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Charles Randolph-Wright

Charles Randolph-Wright was born an only child in York, South Carolina, on August 26, 1956, to Ruth and Charles Randolph-Wright, Sr. He attended Jefferson elementary and junior high schools. Randolph-Wright graduated with honors from York High School in 1974, where he was the first African American A.B. Duke Scholarship recipient.

Randolph-Wright entered Duke University as a pre-med major. During his junior year at Duke University, Randolph-Wright decided to change his major to religion and theater. In 1976, he was afforded the opportunity to go to London. Subsequently, he studied acting with the Royal Shakespeare Company and danced with Alvin Ailey in New York. Randolph-Wright graduated with honors from Duke University in 1978 with his B.A. degree in theater and religion.

In 1979, Randolph-Wright relocated to New York City where he was cast in Pippin and in the original cast of Dreamgirls. Randolph-Wright has built a dynamic and diversified career in performing, producing, directing and writing for theater, television, and film. He was the producer and writer for the Showtime cable television series Linc’s. Randolph-Wright’s musical staging has been seen on a variety of programs, including The Golden Girls. Randolph-Wright’s direction of Senor Discretion Himself won the Helen Hayes Award for the Best Musical. He made his film directorial debut in 2006 with Preaching to the Choir, which won feature prizes at the ninth annual American Black Film Festival.

Randolph-Wright serves on the board of directors of the Roundabout Theater and the artistic board at Duke University. He is also a founding member of the Wright Family Foundation of South Carolina. After learning that an ancestor was a free man during slavery, this foundation converted the family’s former funeral home into a family history museum.

Accession Number

A2006.129

Sex

Male

Interview Date

11/5/2006

Last Name

Randolph-Wright

Organizations
Schools

York High School

Jefferson Elementary School

Duke University

York Junior High School

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Charles

Birth City, State, Country

York

HM ID

RAN05

Favorite Season

Summer

Sponsor

Amy Tate Billingsley

State

South Carolina

Favorite Vacation Destination

Brazil

Favorite Quote

None

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

New York

Birth Date

8/26/1956

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

New York

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Chicken

Short Description

Choreographer and film director Charles Randolph-Wright (1956 - ) was cast in the original theatrical production of 'Dreamgirls,' and produced and wrote for the Showtime cable television series, 'Linc's.' He was also the award-winning director of the musical, 'Senor Discretion Himself,' and the film, 'Preaching to the Choir.'

Main Sponsor
Favorite Color

Blue

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Charles Randolph-Wright's interview, pt. 1

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Charles Randolph-Wright lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Charles Randolph-Wright describes his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Slating of Charles Randolph-Wright's interview, pt. 2

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Charles Randolph-Wright recalls his mother's move to York, South Carolina

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Charles Randolph-Wright describes his maternal grandmother

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Charles Randolph-Wright talks about his Native American ancestry

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Charles Randolph-Wright describes his mother's high standards

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Charles Randolph-Wright reflects upon his upbringing

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Charles Randolph-Wright describes his father's family background, pt. 1

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Charles Randolph-Wright describes the Wright Funeral Home in York, South Carolina

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Charles Randolph-Wright describes his father's family background, pt. 2

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Charles Randolph-Wright describes his paternal grandfather, pt. 1

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Charles Randolph-Wright talks about his family's values

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Charles Randolph-Wright describes his paternal grandfather, pt. 2

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Charles Randolph-Wright talks about how his parents met and married

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Charles Randolph-Wright describes his childhood holidays

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Charles Randolph-Wright describes York, South Carolina

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Charles Randolph-Wright talks about Hylan Lewis' study, 'Blackways of Kent'

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Charles Randolph-Wright describes the sights, sounds and smells of his childhood

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Charles Randolph-Wright talks about his paternal grandmother

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Charles Randolph-Wright recalls Jefferson Elementary School in York, South Carolina, pt. 1

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Charles Randolph-Wright recalls Jefferson Elementary School in York, South Carolina, pt. 2

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Charles Randolph-Wright describes his childhood personality

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Charles Randolph-Wright describes his religious upbringing

