The year was 1969. A brand new Broadway musical about a radical Black Power preacher who inspires a group of militant black followers was conceived. This musical was based around the book Big Time Buck White by Joseph Dolan Tuotti. It starred Muhammad Ali!

The late sixties proved to be challenging for Muhammad Ali. He was stripped of his titles – world heavyweight titles to be clear – as well as his passport for refusing to be inducted into the US armed forces and his boxing license in every American state. He never served any prison time due to the appeal process; but he was convicted by a New York court of draft dodging and sentenced to five years jail time and a $10,000 fine.

Well, most folks wouldn’t even believe that he was the star of a Broadway musical at this time. He had to keep himself busy. Now, it’s been said that he toured colleges giving lectures related to African American racial justice and his opposition to the Vietnam War. Off the back of this tour, he was offered the opportunity to appear on Broadway. Of course, the musical aligned with his personal beliefs. 

Making his Broadway debut as a composer and lyricist was the incredibly talented and passionate artist and activist, Oscar Brown Jr. His soulful songs had captured the hearts of legends like Nina Simone and Mahalia Jackson. Lorraine Hansberry, who had previously collaborated with Brown on the show “Kicks and Co.,” affectionately referred to him as “a startling genius.”

Buck White was on Broadway for only 7 performances from December 2nd through December 6th. It makes you wonder if the NY theater audience wasn’t quite ready for this Black Power themed musical.

We were able to find very rare footage of Muhammad Ali performing a piece from the musical on the Ed Sullivan Show

Watch Muhammad Ali perform a piece from Buck White on the Ed Sullivan Show

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