A 'triple threat' multimedia experience, Tavis Smiley's 'Death Of A King' chronicles MLK's prophetic life

11/21/2017 03:24 am ET Updated Nov 22, 2017
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Tavis Smiley's live theatrical experience #DeathOfAKing, honoring the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. launches in January, commemorating the 50th anniversary of his assassination.

Adhering to Gandhi's philosophy of nonviolence, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is universally regarded as a fervent fighter for peace, equality and justice. Believing Americans of all backgrounds should be judged for the content of their character, and not by the color of their skin, the Atlanta-born leader of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference sought to rid American, in particular southern states, of racial discrimination policies and practices.

Calling on the United States government to act, in 1963, 250,000 demonstrators marched to Washington, D.C.’s Lincoln Memorial where King famously delivered his "I Have A Dream" speech. Creating a freeze-frame moment in history - one of two etched in world history’s memory - King’s other monumental moment frozen in many people’s minds occurred five years later, when he was assassinated.

“His martyrdom has undermined his message,” said Tavis Smiley, host of “Tavis Smiley on PBS" and “The Tavis Smiley Show” from Public Radio International.

“When King opposed the [President Lyndon B. Johnson] administration's policy in Vietnam, he fell out of favor with a lot of folks,” said Smiley.

Publicly stating his opposition at a “house of worship” [New York’s Riverside Church] because his “conscience” left him “no other choice,” in early April 1967, King said “A time comes when silence is betrayal. That time has come for us in relation to Vietnam.”

“The world now demands that we admit that we have been wrong from the beginning of our adventure in Vietnam. In order to atone for our sins, we should take the initiative in bringing a halt to this tragic war,” he said.

Fraught with political fallout, rooted in the perception of having antagonized the already agitated architect of war, Johnson, King was ostracized and professionally emasculated until his death, unable to earn income.

“Everything and everyone was against him in the last three years of his life. Harry Belafonte paid for his funeral expenses because he couldn’t earn a living after speaking out.”

Referring to what King termed the “Triple Threat to Democracy,” the founder of the The Smiley Group and Tavis Smiley Foundation said “Fifty years after King’s death, the issues of racism, poverty, and the inherent immorality of this nation’s unchecked militarism are more pressing than ever. He was a prophet.”

“And if, as we relive these last excruciating months in his life, we are made to understand that his mission remains unfulfilled — that the causes for which he gave his life continue to demand the immediate attention of our hearts and minds — then the purpose of this production will be fulfilled,” said the accomplished advocate and entrepreneur.

Based on the best-selling author’s NY Times Bestseller, Death of A King: The Real Story of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Final Year, Smiley’s Walmart sponsored, multi-city, multimedia stage production, “Death Of A King: A Live Theatrical Experience,” reveals a side of the iconic civil rights leader largely unknown to the masses.

Creatively curating the visual imagery displayed on 12-by-12 foot screens in consultation with Tony Award-winning Broadway and film director, Kenny Leon, in April, Smiley will present the exciting production at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Center in King’s hometown of Atlanta. Two days prior to the day of the 50th anniversary of the icon’s death (April 4), Smiley will deliver his eloquent prose accompanied by “the genius of modern piano,” jazz pianist and composer, Marcus Roberts.

Achieving in all his professional endeavors, Smiley is confident audiences will appreciate experiencing “90 minutes of the richest, most rewarding moments of (King's) life," produced in partnership with live entertainment industry leader, Mills Entertainment.

“Tavis’ performance is a true tour-de-force, radiating unmatched energy and commitment to social change through the monumental story of Dr. King. Tavis represents the best possible narrator for this essential piece of theatre,” said Michael Mills, CEO of the company that represents some 25 active touring entities.

Mills is privileged to work with Tavis in bringing the final and untold year of Dr. King to audiences across the country at this pivotal moment in American history,” said Mills.

“My study of King’s pivotal role in the history of this country has never stopped,” said Smiley. While recovering from a traumatizing experience as a adolescent that hospitalized him, the Indiana University graduate and Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity member was introduced to King by a neighbor, James Gossett.

