor but they are well to--okay (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) Well, you so--so you're confused about, "What is this?" (Laughter) You know, and they were very happy. I said, "What's wrong with them?" (Laughter) You know, not that they shouldn't be happy, but, you know, you could see that. They knew what they were doing. They were very intelligent, you know.$$But they were counterculture, as we would say now.$$Yes, and we were culture (laughter). We were upward mobile, we were BAPS, black American princesses, and well educated and, you know, on our way out to conquer the world and--$$We were two trains running in different directions in some ways, right?$$Not really, as I discovered. Not really. Because--and once I decided to do the play--first of all realize, I was learning acting. I ran into people like Diane Keaton and Ben Vereen, and it was very obvious that Diane was straight. It was obvious to me. Yeah, she was there without her shoes and everything, but she knew exactly what she was doing as an actress. She was just so cool and happy, you know. And we would learn the script and do these acting exercises, you know. "Oh, wow," you know. And I remember Ben was such an incredible athlete. He played the role of Berger, and Berger was the wild crazy one, just swinging around up on the ropes. Of course, the audience, they rolled all over the place--with the grace of a tiger, baby. You know, so when I look at that, I didn't know what his background was and most of us he kind of got from different places, and many of us, we weren't trained at all, certainly not in acting. But we were picked because we had certain personalities and certain talents. So it was a wonderfully eclectic group and you're just observing (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) I didn't realize it but, Ben Vereen, I didn't realize he was in it.$$God, everybody in the world was--$$I never saw it, but I know Ronnie Dyson was one I remembered early on--$$Ronnie Dyson. Oh, Ronnie Dyson is a good example. Just a kid with great talent, great sense of humor; his mother [Elsie Dyson] was hilarious. And you could tell--$$Can we go to something she did? I mean, is there a story about his mother?$$I can't tell stories about Ronnie Dyson's mother (laughter). I can't tell those stories. But they were hilarious. They were funny people, they were good people, they were fun people. And, Ronnie, he was--he always had jokes. He always had stories. He was a good storyteller, a good--he could have been a good comic if he wanted to (laughter). I remember him coming down, you know, the stairs, doing an imitation of Diana Ross, or whatever, you know. Just like kids will do, you know. And then just an incredible voice and talent. And everybody was like that in their own way. I worked with Jim Rado in later years, like fairly recently, we'd say about the last ten years. He said I was always--I had a great sense of humor and feisty. But these are--this is just how you were, so I don't necessarily remember, right, what I said or what I did. But we all had, you know, interesting personalities.$I don't think we mentioned last time the role that Bill Cosby played in the life of you and your daughter [Melba Charli Huggins] at (unclear) (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) Well, I've had a chance to say thank you to Bill Cosby since then, who has just been unbelievable, he and Camille [Camille Cosby] and the whole family have been just a set of angels that I didn't even know were there, to be honest with you. And looking back on it, I can see that they knew what my situation was but--let me just put it into context. During a war of roses between my ex-husband [Charles Huggins] and myself, it got so terrible until my daughter ran away. She was just broken.$$How old was your daughter?$$At that time, she was about twelve. She was just coming into puberty, and she'd be used to a beautiful, loving, supportive home, I mean, and she was in the middle of psychological warfare. Actually, she was starting to get seizures. That's how bad it was. And one day she ran away and I didn't see her, I'm not sure how long it was, it seemed like forever. It seemed like it was over a year or two years, because at the time I was able to go on the road with some gospel plays that had just started during the '90s [1990s] but--and the gentleman who actually started these plays--no. Wait a minute. Let me give credit to Miss Vy Higginsen [HistoryMaker Vy Higginsen], who was the one to do one of the gospels, 'Mama, I Want to Sing!' and she still continues with different versions of that, and great things that she's doing with young people as a result of her foundation [Mama Foundation for the Arts, New York, New York]. But another person was Michael Matthews. He started out in St. Louis, Missouri, and he did a whole bunch of gospel plays. As a matter of fact, he's the one that Tyler Perry and Shelly Garrett and some of the other African American, I guess you'd call gospel musical--music plays. They have--basically have a moral story, so that's why I call them gospel.$$Tyler Perry is sort of--out of that genre too.$$Tyler Perry is the biggest one that we know of that has been very, very successful. And if you've noticed it, you might not call his plays gospel so much anymore, but there's a very, very, very strong moral message. And that gives it a very--$$The church involved.$$--very, very church oriented, yes. I guess I could call it--yes, I'll call it a gospel play, and I mean that in an honorable way because that's our niche audience, it's our culture, and, has been the basis for great, great, great entrepreneurial expansion and growth forums.$$Yeah. It's almost like a new Chitlin' Circuit in the sense of, you know--$$Nouveau chitlin' (laughter).$$Yeah. And they tour from town to town.$$They tour from town to town but the most important thing about chitlin' theatre is they paid you in cash money. And see you--one of the things that happened that we were talking about, Bill Cosby and his family helping, was I had been--I was saying I was getting ready to go out on tour with one of these gospel plays that was written by Michael Matthews, who started the genre, and I'd just been on welfare to pay my rent and I was able to pay the rent, but I was still evicted. But around the time I got evicted, it kind of dovetailed when I went on tour with this play. And they paid me seven thousand dollars in cash, and it made go in the back of the tour bus where they paid everybody and learn how to count the money. You know, how bankers count money, because first of all, it comes from box office and there's a whole lot of singles and fives (laughter). I had money all over the whole back of the bus.$$Okay. So you're saying--I know you just said it, but I have to repeat it. They actually pay you at the box--they pay the performers on these tours with the box office receipts?$$Yeah. That's how much money they make too.$$And seven thousand dollars in your pocket?$$Well, I was one of the stars. They didn't pay everybody that. But they pay you. Pay you good money but it's in cash. But you know what's great about that experience, of course, I'm in shock; I just come from welfare, I don't know anything about business, I've lost my daughter, I've lost everything. So I come and get plunked in to this touring company of super, born again, Pentecostal, religious, Baptist people. Now from before, it wasn't nothing around me but heathens and non believers. And fish eyed fools.

Walter Mason, Jr.

Production manager, stage actor, stage director, and stage production manager Walter Mason, Jr. was born on January 26, 1926, in Detroit, Michigan. His mother, Joanna Columbus Mason, a school teacher, and his father, Walter Mason, Sr., a skilled laborer, reared Mason in a church and community-oriented environment. After graduating from Detroit’s Northwestern High School, Mason attended Wayne State University, where he earned his B.A degree in theater and business administration. Years later, Mason attended the Detroit College of Law while he continued to pursue a career in theater.

In a 1952 adaptation of Richard Wright’s book Native Son, he portrayed its chief character “Booker Thomas” at the World Stage in Detroit, Michigan. His theatrical performances include his role as “Othello” in seven separate productions of Othello and “Caliban” in two productions of The Tempest. Mason has also been an instrumental figure in notable Broadway productions such as Purlie Victorious and A Streetcar Named Desire. Beyond acting, Mason served as a producer, director and artist for The Good Book Sings on WJR Radio and appeared on WXYZ TV’s, Showtime at the Apollo as the master of ceremonies. He collaborated with choreographer, Alvin Ailey, in 1961 as the musical and production manager of African Holiday. Six years later, Mason became the production manager for The Emperor Jones, which starred actor James Earl Jones. Throughout his career, Mason has worked closely with many celebrities, including Sammy Davis, Jr., Duke Ellington, Frank Sinatra, Liza Minnelli, Jimmy Durante, Diana Ross, Dionne Warwick, Ella Fitzgerald, Lola Falana, Jackie Gleason and Gladys Knight and the Pips. As a private speech and drama coach, Mason has worked with many public figures and film and television performers.

Mason served as an associate to the dean of Yale University School of Drama at both Yale and on Broadway. In 1983, Mason produced and directed a theatrical presentation at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. featuring aspiring young actors from black colleges and universities for The National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education. The following year, Mason directed the production of the Pulitzer Prize winning play, A Soldier’s Story, at Detroit’s Fisher Theater.

Mason is the entertainment director at the Las Vegas Hilton Hotel and the founder and artistic director of the Aldridge Theater Company, Inc.

Mason passed away on February 28, 2017 at age 91.

Accession Number

A2007.314

Sex

Male

Interview Date

10/31/2007

Last Name

Mason

Schools

Northwestern High School

Wayne State University

Sampson Elementary School

Munger Middle School

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Walter

Birth City, State, Country

Detroit

HM ID

MAS05

Favorite Season

Fall, Spring

State

Michigan

Favorite Vacation Destination

Tahiti

Favorite Quote

Make It Happen.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Nevada

Birth Date

1/26/1926

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Las Vegas

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Ice Cream (Butter Pecan)

Death Date

2/28/2017

Short Description

Stage actor, production manager, stage director, and stage production manager Walter Mason, Jr. (1926 - 2017 ) was the entertainment director at the Las Vegas Hilton Hotel and the founder and artistic director of the Aldridge Theater Company, Inc.

