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S. Pearl Sharp

Writer, actor and filmmaker Saundra Pearl Sharp was born on December 21, 1942 in Cleveland, Ohio to Clarence and Faythe Sharp. Sharp’s family was active in the local NAACP, and she was raised in Antioch Baptist Church. Sharp graduated from John Adams High School in 1960, and attended Bowling Green State University, where she pursued a double major in music education and radio-TV production. She became the first Black member of the BGSU chapter of Pi Kappa Lambda, the music honor society, and produced a children’s story series and music interviews on the campus radio station. During the summer, Sharp interned at WABQ-AM in Cleveland, under the tutelage of Valena Minor Williams, LeBaron Taylor and Jack Gibson.

Graduating in 1964, Sharp moved to New York City, where her first job was as a copywriter for T.V. Guide. She studied acting under the Poverty Program’s HARYOU-ACT with Cleveland’s Karamu Theatre alumni Al Fann and Minnie Gentry. She performed in J.E. Franklin’s Black Girl, in the chorus of the Pearl Bailey company of Hello Dolly from 1967 to 1968, Uniworld’s radio serial Sounds Of The City, and in Gordon Parks’ film, The Learning Tree. Sharp also starred in the TV movies Minstrel Man (1976) and Hollow Image (1980), had recurring roles on Wonder Woman (1978), St. Elsewhere (1984/87) and Knots Landing (1985), and was a leading commercial spokeswoman.

A poet from childhood, Sharp attended John O. Killens’ Writers Workshop at Columbia University where she completed two volumes of poetry and her first play, The Sistuhs, in addition to forming the literary performance troupe Poets & Performers.
In the mid-1970’s Sharp moved to Los Angeles. She created Poets Pay Rent, Too, and served as publisher/editor of Robert E. Price’s Blood Lines (1978), Directory of Black Film/TV Technicians and Artists, West Coast (1980), The BAD-C (Black Anti-Defamation Coalition) Media Matters Newsletter (1981-84) and The Black History Film List (1989). Publisher Glenn Thompson re-issued her 1978 poetry volume Soft Song (1978, 1991) and published Typing in the Dark (Harlem River Press, 1991) and the non-fiction Black Women for Beginners (Writers & Readers, 1993). Sharp was a co-founder, with Robert E. Price, of the Black Anti-Defamation Coalition which monitored the image of Blacks in the media (1980-85).

In 1980 Sharp shifted her focus to filmmaking, studying at Los Angeles City College. Her films include Back Inside Herself (1984), Life Is A Saxophone (1985), Picking Tribes (1988), It’s OK to Peek (1996), The Healing Passage/ Voices From The Water (2004); and for the City of Los Angeles, Central Avenue Live! (1996) and Fertile Ground: Stories from the Watts Towers Arts Center (2005).

Sharp was an essayist and commentator on NPR from 2003 to 2009, and has served as a volunteer segment producer for KPFK-FM, Pacifica Radio Network. Her non-fiction writings are collected in The Evening News- Essays And Commentaries From NPR And Other Clouds (2015).

S. Pearl Sharp was interviewed for The HistoryMakers on April 27, 2005.

Accession Number

A2005.110

Sex

Female

Interview Date

4/27/2005 |and| 2/26/2018

Last Name

Sharp

Middle Name

Pearl

Schools

John Adams High School

Bolton Elementary School

Robert Fulton Elementary School

Bowling Green State University

Alexander Hamilton Junior High School

Los Angeles City College

Search Occupation Category
First Name

S.

Birth City, State, Country

Cleveland

HM ID

SHA03

Favorite Season

Fall

State

Ohio

Favorite Vacation Destination

None

Favorite Quote

Don't Do To Others What You Don't Want Done To You. What Goes Around, Comes Around.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

California

Birth Date

12/21/1942

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Los Angeles

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Ice Cream

Short Description

Playwright, film actress, stage actress, and poet S. Pearl Sharp (1942 - ) was among the cast of Gordon Parks’ The Learning Tree, and Minstrel Man. Sharp has also published six books and produced and directed eight films and stage plays.

