Brooks in April 2008
|Born||Avery Franklin Brooks
October 2, 1948
Evansville, Indiana, U.S.
|Occupation||actor, director, singer|
|Spouse(s)||Vicki Bowen (m. 1976)|
Avery Franklin Brooks (born October 2, 1948) is an American actor, director and occasional singer. Brooks is best known for his television roles as Benjamin Sisko on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, as Hawk on Spenser for Hire and its spinoff A Man Called Hawk, and as Dr. Bob Sweeney in the Academy Award-nominated film American History X.
Brooks was born in Evansville, Indiana, the son of Eva Lydia (née Crawford), a chorale conductor and music instructor, and Samuel Brooks, a union official and tool and die worker. His maternal grandfather, Samuel Travis Crawford, was also a singer. When he was aged eight, his family moved to Gary, Indiana, when Samuel Brooks was laid off from International Harvester. Of Gary, Brooks has said: "I was born in Evansville... but it was Gary, Indiana that made me." The Brooks household was filled with music. His mother, who was among the first African-American women to earn a master's degree in music at Northwestern University, taught music wherever the family lived. His father was in the choir Wings over Jordan on CBS radio from 1937 to 1947, and his maternal uncle Samuel Travis Crawford was a member of the Delta Rhythm Boys. "Music is all around me and in me, as I am in it," Brooks has said.
Brooks attended Indiana University and Oberlin College, and later completed his B.A., plus an M.F.A. from Rutgers University in 1976, becoming the first African American to receive an MFA in acting and directing from Rutgers.
Spenser for Hire: Hawk
In 1985, Brooks landed the role of Hawk on the ABC television detective series Spenser: For Hire. Hawk became a popular character and, after three seasons, Brooks in 1989 received his own, short-lived spinoff series, A Man Called Hawk.
Brooks said of his role as Hawk: "I never thought of myself as the sidekick... I've never been the side of anything. I just assumed that I was equal."
Star Trek: Benjamin Sisko
Brooks is best known in popular culture for his role as Commander—and later Captain—Benjamin Sisko on the syndicated science fiction television series Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, which ran for seven seasons from 1993 to 1999.
Brooks won the role of Commander Benjamin Sisko by beating 100 other actors from all racial backgrounds to become the first African-American captain to lead a Star Trek series. In landing the role, Brooks also became the first African-American male actor in a lead starring role in a first-run television drama since Clarence Williams III starred as undercover police detective Linc Hayes in the iconic ABC "hippie" cop drama The Mod Squad from 1968 to 1973 and only the second in American television history to do so since Bill Cosby co-starred with Robert Culp in the NBC spy series I Spy from 1965 to 1968.
What appealed to Brooks about the role was the opportunity to give hope to young people. "Today, many of our children, especially black males, do not project that they will live past the age of 19 or 20," he told Michael Logan of TV Guide. "Star Trek allows our children the chance to see something they might never otherwise imagine."
He directed nine episodes of the series, including "Far Beyond the Stars", an episode focusing on racial injustice.
Series producer Ronald D. Moore said of Brooks: "Avery, like his character (Sisko), is a very complex man. He is not a demanding or ego-driven actor, rather he is a thoughtful and intelligent man who sometimes has insights into the character that no one else has thought about. He has also been unfailingly polite and a classy guy in all my dealings with him."
In 1984, he received critical praise for his featured role in PBS's American Playhouse production of Half Slave, Half Free: Solomon Northup's Odyssey, directed by Gordon Parks. The story chronicled the life of Solomon Northup, a free man from New York kidnapped and sold into slavery in 1841 and held until 1853, when he regained his freedom. It was adapted from Northrup's memoir, Twelve Years a Slave, published in 1853.
Brooks appeared in the 1985 television movie adaptation of Finnegan Begin Again. In 1987 he starred in the role of Uncle Tom in the Showtime production of Uncle Tom's Cabin, another project that allowed Brooks to highlight the history of African Americans, as did his appearance in the 1988 television movie Roots: The Gift.
Teaching and cultural work
Brooks has taught at Oberlin College and Case Western Reserve University. A graduate of the Livingston College and Mason Gross School of the Arts components of Rutgers University, he accepted an appointment in 1976 as Associate Professor of Theatre Arts with tenure, and has since been promoted to full Professor.
From 1993 to 1996, Brooks was Artistic Director for the National Black Arts Festival in association with Rutgers University. Held biannually since 1988 in Atlanta, Georgia, the internationally renowned festival celebrates African-American culture and people of African descent. In addition, Brooks has done extensive work with the Smithsonian Institution's Program in Black American Culture.
A deep baritone singer, Brooks has performed on stage with Butch Morris, Lester Bowie, and Jon Hendricks. He also recorded an album with saxophone player James Spaulding as a tribute to Duke Ellington. Brooks had the lead role in the 1985 Anthony Davis opera X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X. Also, he performed at the Paris Banlieues Bleues Festival in 2005. In his role as Captain Benjamin Sisko, he performed the Frank Sinatra tune, "The Best Is Yet to Come", at the conclusion of the Deep Space Nine episode, "Badda-Bing Badda-Bang" as a duet with James Darren.
