Almost Two Weeks After Death, Broadway Will Dim Lights to Honor Diahann Carroll

On Oct. 16, Broadway theaters will dim the lights in honor of entertainment legend Diahann Carroll, who died Oct. 4
Photo: Richard Shotwell (AP)

As they say: better late than never.

On Friday afternoon, The Broadway League revealed plans to dim the lights of theaters on The Great White Way to honor Diahann Carroll.

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The news came a week after the entertainment legend — who actually made Broadway history over 55 years ago — died at age 84.

“Much has been made of Ms. Carroll’s groundbreaking role shattering racial barriers in film and on Broadway,” Broadway League chairman Thomas Schumacher said in a statement. “That she was a pioneer is undeniable. But she was first and foremost a gifted, Tony-winning actress of enormous warmth and charm. She made just three visits to Broadway – in two musicals and a turbulent drama – but the breadth of those roles is a measure of her range and craft.”

To commemorate Carroll’s illustrious legacy, the Committee of Theatre Owners will dim the lights of the American Airlines, Broadhurst, Helen Hayes, Hudson, Marquis, New Amsterdam, Samuel J. Friedman, St. James, and Vivian Beaumont Theatres in New York for one minute on Wednesday, October 16th at exactly 7:45pm.

That’s nine theaters out of 40.

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The tradition of dimming marquee lights at theaters for one minute at curtain on a show night dates back to 1952 when actress Gertrude Lawrence died while she was starring in “The King & I.”

The Broadway League, which is a power-wielding trade organization comprised of Broadway theater owners and producers, decides who should get the honor.

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Late actors including Ruby Dee, Robin Williams, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Eli Wallach, Marian Seldes and “The Sopranos” star James Gandolfini were among those honored in recent years.

In 2014, a controversy ensued when comedy legend Joan Rivers died and the Broadway League, which had first decided not to dim the lights of its 40 theater marquees, reversed itself after an outcry from individual theater owners and artists.

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No reason was offered for the delay in Carroll’s honor — nor why only a small fraction of the theaters will dim their marquees.

Perhaps the criticism bubbling up on social media by other blacks on Broadway was a factor.

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On October 10, Broadway powerhouse performer Mykal Kilgore took to social media by posing the question: “Hey Broadway … When are we dimming the lights for Diahann Carroll?!”

On his Facebook page, the singer/songwriter and actor, whose credits include Hair, Motown The Musical and Dear Evan Hansen, posted a meme of Carroll with the hashtag #BroadwayDimTheLights and added that while he didn’t know who to direct the query to but did know the power “of something going viral.”

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Later that day, Slave Play creator Jeremy O. Harris offered his thoughts on what many initially may have seen as an omission.

On Twitter, the acclaimed playwright revealed that he and producers of his play were working on ways to dim the lights at the Golden Theatre, where his show was playing — and also rallied others to do so.

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Another Broadway actor, Christian Dante White, shared similar sentiments on Twitter.

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Though Carroll was primarily known for her work as a television trailblazer in groundbreaking and popular series such as Julia, Dynasty and A Different World, the singer and actress cut her teeth in theater in the 1950s.

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The Bronx native, born Carol Diahann Johnson, made her Broadway debut in Truman Capote-scripted 1954 musical “House of Flowers.”

For her role in Richard Rodgers’ 1962 musical No Strings (1962), Carroll made history as the first African-American woman to win this award for Best Actress.

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Diahann Carrol, circa 1972
Photo: JEAN-JACQUES LEVY (AP)

The Academy Award nominated Golden Globe Award winner also starred in touring productions starred as Norma Desmond in the Toronto production of Sunset Boulevard in 1995.

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After a 30-plus year absence, the Claudine star was due to return to The Great White Way in Scott Rudin’s ambitious 2014 revival of Lorraine Hansberry’s classic play A Raisin in the Sun, starring Denzel Washington, 60 at the time, as Walter Lee Younger.

According to the production’s spokesperson Philip Rinaldi, she withdrew from the blockbuster show, directed by Kenny Leon, “due to the demands of the vigorous rehearsal schedule and the subsequent eight-performances-a-week playing schedule.”

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LaTanya Richardson Jackson assumed the role of Lena Younger was later nominated for a Tony Award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play.

 

 

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About the author

Karu F. Daniels

Hailing from "the thorough borough" of Brooklyn, Mr. Daniels has written for The New York Times, Associated Press, CNN, Essence, VIBE, NBC News, The Daily Beast, The New York Daily News and Word Up!