Employment

TV Guide

Actress

Voices Incorporated

Author

Juneteenth Audio Books

‘The Tavis Smiley Show’

‘News and Notes’

Favorite Color

Gray, Purple, Red, Yellow

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of S. Pearl Sharp's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - S. Pearl Sharp lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - S. Pearl Sharp describes her mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - S. Pearl Sharp describes her family's origin

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - S. Pearl Sharp remembers stories of her maternal grandmother singing opera

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - S. Pearl Sharp describes her mother's life in Cleveland, Ohio

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - S. Pearl Sharp describes her father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - S. Pearl Sharp describes her parents' marriage

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - S. Pearl Sharp describes her parents' personalities and who she takes after

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - S. Pearl Sharp describes her earliest childhood memory

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - S. Pearl Sharp describes her maternal great-grandfather, Mason Garner

Tape: 1 Story: 12 - S. Pearl Sharp describes the sights, sounds and smells of her childhood, pt. 1

Tape: 1 Story: 13 - S. Pearl Sharp talks about Karamu House in Cleveland, Ohio

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - S. Pearl Sharp describes the sights, sounds and smells of her childhood, pt. 2

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - S. Pearl Sharp recalls her move to Cleveland, Ohio's Mount Pleasant neighborhood

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - S. Pearl Sharp describes her family's community involvement

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - S. Pearl Sharp describes her family's love of music

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - S. Pearl Sharp describes her school experiences in Cleveland, Ohio

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - S. Pearl Sharp recalls racism at her nursery school

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - S. Pearl Sharp describes John Adams Senior High School in Cleveland, Ohio

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - S. Pearl Sharp remembers the Civil Rights Movement

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - S. Pearl Sharp remembers watching 'The Nat King Cole Show'

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - S. Pearl Sharp remembers the Little Rock Nine visiting Cleveland, Ohio

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - S. Pearl Sharp describes the radio station at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - S. Pearl Sharp recalls interviewing Miriam Makeba for her college radio station

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - S. Pearl Sharp describes the integration of student housing at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - S. Pearl Sharp describes the racial climate at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - S. Pearl Sharp describes her education and activities at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - S. Pearl Sharp describes traveling to New York City in 1964

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - S. Pearl Sharp describes her first job at TV Guide

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - S. Pearl Sharp describes her contemporaries at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - S. Pearl Sharp describes her experience on 'Captain Kangaroo'

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - S. Pearl Sharp describes HARYOU-ACT and the Black Arts Movement

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - S. Pearl Sharp describes poetry in the Black Arts Movement

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - S. Pearl Sharp talks about her acting and singing career with the Al Fann & Co.

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - S. Pearl Sharp describes performing in Pearl Bailey's 'Hello Dolly' in 1967

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - S. Pearl Sharp describes Pearl Bailey

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - S. Pearl Sharp explains the divisions in New York City's theatre community

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - S. Pearl Sharp remembers helping Babtunde Olantuji design dashikis

Tape: 4 Story: 10 - S. Pearl Sharp talks about black theater

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - S. Pearl Sharp describes being in the first all-black commercial

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - S. Pearl Sharp explains how African Americans broke into entertainment industry unions

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - S. Pearl Sharp describes her play 'The Sistuhs'

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - S. Pearl Sharp describes her role in 'The Learning Tree'

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - S. Pearl Sharp remembers filming a lynching scene for 'Minstrel Man'

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - S. Pearl Sharp describes her experience with 'The Learning Tree'

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - S. Pearl Sharp describes filming scenes for 'The Minstrel Man'

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - S. Pearl Sharp describes her move to Los Angeles, California

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - S. Pearl Sharp describes her work with the Black Anti-Defamation Coalition

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - S. Pearl Sharp talks about BADC's campaign against 'Webster' and 'White Dog'

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - S. Pearl Sharp talks about BADC's campaign against the Malcolm X movie

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - S. Pearl Sharp describes the Black Anti-Defamation Coalition

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - S. Pearl Sharp describes her role on the soap opera 'Knots Landing'

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - S. Pearl Sharp describes a Betty Crocker commercial she was in

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - S. Pearl Sharp describes her work helping others to get published

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Slating of S. Pearl Sharp's interview, session 2

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - S. Pearl Sharp remembers the founding of the Black Anti-Defamation Coalition

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - S. Pearl Sharp recalls her civil rights activism in the entertainment industry

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - S. Pearl Sharp remembers her early networking in Los Angeles, California

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - S. Pearl Sharp talks about her Broadway career in New York City

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - S. Pearl Sharp recalls acting in Gordon Parks' film, 'The Learning Tree'

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - S. Pearl Sharp remembers her audition for 'The Learning Tree'

Tape: 7 Story: 8 - S. Pearl Sharp describes the 'Our Street' public television program, pt. 1

Tape: 7 Story: 9 - S. Pearl Sharp recalls studying writing under John Oliver Killens at Howard University in Washington, D.C.