In 2009, Brooks released his debut album, Here..., an album of Jazz and Blues covers, as well as spoken word.
Brooks received critical acclaim in Phillip Hayes Dean's play Paul Robeson. Brooks portrayed the life of the famous singer, actor, and civil rights activist in a one-man, critically acclaimed biographical drama. He has performed the role since 1982 at the Westwood Playhouse in Los Angeles, the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and the Longacre Theater on Broadway. He also portrayed Robeson in Are You Now Or Have You Ever Been?, both on and Off-Broadway.
Brooks' early theater credits include The Offering, A PHOTOGRAPH: A Study of Cruelty, and Are You Now or Have You Ever Been in the 1970s. He started to gain recognition after his appearance in Spell #7 at the Public/Anspache Theater in New York City in 1979. He subsequently starred in Othello at the Folger Shakespeare Festival (1985) and Fences at the Repertory Theater of St. Louis, Missouri (1990). He reprised the role of Othello at the Washington Shakespeare Theater in 1990-1991.
Brooks appeared in the title role of The Oedipus Plays, a production that traveled to the 2003 Athens Festival in Greece. He also appeared in the title role of King Lear at Yale's Repertory Theatre. In 2005, Brooks again starred as Othello, this time at the Shakespeare Theatre Company in a production directed by the renowned Michael Kahn. Brooks was one of 15 actors of the Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington to be honored with the William Shakespeare Award for Classical Theatre in 2007. He returned to the Shakespeare Theatre Company in Fall 2007 to play the title role in Christopher Marlowe's Tamburlaine.
Brooks played Dr. Bob Sweeney in American History X alongside Edward Norton. He also played mob boss Paris in The Big Hit, co-starring Mark Wahlberg. His last feature film role was in 2001 as Detective Leon Jackson in 15 Minutes, which also starred Robert De Niro and Edward Burns.
Brooks has also hosted several documentaries and served as narrator in such features as the IMAX film Africa's Elephant Kingdom. His other documentary credits include narrating A Passion for Faith (the history of black Catholics in America), Eyes on the Prize (dedicated to legendary singer Marian Anderson), Walking with Dinosaurs, Jesus: The Complete Story, Land of the Mammoth: Ancient Evidence, The Ballad of Big Al, The Science of Big Al, Savage Sun, Engineering the Impossible (The Colosseum), Greatest Places and Echoes from the White House, God vs. Satan and Jewels of the Rift (about the life cycles of African cichlid fish in Lake Tanganyika).
In May 2007, Brooks recorded the narration for the documentary The Better Hour, which is about the life of William Wilberforce, the man who led the campaign for the end of slavery in the United Kingdom in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
Brooks also provided the narration for the BBC series Walking with Dinosaurs when it aired in North America on the Discovery Channel. His deep and authoritative voice commanded viewer attention; Brooks was able to draw on his years of training as an opera singer and his extensive stage experience with Shakespeare company actors to not only engage the viewer, but use his vocal abilities to emphasize the events as seen in the show.
In 2009, Brooks narrated a special documentary for the National Geographic channel, titled Drain the Ocean. Using CGI animation, National Geographic removed the water from the oceans and explored the ocean floor and its vast geography. In a similar mode, "The Bible's Greatest Secrets" (2013) attempted to reconcile the stories in the Bible with new found archeological advise. Brooks served as the series narrator.
In 2011, Brooks was interviewed by William Shatner in the feature length documentary The Captains. The film was written and directed by Shatner and featured the original Star Trek captain interviewing every other actor who had portrayed a prominently recurring captain, upon whom the science-fiction franchise had yet been based. Brooks also served as Musical Supervisor for the project.
Brooks was part of a directors panel at a festival celebrating the work of Ntozake Shange at the New Federal Theatre on February 11, 2007. Brooks has directed Shange's Boogie Woogie Landscapes at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and in London's West End.
In 2006, Trekweb and TrekToday announced that Avery Brooks would take a role in the film Rambo. Brooks himself later said this was not the case. He said "I've met Mr. Stallone, many years ago — I have great respect for Mr. Stallone, always did. However, Rambo is not in my future."
As part of BBC Audiobooks America's entry into the US market, Brooks narrated an audiobook of Alex Haley's novel Roots: The Saga of an American Family. It is the first time the novel has received an audio adaptation. Brooks himself had starred in the 1988 television film based on the book, Roots: The Gift.
Brooks has also completed work on his long-awaited CD. It contains "a selection of ballads and love songs... I speak of my respect for my father, and for artists that I have listened to all my life."
Brooks also periodically attends Star Trek conventions around the world.
Since 1976, Brooks has been married to Vicki Lenora Brooks, Assistant Dean for Transfer and Nontraditional Students in the School of Arts and Sciences at Rutgers University (where she has worked for more than 30 years). The couple have three children (Ayana, Cabral, and Asante), and live in Princeton, New Jersey.
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