Employment

Detroit Art Institute

World Stage

Wayne State University

University of Detroit Mercy

Eugene O'Neill Foundation

Michigan Bell Telephone Company

Las Vegas Hilton (Hotel)

Ira Aldridge Theatre Co., Inc.

Favorite Color

Blue

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Walter Mason, Jr.'s interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Walter Mason, Jr. lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Walter Mason, Jr. describes his mother's upbringing and personality

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Walter Mason, Jr. describes his father's personality and career

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Walter Mason, Jr. talks about his grandparents

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Walter Mason, Jr. describes his earliest childhood memories

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Walter Mason, Jr. remembers his neighborhood in Detroit, Michigan

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Walter Mason, Jr. describes the sights and sounds of his childhood

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Walter Mason, Jr. remembers the case of McGhee v. Sipes

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Walter Mason, Jr. remembers his early childhood

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Walter Mason, Jr. remembers his schooling

Tape: 1 Story: 12 - Walter Mason, Jr. recalls transferring to Northwestern High School in Detroit, Michigan

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Walter Mason, Jr. remembers his interests as a teenager

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Walter Mason, Jr. remembers his early awareness of racial discrimination

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Walter Mason, Jr. recalls enlisting in the U.S. Air Force

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Walter Mason, Jr. describes the racial discrimination in the U.S. Air Force

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Walter Mason, Jr. recalls his introduction to theater at Wayne University in Detroit, Michigan

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Walter Mason, Jr. remembers his early theater roles, pt. 1

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Walter Mason, Jr. remembers his early theater roles, pt. 2

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Walter Mason, Jr. talks about his early theater training

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Walter Mason, Jr. describes the Panorama of Progress program

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Walter Mason, Jr. describes his radio series, 'The Good Book Sings'

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Walter Mason, Jr. recalls his decision to enroll at the Detroit College of Law in Detroit, Michigan

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Walter Mason, Jr. describes the arts community in Detroit, Michigan

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Walter Mason, Jr. recalls his performance in 'The Tempest'

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Walter Mason, Jr. recalls managing the production of 'Jazz Train'

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Walter Mason, Jr. recalls his opportunity to act in 'A Raisin in the Sun'

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Walter Mason, Jr. remembers meeting Alvin Ailey

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Walter Mason, Jr. remembers managing 'Free Sounds of '63'

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Walter Mason, Jr. recalls his role in 'Free Sounds of '63'

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Walter Mason, Jr. remembers starring in 'Purlie Victorious'

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Walter Mason, Jr. reflects upon his theater career

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Walter Mason, Jr. describes the Eugene O'Neill Memorial Theater Foundation in Waterford, Connecticut

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Walter Mason, Jr. remembers working with Sammy Davis, Jr., pt. 1

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Walter Mason, Jr. describes the misconceptions about Sammy Davis, Jr.

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Walter Mason, Jr. remembers managing a production of 'The Amen Corner'

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Walter Mason, Jr. recalls his difficulties with the Actors' Equity Association, pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Walter Mason, Jr. recalls his difficulties with the Actors' Equity Association, pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Walter Mason, Jr. remembers Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s funeral

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Walter Mason, Jr. remembers working with Sammy Davis, Jr., pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Walter Mason, Jr. recalls the Bicentennial Homecoming Festival in Detroit, Michigan

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Walter Mason, Jr. recalls opening a restaurant in Detroit, Michigan

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Walter Mason, Jr. remembers the Creative Express Theater Company

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Walter Mason, Jr. remembers his work for the Michigan Bell Telephone Company

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Walter Mason, Jr. remembers moving to Las Vegas, Nevada

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Walter Mason, Jr. recalls his theatrical work at the Las Vegas Hilton in Las Vegas, Nevada

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Walter Mason, Jr. describes his work at the West Las Vegas Arts Center in Las Vegas, Nevada

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Walter Mason, Jr. reflects upon his life and career

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Walter Mason, Jr. describes his advice for aspiring artists

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Walter Mason, Jr. describes his hopes for the African American community

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Walter Mason, Jr. shares a message to future generations

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Walter Mason, Jr. talks about the opportunities for artistic growth

Tape: 6 Story: 9 - Walter Mason, Jr. narrates his photographs

DASession

1$1

DATape

2$4

DAStory

4$6

DATitle
Walter Mason, Jr. describes the racial discrimination in the U.S. Air Force
Walter Mason, Jr. remembers working with Sammy Davis, Jr., pt. 1
Transcript
Did you face any racism in the air cadets [sic. U.S. Army Air Forces; U.S. Air Force]?$$Oh yes.$$Could you explain that a little bit more for us, and how that was? Because basically you were sheltered all your life away from it.$$Yes.$$Now you're in a, in a federal, national organization where there is no shelter. Could you explain that to us, please?$$And traveling around the country in various locales such as Dyersburg, Tennessee; Biloxi [Mississippi]; Lou- a field in Louisiana, you got a real dose of, of racial prejudice, and it had its effect on, on you. You ask questions, how can a bus driver take somebody a mile beyond their stop before he lets them off the bus? And that happened at Shreveport, Louisiana. And came into a major church there and slapped a woman's face, and came back and got on, in his bus seat and drove off, and nothing was done. Or in Shreveport, the allowance of soldiers to be told that they couldn't come to town with a Captain Crockett [ph.] of--who was in leadership in the police department. And he would have an ability to have the soldiers stick their head--, "Look at this piece of paper I have in my hand. Now, draw yourself in and come and look at this paper." And he'd draw, he'd have the soldier to look at the paper, and he'd roll up the window. And once he rolled the window up, catching him between the neck and the window, he'd--, "Didn't I tell you not to come into town? And don't let me catch you in this town." It was this kind of activity that you--whoa.$$Did this occur particularly with you, or did you see this happening?$$This, there was a situation where I had a .45 on, going to Texarkana to get a prisoner. And there was an older gentleman who came up to me and said, "You got business here, boy?" I said, "Yes, I've come to this town to take a prisoner back." "All right, boy, but don't let me see you getting into any mischief." And took his foot and kicked me. Now, I could have turned around as a militant soldier, but I didn't. I knew enough to measure my losses and to step away. And for that, I am grateful.$$So there was definitely a lot of--not just inside of the, itself--you--in your travels and your duties, even just even doing your duties, there were problems with racism?$$Oh yes. For example, there was a situation where it came to--I began writing for one of the military newspapers. And they had a habit of on Fridays draining the pool. They would allow the black soldiers to go into the pool--this was in Dyersburg, Tennessee. And they could swim on that Friday, but they would drain the pool as the soldiers were in the pool. And I wrote in my article that it was not on a Friday, you with your Purple Heart, got shuffled around. It was not on a Friday that Bill [ph.], you, with, in your transition from the European sector to the Asian sector, got strapped with an event like this. So, why should it be in the home of the brave and the land of the free that you're not allowed to go swimming? And the commander called me into his office and said, "Do you want us to print this?" I said, "Well, I wrote it in truth, and I expect you to print it in truth." Another week I received my papers to go to, I think it was--no, this was in Coffeyville, not Dyersburg. This is in Coffeyville, Kansas, to go to, to be transferred out. And the war [World War II, WWII] ended, and so that got wrapped up and nothing more was heard of it.$Sixty-four [1964], you play Pepper White in 'Golden Boy' [Clifford Odets and William Gibson]. Now tell us about 'Golden Boy.' What was very significant about that?$$Well, that's the Sammy Davis, Jr. show (laughter). 'Golden Boy,' written by, eventually written by Bill Gibson, was the piece that was earlier presented with John Garfield as a movie. And Sammy had an ability to take on this project and take on the abilities of a fighter, a boxer and a singer, with new lyrics by Strouse [Charles Strouse] and Adams [Lee Adams]. And I had just joined Sammy, and he offered me this opportunity, but first as just an actor to play Pepper White. I did not sign a run of the play contract. I signed it just as a regular actor. Run of the play, you get, as long as the play runs, you--$$You're in it.$$You're in it. Well, the writers selected that they write out the part of Pepper White. And that's part of, of creativity of the theater. So, they wrote the part of Pepper Adams out.$$Pepper White?$$Pepper White. And so then I was out of that, but I didn't worry about being out of the play. I just went my merry way. And later, it came to be that they were auditioning for a production manager, and they called me. And so I went back as a production manager, which is a higher rate of pay, and--$$Than the actor was (laughter)?$$Right. So, I came in that way. And when you're in with a superstar like Sammy Davis, you get to know him pretty well, and he gets to know you pretty well. And I think Sammy was one of the most misunderstood individuals in show business.$$Please explain. I was going to ask you, what was he like, what was his personality? But explain it from your perspective.$$Well, Sammy was a genuine giver. And I can understand why he had as many difficulties with people like the IRS [Internal Revenue Service], and so forth because he took on the belief, or disbelief, that money was money. It's all to be here to enjoy. We're here for such a short time. Get it, give it, enjoy it. That was his mantra. And don't worry about saving or doing other things. See somebody who needs--who has been wronged, help that person. [HistoryMaker] Maya Angelou was singing in 'Porgy and Bess' [George Gershwin] in her earlier years. They couldn't get a pair of shoes to fit her. Have some made. If the boat--the boat does not leave the dock unless it is first class. And that was Sammy's attitude toward everything. And I think that he had great appreciation for me, because he felt that he ran into somebody that was intellectually challenging.