Tape: 7 Story: 10 - S. Pearl Sharp describes the 'Our Street' public television program, pt. 2

Tape: 7 Story: 11 - S. Pearl Sharp remembers the 'Minstrel Man' television movie

Tape: 7 Story: 12 - S. Pearl Sharp describes her friendship with Beah Richards

Tape: 8 Story: 1 - S. Pearl Sharp remembers actress Beah Richards

Tape: 8 Story: 2 - S. Pearl Sharp talks about the representation of black America in Hollywood

Tape: 8 Story: 3 - S. Pearl Sharp describes her early interest in writing, pt. 1

Tape: 8 Story: 4 - S. Pearl Sharp talks about her sister

Tape: 8 Story: 5 - S. Pearl Sharp describes her early interest in writing, pt. 2

Tape: 8 Story: 6 - S. Pearl Sharp remembers her program on WGBU Radio in Bowling Green, Ohio

Tape: 8 Story: 7 - S. Pearl Sharp talks about her early career in New York City

Tape: 8 Story: 8 - S. Pearl Sharp describes her group, Poets and Performers

Tape: 8 Story: 9 - S. Pearl Sharp talks about the Black Arts Movement, pt. 1

Tape: 8 Story: 10 - S. Pearl Sharp talks about the Black Arts Movement, pt. 2

Tape: 9 Story: 1 - S. Pearl Sharp remembers the differences in New York City's art scenes

Tape: 9 Story: 2 - S. Pearl Sharp talks about her poem, 'It's the Law: A Rap Poem'

Tape: 9 Story: 3 - S. Pearl Sharp remembers her introduction to Los Angeles, California

Tape: 9 Story: 4 - S. Pearl Sharp talks about the black Russian community

Tape: 9 Story: 5 - S. Pearl Sharp recalls her early acting career in Los Angeles, California, pt. 1

Tape: 9 Story: 6 - S. Pearl Sharp talks about her early supplementary income

Tape: 9 Story: 7 - S. Pearl Sharp recalls her early acting career in Los Angeles, California, pt. 2

Tape: 9 Story: 8 - S. Pearl Sharp recalls enrolling at Los Angeles City College in Los Angeles, California

Tape: 9 Story: 9 - S. Pearl Sharp remembers her early television commercial appearances

Tape: 9 Story: 10 - S. Pearl Sharp describes the creation of her film, 'Back Inside Herself'

Tape: 9 Story: 11 - S. Pearl Sharp talks about her documentary, 'Life Is a Saxophone,' pt. 1

Tape: 10 Story: 1 - S. Pearl Sharp talks about her documentary, 'Life Is a Saxophone,' pt. 2

Tape: 10 Story: 2 - S. Pearl Sharp talks about the group, Reel Black Women

Tape: 10 Story: 3 - S. Pearl Sharp describes the '1980 Directory of Black Film/TV: Technicians, West Coast,' pt. 1

Tape: 10 Story: 4 - S. Pearl Sharp describes the '1980 Directory of Black Film/TV: Technicians, West Coast,' pt. 2

Tape: 10 Story: 5 - S. Pearl Sharp talks about the work of the Black Anti-Defamation Coalition, pt. 1

Tape: 10 Story: 6 - S. Pearl Sharp talks about the work of the Black Anti-Defamation Coalition, pt. 2

Tape: 10 Story: 7 - S. Pearl Sharp remembers the impact of HIV/AIDS

Tape: 10 Story: 8 - S. Pearl Sharp describes Mildred Pitts Walter, pt. 1

Tape: 10 Story: 9 - S. Pearl Sharp talks about journalist Margaret Prescod

Tape: 11 Story: 1 - S. Pearl Sharp describes Mildred Pitts Walter, pt. 2

Tape: 11 Story: 2 - S. Pearl Sharp talks about the civic engagement of Sandra Evers-Manly

Tape: 11 Story: 3 - S. Pearl Sharp talks about the Black Hollywood Education and Resource Center in Los Angeles, California

Tape: 11 Story: 4 - S. Pearl Sharp remembers the legacy of Mayme Clayton

Tape: 11 Story: 5 - S. Pearl Sharp describes the Alfred and Bernice Ligon Aquarian Collection

Tape: 11 Story: 6 - S. Pearl Sharp describes her book, 'Black Women For Beginners,' pt. 1

Tape: 11 Story: 7 - S. Pearl Sharp describes her book, 'Black Women For Beginners,' pt. 2

Tape: 11 Story: 8 - S. Pearl Sharp describes the Juneteenth Audio Books

Tape: 11 Story: 9 - S. Pearl Sharp talks about her film, 'The Healing Passage: Voice from the Water'

