Few entertainers today are as accomplished or versatile as Ben Vereen. His legendary performances transcend time and have been woven into the fabric of this country's artistic legacy. His first love and passion is and always will be the stage. "The theater was my first training ground. It taught me discipline, dedication and appreciation of hard work and values that will stay with me a lifetime. The stage sharpens the creative instrument and encourages you to go deeper inside and try new things," states Ben.
On Broadway, Ben Vereen has appeared in Wicked, Fosse, I'm Not Rappaport, Hair, Jesus Christ Superstar, Pippin,Grind, Jelly's Last Jam and A Christmas Carol. His role in Pippin garnered him both the prestigious Tony Award and the Drama Desk Award for "Best Actor in a Musical."
For over 40 years, Ben has showcased his versatility and creativity, performing countless one-man shows not only in the United States, but also Europe, Asia and the Caribbean. He was the first simultaneous winner of the "Entertainer of the Year," "Rising Star," and "Song and Dance Star" awards from the American Guild of Variety Artists (AGVA). He also earned a coveted spot in the Casino Legends Hall of Fame. Ben and his band are currently touring his one man shows, "Ben Sings a Tribute to Sammy Davis Jr. featuring the music of Sammy Davis Jr." and "Brooklyn to Broadway" at top performing arts centres. He also performs with symphonies around the country.
While performing worldwide, Ben's acting credits continue to give us memorable roles that stand the test of time such as the unforgettable Chicken George in Roots and Louis Armstrong in Louis Armstrong - Chicago Style.Ben's television guest appearances include How I Met Your Mother, Grey's Anatomy, for which he won the Prism Award, House of Payne, Law and Order: Criminal Intent, OZ, Touched By An Angel, Second Noah, New York Undercover, The Nanny, Star Trek - The Next Generation, The Jamie Fox Show, The Promised Land, and Fresh Prince of Bel-Air as well as recurring roles on Silk Stalkings, Webster, J.J. Starbuck and Booker. For Nickelodeon, Ben provided voice-overs on the show Wonder Pets! Additional credits include: Anne Rice's Feast of All Saints(Showtime), Intruders They Are Among Us (Emmy nomination), Zoobilee Zoo, Faerie Tale Theatre's Puss N' Bootswith Gregory Hines, The Jesse Owens Story, Ellis Island (Golden Globe Nomination), Lost in London, and Salute to Liberty Special. His own network television shows are Ben Vereen: His Roots (Seven Emmy Awards), Tenspeed and Brownshoe and You Write the Songs. In the early 90's, he released a number of well-received children's Sing-Along musical videos.
Ben was nominated for an NAACP Image Award for his performance in the Hallmark movie An Accidental Friendship. He appears in two soon to be released features, 21 and a Wake-Up starring Faye Dunaway andMama, I Want to Sing! in which Ben co-starred opposite Ciara and Patti LaBelle. While filming Idlewild with the award winning group Outkast, Ben also served as the acting coach for both Andre 3000 and Big Boy. In addition, Ben has been coaching the singing sensation Usher both as an entertainer and an actor. Ben was featured in the movie, On The One - Preaching to the Choir directed by Charles Randolph-Wright. Other film credits include Sweet Charity, All That Jazz, Funny Lady (Golden Globe nomination), Why Do Fools Fall in Love,And Then Came Love starring Vanessa Williams, the animated movie Once Upon a Forest, Christmas in Washingtonand The Painting which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival. In 2004, Ben was nominated for a "Career Achievement Award" by the Le Prix International Film Star Awards Organization.
The lecture circuit has become an integral part of Ben's career, as he has become one of the Nations' most requested speakers among audiences of all ages. His strong sense of social consciousness has enabled him to reach out to his audiences and convey to them a deep feeling of understanding. His topics range from overcoming adversity, arts in education, Black history, motivational topics, recovery through physical and occupational therapy and the importance of continuing education - to name a few.
Ben's gift of time has benefited many organizations. He has served on Ballet Florida's Board of Directors, the American Red Cross and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome Association. In addition, he has served as chairman of several renowned organizations including the American Heart Association and the Sudden Infant Death Syndrome Association. In 1989, he spearheaded his own organization, "Celebrities for a Drug Free America," which raised more than $300,000 for drug rehabilitation centres, educational programs and inner city community-based projects. The Community Mental Health Council awarded Ben with their 2004 Lifeline Celebration Achievement Award. For his humanitarian contributions, he has received a number of awards including Israel's Cultural and Humanitarian Awards, three NAACP Image Awards, an Eleanor Roosevelt Humanitarian Award and a Victory Award. He has received honorary doctorates from the University of Arizona, Emerson College, St. Francis College, and Columbia College in Chicago. In 2001, Medgar Evers College created the Ben Vereen Scholarship for the Performing Arts, and in 2004, he received an Achievement in Excellence Award from his alma mater, the High School of the Performing Arts.
