By Sean Yoes, AFRO Baltimore Editor, [email protected]
As a boy growing up in West Baltimore, Andre DeShields was already turning heads.
DeShields, a flashy dresser, would burn up the dance floor during student gatherings at middle schools like Booker T. Washington and #181 on the Westside. And by the time he graduated from Baltimore City College High School in 1964, it seemed clear he knew what he wanted to do with his life.
Over the course of more than 50 years, DeShields crafted an extraordinary career as a very well-respected veteran Broadway actor, dancer, director and choreographer. And on June 9, he was rewarded with his industry’s highest honor, the Tony award.
DeShields, 73, captured his first Tony for his featured performance as Hermes, the god of trickery in Greek mythology, in Hadestown, which won a total of eight Tonys. Hadestown was the most honored production of the night.
“One, surround yourself with people whose eyes light up when they see you coming. Two, slowly is the fastest way to get to where you want to be. And three, the top of one mountain is the bottom of the next, so keep climbing,” DeShields said during his acceptance speech.
During his outstanding stage career, DeShields originated the title role of The Wiz on Broadway, earned a Drama Desk nomination for his performance in Ain’t Misbehavin, and garnered Tony and Drama Desk nominations for his performance in Play On!, a musical based on Duke Ellington songs, amongst a myriad of standout performances on and off Broadway.
“[We are] extremely proud and he definitely earned it,” said Conte DeShields-Coates, the Broadway legend’s niece. “I’ve always loved watching him perform and he really makes whatever role or character he plays come to life. I just wish my father was still here to share in the excitement, because they were very close,” she added.
The morning after his transcendent victory DeShields spoke to the crew of “CBS This Morning” and paid homage to his late mother and father.
“They experienced their dreams to be performers vicariously through my career,” he said. “I’ve always considered that to be karmic debt that I needed to pay to my parents. Because it was there at conception time that absolutely formed the purpose of my life. I’ve never had to question, `Andre, what are you supposed to do with your life?’ I knew exactly what I was supposed to do.”