John Beasley

Actor and theater founder John Beasley was born on June 26, 1943, in North Omaha, Nebraska, to Grace Virginia, Triplett and John Wilfred Beasley. Beasley’s neighbors included athletes Bob Gibson, Marlon Briscoe, Gale Sayers, Roger Sayers and Bob Boozer. Beasley’s maternal grandfather invented the brick of chili for Cuttahee Packing House. His parents separated and his father, an electrical contractor, moved to Chicago, Illinois. Beasley grew up at 24th and Lake near the Ritz Theatre and the Hotel Callahan. Beasley played football and was popular at Omaha Technical High School. He attended the University of Omaha from 1964 to 1968.

Beasley moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and after starting in the mailroom of WFIL-TV, he became assistant producer for a local children’s program called The World Around Us. Beasley worked on the waterfront, like Omaha’s Marlon Brando did in the movie of the same name. A small part in Germantown Theatre’s production of As You Like It started Beasley’s acting itch. From time to time, he studied and took classes and completed an internship in Minnesota with Don Cheadle. Beasley was cast in August Wilson’s early Goodman Theatre productions in Chicago; however, Beasley worked as a Union Pacific Railroad clerk for seven years before he decided to pursue acting as a full-time career. In his first year, Beasley’s dream to become an actor came true when he was cast alongside Oprah Winfrey in the short lived television series Brewster Place, and his career took off from there. Beasley’s other film and television credits include The Apostle, Rudy, The General’s Daughter, The Sum of All Fears and Everwood.

Still living in his hometown of Omaha, Beasley enjoys teaching and directing at his newly established theater, The John Beasley Workshop at Center Stage. Beasley also keeps busy with junior golf and tennis programs and fundraisers for the American Heart Association. He and his wife have been married for over forty years and have two grown sons who are aspiring actors.

Accession Number

A2007.285

Sex

Male

Interview Date

10/8/2007

Last Name

Beasley

Schools

Omaha Technical High School

University of Nebraska-Omaha

Howard Kennedy Elementary School

Search Occupation Category
First Name

John

Birth City, State, Country

Omaha

HM ID

BEA08

Favorite Season

Fall

State

Nebraska

Favorite Vacation Destination

Vancouver, British Columbia

Favorite Quote

None

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Nebraska

Birth Date

6/26/1943

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Omaha

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Meatloaf, Fish

Short Description

Actor, theater chief executive, and stage director John Beasley (1943 - ) appeared in several films and television shows, including the television series, 'Brewster Place,' in which he was cast alongside Oprah Winfrey, and the films, 'Rudy,' 'The Mighty Ducks,' 'The Apostle,' 'The General's Daughter,' and, 'The Operator.'

Employment

Various

WFIL-TV

Union Pacific Railroad

Favorite Color

Blue

Timing Pairs
0,0:584,11:12962,272:13246,277:23240,457:50062,803:57972,878:92650,1411:99232,1442:99528,1447:103820,1519:106780,1583:107224,1590:116178,1785:116622,1792:126160,1922:142490,2265:142840,2271:150745,2330:158389,2452:179616,2675:183050,2768:195102,2996:199060,3004:199435,3010:201010,3052:203185,3098:218360,3323:219350,3363:224236,3392:240536,3645:242840,3705:248600,3821:250832,3888:251120,3896:253064,3938:263960,4047:267444,4121:271732,4236:272603,4255:278675,4294:279346,4335:291171,4552:298640,4672$0,0:9718,145:10234,157:16166,258:29895,457:30490,465:50534,817:50914,823:70710,1115:73790,1180:74140,1186:87748,1404:91156,1490:95629,1591:114437,1872:118466,1978:132980,2114:133472,2122:144835,2298:147043,2352:157086,2474:163138,2555:171512,2754:173882,2793:175304,2826:185278,2935:187654,3041:204900,3307:221036,3504:222240,3524:228827,3609:230852,3649:231419,3656:258247,4032:258531,4037:260448,4075:262720,4119:263217,4126:281402,4342:302922,4787:311156,4889:311936,4903:326870,5131
DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of John Beasley's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - John Beasley lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - John Beasley describes his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - John Beasley describes his mother's upbringing

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - John Beasley describes his father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - John Beasley remembers his parents' separation

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - John Beasley describes his parents' personalities and who he takes after

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - John Beasley describes his earliest childhood memory

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - John Beasley remembers his neighborhood in Omaha, Nebraska

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - John Beasley describes the sights, sounds and smells of his childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - John Beasley recalls his early activities

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - John Beasley recalls the television programs of his childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - John Beasley recalls his decision to play football

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - John Beasley recalls playing football at Omaha University in Omaha, Nebraska

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - John Beasley remembers his teammate, Marlin Briscoe

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - John Beasley remembers Howard Kennedy Elementary School in Omaha, Nebraska

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - John Beasley describes his early aspirations

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - John Beasley recalls the Ritz Theater in Omaha, Nebraska

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - John Beasley recalls the music of his youth

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - John Beasley remembers Technical High School in Omaha, Nebraska

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - John Beasley recalls his introduction to the arts

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - John Beasley remembers the Vietnam War

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - John Beasley recalls his theater involvement at Technical High School

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - John Beasley describes his decision to move to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - John Beasley remembers meeting his wife

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - John Beasley talks about his wife

Tape: 3 Story: 10 - John Beasley recalls moving to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - John Beasley recalls his introduction to screen acting

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - John Beasley describes his training as an actor

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - John Beasley recalls his first opportunity to sign with an agent

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - John Beasley talks about his early acting career in the Midwest

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - John Beasley recalls working with Oprah Winfrey on 'Brewster Place'

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - John Beasley talks about his film and stage acting roles

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - John Beasley talks about acting in August Wilson's plays

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - John Beasley talks about the challenges of acting in the Midwest

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - John Beasley remembers acting in 'The Apostle' with Robert Duvall

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - John Beasley recalls the success of 'The Apostle'

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - John Beasley recalls his transition to acting in Los Angeles, California

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - John Beasley talks about being a character actor

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - John Beasley describes the John Beasley Theater and Workshop in Omaha, Nebraska

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - John Beasley describes the acting community in Omaha, Nebraska

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - John Beasley talks about African American theater companies

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - John Beasley describes his plans for the future

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - John Beasley describes his hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - John Beasley reflects upon his life

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - John Beasley reflects upon his legacy

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - John Beasley talks about his family

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - John Beasley talks about his favorite acting roles