“He [Gossett] brought a crate of albums and in the crate were records Berry Gordy had commissioned,” Smiley said. “I became fixated and like a sponge, I wanted to know everything about him. I went from wanting to play baseball for the Cincinnati Red to wanting be a servant. Listening to those records that Mr. Gossett gave me fundamentally change me, helping me to work through the anger I had.”

Smiley artistically and intelligently acknowledges how against all odds, and with his popularity in deep decline, the Nobel Peace Prize winner (1964) summoned the courage, conviction, commitment and character to bring a message of peace, equality and justice to a bitterly divided nation. King’s example of purposefully living with integrity and proactively practicing undying faith in humanity served, and continues to serve, as fuel for Smiley.

“Over the years, I have spoken with his most important critics, chroniclers, and defenders,” Smiley said. “I was privileged to enjoy a rewarding friendship with Coretta Scott King, whom I interviewed many times.”

Serendipitously launching on King’s birthday next year, Smiley presents King’s truth in earnest, representing a narrative shift “that’s not just about the normal discussion of left versus right and conservative versus liberal, but really a reset of our deepest values.”

“Faith comes by hearing the word of god,” Smiley explained.

“Go back and hear what King says. What you say matters because the Bible says so. Because the Torah says so,” Smiley said with conviction.

“Our presentation masterfully provides an educational and emotion invoking experience that, in innovative and interactive ways, delves into the complexity of King’s humanity.”

TOUR DATES

January 15, 2018 • 8:00PM | Brooklyn, NY | King’s Theatre ||| January 17, 2018 • 7:30PM | Medford, MA | The Chevalier Theatre ||| January 18, 2018 • 7:30PM | Schenectady, NY | Proctors Theatre ||| January 20, 2018 • 7:30PM | Chicago, IL | The Chicago Theatre ||| January 21, 2018 • 2:00PM | Milwaukee, WI | The Riverside ||| January 25, 2018 • 8:00PM | Newport News, VA | Ferguson Center for the Arts ||| January 26, 2018 • 7:30PM | Baltimore, MD | The Lyric ||| January 27, 2018 • 7:30PM | Newark, NJ | Prudential Hall at NJPAC

January 28, 2018 • 2:00PM | Washington, D.C. | The Warner Theatre |||| February 2, 2018 • 7:00PM | Philadelphia, PA | The Merriam Theater at Kimmel Center ||| February 3, 2018 • 8:00PM | Rochester, NY | Auditorium Theatre ||| February 8, 2018 • 7:30PM | Tulsa, OK | Cox Business Center ||| February 9, 2018 • 8:00PM | Columbia, MO | Jesse Auditorium ||| February 10, 2018 • 7:30PM | Madison, WI | Orpheum Theatre |||| February 18, 2018 • 3:00PM | Oakland, CA | The Paramount ||| February 21, 2018 • 7:30PM | San Antonio,TX | Tobin Center for the Performing Arts ||| February 22, 2018 • 7:30PM | Austin, TX | Paramount Theatre

February 25, 2018 | Dallas, TX | AT&T Performing Arts Center ||| March 2, 2018 • 7:30PM | Columbus, OH | Palace Theatre ||| March 22, 2018 • 7:30PM | Richmond, VA | Carpenter Theatre ||| March 23, 2018 • 7:30PM | Charlotte, NC | Knight Theatre at Blumenthal Arts ||| March 24, 2018 | Jacksonville, FL | Moran Theatre ||| March 25, 2018 • 2:30PM | Tampa, FL | Ferguson Hall at the Straz Center ||| March 29, 2018 • 2:00PM | Dayton, OH | Mead Theatre at Victoria Theatre ||| April 2, 2018 • 7:30PM | Atlanta, GA | Cobb Energy Performing Arts Center ||| April 4, 2018 • 7:30PM | Memphis, TN | Cannon Center for the Performing Arts ||| April 8, 2018 | Savannah, GA | Johnny Mercer Theater

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