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Sat, 03.22.1919

Lorenzo Fuller, a Kansas legend

Lorenzo Fuller

*Lorenzo Fuller was born on this date in 1919. He was an African American musician and entertainer.

From Stockton, Kansas Lorenzo Dow Fuller was the son of Effie Green Fuller, the first Black child to be brought to Rooks County, and the grandson of pioneer homesteaders “Cap’n” Giles Green, a member of the 79th Colored Regiment of Kansas during the Civil War, and Rebecca Green. His Father L.D Fuller, Sr. was a self-made man who flourished in careers as a publisher, a barber, and later as a musician. Fuller, Sr. founded the Fuller Concert Company, which entertained audiences from Kansas, throughout the Midwest, and as far away as Canada and Mexico. Young Fuller started his career as a child playing harp on Doc Brinkley’s radio show. At the age of 8 he was performing in his family’s troupe. At age 15 Fuller was accepted as a sponsored student at the University of Kansas, where he studied opera and other classical forms. In Lawrence, Fuller performed the role of Emperor Jones, the Ballad for America, and monthly on KFKU radio; he also became the first Black man to sing with the KU Symphony. Upon graduation, more than two thousands people showed up for his solo senior recital.

In 1945, Fuller moved to New York to study voice at Juilliard. His ability to sing in several languages and play many instruments gave him immediate demand by every medium of show business. He had a radio show on WLIB, and at the Mutual Network Radio. Fuller also wrote music for Cheryl Crawford, the producer of the Group Theatre Movement shows. He later became a much sought-after coach to the stars coaching, among others, Jeannette Adair (Gentleman Prefer Blondes) and Juanita Hall (South Pacific). He brought the house down in Cole Porter’s Kiss me Kate with his performance of the song “Too Darn Hot.” In television Fuller was a versatile talent on camera and behind the scenes. In 1947, Fuller was in the original cast of the musical Finian’s Rainbow on Broadway. Also in the cast were Joe Yule (Mickey Rooney’s father), and Fred Sledge (the father of the members of the disco group Sister Sledge).

Also during this time, Fuller hosted a 15 minute musical show on NBC and went on to become a musical director and special materials writer: Musical Miniatures, Young Broadway, TV Screen Magazine, and Jerry Lester Show, among others. Also he won on the Arthur Godfrey Talent Scouts show. Lorenzo Fuller was a man of firsts. His show, Van and the Genie, on WPIX in NYC, broke racial barriers: it was the first show in the nation where a Black man starred opposite a white woman. Van and the Genie was so successful that its sponsor’s product, Scotty Pops Lollipops, was soon outstripped by demand as 3,300 new distributorships came on board.

Fuller and his co-star, Rosamond Vance Kaufman, marched in the Macy’s Day Parade, behind that year’s Grand Marshall, Jimmy Durante. During this time, with the start of his show Musical Miniatures: Fuller became the first Black in America to have his own television show a few years before Nat King Cole had his! Many great producers and writers of that time admired him. Noted people in the business seeking financing for their musicals often requested Fuller to arrange and play the songs from their musicals. It was in this way that Kiss Me Kate was sold. George Gershwin took him on the world tour of Porgy and Bess to play the role of Sportin’ Life and as an assistant musical director. The international troupe of Porgy and Bess were American’s first cultural ambassadors, being the first American production at La Scala, and being the first American troupe to perform in Russia during the “Cold War.” In Russia, Fuller spoke to the opening night audience in their native language to a standing ovation.

Also Fuller played for the troupe as they performed in the embassies for the many diplomatic events they attended. He performed with such greats as Leontyne Price and William Warfield in this folk opera the first opera in the world with Blacks as its chief subjects. Since 1990, Fuller has lived annonmously by personal choice. He would play the piano on weekends at a retirement home near Loncoln Center in New York City. Lorenzo Fuller died on January 8, 2011 in New York City.

Reference:
University of Kansas,
1314 Jayhawk Blvd.
Lawrence, KS 66045

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