Tape: 6 Story: 9 - John Beasley describes how he would like to be remembered

DASession

1$1

DATape

4$5

DAStory

5$6

DATitle
John Beasley recalls working with Oprah Winfrey on 'Brewster Place'
John Beasley describes the John Beasley Theater and Workshop in Omaha, Nebraska
Transcript
Few months later, my agent in Minneapolis [Minnesota] calls, says, "You remember Jane Brody?" I said, "Yeah, I remember Jane, you know, I auditioned for her at the, at your office up there." And so she says, "Well Jane wants to know if you would be interested in coming into Chicago [Illinois] to audition." And I just remembered reading in the USA Today, Oprah Winfrey was going to do a TV series called 'Brewster Place' based on 'The Women of Brewster Place,' and I thought, wow, that'll be a great, you know, great opportunity for some Chicago actors. And so she calls me into Chicago to audition for 'Brewster Place,' and I go in there and I meet [HistoryMaker] Reuben Cannon who had, I had worked for before, and it was a long process and they had me in there several times and then eventually they bring me in to read with Oprah Winfrey and I remember sitting in this cast, you know, office and Oprah Winfrey comes up the steps with her aide, with an aide, and they go in this room, you know, she doesn't give me an eye contact or anything, she goes in the room and so I go in and I do this and, you know, I do this audition, I know I'm good, I know I'm good and so after I, when I get ready to leave, I say to Oprah, I said, incidentally, I said, "Judy [Judy Beasley] says hi." So she says, "Who's Judy?" I said, "She's my wife." So, "Oh, tell her I said hi." So, eventually they called me in to screen test with Oprah, and so they give me this mail uniform, I don't wear a ring today, they give me this mail, I'm the mail carrier, he's a mail carrier, so I'm, so the master props man, he comes around he says, "So what, you need anything?" I said, I said, "Yeah," I said, "a mailman always has keys so I'm going to need some keys and, oh, I need a wedding band 'cause Reuben says that he's probably married and has a couple of kids." And I'm thinking, damn, you know, 'cause if I can have some kind of a relationship with Oprah's character, you know, that would mean that I'd be in it a lot more and I think it'd mean more to me, you know, but hey, I'm just happy to get a job. So we're sitting there while they're waiting and Oprah's sitting there and I'm sitting across from her and I'm just looking at Oprah and I'm giving her eye contact and she's looking at me and so eventually Oprah says, "So, how's the family?" And so, I figure okay, you know, I'd done some selling in my days and I know that in a situation like that, the first person that speaks loses. So now I get a little bolder and Oprah, I hope she never, she'll never see this, and so I get a little bolder and so I said, Oprah, I said to Oprah, I said, "Oprah," I said, "so where'd you study acting," I said, "because I really loved you in 'The Color Purple.'" And she says, "I never studied." I said, "Well," I said, "well, don't mess up 'cause this is my big chance," and so Reuben cracks up and Oprah's like, is this nigger for real (laughter)? I mean, you know, so, but I think it had to impress her because we're sitting there and as we go along a little further, Oprah looks down at the ring and she says, "You know, I don't think Mr. Willie is married," and I said, "You know what Oprah, I don't think he is either (laughter)." And so I got the job, I got the job as her love interest. We did eleven episodes. ABC didn't want it, it was a half an hour, half an hour dramedy, something like that, like 'Frank's Place,' very innovative, you know. 'Frank's Place' was an incredible show.$$Right, right.$$I thought it was one of the best shows not to make it on TV and, but this was, 'Brewster Place' was sort of like that, you know, and we were breaking grounds. ABC didn't want it but they wanted Oprah Winfrey so they gave her a shot, you know, and they kept moving it around, you know. You know, they would show two weeks and then the next week it wouldn't be on and then they would move it around again to different nights and they really knew how to program it to fail and so it never made it but I had my experience with Oprah Winfrey. A wonderful woman, I might add, she really is, you know and I felt that she looked out for me while I was there. There would be times, I came on as a recurring character and wound up having more episodes than some of the regulars and because Oprah would be, you know, they'd be at a table read and Oprah would say, "Well that sounds like something Mr. Willie would say," and the next thing I know I'd be getting a call, you know, "You're going to be working this week," you know. So--$$So, did they shoot that in Chicago or--$$We shot it in Chicago, yeah. Worked out of Chicago and it was a great time, it was a great time--$Now tell us about how, about the theater, I guess. We need to talk about that.$$You know, the theater, it used to be, the theater that I run is called, the John Beasley Theater [John Beasley Theater and Workshop, Omaha, Nebraska], and it's only because the people that owned the building at that time wanted to name it after me. I didn't want my name on it. I don't need my name on a building or anything like that, I know who I am and, but I was, I was working with some underprivileged kids in the projects over in South Omaha [Omaha, Nebraska] and the Center Stage [Center Stage Theater, Omaha, Nebraska] is one of the theaters I came up on, you know. We used to do a lot of good things there, had a good reputation, it was a black theater, only minority theater in the state, and it had been closed for about three years and they asked me if I would want to do something in the theater and I thought, well, no, I definitely don't want to be a busi- I'm not a businessman, I'm not a, my head's not there and I was working with a young lady who wanted to, to get into acting and I'd always told her that, you know, I would work with her at one point or another. She's, was fifty years old at that time and finally I said, listen, we'll do, I'll do something with you. So, I got the, I got 'Fences' by August Wilson and I gave her the role of Linda [sic.], and I said, "Study this," and I started working with her. She came along to the point where I thought, let me put some other people around her. So I put some people around her and the next thing I knew, we had enough for the cast for 'Fences,' and so I decided, okay, I'll do this over there and, you know, we'll do the show. So after that, it was owned by Omaha public housing [Omaha Housing Authority] and they, the council decided, the board decided to name the theater after me and, and now I'm stuck with, you know, running this theater, you know, and, because my name's on it, you know, I want to make it successful. So we started out doing three plays a year, four and five, and, and I've been with the--because I landed 'Everwood,' I was able to support this theater, you know, on my own, you know, with my own money and I've done that, I've done that up to the early part of this year, you know, when I decided that it's just, it's not good business, you know. I'm using my retirement money to run this damn thing and I don't know that Omaha [Nebraska] appreciates it, you know. And so it was a matter of, you know, the theater either making it on its own or, you know, we're just getting out of it, you know. 'Cause I never really wanted to run a theater but I've changed a lot of lives in here, in Omaha, and gotten peoples in the theater that never would have been there because we didn't have a large base to grow from, I'm normally training people and we would, we typecast a lot, you know. If you look like or act like you, this character that I'm looking for, you know, bring you in there and teach you how to be yourself, you know, and, again, it's in being in the moment, teaching them what I do, and just learning how to be real and if I can teach them how to be themselves, you know, we've got it made, you know, and I've turned out some pretty good actors and I've got a couple that I'm really proud of.$$What are their names? Some of the--$$Really proud of. Andre McGraw is one of them. He was in that first cast of 'Fences' and he played my son, and this guy, you know, he wasn't a very good reader but he really wanted to do this and, but once he got the words down, he was, he did really well. But he was in love. He had a girlfriend who lived in Kansas City [Missouri], and he was always on the phone with her and he, he was, you know, it was a distraction and one time I was on stage with him and I give his cue and there's no Andre and I'm waiting out there ad-libbing and this stuff. I finally go offstage and I see him, he's out there talking on the phone to his girlfriend. So I got on him about that. Then one Sunday we were getting ready to perform, he calls me from the highway, he's on his way back from Kansas City and, so I had to delay the show and he got in there and I finally, I said, "He'll never work in my theater again, never again." We were doing a play called, 'A Raisin in the Sun' [Lorraine Hansberry] and Andre called me, he said, "Mr. Beasley [HistoryMaker John Beasley]," he says, "listen, I know you, you know, that you took a chance on me, and I'm sorry and I, you know--I won't give you any problems, I really want to do this." So I said, "All right, Andre," I said, "you know, I'm going to bring you back in," I said, "but if you mess up," I said, "that's it, you're through with me." I brought him in and he was the surprise of that show. He was just, did a fantastic job. So my son, Tyrone [Tyrone Beasley], who directs for me, and I were, we're looking for a lead for 'Ma Rainey's Black Bottom' [August Wilson] and this character is, you know, is, it's a pretty strong character. And so, the only person we could think of was Andre and, you know, I talk--we can do this, he can do this.

Kenny Leon

Theatrical and television director and actor Kenny Leon was born Kenneth Leroy Leon on February 10, 1956, in Tallahassee, Florida, to Annie Ruth and Leroy Leon. The oldest of five siblings, Leon’s family moved to St. Petersburg, Florida, when he was nine years old. At Northeast High School in St. Petersburg, Leon got involved in the federal government’s Upward Bound Program which encouraged him to pursue his dream of becoming a lawyer. In 1978, Leon graduated from Clark College in Atlanta, Georgia, with his B.A. degree in political science. He attended Southwestern University School of Law in Los Angeles for a brief period before returning to Atlanta.

In 1979, Leon returned to Atlanta to try his hand at theater. He soon became a member of the Academy Theater in Atlanta where he worked as an actor and director. Often times, Leon would run outreach programs at prisons and schools; one such play was performed entirely by the homeless. All of the profits from the homeless-cast play were contributed to local homeless shelters. In 1988, after years of touring and directing across the country, Leon was offered a job as associate artistic director at the Alliance Theater in Atlanta. By 1990, he was the senior artistic director and would lead the company for the next ten years. By selecting a wide range of multicultural plays for the theater, Leon increased the minority attendance and the national reputation of the Alliance, and quintupled the endowment.

