Current and former Tennessee State University students and faculty say the influence of alumnus Barry Scott will continue long after the accomplished actor is gone.
Scott passed away on Sept. 10 at the age of 65. One of his many accomplishments was being the founder and producing artistic director of the American Negro Playwright Theatre at Tennessee State University, where his parents and grandparents graduated.
Scott was known to be an authority on the life and works of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He wrote and starred in Ain’t Got Long to Stay Here as a tribute to King. According to a biography of Scott on the website of his management company, he was so convincing in his portrayal of King, that Coretta Scott King once cornered him between acts of a play to compliment him on his realistic portrayal of her husband.
Scott’s acting credits include television’s I’ll Fly Away and In the Heat of the Night. He was also a member of the Screen Actors Guild, Actor’s Equity Association, American Film Radio and Television Association and served on the board of the Tennessee Arts Commission.
Scott’s voice could be heard on commercials and PSAs around the country. He did voice work for ESPN, CBS, ABC, NBC, Disney, SPIKE TV – TNA Wrestling, The Discovery Channel, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Burger King, McDonalds, The American Heart Association and more.
TSU senior Jayla Barnes of Franklin, Tennessee, said she’s proud to follow in Scott’s footsteps.
“He paved the way for me,” said Barnes, a communications major with a concentration in theater. “Having had someone of his caliber at TSU, and being able to say that I go to the college that Barry Scott was once at, is amazing,”
Theater major Justin Gunn agrees.
“Inside TSU’s Performing Arts Center are posters of different plays, and there are some that Mr. Scott directed, like Romeo and Juliet,” said Gunn, a senior from Chicago. “Now, when I look at those posters, I think about him, and his influence.”
Former TSU dean of students Barbara Murrell said she admired Scott’s “focus on his craft.”
“I had great respect for him,” said Murrell, who at each TSU homecoming has an oratorical contest in honor of her late husband, Robert N. Murrell. “He was a gentleman, and a talented actor and orator.”
Lawrence James is a professor of theater at TSU and former interim head of the university’s Communications Department. He says Scott’s theater company was among the first that was “founded by an African American and that produced predominantly Black material.”
“A number of our students worked with him and for him,” said James. “I know they will carry a lot of what he gave to them during his time here at TSU.”
TSU alumnus Jeff Obafemi Carr, also an actor, wrote in a blog about his opportunity as a youth to act in a passion play opposite the older Scott.
“Even then, Barry Scott was one of our heroes,” said Carr. “We couldn’t believe the number of lines he held in his memory with just a few days of practice. I still recall the pride in being cast in my first cameo role opposite Barry, as Pontius Pilate.”
Carr adds that Scott was an excellent mentor and someone he and his friends wanted to emulate.
“We wanted the power, presence, and voice this man projected. This man who looked like us; this man who was one of us.”