Avery Brooks

All Sources -
Updated Media sources (1) About encyclopedia.com content Print Topic Share Topic
views updated

Avery Brooks 1949


At a Glance

Pursued Theater Career

Beckoned by Television Series

Became Star Treks New Commander


When Avery Brooks took the role of Commander Benjamin Sisko on the television series Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, he reluctantly stepped into a position that he has tried to avoid throughout his acting career. Knowing that the two shows that preceded his, the original Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation, thrust their stars into the glare of the international spotlight, Brooks vowed to continue keeping a low profile. Ive not lived long enough yet to have anything profound to say, he reasoned to TV Guides Michael Logan on his reluctance to give interviews. Perhaps I will if I live to be a septuagenarian. But for now, Im still accumulating.

For more than two decades, Brooks has been accumulating a diverse list of accomplishments. He is a tenured professor of theater at Rutgers University, an accomplished stage and screen actor, as well as a jazz and opera singer. He has also found time to serve as artistic director for the National Black Arts Festival. Yet it is his devotion to family and the values of his heritage that give him the most pride.

It is not necessarily a history of black and white that Brooks is interested in, however, but that of brown instead. In one of his rare interviews, he explained to Logan that he likes to refer to himself as brown because I am brown in the color spectrum. I have studied the history and the journey of my people and the various labels that we have had to distinguish us from other peoples. I particularly like brown because it is so very rich. Brooks is quick to point out that he does not correct people who refer to him as being black.

Brookss unconventional view can be traced back to his childhood. He grew up in Gary, Indiana in a household filled with music. His father sang in the Wings Over Jordan Choir on CBS radio, and his mother, one of the first women of color to graduate from Northwestern University with a masters degree in music, taught music and directed church choirs. Brookss uncle was also musically inclined; he was one of the original members of the Delta Rhythm Boys singing group. It was a surprise to no one when Brooks set off for college to pursue a career in the performing arts.

After stints at Indiana University and Oberlin College, Brooks settled in at Rutgers University. He earned a bachelor of arts degree and then continued on at Rutgers to become the first black person to receive a master of fine arts in acting and directing at the school. It wasnt long before he was using his credentials to teach theater at his alma mater, a profession

At a Glance

Born in 1949, in Evansville, IN; son of Samuel Leon (a tool and die maker and singer) and Eva Lydia Crawford (a pianist, organist, and choir director) Brooks; married Vicki Lenora (an assistant dean); children: Ayana, Cabral, Asante. Education: Attended Indiana University and Oberlin College; Rutgers University, B.A. and M.F.A.

Educator, actor, singer, and director. Associate professor of theater, Rutgers University; sang with several jazz musicians including Jon Hendricks, Butch Morris, and Lester Brown. Television series include Spencer for Hire, 198589; A Man Called Hawk, 1989; and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, 1993; television movies include Uncle Toms Cabin, 1987; Roots: The Gift, 1988; and Spencer: Ceremony, 1993. Other television appearances include American Playhouse: Half Slave, Half Free: Solomon Northrups Odyssey, 1984; A Passion for Faith, 1987; The Musical Legacy of Roland Hayes, 1990; and Eyes on the Prize: Marian Anderson, 1991. Also appeared in theatrical productions The Offering, A PHOTOGRAPH: A Study of Cruelty, 1977; Are You Now or Have You Ever Been, 1978; Spell #7, 1979; Othello at the Folger Shakespeare Festival, 1985; Fences, at the Repertory Theater of St. Louis, MO, 1990; and Paul Robeson at the John Golden Theater, New York, NY, 1988 and on tour. Also performed in the title role of the opera X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X, 1985, and in a staged reading of Lord Byrons Manfred at New England Conservatorys Music With Words festival, 1986. Artistic director for the National Black Arts Festival, Atlanta, GA, 1992.

Awards: Cable ACE Award for portrayal of Uncle Tom in Uncle Toms Cabin, 1987.

Addresses: Agent Innovative Artists, 1999 Avenue of the Stars, Ste. 2850, Los Angeles, CA 90067.

that he loves. It feeds me, he confessed to Martha Southgate of Essence. Im stimulated by being in the presence of children, because therein lies the fire. I would loathe to lose that relationship.

While teaching at Rutgers, Brooks stepped into the spotlight to explore his musical roots. His deep baritone voice enhanced the rhythms of jazz artists like Butch Morris and Lester Bowie when he joined them on stage. He sought out opportunities to pay tribute to the people that brought him pleasure through their music. He performed at the Montreal International Jazz Festival with Jon Hendricks and recorded an album with saxophone player James Spaulding as a tribute to Duke Ellington.