In 2002, after leaving the Alliance, Leon founded his own theater company in Atlanta, the True Colors Theater Company, which focused on promulgating and preserving Negro-American theatrical classics. Leon has continued to make waves in the theater world outside of Atlanta. In 2004, he directed his first Broadway play, reviving Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun for which he cast hip hop mogul, Sean Combs in the role of Walter Lee Younger; in 2007, Leon directed a television adaptation of the play. Between 2004 and 2007, Leon directed the world and Broadway premieres of August Wilson’s final two plays, Gem of the Ocean and Radio Golf; he also directed the world premiere of Toni Morrison’s first opera, Margaret Garner. While he continues to ensure the success of True Colors, Leon plans to put together all of August Wilson’s ten plays at the Kennedy Center as a tribute to the deceased playwright.

Leon was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on September 9, 2007.

Accession Number

A2007.250

Sex

Male

Interview Date

9/9/2007

Last Name

Leon

Schools

Northeast High School

Clark Atlanta University

Campbell Park Elementary School

John Hopkins Middle School

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Kenny

Birth City, State, Country

Tallahassee

HM ID

LEO02

Favorite Season

None

State

Florida

Favorite Vacation Destination

South Africa

Favorite Quote

All You Have Is Your Time And Talent. Use Them Wisely.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Georgia

Birth Date

2/10/1956

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Atlanta

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Chicken

Short Description

Stage director and theater chief executive Kenny Leon (1956 - ) was the artistic director of Atlanta's Alliance Theatre and the founder of the True Colors Theatre Company. Leon's directorial achievements included the Broadway revival of Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun; productions of an assortment of August Wilson’s plays; and the world premiere of Toni Morrison’s first opera, Margaret Garner.

Employment

Academy Theater

National Endowment for the Arts (NEA)

Alliance Theatre

True Colors Theatre Company

Favorite Color

Blue, Red

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Kenny Leon's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Kenny Leon lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Kenny Leon describes his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Kenny Leon remembers being raised by his maternal grandmother

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Kenny Leon recalls moving to St. Petersburg, Florida

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Kenny Leon describes his grade school experiences in St. Petersburg, Florida

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Kenny Leon describes the sights, sounds and smells of his childhood

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Kenny Leon remembers celebrating the holidays

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Kenny Leon talks about segregation in St. Petersburg, Florida

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Kenny Leon remembers Macedonia Freewill Baptist Church in St. Petersburg, Florida

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Kenny Leon recalls his early interest in acting

Tape: 1 Story: 12 - Kenny Leon talks about the Upward Bound program

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Kenny Leon recalls his decision to attend Clark College in Atlanta, Georgia

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Kenny Leon recalls the start of his acting career

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Kenny Leon remembers the Civil Rights Movement in St. Petersburg, Florida

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Kenny Leon describes the Southwestern Law School in Los Angeles, California

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Kenny Leon talks about his community theater programs

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Kenny Leon recalls his theater experiences in Atlanta, Georgia

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Kenny Leon remembers working with the Center Stage Theater in Baltimore, Maryland

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Kenny Leon recalls working for the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Kenny Leon remembers August Wilson, pt. 1

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Kenny Leon remembers August Wilson, pt. 2

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Kenny Leon talks about his tenure at the Alliance Theatre

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Kenny Leon recalls diversifying Alliance Theatre's staff and programming

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Kenny Leon talks about theatre directors

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Kenny Leon recalls leaving the Alliance Theatre

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Kenny Leon remembers founding the True Colors Theatre Company

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Kenny Leon recalls directing 'A Raisin in the Sun,' pt. 1

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Kenny Leon recalls directing 'A Raisin in the Sun,' pt. 2

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Kenny Leon talks about the directors of August Wilson's plays

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Kenny Leon remembers his directorial vision for 'A Raisin in the Sun'

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Kenny Leon recalls directing August Wilson's 'Gem of the Ocean'

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Kenny Leon remembers directing August Wilson's 'Radio Golf'

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Kenny Leon talks about directing 'Margaret Garner'

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Kenny Leon describes the True Colors Theatre Company

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Kenny Leon recalls directing 'The Wiz'

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Kenny Leon talks about his Tony Award nominations

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Kenny Leon describes August Wilson's 'Radio Golf'

Tape: 4 Story: 10 - Kenny Leon describes the playwrights he admires

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Kenny Leon describes his concerns for the African American community

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Kenny Leon reflects upon his life

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Kenny Leon reflects upon his legacy

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Kenny Leon describes his plans for the future

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Kenny Leon shares a message to future generations

DASession

1$1

DATape

2$3

DAStory

2$5

DATitle
Kenny Leon recalls the start of his acting career
Kenny Leon remembers founding the True Colors Theatre Company
Transcript
And at that time, I was a political science major and sort of a drama minor, you know what I mean, all of my electives were in theater, but I was preparing to go to law school, because that's when my mom [Annie Wilson Holtzclaw] said, "You're a first generation college student--you're going to be a minister or you're going to be a lawyer, or you're going to do something that they know." And then I went to law school for, you know, for like that long. And when I left, I went to law school in L.A. [Los Angeles, California]--Southwestern University School of Law [Southwestern Law School], and I left there and came back to Florida for a minute. I said, I can't live in Florida, so I came back to Atlanta [Georgia], and when I came back to Atlanta, I had an audition for the Academy of Music and Theater [sic. Academy Theatre], and this guy, Frank Wittow who died last year--he was a great friend of mine, he had this company that would do plays in prisons and in the school system, and I got a job doing that, working improvisationally through theatre to create plays, and then also doing it in legitimate plays, like, you know, 'Richard III' [William Shakespeare] and 'Hamlet' [William Shakespeare]. At the end of that year, he said, "Okay, so you want to come back and work for me for two hundred dollars a week, or do you want to go back to law school?" So, I was like, "Ah, I think I like this." And, at that time, I was also starting to do television commercials, because I looked a certain way at a certain time, and my mother, who was a dietician in Florida--I think she was concerned about, "Is he going to make a living," or whatever, and she was watching television with one of her patients and she said, "That's my son, that's my son." She said, "Oh, he does commercials, oh he can make a million dollars." I was like, really? So, at that point, she said "Okay, I understand, you know, okay, I understand."$$What was your first commercial?$$It was an Aaron [Aaron's, Inc.] rent furniture television commercial, and there was a thing about a man was working so hard that he was not spending any time with his mother. And at the end of the commercial, she would take this, her purse and hit the man in the stomach, and I was the man. And, so it was like a really cute, funny commercial.$I had no idea I was going to start another theater company, but then Riley Temple [HistoryMaker Riley K. Temple], who is the head of the Arena Stage board in D.C. [Washington, D.C.], and Chris Manos [Christopher B. Manos], who is the head of Theater of the Stars in Atlanta [Georgia], they both independently tried to talk me into starting a national black theater company. And I was like, why would I want to do that, I want to--you know. And, at the same time I got my first opportunity to direct 'A Raisin in the Sun' [Lorraine Hansberry] on Broadway with P. Diddy [Sean Combs; P. Diddy] and [HistoryMaker] Phylicia Rashad, so I wanted to do more of that, but you know, the weight of these two men saying, we need a national black theater company--so, I went into the room and said okay, if I had to do a theater company, what would it look like, you know? What would a national black theater look like? And to me, it would look like a theater that was all-inclusive of all people, because I wanted everyone--I didn't want to do a black theater for black people. I wanted to honor black theater, but in the midst of the broader community. So, I was like wow, if I can figure out a way to do that, it would be great. So, what I decided to do was to--at the center of the work, to do African American classics, which those plays--those are the plays that no one's doing. You know, if you're in the Alliance Theatre or the Arena Stage, or the Goodman Theatre [Chicago, Illinois], you're not doing plays by James Baldwin and Les Lee [Leslie Lee], and Zora Neale Hurston. You're not doing that, so I was like, wow, as soon as a black writer dies, that's it, you know. Their work don't get--that's it. So, and if you read James Baldwin or Langston Hughes, you're like, that was some great work. Or if you read Lorraine Hansberry's other work other than 'Raisin in the Sun,' that was some great work. And you got all these new generations of people that will never know these people, and these people were great Americans. So I was like wow, if True Colors [True Colors Theatre Company] can be the company that embrace that work--because if you're these other large regional theaters--you're only going to do the hottest thing that just left New York [New York] or just getting ready to go to New York, because it's about making your money, but you only got one space for diversity, you're only going to do one black play and one Hispanic play, so they couldn't do it. So, I was like, if we did that, that would be something no one else is doing. But, to be different, I don't want to just do all black plays, but then, let's flip that model because the model for most American theater is to do all Anglo-American work at the center. Right? And then they just diversify one or two spots on the edges for other people. So, it's like, I don't know, let's put the classics in the center, and then we'll do three or four plays by everybody else, because I'm not racist, I'm not sexist. And that's when I said that's what I would do if I was running the theater. So, Chris Manos said, "Here's fifty thousand dollars, start it." So, I was like, "Well, you know I'm not going to be able to spend all my time there because I've got to develop myself as a director." He said, "You don't need to, you just need to get it going. You need to be the inspiration, you need to be the vision for it." So, I went around the country and I asked these great people like Zelda Fichandler and all these people, and Zelda ran--you know, she started the regional theater movement--she started the Arena Stage about fifty years ago. So, I talked to all these people--Ben Cameron, and these people said, "Look--," Woodie King [HistoryMaker Woodie King, Jr.], who's a great pioneer of the black theater movement. So I talked to black folks, white folks--I talked to the great [HistoryMaker] Lloyd Richards just before he died, I talked to August Wilson, and they said, "Look, the reason these black--," and at the same time you got to remember black theaters in the last fifteen years were dying, so you had these large theaters that were trying to diversify, and they were getting a lot of funding to do that, but they were only putting in one play, one play. And then you had the black theaters that wasn't getting--they weren't getting enough money, and they were dying. So, now you have a problem in America. You don't have culturally specific theaters and you don't have the large theaters doing enough of the work--that can't do enough of the work. So, it's like wow. So we started this company to do that.$$And the name of the company? True Colors?$$True Colors Theatre, which means, you know, I promised myself to always be in pursuit of truth and clarity, and that's truth and clarity about life, about who we are. So, every play is an effort to shed some light on the truth as we know it. And sometimes that can be in a comedy, sometimes that can be in a musical, sometimes that can be in a drama.

