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Tracy Clark, Music
Faculty Mentor(s): Professor Carolyn Guzski, Music
Among the important artists of the Harlem Renaissance is the noted Broadway actor and singer Frank H. Wilson (1886-1956), renowned for creating the title role in Dorothy and DuBose Heyward's Porgy (1927), the phenomenally successful Broadway play that served as the basis for George Gershwin's classic opera Porgy and Bess. From humble beginnings in New York's Tenderloin district, Wilson began his acting career on the vaudeville circuit and was included among a small cohort of African American talent selected to receive dramatic training at the esteemed American Academy of Dramatic Art while he concurrently worked with Harlem's pioneering Lafayette Players as both actor and playwright. Wilson's subsequent Provincetown Playhouse appearances link him with the young Eugene O'Neill and his interracial drama All God's Chillun Got Wings (1924), in which he later played the lead on the London stage. Wilson was also the first performer of color credited in a Metropolitan Opera program (Skyscrapers, 1926), but it was his unexpected breakout performance in the Pulitzer Prize-winning play In Abraham's Bosom (1926) that led to the starring role in Porgy. Wilson also acted in numerous films, and his career extended into the broadcasting era with numerous appearances on early radio and television. Although he has been overshadowed by celebrities like Charles Gilpin and Paul Robeson, his significant achievements won him a place in the African American National Biography. My project addresses several historical lacunae, including Wilson's early personal experiences, details of his foundational training, and the development of a professional acting career on Broadway and in Hollywood. The project aimed to complete a more comprehensive study of Wilson's life than is presently available in historical studies, using a combination of archival documents, genealogical research, and secondary texts.
Clark, Tracy, "Harlem Renaissance Man: Towards a Comprehensive Biography of Actor-Singer Frank H. Wilson" (2021). Arts. 2.