Tape: 12 Story: 1 - S. Pearl Sharp recalls the reception to 'The Healing Passage: Voices from the Water'

Tape: 12 Story: 2 - S. Pearl Sharp describes her early career at National Public Radio

Tape: 12 Story: 3 - S. Pearl Sharp talks about her NPR program, 'News and Notes'

Tape: 12 Story: 4 - S. Pearl Sharp describes her essay collection, 'The Evening News'

Tape: 12 Story: 5 - S. Pearl Sharp talks about her consultancy, The Gate is Open

Tape: 12 Story: 6 - S. Pearl Sharp describes how she would like to be remembered

Tape: 12 Story: 7 - S. Pearl Sharp reflects upon her legacy

Tape: 12 Story: 8 - S. Pearl Sharp reflects upon her life

Tape: 12 Story: 9 - S. Pearl Sharp describes her advice to black aspiring entertainment industry professionals

Tape: 12 Story: 10 - S. Pearl Sharp talks about the importance of voicing concerns

Tape: 12 Story: 11 - S. Pearl Sharp talks about her health and spirituality

DASession

1$1

DATape

2$5

DAStory

9$4

DATitle
S. Pearl Sharp remembers watching 'The Nat King Cole Show'
S. Pearl Sharp describes her role in 'The Learning Tree'
Transcript
--The other media event was Nat King Cole's program ['The Nat King Cole Show'].$$His TV show.$$The TV show. So when Nat King Cole came on, on Monday night for fifteen minutes, everything stopped, you know. I mean I was a chief dishwasher. I didn't even have to wash dishes. You know, we're usually were eating dinner around that time. Everything stopped, 'cause we all loved Nat King Cole. He was the first black, you know, to have his own show (clearing throat) came on Cleveland [Ohio]. And I mean your phone didn't ring or anything. Only somebody out of their mind would call between 6 and 6:15 on Monday (laughter), you know, 'cause 'The Nat King Cole Show' was on, and everybody black was tuned into a television. If you didn't have one, you went to somebody's house--$$Now I didn't--$$--to watch.$$--realize, I guess I was too young at the time. I remember seeing the show and the excitement around it, but I didn't realize it was only fifteen minutes.$$Initially, it was only fifteen minutes, right; yeah, that's all they gave him because they couldn't get sponsors for anything else, right (laughter), yeah.$$That's amazing, but he had like [HistoryMaker] Harry Belafonte on the show and you know.$$Um-hm, yeah, yeah, and the what--also, the interesting thing about was, because I came up in a very class conscious community, and we don't talk very much about class in the black community. We talk about the color consciousness but not about class. So, conk was off limit. I brought somebody home with a conk once, and my mother [Faythe Sharp] would not let him in the house, okay. The conk was the processed hair.$$That's right. Now that was supposed to be a pimp style--$$Right. But Nat King Cole had a conk, okay, so he was the only person who was allowed. They made an exception for Nat King Cole because he conducted himself in a certain way. He was a singer; he was an entertainer; but he was a gentleman, you know. We--he never embarrassed black people. So it was always interesting to me that this exception was made for Nat King Cole (laughter), you know. He, it was okay that he had--it wasn't okay, but we not gon' talk about it (laughter); we're not gon' talk--$$But wasn't it then--$$--about his conk.$$--in, in those days it was like, it was considered on the street more of a pimp style thing. But in the, entertainers felt compelled to do that for some reason. Sammy Davis, Jr. had one, Johnny Mathis, other people.$$Right, James Brown, yeah, yeah. But see, James was, was doing jump up music, so you kind of expected him to have a conk. Nat King Cole wasn't doing jump up music, all right. Nat King Cole had class (laughter), but he had a conk. So basically, it was like, mm, we see it, but we just don't discuss it (laughter).$$What's interesting, for women it seemed to be the opposite. If you did not have your hair pressed, you were considered--$$That's right.$$--back, backward or country or something, you know.$$Yep. And Cicely Tyson was the one to break, break down that barrier on her show 'East Side/West Side,' and she worn an afro.$$Was she the first?$$She was the first on television--$$Okay.$$--to wear an afro. And boy, would the, the gossip, and the phones, and the newspaper columns, and I mean it would just, the beauty parlors, there was nothing else to talk about. This woman went on national television with her hair in an afro, you know, depending on which side it was: "Yeah, she wore an afro," or "She went up there with all them naps, didn't have her hair did." You know, so there was this divide in the community, and she got a lot of flack about that. Even when Abbey Lincoln did the movie with Sidney Poitier, what was that film?$$'For Love of Ivy.'$$'For Love of Ivy,' right, beautiful film, wonderful story. Most of the dot- most of the rap in the community was about her wigs, whether she had on a wig or not, whether she should have had on wigs or not (laughter). So hair has always taken precedence in the dialogue of the community.