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Charles Weldon, the artistic director of the Negro Ensemble Company, has died. He was 78.
During his career, he directed numerous company productions, including Colored People Time, Savanna Black and Blue, The Waiting Room and NEC’s 50th-anniversary revival of Charles Fuller’s Pulitzer Prize-winning A Soldier’s Play.
Weldon acted in many more, among them The Great McDaddy and The Brownsville Raid. His film acting credits include Serpico, Stir Crazy and Malcolm X. Weldon made his Broadway debut in 1969 in Buck White, which featured Muhammad Ali in the title role; and returned in NEC’s production of The River Niger in 1973. He also appeared in the original San Francisco production of Hair.
Weldon’s final stage appearance was as the central character of the Mayor in a 2016 revival of NEC co-founder Douglas Turner Ward’s Day of Absence.
NEC has been a touchstone for African-American theater artists since 1965. Prominent actors who have come through the New York-based company’s ranks include Phylicia Rashad, S. Epatha Merkerson, Laurence Fishburne, Louis Gossett Jr., Adolph Caesar, Esther Rolle and Ruben Santiago-Hudson.
Born in Wetumka, Oklahoma, in 1940, Weldon worked in cotton fields as a teenager and achieved early success as a member of a doo-wop group called The Pardons, and, subsequently, a soul group. He then entered the theater world and began auditioning for regional productions.
Weldon had three children with his first wife Barbara Sotello, got remarried to second wife Debbi Morgan, and was single at the time of his death.
A celebration of Weldon’s life will take place in January.
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