Brooks spent many years pursuing his two passions, music and academia. For him, musicespecially jazzis a spiritual gift from God. Everybody is playing or listening to this black classical music, he told Ebonys Frank White III, this music that [late jazz drummer] Art Blakey [said], and I agree, is the highest form of performance on the earth from God, to you, through you, to your ear. Nevertheless, Brooks would never limit himself to one aspect of performing.

Pursued Theater Career

During the late 1970s, Brooks appeared in numerous theatrical productions on the East Coast. He first appeared in shows such as The Offering, A PHOTOGRAPH: A Study of Cruelty, and Are You Now or Have You Ever Been. It was not until 1979, when he appeared in Spell #7 at the Public/Anspache Theater in New York City, that he started to gain recognition. His abilities also landed him roles at the Arena Stage in Washington, DC.

It wasnt long before Brooks started branching into other arenas. In 1984 he took a role in the Public Broadcasting System (PBS)s American Playhouse production of Half Slave, Half Free: Solomon Northrups Odyssey. The story chronicled the life of a free man, played by Brooks, kidnaped into slavery during the 1840s. The critics raved over the production and called Brookss performance excellent. The Library Journal highly recommended it to their readers. A film of subtlety and nuance [it] tells a compelling tale that is heartbreaking, uplifting, and always thought provoking.

For Brooks, Half Slave, Half Free was another expression of his heritage. Im a fan of African American culture, he told Southgate, and I believe that part of the obligation of being an artist is to tell the story as it was. This dedication to portraying the history and culture of blacks led him to take the lead role in the opera X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X in 1985. Though the opera was criticized by some for its poor musical and dramatic content, Andrew Porter of the New Yorker praised Brooks as powerful in the title role. He sings the lines without sacrificing a sense of their meaning.

The role of Uncle Tom in the 1986 Showtime production of Uncle Toms Cabin was another project that allowed Brooks to highlight the history of his people, as did his appearance in the 1988 television movie Roots: The Gift. Neither film generated much interest from reviewers, though Brooks was credited with giving fine performances. Brooks, however, didnt limit himself to portraying men of color whose struggles brought about change. He also lent his voice to the words of Shakespeare, appearing in Othello at the Folger Shakespeare Festival and as Lord Byron when he appeared in a staged reading of Manfred at the 1986 New England Conservatorys Music With Words Festival.

In 1988 Brooks brought all of his talents to New York City to star in an Off-Broadway production of Paul Robeson. Once again, Brooks was able to pay tribute to his culture by portraying the life of the famous singer, actor, and civil rights activist in this one-man biographical drama. Through song and soliloquy, Brooks seemed to capture the heart of the audience and the critics. Mr. Brookss performance goes beyond limitationhe seems possessed by Robeson, but always in control, Edith Oliver penned in the New Yorker. When he sings, which he does well, he captures Robesons tone, but never interfering with it or blurring it. In the few snatches of Othello scattered here and there, Mr. Brooks is better than Mr. Robeson was. The production was so successful that it played in several cities over the next few years.

Beckoned by Television Series

By the time the play opened, however, Brooks had already ventured into the realm of series television. It was 1985 when Brooks landed a role on a new American Broadcasting Company (ABC) detective series, Spencer for Hire. Though no one suspected it when the show premiered, his character, Hawkdescribed as everything from a mercenary to a brooding gunmanwould go on to become a hero to millions of viewers.

The hour-long drama, based on a series of mystery novels written by Robert Parker, primarily centered on the adventures of private detective Spencer, played by Robert Urich. However, it was Hawk who provided the dramatic action to the show when he would arrive at the last minute to save the dayusually without breaking into a sweat and only speaking a sentence or two. At 6 feet 2 inches and 190 pounds, Hawk was a menacing character indeed. His trademarka cleanly shaven head, dark sunglasses, and a big gunonly enhanced his threatening presence. Yet it was Brookss talents as an actor that enabled him to incorporate Hawks honesty and integrity and mold him into a believable and likable character.

The show became highly popular and catapulted Brooks into the limelight. Though many critics praised Spencer for Hire, just as many detractors existed who felt the show was too violent. Brooks honestly admitted that the show was graphic, especially for childrenincluding his ownbut he insisted that the show was not simply about mans propensity toward savagery. When you look at the dynamics between men, especially where life and death are issues, he told White, then things like whos going to be there are critical. Thats what its all about.

