Headshots of Dale Shields, Mariama Whyte, Niles Rivers, and Bill Ransom

Top: Bill Ransom (left); Niles Rivers (right). Bottom: Mariama Whyte (left); Dale Shields (right).


College of Wooster to Reprise Black Arts Festival after Six-Year Absence

Performance to be held on Friday, April 24, at 8 p.m. in McGaw Chapel

14 April, 2015 by John Finn

WOOSTER, Ohio — A star-studded cast, filled with familiar faces, will light up the stage in McGaw Chapel on Friday, April 24, at 8 p.m. when the Black Arts Festival returns to The College of Wooster. Originally established by Professor of Theatre Annetta L. Gomez-Jefferson in 1974 to celebrate Black expressive culture within the creative and performing arts, the festival will be presented in Wooster for the first time since 2009, thanks to the efforts of Josephine Wright, professor of music and The Josephine Lincoln Morris Professor of Black Studies.

Dale Ricardo Shields, a 2015 Tony® award nominee for Excellence in Theatre Education and a former member of the faculty at Wooster, will direct the production. He will be joined by Mariama Whyte, a 1997 Wooster graduate who has played leading roles in national Broadway tours of Oprah Winfrey's The Color Purple and Disney's The Lion King, among others. Also performing will be singer, songwriter, and actor Niles Rivers, whose unique musical styling has moved audiences for nearly three decades, and percussionist Bill Ransom, a versatile musician with roots in classical, jazz, R&B, and rock. Other cast members include Wooster students Aki'a Damone Lashon Hodges, a senior; Latrice Burks, a junior; and Christina Elliott, a sophomore. The featured musician will be sophomore bassist William Smolen.

"One must bring multiple departments, individuals, and offices together in a short period of time for a single objective, and we must all thank Josephine for that," says Shields. "It is diversity in a real sense... not just words.

"The Black Arts Festival has always been diverse in structure," adds Shields. "The arts can bring people together for one common goal. We all must work together in these intense racial and social times."

Shields' extensive professional credits as a director, stage manager, and actor include various projects and assignments at such venues as Lincoln Center (State Theatre) and The Joseph Papp Public Theatre (New York Shakespeare Festival). As a director and producer, he has worked for the Project1voice national inaugural Black Theatre event. As an actor he has appeared on Saturday Night Live, Another World, The Guiding Light, and The Cosby Show, as well as in commercials and film. He is a member of a number of professional organizations, including the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. He received his B.F.A. and M.F.A. degrees (summa cum laude) from Ohio University.

Whyte developed her talents as a student performer at Wooster, where she was a soloist in the Gospel Choir and an actress in the theatre department. Since then, she has performed on The Oprah Winfrey Show, starred in Broadway touring shows, and been featured in national ad campaigns. She has also opened for such national and international artists as Algebra Blessett, Erik Rico, and The Soul Rebels. Born to a Jamaican father and an African-American mother, Whyte absorbed the sounds of soul, pop, jazz, rock, hip-hop, Broadway musicals, gospel, and reggae. Her eclectic R&B/soul EP, Find Your Light, showcases her broad musical influences and her prowess as a unique vocalist and insightful songwriter.

Rivers has graced stages across the country with an undeniable artistic brilliancy. His unique musical style has moved audiences from Rock N' Soul to serenading ballads with a songwriting finesse of notable storytelling. Winner of the "Prince" Songwriting Contest; Rivers has collaborated with award-winning producer/writers David Foster, John Leventhal, Randy Jackson, and Steven Allen Davis. His music has been featured on the movie soundtrack Dark Party and in live performances across the country. His acting has ignited theatrical stages for Disney's The Lion King (Simba), Smokey Joe's Cafe (Ovation Award nomination), First Breeze of Summer, and many more.

Ransom has a style that has been described as "physical, stirring, demanding, rare and personal." He has toured and recorded with a number of leading artists, including Patrice Rushen, Beth Hart, Marion Meadows, Cecil Bridgewater, Diane Reeves, Mary Wilson, and James Newton. He spent much of the '90s on the road with contemporary saxophonist Najee and R&B crooner Gerald LeVert, and was the featured percussionist on LeVert's solo debut, Private Line. He has also appeared in a variety of theatrical productions, including Love, Janis. For the past several years, he has directed "Jazz Meets Hip Hop" for the Tri-C JazzFest in Cleveland, and he is a consultant for both the Shaker Heights School System and the Cleveland Music School Settlement.

The Black Arts Festival is sponsored by the Departments of Africana Studies and Music, in collaboration with the Center for Diversity and Inclusion and the Office of the President. Additional information is available by phone (330-263-2044) or e-mail.