$Yeah, I guess we're about to time of 'The Learning Tree,' I guess, sixty--$$Ah 'The Learning Tree,' yes.$$Yeah.$$Yeah, yeah.$$All right, now how did you get in that project?$$I was in 'Hello, Dolly!' And the word went out that they were gonna cast 'The Learning Tree' and that there was a part for a young fifteen or sixteen year, there was a part for a fifteen year-old and a sixteen year-old. And at that time I was twenty-five, but I was still--I had just stopped doing teenage modeling 'cause I did--I know people will say well, you know, it's an ego trip when you say this, but I really did not look my age. I was actually playing younger parts. And I could not get an audition for this role to save my life. And you know that a part is yours when other actors are coming up to you and saying, "You auditioned for that didn't you? 'Cause you'd be good for that" (laughter), you know--'could not get an audition. And a, a modeling agent that I had called up finally and said--and I could not get the book. Everybody, every copy of the book in the, the universe had been, you know, consumed by actors who were trying to read the story. So this ad, this agent called up and says, "Barbara so and so has an audition for 'The Learning Tree,' for the part of the sister, and she's in Cleveland [Ohio]"--my hometown--, "so would you please do me a favor? Would you go over there and pretend to be her, and let me know what happens?" And I was like, "Oh, sure (laughter), sure." So I got myself together and I, I started to put braids. I said no, everybody else was gonna do braids, so I just wore my hair long, and I put a big bow, bow, kind of old fashioned bow, 'cause it's a period piece, period to us. And I went over. And the other thing that happened before I went was, because I had stopped being a teenage model and I was now trying to be sophisticated and a real adult, I had had new pictures made, the new sophisticated, you know, looking Saundra Sharp [HistoryMaker S. Pearl Sharp], right. And so I got my little pictures, and I go over. And the minute I walked in the door I saw the receptionist. Her antenna kind of went up, and she's lookin' at me like this, you know. So I sign in I'm here for the role of Prissy. I sign in and she takes me in to meet [HistoryMaker] Gordon [Parks], and I see her kind of give Gordon a signal. And I sit down and meet Gordon. We talked a little bit. He asked me to read. At the end of the reading Gordon says, "That was good." He said, "Yeah, I like that, but these are the worse goddamn photographs I have ever seen." And he takes my photos and he tears them up (laughter) into pieces. And I just wanted to, like, become part of the carpet, I was so humiliated (laughter). And then a couple of months went by, and I got a call that I was being flown out to California to screen test. And I did my screen test. And the only other person that I know that was up for her screen test at the same day was [HistoryMaker] Quincy Jones' daughter, who had a totally different look than I did and totally different field. And then I got a call that I had the part. And I was doing 'Hello, Dolly!' at that time. So I was the second actor to leave 'Hello, Dolly!' to go do something else and went out to Kansas. And it was just absolutely one of the most incredible experiences of my life. Working with Gordon I learned so much. The cast was just incredible. Stelle, Estelle Evans, Esther Rolle's sister, played the mother, and Kyle Johnson played Gordon [sic. Newt Winger]. And a number of newcomers, a young man [Stephen Perry] who now owns a restaurant, has owned a restaurant for a number of years, called Stevie's On The Strip [Los Angeles, California], he was one of the little boys, little boy they called Beniger [ph.] that Gordon saw driving down the street and pulled over and said, "What's your name?" He said, "Beniger." He says, "That's your name, "Beniger?" "Yeah." "You ever do any acting?" "No." "Want to?" "Unh-uh." "Come with me," (laughter) so. And just to watch Gordon operate in front of the, I mean behind the camera with the, the sense of family that he created, because everyone who's there wanted this project to succeed because Al--just for the record, Gordon Parks was the first African American to, to direct a major feature film for a major studio, which was Warner Bros. [Warner Bros.--Seven Arts, Inc.], so there was a lot on the line. So he not only broke the unions, but he went back to Kansas where, when he left his little boy, he had experienced where--when he lived there as a little boy, he had experienced a lot of discrimination. Now he's coming back as this internationally known artist and bringing all of these people and his money and this, you know, this project with him. And so there were, there were moments that, that, that reflected back on that period.