After nearly four seasons, Brookss character became so popular that the network decided to give him his own series. So, in the spring of 1989 A Man Called Hawk began airing on Saturdays at 9 p.m. on ABC. Almost immediately, questions about Brookss ability to leap from being a sidekick to having his own show began to arise, but he remained undaunted. I never thought of myself as the sidekick, he told Southgate. Ive never been the side of anything. I just assumed that I was equal. In fact, the power that was now being bestowed upon him was allowing him to insist that the shows creative and development staff have a strong African American influence.

The premise of the show, compared to that of its predecessor, seemed plausible to criticsHawk moves back to his hometown of Washington, DC to practice his brand of justice. Unfortunately, the flashy clothes, BMW, and .357 Magnum that once added spice to his character now seemed to be part of an unbelievable world. While Jeff Jarvis of People called the show an exercise in racial insult and stereotypes and voted it a leading candidate for worst show of 1989, Merrill Panitt of TV Guide was more disappointed with the plots. While we may enjoy the way Brooks portrays Hawk, and watching the character swagger, search, and shoot he wrote, if youve seen one episode, youve seem em all. The show ended after one season.

Became Star Treks New Commander

During the next few years, Brooks worked on a variety of television and video projects. In 1990 he served as narrator for a documentary on the history of black Catholics in America called A Passion for Faith. His voice was also used to narrate other documentaries including PBSs Eyes on the Prize episode dedicated to legendary singer Marian Anderson and a set of three videos entitled Ebony/Jet Guide to Black Excellence that highlights the careers of famous African American leaders, entertainers, and entrepreneurs. And in 1993, Brooks reprised the role of Hawk for four made-for-cable movies based on the Spencer for Hire series.

By the time the movies aired on the Lifetime cable channel, however, Brooks had already established himself on the new series Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. He won the right to play Commander Benjamin Sisko by beating 100 other actors from all racial backgrounds. The fact that the role made him one of the few male actors of color to star in a dramatic series at the time impressed many people. Harry F. Waters of Newsweek was one of those who was enthusiastic about the casting. In television, where no viewers must be alienated, handing over such a venerable franchises leading role to a black actor seems revolutionary, Waters wrote.

Unlike the previous Star Trek programs, where the characters go in search of adventure, this series follows the lives of characters living on a space station. Brookss Benjamin Sisko, a widower with a young son, is commander of the rundown outpost and almost always in the middle of the action. It is not the action or adventure that appeal to Brooks, however. Today, many of our children, especially males, do not project that they will live past the age of 19 or 20, he told Logan. Star Trek allows our children the chance to see something they might never otherwise imagine. My lifes work has always been about making a way for succeeding generations.

From the beginning, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was a hit with both critics and viewers, not only because of the path laid forth by the previous Star Trek vehicles, but because it moved forward to create its own brand of entertainment. Janice C. Simpson of Time wrote that the real stars of the new series are the sets and special effects. But many, like Jeff Jarvis and Scott Williams of Associated Press (AP) believed that the interesting characters and plot lines that explore the philosophical questions and social problems will make it the best Star Trek yet.

As Brookss character tries to solve the social and political problems of the 24th century, Avery Brooks will try to educate the people in the 20th century about his heritage. I grew up in the context of a black community where ideas such as dignity and integrity and proper behavior still existed, he told Southgate. I thought that was the way the whole world was, and I will insist that, ultimately, thats the way it still is.


America, April 28, 1990, p. 432.

Detroit Free Press, February 18,1990, p. N8; March 29, 1990, p. Cl; April 19,1990, p. C10; May 8,1991, p. F4; March 14,1993, p. G7.

Ebony, March 1985, p. 60; April 1987, p. 62.

Entertainment Weekly, January 8, 1993, p.40.

Essence, April 1989, p. 74.

High Fidelity, April 1986, p. MA28.

Jet, September 5, 1988, p. 54; February 1, 1993, p. 64.

Library Journal, January 1992, p. 193.

Newsweek, January 4, 1993, p. 40.

New York, December 12, 1988, p. 108; January 11, 1993, p. 52; July 26, 1993, p. 47.

New Yorker, October 28, 1995, p. 83; October 10, 1988, p. 84.

Oakland Press, January 10, 1992, p. C5.

Opera News, January 4, 1986, p. 43.

People, June 15, 1987, p. 11; February 13, 1989, p. 13.

School Library Journal, April 1992, p. 76.

Time, December 28, 1992, p. 63.

TV Guide, April 22,1989, p. 47; January 9,1993, p. 45; February 13, 1993, p. 7; January 14, 1994, p. 10.