Ricardo Khan

Ricardo Mohamed Khan was born on November 4, 1951, in Washington, D.C., to Mustapha and Jacqueline Khan, a doctor from Trinidad and an American nurse. Khan was raised in Camden, New Jersey. In 1968, as a high school student, he went on a class trip to Broadway and saw an all-black cast perform Hello, Dolly. The trip inspired him to become active in his high school’s drama program, and the next year, he attended Rutgers University, where he studied psychology and theater. Khan earned his B.A. degree in 1973 and his M.F.A. degree in 1977, both from Rutgers University.

Khan and one of his graduate school classmates, L. Kenneth Richardson, were frustrated by the limited opportunities for African Americans in theater; they wanted roles that went beyond conventional stereotypes. In 1978, they came up with the idea for the Crossroads Theatre Company as a place to promote black theater and black artists. With help from Eric Krebs of the nearby George Street Playhouse and a government grant, the company became a reality; its first theater was the second floor of an old factory in New Brunswick, New Jersey. The Crossroads Theatre Company presented their first world premier, One Monkey Don’t Stop No Show by Don Evans in 1981. In 1986, with the premiere of The Colored Museum, Crossroads was established as a distinguished regional company. The next year, Khan and Richardson launched a $1 million campaign to build a new playhouse, though Richardson left the group before the new stage was completed in 1991.

In the following years, the Crossroads Theatre Company became increasingly well-regarded; in a famous 1996 speech, playwright August Wilson described it as a role model for black theaters. Khan won a number of personal awards as well, including induction into the Rutgers University Hall of Distinguished Alumni; an honorary doctorate from his alma mater; and the New Jersey Governor’s Award. In 1999, the Crossroads Theatre Company received the Tony Award for the Best Regional Theater.

However, lingering financial problems forced the company to make major cutbacks. In 2000, Khan went on sabbatical, traveling in Trinidad and later in Africa. That same year, Crossroads had to close for a season; the next year, it was able to mount a few shows, and it has gradually built back up since. In 2003, Khan returned to his role as artistic director, and in 2008 the Crossroads Theatre Company celebrated its thirtieth anniversary.

Accession Number

A2007.238

Sex

Male

Interview Date

8/14/2007

Last Name

Khan

Maker Category
Schools

Friends Select School

Moorestown Friends School

Plymouth Meeting Friends School

Cherry Hill High - West

Rutgers University

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Ricardo

Birth City, State, Country

Washington

HM ID

KHA01

Favorite Season

Fall

State

District of Columbia

Favorite Vacation Destination

Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts

Favorite Quote

Believe. Hold Fast To Dreams.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

New York

Birth Date

11/4/1951

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

New York

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Lobster

Short Description

Stage director and artistic director Ricardo Khan (1951 - ) co-founded and was the artistic director of the Crossroads Theatre Company in New Jersey.

Employment

Self Employed

Crossroads Theatre

Comprehensive Employment and Training Act

Favorite Color

Blue

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Ricardo Khan's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Ricardo Khan lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Ricardo Khan describes his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Ricardo Khan describes his mother's personality and influence

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Ricardo Khan describes his father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Ricardo Khan describes his families' businesses

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Ricardo Khan describes his parents' education at Howard University in Washington, D.C.

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Ricardo Khan describes how his parents met

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Ricardo Khan recalls his father's medical residency in Norristown, Pennsylvania

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Ricardo Khan's mother remembers her professors at Howard University in Washington, D.C.

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Ricardo Khan describes his father's personality and career

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Ricardo Khan lists his siblings

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Ricardo Khan describes his earliest childhood memories

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Ricardo Khan remembers moving frequently during his childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Ricardo Khan describes his neighborhood in Camden, New Jersey

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Ricardo Khan describes the sights, sounds and smells of his childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Ricardo Khan remembers his mother's civic involvement

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Ricardo Khan describes his education in Quaker schools

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Ricardo Khan describes his experiences of discrimination at the Moorestown Friends School in Moorestown, New Jersey

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Ricardo Khan remembers the Friends Select School in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Ricardo Khan describes the music of his youth

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Ricardo Khan recalls the televisions programs of his youth

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Ricardo Khan remembers the Moorestown Friends School in Moorestown, New Jersey

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Ricardo Khan recalls Cherry Hill High School West in Cherry Hill, New Jersey

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Ricardo Khan remembers the all-black Broadway production of 'Hello, Dolly!'

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Ricardo Khan remembers his first role as a director

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Ricardo Khan remembers the assassination of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Ricardo Khan recalls his theatrical involvement at Cherry Hill High School West in Cherry Hill, New Jersey

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Ricardo Khan describes his decision to attend Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Ricardo Khan recalls his theater involvement in Camden and New Brunswick, New Jersey

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Ricardo Khan describes his experiences at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Ricardo Khan recalls his decision to attend the Mason Gross School of the Arts in New Brunswick, New Jersey

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Ricardo Khan recalls Broadway's African American productions

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Ricardo Khan remembers the New Federal Theater in New York City

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Ricardo Khan describes the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act, pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Ricardo Khan describes the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act, pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Ricardo Khan remembers founding the Crossroads Theatre Company

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Ricardo Khan recalls naming his theater company

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Ricardo Khan describes the mission of the Crossroads Theatre

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Ricardo Khan describes the Crossroads Theatre's opening season

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Ricardo Khan describes the Crossroads Theatre's audiences

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Ricardo Khan describes the Crossroad Theatre's awards

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Ricardo Khan remembers his directorial influences

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Ricardo Khan recalls his production of 'The Darker Face of the Earth'

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Ricardo Khan describes the Crossroads Theatre's production of 'Jitney'

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Ricardo Khan describes the Crossroads Theatre's financial difficulties, pt. 1

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Ricardo Khan describes the Crossroads Theatre's financial difficulties, pt. 2

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Ricardo Khan remembers his departure from the Crossroads Theatre

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Ricardo Khan talks about the closure of the Crossroads Theatre

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Ricardo Khan describes Crossroad Theatre's funding

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Ricardo Khan reflects upon the challenges facing black theater companies

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Ricardo Khan describes his return to the Crossroads Theatre

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - Ricardo Khan reflects upon his reasons for leaving the Crossroad Theatre

Tape: 7 Story: 8 - Ricardo Khan describes his hopes for the African American theater community

