For years, Wayne Brady had been working on a one-man show about being a young Black man growing up in Orlando, Florida, but he could never finish the project.
That’s until acclaimed actor Glenn Close asked him to participate in her spoken word jazz album.
“To be honest with you, the reason it took me a couple of years was because it was so painful,” Brady said. “Every time I’d go to it, I would start a draft and it got a little too real. I felt myself wanting to do the thing that you can do — whether you’re talking to a group of friends or whether you’re onstage — I’m going to now make this funny and I’m going to deflect. Or I’ll sidetrack or I’ll do something that takes away the weight because I don’t want to remember this.
“Glenn coming to me, that was the impetus of me saying, ‘You’re going to finish this and you’re going to finish this now. You’ve got to talk about this. You’ve got to share this,’” he said.
That’s when the actor-comedian-singer crafted “A Piece by the Angriest Black Man in America (or, How I Learned to Forgive Myself for Being a Black Man in America).” It appears on “Transformation: Personal Stories of Change, Acceptance, and Evolution,” Close’s new album released last month.
“My heart was going a mile a minute. ... It’s really the first time that people will be hearing this piece of Wayne, this struggle of Wayne, that some people know and some people don’t,” said Brady, who recorded the track in front of a live audience at New York City’s Jazz at Lincoln Center.
“What I’m trying to do is move the needle a little bit because there is someone who may sit down and know Wayne Brady from ‘Whose Line Is It Anyway?’ or looked at ‘Let’s Make a Deal’ or ‘I loved him on that sitcom or I loved him on this’ — they don’t know this story of pain is lurking there because I don’t share that,” he said. “Well, I have come to share that to let you know maybe you’re skewed to what Black is or what Black isn’t.”
On “Angriest Black Man in America,” Brady tells his Black experience, touching on topics like his hair and not wanting to play outside in the sun because he didn’t want to get darker to being called “one of the good ones” by white people.
Close told the AP she “was really moved by what Wayne Brady wrote. Very unexpected.” She invited Brady to perform on two more songs on her album, a collaborative project with Grammy-winning jazz musician and Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra player Ted Nash.
“I had tears in my eyes,” Nash said after reading Brady’s original piece. “I had tears in my eyes for several reasons — first of all, that he was willing to share this with us and allow us to have him participate.”
Brady, 48, has won five Emmys for his roles across various TV shows, appeared on Broadway stages and even earned a Grammy nomination for his cover of Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come.” He said he’s been working on new music, and he wants to continue to be a voice for people who look like him, especially with the platform he has.