Joe Kuskowski

views updated

BROOKS, Avery 1948–


Full name, Avery Franklin Brooks; born October 2, 1948, in Evansville, IN; son of Samuel (a singer, tool and die worker, and union official) and Eva Lydia (a music instructor and chorale conductor; maiden name, Crawford) Brooks; grandson of Samuel Travis Crawford (a singer); married Vicki Lenora Bowen (an assistant dean), 1976; children: Ayana, Cabral, Asante. Education: Rutgers University, B.A., M.F.A.; attended Indiana University and Oberlin College.

Addresses: Manager—Vanguard Talent Management, 650 North Bronson Ave., Suite B–140, Los Angeles, CA 90004.

Career: Actor, teacher, director, and choreographer. Rutgers University, Mason Gross School of the Arts, associate professor of theatre and drama, beginning 1976; National Black Arts Festival, Atlanta, GA, artistic director, 1993–96; appeared in television commercials. Avery Brooks Productions, principal.

Awards, Honors: CableAce Award nomination, c. 1988, for Uncle Tom's Cabin; named to Hall of Distinguished Alumni, Rutgers University, 1993; Image Award nominations, outstanding lead actor in a drama series, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, 1996 and 1997, and Saturn Award nomination, best genre television actor, Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films, 1997, all for Star Trek: Deep Space Nine; Image Award nomination, outstanding performance in a youth or children's series/special, 1998, for "The Golden Goose" episode of Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales for Every Child; honorary degrees from various institutions, including Tougaloo University and University at Buffalo, State University of New York.


Television Appearances; Series:

Hawk, Spenser: For Hire, ABC, 1985–89.

Hawk, A Man Called Hawk, ABC, 1989.

Benjamin Sisko, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (also known as DS9, Deep Space Nine, and Star Trek: DS9), syndicated, 1993–99.

Host, Ancient Evidence, BBC, beginning 2003.

Television Appearances; Miniseries:

Cletus Moyer, Roots: The Gift, ABC, 1988.

Narrator, Heart of Africa (documentary; also known as National Geographic's "Heart of Africa"), PBS, 1996.

Voices, Jazz (documentary), PBS, 2001.

Television Appearances; Movies:

Dude on bus, Finnegan Begin Again, HBO, 1985.

Uncle Tom, Uncle Tom's Cabin, Showtime, 1987.

Eyes on the Prize: Marian Anderson (documentary; also known as Marian Anderson), PBS, 1991.

Hawk, Spenser: Ceremony, Lifetime, 1993.

Reverend James Lawson, The Ernest Green Story, The Disney Channel, 1993.

Hawk, Spenser: A Judas Goat, Lifetime, 1994.

Hawk, Spenser: Pale Kings & Princes, Lifetime, 1994.

Hawk, Spenser: A Savage Place, Lifetime, 1995.

Television Appearances; Specials:

Solomon Northrup, "Solomon Northrup's 'Odyssey'" (also known as "Half–Slave, Half–Free" and "Half–Slave, Half–Free: Solomon Northrup's 'Odyssey'"), American Playhouse, PBS, 1984.

Gordon Parks: Moments without Proper Names (also known as Moments without Proper Names), PBS, 1988.

Host, "Prisoners on the Street," Trackdown (also known as Trackdown: Prisoners on the Street), ABC, 1988.

Host, Trackdown, ABC, two additional specials, 1988.

Host, A Passion for Faith (documentary), ABC, c. 1990.

Host and narrator, The Musical Legacy of Roland Hayes (documentary), PBS, 1990.

The Science of Star Trek (documentary), PBS, 1995.

Himself, Star Trek: 30 Years and Beyond, UPN, 1996.

Host, The Ark of the Spirit with Avery Brooks, TBS, 1996.

Voice, Africans in America—America's Journey through Slavery (documentary), PBS, 1998.

Voice of W. E. B. DuBois, The Two Nations of Black America (documentary), PBS, 1998.

Narrator, Apartheid's Last Stand (documentary), The Discovery Channel, 1999.

Narrator, Our Savage Sun (documentary), The Discovery Channel, 1999.

Narrator, South Georgia Island: Paradise of Ice (documentary), PBS, 1999.

Narrator, Space Colonies: Living Among the Stars (documentary), The Discovery Channel, 1999.

Narrator of American version, Walking with Dinosaurs (also known as Dinosaurier—Im Reich der Giganten), BBC and The Discovery Channel, 1999.

(In archive footage) Ultimate Trek: Star Trek's Greatest Moments, UPN, 1999.

Narrator, The Making of Walking with Dinosaurs (documentary), The Discovery Channel, 2000.