Tape: 8 Story: 1 - Ricardo Khan narrates his photographs, pt. 1

Tape: 8 Story: 2 - Ricardo Khan narrates his photographs, pt. 2

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DATitle
Ricardo Khan remembers the all-black Broadway production of 'Hello, Dolly!'
Ricardo Khan remembers founding the Crossroads Theatre Company
Transcript
So you're a junior in high school [Cherry Hill High School West, Cherry Hill, New Jersey] at this point?$$Yeah.$$And so you're in 'Funny Girl' [Isobel Lennart] in this, in this performance?$$That's right.$$And so where are you performing?$$In the high school. It was a (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) Oh, I thought it was like a downtown audition.$$No, it was the high school musical--$$I understand. I understand.$$It was the high school musical, and that was the weirdest thing for me. It was like you're going to be a guy in the dancing, words going to get out (laughter). But I just turned it around, I said, oh my god, I love this, I could do this. So that year Benny [Benny White (ph.)] and I were in this musical, 'Funny Girl,' and I'm more into--I tend to like acting, but he always loved dance. But his mother, her name was Peggy White [ph.], god bless her soul, she would always prior to this take us out to see plays, like community theater and stuff like that. There were these things in the Camden [New Jersey] area called the music fairs where there's this big tent and underneath the tent they had seats and they had professional summer stock shows that would come through, musicals and things. She would always take us to these things. Also in Jack and Jill [Jack and Jill of America, Inc.], which is where, we would always go out to these shows and functions and every month was something different. One month it may be to go skiing, one month it may be to--one month we sat with a Black Panther who taught us things about movement at that time and one month in that junior year in 1968, the trip was to go to a Broadway show. Now, none of us had ever gone to a Broadway show before. We lived there in Camden and in Cherry Hill [New Jersey] and we went, got on the bus and it drove us up. All these Jack and Jillers to see a show on Broadway, 'Hello, Dolly!' [Michael Stewart], and what was remarkable about it, we didn't really know anything about it, was when we got in there, 'Hello, Dolly!' had become a big hit. It was produced by David Merrick and Carol Channing, the people that had made it famous. It won all these Tony Awards [Antoinette Perry Award for Excellence in Theatre] but when we got there it was an all-black cast. Pearl Bailey was the lead and Cab Calloway. Pearl Bailey, Cab Calloway and an all-black cast of 'Hello, Dolly!' of all things, 'Hello, Dolly!,' which has nothing to do with our culture at all. It was based on 'The Matchmaker' [Thornton Wilder], it was incredible but it was amazing that we were there doing it. All of sudden Broadway which is the center of theater in the world and the best show on Broadway at the time that we could be that, that we could be the best, no, no, no. Unbelievable what that did to us, these kids who hopped on a bus in Camden, New Jersey to come up to New York City [New York, New York] to see a show on Broadway and look up there and see that these people up there look just like us. Never ever could I come up with the words that properly describe this impact. But there was one thing that happened even more powerful and that was that at the end of the play we get back on the bus to go back to Camden and we're on the bus and a couple of the people from the play--from the show come out onto the bus and look at us kids and say, "You know what, we just wanted to thank you for coming." These guys, they were in this Broadway show and they came onto our bus to thank us for coming and then we asked them questions, they answered us back and all of a sudden there was a dialogue between us and these Broadway people who looked like us. I think that was the most powerful thing for me because it showed me that it doesn't matter how big you are, it doesn't matter how big you are, how bright your star is. Always remember where you came from, always remember that part of your role is excellence on stage or in film or whatever you're pursuing but the other part is to give back and I learned that that day.$But I had a meeting right after that with a friend of mine who by that time was working at CETA [Comprehensive Employment and Training Act], and he gave me the ins and outs of it. I applied, sent in a grant through the George Street Playhouse [New Brunswick, New Jersey] because we needed an umbrella organization; George Street said they'd do it. I wrote the grant, we put it in through George Street, they did some talking, I did some talking, we got a grant for basically--what came up to about $230,000 in 1978 to start what was called the ethnic theater project because we weren't allowed to use the word black (laughter). We got $230,000 and we were allowed to hire about twenty two people with that money. Actors, administrators, production people, public relations, everybody we needed to start a black theater in New Brunswick [New Jersey]. We found this little hole in a wall place it used to be a sewing factory. Half of the second floor was available, it had been vacant for a long time, we got in there, we got the money--the CETA money. The first thing we did was we had to renovate, and while we were renovating we were doing workshops. We sent workshops out in the communities the same way I learned how to do it in that other CETA project, we did it here 'cause I figure you know what, we needed to break down the barriers between the community, which at that time was primarily black and Hispanic, and theater which was formal to them. We also wanted to break down the barriers between the traditional theater going audience which is predominantly white and the black theater which they didn't think they could be a part of. So that's what the workshops are for, we went out and we did workshops everywhere to teach whatever we could to people and let them know we're here. Then we did an open house and fourteen people showed up and then we did it again and I think twenty people showed up, and then we finally were ready to rehearse a show, and now this is in 1979, early part of it. The first show we did was 'First Breeze of Summer' ['The First Breeze of Summer'] written Leslie Lee and we did that show and of course because we had that funding from CETA, we didn't have to charge for tickets, it was all free, and it was a big, big hit and that was what started the Crossroads Theatre Company.

Josh White, Jr.

Actor and folk singer Josh Daniel White, Jr. was born on November 30, 1940, in New York City to Carol and Joshua Daniel White, Sr., the legendary singer, guitarist, actor and social leader. At the age of four, White found fame by performing with his father at New York’s Café Society, America’s first integrated nightclub.

White attended New York’s Professional Children’s School, along with Elliott Gould, Sandra Dee, Brandon De Wilde, Leslie Uggams, Christopher Walken and Marvin Hamlisch, who co-wrote White’s first solo recording for Decca Records in 1956, "See Saw." In 1949, White landed his first role on Broadway by playing his father’s son in, "How Long Til Summer?" White received a special Tony Award for Best Child Actor For his performance. While continuing his acting career, White went on to perform and record with his father for the next seventeen years.

In 1957, White landed a role in the Off-Broadway play, "Take a Giant Step," replacing his friend Louis Gossett, Jr. He went on to star in more than fifty American television dramas and co-starred with his father in Great Britain in, "The Josh White Show." In 1961, White decided to pursue a solo concert and recording career. From 1963 through the 1980s, White headlined more than 2,000 college concerts. At the peak of the folk boom, White was considered one of the National Association of Campus Activities’ most celebrated and honored performing artists. Co-starring with Odetta Gordon, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Richie Havens, Tom Paxton and Oscar Brand, White performed on the National PBS-TV Tribute Special to Woody Guthrie, "Woody & Me," and was named the Voice of the Peace Corps and the Voice of VISTA by the United States government in 1980.

In 1991, White teamed up with Rändi Douglas, the founder of Living History, to teach history and social studies with kinesthetic, multiple intelligence activities. White gives music lecture sessions on his father for grades five through twelve.

Josh Daniel White was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on June 26, 2007.

Accession Number

A2007.189

Sex

Male

Interview Date

6/26/2007

Last Name

White

Maker Category
Marital Status

Married

Occupation
Organizations
Schools

Professional Children's School

Downtown Community School

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Josh

Birth City, State, Country

New York

HM ID

WHI14

Favorite Season

Fall, Spring

State

New York

Favorite Vacation Destination

Home

Favorite Quote

Peace.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Michigan

Birth Date

11/30/1940

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Detroit

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Apple Pie

Short Description

Actor and folk singer Josh White, Jr. (1940 - ) entered show business at a very early age, and received his first Tony award at the age of nine. By the age of twenty-one, he had starred in more than fifty American television dramas, and co-starred with his father in Great Britain for North Grenada Television in The Josh White Show. At the peak of the folk boom, the mid-1960s through the late-1970s, White was considered one of the National Association of Campus Activities’ most celebrated and honored performing artists.

Favorite Color

Black, Blue

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Josh White, Jr.'s interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Josh White, Jr. lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Josh White, Jr. describes his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Josh White, Jr. remembers his mother

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Josh White, Jr. describes his father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Josh White, Jr. describes his father's work for blind musicians

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Josh White, Jr. describes his father and paternal grandfather's arrests

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Josh White, Jr. describes his father's singing career

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Josh White, Jr. describes how his parents met

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Josh White, Jr. talks about his father's rendition of 'Strange Fruit'

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Josh White, Jr. reflects upon his and his father's genre of music

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Josh White, Jr. describes his father's injury

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Josh White, Jr. describes his father's song, 'Southern Exposure'

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Josh White, Jr. remembers the Cafe Society in New York City

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Josh White, Jr. describes his father's involvement with the House Un-American Activities Committee

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Josh White, Jr. talks about his father's song, 'House of the Rising Sun'

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Josh White, Jr. recalls his community in New York City

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Josh White, Jr. describes his earliest childhood memory

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Josh White, Jr. describes his parents' personalities and who he takes after

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Josh White, Jr. describes his father's education

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Josh White, Jr. describes the sights and sounds of his childhood

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Josh White, Jr. describes the sights and smells of his childhood

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Josh White, Jr. describes his family's relationship with the Roosevelts

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Josh White, Jr. remembers his German shepherd dog

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Josh White, Jr. remembers the Professional Children's School in New York City