Ben celebrated Eartha Kitt's 80th birthday in concert at Carnegie Hall to multiple standing ovations and in front of the Armed Forces for those men and women who have served in Iraq, truly a major highlight of his career. In 2009, he performed at the Inaugural Ball and entertained at the reopening of the Ford Theatre in Washington, D.C., which was attended by President Obama. Last year Ben entertained at the Friar's Club gala honouring CBS president Leslie Moonves. Ben is leading an ongoing diabetes awareness campaign called "S.T.A.N.D." in partnership with sanofi-aventis pharmaceuticals. Ben recently starred in the world premier of Fetch Clay, Make Man directed by Des McAnuff (Jersey Boys) at the McCarter Theatre. Below are some of Ben's reviews from the show:
"A seething resentment can be sensed underneath the wary cool with which Fetchit negotiates with Fox. In brief snippets from the routines that made Fetchit famous (and infamous), Mr. Vereen also reveals the glowing pride of an entertainer whose gifts sometimes managed to transcend the offensive uses to which they were put." -New York Times
"The dramatic center is Ben Vereen's role as Lincoln Perry,the vaudeville performer who made his fortune in silent films and Depression-era talkies playing screen persona Stepin Fetchit, the quintessential negative stereotype of the shuffling, smiling, work-shirking Negro...Tapping all the undiminished charisma and limber body language of a veteran song-and-dance man, Vereen effortlessly sells the now-reviled representation of the black flunky while slyly asserting the cultured, savvy negotiator beneath; it's a performance of enormous charm and intelligence." -Variety
"As Fetchit, Ben Vereen creates a man who comports himself with dignity in hopes of negating all that he did before. In one scene, after Fetchit has been forced to acknowledge what he'd been, Vereen blinks three times, and actually manages to make a statement with each blink: The first acknowledges the charge, the second shows his pain at being reminded, and the third hopes to push away the memory." -The Star-Ledger
Additionally, Ben has a recurring role on the CBS comedy How I Met Your Mother, playing Wayne Brady's father. In February of 2011, he released his CD Steppin' Out Live with Ben Vereen and staged a triumphant return to Broadway with his concert "BEN VEREEN ON BROADWAY AT TOWN HALL" . One review from Ben's show is featured below:
"Ben Vereen's performance at The Town Hall on February 18th was a lesson in performance energy.....a tour de force ....Without a single synthesizer, with no voice tuner, with only an acoustic band, Vereen displayed shocking innovation."....." He flirted with off notes and inventive runs during classics such as "My Funny Valentine." This is always a dangerous idea, because it risks alientating the audience who wants to hear the melody of a familiar tune, but Vereen not only pulled it off, he left the audience wanting him to do more...The lasting impression was of a man who loves life, wants you to love life, and has mastered both his medium and his message. At age 65, he is the youngest man performing today. - The Newark Examiner
Ben remains the consummate actor, singer, and all around entertainer with a storied and legendary career.
|Nancy Bruner||(15 July 1976 - present) (filed for divorce) 4 children|
|Andrea Townsley||(1966 - ?) (divorced) 1 child|
Tony Award winner for "Pippin"
He was understudy for Sammy Davis Jr. in the 1964 Broadway musical "Golden Boy".
Was named as "King of Brooklyn" at the Welcome Back to Brooklyn Festival in 1985
In 1987 his daughter, Naja, was killed in a car accident at the age of 16.
Is the godfather of singer/dancer/actor Usher Raymond.
1 son, Ben, with first wife. 4 daughters (Kabara, Malaika, Naja and Karon) with current wife.
Won Broadway's 1973 Tony Award as Best Actor (Musical) for "Pippin." Was nominated the year before, in 1972, as Best Supporting or Featured Actor (Musical) for "Jesus Christ, Superstar."
In June of 1992, he suffered a stroke following a minor car accident in which he hit his head on the steering wheel earlier that day. He recovered and after extensive physical and occupational therapy, was able to dance again.
Graduated from the New York's High School of the Performing Arts
Of modest beginnings, his father James was a factory worker and mother Pauline a maid and wardrobe mistress.
Ben met first wife Andrea Townsley when they were young and singing together at her father's Brooklyn church in the gospel choir. The marriage, which produced son Ben Jr., lasted only a few years. Andrea is now a pastor at her late father's church.
Ben's second wife Nancy Bruner was a dancer in the London production of "Golden Boy". Ben was Sammy Davis Jr.'s understudy at the time.
Ben is an ordained minister.
Ben's high school classmates were Glynn Turman, Michael Peters and Lester Wilson to name a few at the Performing Arts.
When he was 21 years old, he learned while applying for a passport that he was adopted and that his birth name was Benjamin Augustus Middleton. It took many decades before he traced his mother, Essie May Middelton (Pearson), already deceased. However, he did meet his blood family, including an older sister living in New Haven, Connecticut.
Born in Laurinburg, North Carolina.
His Grandson Darryl is a Linebacker for the University of Tennessee Volunteers Football team.
Although he played Georg Stanford Brown's father in "Roots" (1977), he is more than three years Brown's junior in real life. Similarly, he played the son of Leslie Uggams, who is likewise three years his senior, in the same production.
He played "Chicken" George Moore in "Roots" (1977) between the ages of 18 (in 1824) and 64 (in 1870).
If we plant the right seeds, tomorrow will be better. If you put out good things, then you'll get good things back. That's part of our responsibility as entertainers.
Everyone I've worked with has been good. You learn from the good, what's good, and you learn from the bad what not to do.
Live stage is being made as you go along. You feel the energy. There's nothing like a live audience.
(June 2002) Appearing opposite Judd Hirsch in the play, "I'm Not Rappaport" at the Booth Theater in New York.
(June 2004) Performing at the Very Special Arts Festival at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC
(June 2004) Portraying the Wizard in Broadway's Wicked.
(July 2005) Currently playing the Wizard of Oz in the musical "Wicked" on Broadway.
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