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Charles Randolph-Wright recalls attending Jefferson Junior High School in York, South Carolina

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Charles Randolph-Wright recalls the desegregation of York High School, pt. 1

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Charles Randolph-Wright recalls the desegregation of York High School, pt. 2

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Charles Randolph-Wright recalls his experiences at the integrated York High School

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Charles Randolph-Wright describes his family's civil rights involvement, pt. 1

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Charles Randolph-Wright describes his family's civil rights involvement, pt. 2

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Charles Randolph-Wright describes his mother's teaching style

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Charles Randolph-Wright recalls his teachers at York High School in York, South Carolina

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Charles Randolph-Wright recalls his election as vice president of the state student government

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Charles Randolph-Wright recalls winning the Sons of the American Revolution award

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Charles Randolph-Wright remembers his aspirations in high school

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Charles Randolph-Wright remembers retaking the SAT examination

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Charles Randolph-Wright describes his decision to attend Duke University

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Charles Randolph-Wright recalls his experiences at Duke University

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Charles Randolph-Wright recalls befriending Duke University's campus staff

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Charles Randolph-Wright recalls the support of his literature professor

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Charles Randolph-Wright recalls his foray into the arts at Duke University

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Charles Randolph-Wright recalls his first experience in London, England

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Charles Randolph-Wright describes the impact of his time in London, England

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Charles Randolph-Wright reflects upon his experiences at Duke University

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Charles Randolph-Wright recalls being cast in his first professional role in 'Pippin'

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Charles Randolph-Wright describes his mother's support for his career

Tape: 5 Story: 10 - Charles Randolph-Wright recalls working with disco singer Anita Ward

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Charles Randolph-Wright remembers choreographing disco acts

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Charles Randolph-Wright describes his transition from acting to directing

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Charles Randolph-Wright talks about stereotypes of African Americans

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Charles Randolph-Wright talks about the importance of storytelling

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Charles Randolph-Wright remembers directing 'Guys and Dolls'

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Charles Randolph-Wright describes Frank Loesser's musical 'Senor Discretion Himself'

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Charles Randolph-Wright describes his collaborations with Budd Schulberg

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Charles Randolph-Wright talks about his play, 'Cuttin' Up'

Tape: 6 Story: 9 - Charles Randolph-Wright describes how his family inspired his play, 'Blue'

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Charles Randolph-Wright talks about Phylicia Rashad's performance in 'Blue'

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Charles Randolph-Wright talks about working with Nona Hendryx

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Charles Randolph-Wright reflects upon the impact of the Harlem Renaissance

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Charles Randolph-Wright recalls directing a production of 'Hair'

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Charles Randolph-Wright shares a message for African American youth

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Charles Randolph-Wright describes how he would like to be remembered

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - Charles Randolph-Wright recalls celebrating New Year's Eve in Brazil

Tape: 7 Story: 8 - Charles Randolph-Wright reflects upon his life

Tape: 7 Story: 9 - Charles Randolph-Wright talks about giving back to his community