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Josh White, Jr. remembers his early acting roles on Broadway and television

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Josh White, Jr. describes his record single, 'See Saw'

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Josh White, Jr. talks about his Broadway roles

Tape: 3 Story: 10 - Josh White, Jr. reflects upon his experiences at the Professional Children's School

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Josh White, Jr. remembers his experiences in high school

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Josh White, Jr. remembers working with African American theater actors

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Josh White, Jr. remembers his teachers at the Professional Children's School

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Josh White, Jr. recalls his first European tour with his father

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Josh White, Jr. remembers recording 'Josh White at Town Hall'

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Josh White, Jr. describes his sisters' singing careers

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Josh White, Jr. remembers learning to play the guitar

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Josh White, Jr. recalls his first solo tour

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Josh White, Jr. reflects upon his role as singer

Tape: 4 Story: 10 - Josh White, Jr. talks about the political and social messages in music

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Josh White, Jr. describes his musical audience

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Josh White, Jr. remembers recording 'Do You Close Your Eyes'

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Josh White, Jr. describes his work with Bobby Scott

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Josh White, Jr. talks about his marriage to Jackie Harris White

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Josh White, Jr. remembers recording music with his sisters

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Josh White, Jr. describes his single, 'Good and Drunk and Goozey'

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Josh White, Jr. reflects upon his involvement in the Civil Rights Movement

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Josh White, Jr. remembers his father's death

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Josh White, Jr. describes his 'One Step Further' album tour

Tape: 5 Story: 10 - Josh White, Jr. remembers his performances on college campuses

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Josh White Jr. talks about his marriage to Sara White

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Josh White Jr. reflects upon his experiences of racial discrimination

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Josh White Jr. talks about his transition to educational music

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Josh White Jr. remembers Tom Paxton and Odetta Gordon

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Josh White Jr. reflects upon contemporary music

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Josh White Jr. talks about 'Josh: The Man and His Music'

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Josh White Jr. describes his history education programs

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Josh White, Jr. describes the StoryLiving educational program, pt. 1

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Josh White, Jr. describes the StoryLiving educational program, pt. 2

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Josh White, Jr. remembers September 11th, 2001

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Josh White, Jr. reflects upon his life

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Josh White, Jr. reflects upon his legacy

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Josh White, Jr. shares a message to future generations

DASession

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DATitle
Josh White, Jr. describes his father's work for blind musicians
Josh White, Jr. recalls his first solo tour
Transcript
All right, let's talk more about your father. Tell me about his growing up.$$Well, I think my grandmother [Daisy Elizabeth White] had lost two or three children. I think there was a total of eight, I heard, but it was my father, two other brothers and two sisters that I knew survived and I know that at the age of seven, my father was coming home from school and there were a lot of blind, black street musicians at the turn of the century. They were not beggars. They played and they earned their money on the street and there was a gentleman waiting to cross who was blind. My old man was raised properly. He crossed the man. The man asked my father what his name was, my old man said Joshua [Josh White], and right then the man sang, 'Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho' to him and asked him if he would, my dad would be willing to lead him after work for two dollars a week. Of course, my old man thought this was going to be a great adventure, but my grandmother had the last say-so and because he felt he was named after Joshua in the Bible, she wanted to make sure that her son was doing something that would be good in the eyes of God. Being the eyes of the blind would be something, but she prayed over this for like two or three weeks before she would say yes, and so he started leading this man, Blind Man Arnold [John Henry Arnold], and he would put his hand on my dad's shoulder, lead him to downtown whatever, circa 1922, the man would play and sing. My dad would be the tambourine, then pass the tambourine for money. My dad did that and for the next nine-and-a-half years, that's all he did, didn't go to school. He led sixty-six different men around the South, Texas, and what some of them would do if they had a good week, Blind Man Arnold might loan my dad out to another blind man for so much money and he'd sit on his laurels and dad would go and lead him and this blind, the first blind man would get money for dad's use over there and dad would get whatever, moneys. My old man was saying that they all weren't, at least legally blind you can see something a little bit, so some were not totally blind 'cause I remember him saying that he would, he wrote back about treatment that wasn't nice. Sometimes he didn't always get to his mom, but he had situations while leading these men that had affected the rest of his life. One incredible story was at eight years old they were sleeping in the fields. Now sometimes a black family would put them up, or sometimes they would put the man up, not the kid, or they'd sleep in a barn or something. They happened to be out in the field and, as you, as one may surmise, people on the road, they, their coach might have hooks that carry their frying pan and so they clanked a lot just because all of their belongings are with them. My father said he was awakened with a hand over his mouth. It was the blind man; in fact, it might have been Blind Man Arnold, I don't know. He had heard some commotion, didn't know what it was, didn't want my father to wake up and make noise before we found out what it was. It was a bunch of white people--men, women, and children--who had caught two black men. God knows what they did. They didn't even have to be guilty of it, but they certainly were hanging, dead. My dad said it went through the night and they had a fire, poker, drinking, and sometimes somebody would grab a poker, get it hot, and go up and burn one of these dead bodies. They knew they could not move. If they wanted to sneak out of there and the guitar happened to hit a rock or his frying pan happened to hit something, there'd be four bodies up there, so they waited knowing, like roaches, when the light comes they scatter. As these cowards did, then it was safe to leave. My father died at age fifty-five, and he sang the song 'Strange Fruit.' Whenever my father sang 'Strange Fruit,' I could always see that eight year old boy's eyes watching that lynching. I mean, I would be on the, my sister and I used to work--and we'd be in the wings, but when he did that song I didn't go back in the dressing room, didn't want to hear him, didn't want to see him. Whether one, anybody liked my old man's version of it, he lived it, he saw it, and I felt it.$So, anyway, here we are 1961, June, and my gig is in Detroit, Michigan at a folk club right, not too far up the street from a very famous Baker's Keyboard Lounge, jazz place here in Detroit, and I remember distinctly because the Ramsey Lewis Trio was playing there and I wanted to see them but I wasn't twenty-one, you have to be twenty-one to get in because, to drink. But they knew I was another performer, so I was allowed to go see them. But it was interesting when I first started off because most of my strength came from working with the old man [Josh White], so I pulled some of his tunes and some of the ones I used to do; again, my dad was never a traditional folk singer. I'm not a traditional folk singer. I happen to sing and play guitar but if it's a song I like and if I can hear it, I'm gonna do it. I'm not gonna wait to say, what is it labeled? It's labeled I like it. That's the label and that's what I want to convey to you when I sing it. So I, that's what I did and I was sort of nervous to do two forty-five minute shows but then all of a sudden it wasn't that bad and I kind of liked it and they liked me. What I had to be careful of when I first started out was venue owners taking advantage of the name. I had to sometimes, after a while, make sure that in the contract or when they advertised, that the J in Jr. was also 100 percent typed and the R no less than 60, because they'd be Josh White, (whispering) Jr. [HistoryMaker Josh White, Jr.], and that wasn't fair. So I had to make sure that was a respectful thing for them to do. Whether they all come see me if they find out it's not dad, it's, whoever comes in, I gotta keep 'em there. My old man's not gonna keep 'em there. I'm going to or I'm not going to, but let me do it that way. And my father never spoke a lot on stage. I think he felt limited because, so, he'd just pretty much introduce a song and do it, and I pretty much did that until I sang in Boston [Massachusetts] in '61 [1961] or '2 [1962], and I ran into Jackie Washington Landron [Jack Landron], a young black man out of Roxbury [Boston, Massachusetts]. He changed my approach to performing because we always joked we who play guitar and that between songs you gotta always tune. But when he was tuning he would talk to the people about things they could relate to about going to the A and P [The Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company], and whatever, and that was part of entertaining. Well that happens to me, too. So all of a sudden, I would start talking to the people and doing a little of that, and all of a sudden I'm much more in tune to talking on stage than my father ever would have been had he lived to be a thousand. I'm comfortable with that and at this point in time, some friends think I talk too much, but it is still me. I'm a package. It's not just what I play and what I sing, but it is me. All that I, all I do to entertain. There is talking involved. I think you, Jackie, always for that. He opened that up for me and I found it was comfortable.$$You saw this was the way that he did it and felt that maybe you would try it, is that what you mean (simultaneous)?$$(Simultaneous) Yes, I thought because you had pregnant moments up there and you gotta do something with that time. You just don't wanna have empty time when you're tuning. You wanna say something. Oh, yeah. Then I started talking about when you fly somewhere and, you know, you wind up somewhere but your guitar winds up in Buffalo [New York]. People can relate to it because they lost luggage. Natural. So it opened me up to feel more comfortable to talk and sing and I've been doing that ever since and that's part of what I do.