Black Power on Broadway

Authored by Alexis Wallace

Black Power in Broadway

The photo was taken by Martha Swope and the article was written on January 4, 1982 in New York, NY.

Dreamgirls was a Broadway show that premiered on December 20, 1981. In 1982, the show would go on to earn 13 nominations, winning six of them. The original cast starred Loretta Devine, Jennifer Holliday, Sheryll Lee Ralph and Cleavant Derricks. (Dekic and Cox 2013). The musical, which takes many elements of the stardom of the Supremes, is much more than just catchy tunes.


It is a story that begs the question, “What does success look like?” Success can vary from person to person. A rich person can see a business that they created make millions of dollars, and in their mind they are successful. A regular person can have a regular job but have a fantastic home life, and to them that is success. Dreamgirls is not exempt from this question. When the trio started, they had a predominantly “black sound,” however when a slightly sleazy visionary sees the potential in the group, he capitalizes on the opportunity. Of course, they are eager and trusting, but what they don’t realize is that in order to be “successful” they need to make the right changes. And in their case the right change is the white change.

Recently I read The Business of the 21st Century (Kiyosaki 2010). The book focuses on network marketing and the power it gives you. The most important takeaway is that duplication is the key to financial freedom. Much like in Kiyosaki’s book, the manager understood that non-People of Color (POCs) would only buy into something that could be replicated. Something that might look different but sound familiar. It was a great formula, but it yielded many different results.


Dreamgirls has been a staple in black entertainment for almost 40 years. It, along with many other Broadway shows, has given opportunities for many more Black stories to be shared. It is a story; the music and the social commentary remain relevant to this very day.

Reference List

Dekic, Megan and Cox, Brynn. 2013. “Vintage Playbill: Dreamgirls, 1981.” Playbill Inc. https://www.playbill.com/article/vintage-playbill-dreamgirls-1981-com-212950

Kiyosaki, Robert T. 2010. Business of the 21st Century. Arizona: DreamBuilders.

Muhammad, A.J. 2016. “African Americans on Broadway Then and Now.” Schomburg General Research and Reference Division, The New York Public Library. (blog).  https://www.nypl.org/blog/2016/02/26/african-americans-broadway

Dekic, Megan and Cox, Brynn. 2019. “Check Out Photos of the Original Broadway Production of Dreamgirls.” Playbill Inc. https://www.playbill.com/article/check-out-photos-of-the-original-broadway-production-of-dreamgirls

Young, Danielle. 2016. “Black on Broadway: Now Is the Time for People of Color to Star in Major Roles on Broadway.” TheRoot.com. (blog). https://www.theroot.com/black-on-broadway-now-is-the-time-for-people-of-color-1790856246

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