DASession

1$1

DATape

2$5

DAStory

1$8

DATitle
Charles Randolph-Wright describes the Wright Funeral Home in York, South Carolina
Charles Randolph-Wright recalls being cast in his first professional role in 'Pippin'
Transcript
Okay, so we were talking about your [paternal] ancestors and the Wright family.$$Right.$$And--$$It was (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) Isaac [Isaac Wright] and Harriet [Harriet Wright (ph.)], I wanna--$$Isaac and Harriet, yes, and I mean, you hear about these things growing u-, you hear about your relatives growing up but you really (laughter) pay no attention to it, and it was astonishing. You know, fifty years later to--for all of us to be stand--these cousins to stand around down in the woods and look at this, this tombstone of, of our ancestors. These extraordinary people who had businesses, who had their own--you know, they had they had their own companies I mean they were very enterprising in the Carolinas, you know, hundred years ago. My--Fannie Wright [Fannie Wylie Wright], who was I'm trying to think of all the connections now, but so the, the family funeral home [Wright Funeral Home, York, South Carolina] was started with Fannie and her husband, Isaac [Isaac "Bub" Wright]. And Isaac died of influenza at the turn of the century she had twelve children. They had twelve children, and she ended up running a funeral home, two farms and raising twelve children by herself, and this was early 1900s. And so our funeral home is about to turn, you know, a hundred. And so it's--then it went to Fannie--there was Fannie. Then it went to Isaac [Isaac N. Wright, Sr.] then it went to now my cousin Isaac [Isaac N. Wright, Jr.], you know. So everyone--we laughed everyone in my family is called Isaac, Paul, Charles or Robert, you know. And you go back if you look at the records Isaac, Paul, Charles, Robert, it's just aren't there any other names in our family? And what's interesting too is to see the--I went back to the records in York County [South Carolina] where we're from and on the roles, you know, they had the slave roles. And you saw the slave markings and all the names, Isaac, Paul, Charles, Robert, et cetera, but they were Withers-, they were Witherspoons because they were listed as Witherspoon. And right after emancipation, you see these names same names, but they're Wrights. And, and I, I saw that on, on paper and I just remember standing there to--and I just started weeping. You know, just that I could almost touch them--that I could--I was so proud of what they had done that they said, no, we're taking a stand even with our name. You know, our name is important that's what we're doing. So I spent, you know, these, these generations that, that had this, this business this family business 'cause if you have a family funeral business. Obviously, you're--it's so different from--I always tell people it's very different from 'Six Feet Under,' the television show that everyone watch. I say that's the black family that has the funeral home is the elite family, they're the upper-class family. The, the woman in that family is the arbiter of style a lot of times. It's this--it's that, that thing of, you know, these kids go to go to great schools, and they get to have this in life allegedly. You know, but it's, it's an energy that you never ever see. You don't see that kind of history you don't see that. So when I wrote 'Blue' [Charles Randolph-Wright] which is about a funeral home family. It was intentionally showing this elite family, which, you know, critics had trouble with because they said that, you know, family like this doesn't exist. You know, people like that don't exist.$So I went to New York [New York], and I said okay, I p- (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) Wait, you went to New York after graduation?$$So after graduation, so I came back to Duke [Duke University, Durham, North Carolina], we had started these things I did everything imaginable in theater (laughter). You know, finished up my credits and as I said pre-med was the major, so I had all my courses physics both organic chemistry--all the things I needed to be a pre-med major. And again I went through the exact same thing I went through in high school [York High School, York, South Carolina] because here I was, from Duke, black kid from the South. And I was a religion and theater major who was pre-med applying to med schools, and they went crazy because they thought, oh he'll be humane. You know, what a great doctor this will be this whole thing so again my friends were killing themselves trying to get schools to see them. And I was getting, you know, offer after offer to come to this school to come to that school and I couldn't decide what to do. You know, I went to I, you know, I visited I went to Harvard [Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts] thinking do I go do this what do I do? And I got back to New York and the same day I got my--I had auditioned for the show 'Pippin' and got in it. And it was my first professional role and which was a tour which was outside the city. And I thought okay that's my sign. And I'm going to do this until--'cause I can always go back to school but I can't, you know, I'm twenty, I'm twenty-one I can't always have this career. I'm not going to be this young, I can't do this. So I ended up, you know, going after this performing career and started it and got my first job and it was, you know, and I've worked ever since.$$Okay. (Laughter) So you graduated from (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) So there, I'm done (laughter).$$No (laughter) you graduated from Duke in '78 [1978]?$$Seventy-eight [1978]--$$Okay.$$--but I actually left Duke--I finished--I through all my credits together and I finished in December 1977, but I was class of '78 [1978]. So, that's when I went to New York in January to start auditioning and to see if someone says I can do it. If I get a job or even close to a job, then I'll do this. If not, I was gonna go to med school or grad school or something else in the fall 'cause I had done my med boards. I had done, you know, the--I had done all my boards just in case and, and had these offers. So I was trying to decide do I go to school or do I go after this career. And then when I got, you know, this first job I went, that's it.