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Admirers Recall August Wilson’s Impact on Black Culture, Theater


      Admirers of playwright August Wilson vowed this weekend at his funeral to ensure that future generations are exposed to Wilson’s tales of Black struggle in 20th century America.

      The two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning Wilson died of liver cancer Oct. 2 in Seattle. He was 60.

      “You will not be a footnote in American history. We guarantee the young kids will know who August Wilson is,” Kenny Leon, artistic director for the True Colors Theater Company in Atlanta, told several hundred dignitaries, theater celebrities and others who gathered for the service at the Soldiers and Sailors National Military Museum and Memorial.

      Leon, a Broadway veteran, directed “Gem of the Ocean” on Broadway and Wilson’s most recent play, “Radio Golf,” in Los Angeles.

      The funeral was held in Wilson’s hometown of Pittsburgh, the setting for nine plays in his epic 10-play cycle that explored Black America. The series included such dramas as “Fences,” “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” and “The Piano Lesson,” which starred veteran stage, TV and movie actor Charles S. Dutton.

      “When I read ‘The Piano Lesson,’ I realized it encompassed the entire African-American experience,” Dutton said after the funeral. “August Wilson’s legacy is as important as Martin Luther King’s legacy, as important as Malcolm X’s legacy and as important as Nat Turner.”

      During the funeral, jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis played “Danny Boy,” moving the audience to tears. Minutes later, he broke into a jazzier, upbeat number, bringing people to their feet to dance, clap and tap their shoes to the beat.

      Actors Dutton, Phylicia Rashad, Anthony Chisholm and Ruben Santiago-Hudson read passages from four of Wilson’s plays.

      “Death ain’t nothing but a fastball on the outside corner, and you know what I’ll do to that,” Dutton said, reading from “Fences.”

      Wilson lived in the Twin Cities from 1978 to 1990. He wrote for the Science Museum in St. Paul and later landed a fellowship at the Minneapolis Playwrights Center.

—Associated Press

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