A singer, dancer, and actor known for his dramatic performances in theater, Ben Vereen has performed on television, in films, and on stage. Born in Miami in 1946, Vereen credits most of his success to his mother. His father worked in a paint factory while his mother worked as a maid. His mother was born in Louisiana and would recount how the blues singers and jazz musicians would entertain the workers during lunch breaks on the plantation. His mother would sing the blues as she reminisced about the past, thus Ben Vereen's interest in music was born. His first performance was a solo at the age of four in the Baptist church where his father was the deacon. Later, he joined a quartet at the church, a group that had women weeping in the aisles during their performances. It was these performances that led Vereen to believe he had a calling to be a singer. After graduating from the High School of Performing Arts with no openings in dance or theater, Vereen entered the Pentecostal Theological Seminary. After six months he realized he was not to be a seminarian and again pursued his theatrical career.
At the age of 18 Vereen made his New York debut in Prodigal Son. In 1969 he joined the cast of Hair and eventually played Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar, a role that earned him the Theatre World Award. He went on to perform in Pippin, earning a Tony Award. His film credits include Funny Lady and All That Jazz. Besides his unforgettable stage and screen performances, Vereen has also used his talents on television. He won an Emmy Award for his 1978 TV special Ben Vereen... His Roots. During the '80s he made appearances on several TV series including Webster and the talent contests You Write the Songs and Your Momma Don't Dance. In the sitcom Webster he played Webster's (Emmanuel Lewis) uncle, and frequently danced and sang on the show. In the late '80s Vereen was emotionally drained after the death of his daughter, and contemplated suicide. After receiving help for his emotional problems, he bounced back, performing once again on Broadway in Jelly's Last Jam and on television in the USA series Silk Stalkings. Despite the many obstacles in his career, Ben Vereen has achieved success as a performer, singer, and actor, receiving both the American Guild of Variety Artists' George M. Cohen Award and the NAACP's Image Award. ~ Kim Summers