Narrator of American version, Big Al Uncovered (documentary; also known as The Science of Big Al), BBC, 2000.

(In archive footage) Solomon Northrup, Half Past Autumn: The Life and Works of Gordon Parks (documentary), HBO, 2000.

Pop Goes the Fourth, Arts and Entertainment, 2000.

Narrator of American version, The Ballad of Big Al (also known as Allosaurus: A "Walking with Dinosaurs" Special), The Discovery Channel and BBC, 2001.

Narrator, Land of the Mammoth (animated documentary), The Discovery Channel, 2001.

Voice, Echoes from the White House (documentary), PBS, 2001.

Voice of narrator, Jesus: The Complete Story (documentary), The Discovery Channel, 2001.

Television Appearances; Awards Presentations:

Himself, 26th Annual NAACP Image Awards, NBC, 1994.

The 1999 Essence Awards, Fox, 1999.

Television Appearances; Episodic:

Voice of Nokkar, "Sentinel," Gargoyles (animated), syndicated, 1996.

Television Appearances; Pilots:

Commander Benjamin Sisko, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine—Emissary, syndicated, 1993.

Television Work; Series:

Producer, A Man Called Hawk, ABC, 1989.

Additional voices, Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales for Every Child (animated), HBO, c. 1995–98.

Television Director; Episodic:

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (also known as DS9, Deep Space Nine, and Star Trek: DS9), episodes from 1994–99.

Film Appearances:

Paris, The Big Hit, TriStar, 1998.

Sweeney, American History X, New Line Cinema, 1998.

Voice of narrator, Africa's Elephant Kingdom (documentary), IMAX Corporation, 1998.

Voice of narrator, The Greatest Places (documentary), 1998.

Narrator, Quest for Life (short documentary), Metavision, 2000.

Detective Leon Jackson, 15 Minutes (also known as 15 Minuten Ruhm), New Line Cinema, 2001.

Stage Appearances:

Sean David, A Photograph: A Study of Cruelty (also known as A Photograph), New York Shakespeare Festival, Public Theatre, New York City, 1978.

Paul Robeson, Are You Now or Have You Ever Been?, Promenade Theatre, New York City, 1978–79, Century Theatre, New York City, 1979.

Second player, Spell #7, New York Shakespeare Festival, Public Theatre, 1979.

Title role, Paul Robeson (solo show; also known as Paul Robeson: A Play with Music), various venues, including Westwood Playhouse, Los Angeles, John Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Washington, DC, and Longacre Theatre, New York City, various performances from 1982–95.

Malcolm X, X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X (opera), 1985.

Title role, Othello, Folger Shakespeare Festival, Washington, DC, 1985.

Title role, Paul Robeson (solo show; Paul Robeson: A Play with Music), John Golden Theatre, New York City, 1988.

Fences, Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, MO, 1990.

The Talented Tenth, Crossroads Theatre Company, New Brunswick, NJ, 1992.

Lopahin, The Cherry Orchard, McCarter Theatre Center, Princeton, NJ, 2000.

Oedipus, The Oedipus Plays, Shakespeare Theatre, Washington, DC, 2001.

New Federal Theatre 30th Anniversary Gala, Majestic Theatre, New York City, 2001.

Title role, King Lear, Yale Repertory Theatre, University Theatre, New Haven, CT, 2004.

Appeared as Theseus and Oberson, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Arena Stage, Washington, DC; appeared in Catch the Spirit of Black Theater.

Major Tours:

The Exonerated, The Culture Project, U.S. cities, 2002–2004.

Stage Work:

Choreographer, The Mighty Gents, New York Shakespeare Festival, Mobile Theatre, New York City, 1979.

Director, Manfred (staged reading), Music with Words Festival, New England Conservatory, 1986.



Narrator, Ebony/Jet Guide to Black Excellence (three videos), Home Vision Entertainment, c. 1991.

Video Games:

Captain Benjamin Sisko, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine—Harbinger, 1996.

Captain Benjamin Sisko, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion, 1999.

Captain Benjamin Sisko, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine—Dominion Wars, 2001.



Contemporary Black Biography, Volume 9, Gale, 1995.


Chronicle of Higher Education, June 8, 1994.

Cinefantastique, November, 1997, pp. 27–29.

Entertainment Weekly, January 8, 1993.

Essence, April, 1989, pp. 74–77.

Jet, February 1, 1993, p. 64.

New York Post, August 10, 1988.

Parade, December 20, 1998, pp. 8–9.

Starlog, October, 1994.

TV Guide, February 13, 1993; May 27, 1995; August 24, 1996, p. 19.