Robert Hooks


Robert Hooks December 17, 2014 ·    – Per Dale Shields who chose this photo to illustrate the important principals stated below:: Robert Hooks…Sometimes… if you really look into a photograph… it speaks volumes. Teach the children. Share your stories. Pass on our history. “Each one, teach one.” {Each One Teach One is an African-American Proverb. The original author is unknown.} This phrase originated in the United States during slavery, when Africans were denied education, including learning to read. Many, if not most slaves were kept in a state of ignorance about anything beyond their immediate circumstances which were under the control of owners, the lawmakers, and the authorities. When a slave learned or was taught to read, it became his duty to teach someone else, spawning the phrase “Each one, teach one.” In the first half of the 20th century, the phrase was applied to the work of a Christian missionary, Dr. Frank Laubach, who utilized the concept to help address poverty and illiteracy in the Philippines. Many sources cite Dr. Laubach as creating the saying, but many others believe that he simply used it in order to advance the cause of ending illiteracy in the world. In the 1996 novel Push by Sapphire as well as the 2009 movie Precious the expression is used as the name of an alternative school that the principal character is attending after being expelled from public school.”}

Photo courtesy of Howard University



[ As told by Robert Hooks, in his own words… ]
Edited by Dale Ricardo Shields

Dear Dale… Hopefully, because you have a ready-made historical platform, you having this ‘accurate’ information might move us forward, toward correcting the persistent, misinformation of the founding of The Negro Ensemble Company.  

Peace, Robert


Robert Hooks, The Negro Ensemble Company
And the Actual Sequence of His Causes
That Led to The Birth of the NEC

While “Happy Ending” & “Day of Absence” were not produced by the NEC until the 1969-70 season,                MY INDEPENDENT 1965 PRODUCTION OF THEM led to the creation of the NEC in 1967.


In 1964 I founded The Group Theatre Workshop for young artists. I was running the classes in my apartment,  so I enlisting Barbara Ann Teer to assist me. This group of sincere teens also included Hattie Winston, Antonio Fargas, and Daphne Maxwell Reed.

To assuage the curiosity of parents and neighbors regarding the activity in my apartment.  In the summer of 1964, I decided to mount a one-night Monday showcase (at The Cherry Lane Theatre where I was then appearing in “Dutchman”). The evening included Gwendolyn Brooks’ “We Real Cool.” I wanted to end the evening with a play. I ask Douglas Turner could I present his short one-act “Happy Ending” featuring my students (rounding out the evening ).

To my eternal surprise somehow Jerry Tallmer, the head theatre reviewer for the NY Post had heard about this showcase and attended the evening.  He wrote a glowing review of the young students! He was very impressed with the concept and writing of the play. This gave me the impetus to persuade Douglas to allow me to get the option rights from the White producer who had been unable to raise funds to produce the two incendiaries, excoriating one-acts “Happy Ending” & “Day of Absence”.

I raised the entire budget from just two individuals – Clarence Avant and Al Bell, the founders of  Stax Records – making this production THE FIRST PRODUCTION BY A BLACK AUTHOR, BLACK PRODUCER, WITH BLACK MONEY, THAT WAS EVER PRODUCED ON THE NEW YORK STAGE!        (It was Juanita Poitier, Sidney’s first wife, who set me up with them.)

Due to the blazing success of MY 1965 production of both Doug’s one-acts mounted at the St. Marks Playhouse (which in 2 years would become the home of the NEC), Doug then became the next anointed Black playwright, (as I was filming Otto Preminger’s “Hurry Sundown” and continued to run the New York production office from the film location).  Doug was invited by the New York Times to write an editorial for their Sunday theatre section, the brilliant article “Theatre in America – For Whites Only” (1966). That, in turn, caught the attention of the Ford Foundation’s McNeil Lowry, which prompted him to approach ‘US’ inviting us to write a proposal for “an ideal Black theatre company.”

I am very proud that I presented that evening with my students in 1964, where I introduced Douglas’ Happy Ending because without the addition his play there would have never been reviewed.

I then assumed the role of the producer, because of Mr. Tammer’s review, presenting both one-acts plays. that production turned the spotlight on The Negro Ensemble Company. My title was Executive Producer. Douglas Turner Ward was the Artistic Director. Gerald Krone was the Administrative Director.

And the three of us then produced ALL the plays from then on ‘together’ as a company. 


Here’s a classic throwback photo (circa 1966)- when actor-comedian Godfrey Cambridge and lovely Broadway star Diahann Carroll visited the set of “Day of Absence”. Here, catching me and Douglas Turner Ward not quite out of our whiteface make-up. A Bert Andrews photograph was taken a year before the founding of the Negro Ensemble Company!



Louis J. Delsarte, the brilliant painter, muralist, and illustrator passed away. A professor of Fine Arts at Morehouse College where he influenced so many students for futures in the fine arts. But back in 1970, when I produced a fundraising gala for the Negro Ensemble Company at New York’s Winter Garden Theatre, Louis – brought backstage by Godfrey Cambridge – surprised me with this extraordinary collage dedicated to the NEC and featuring a selection of characters from some of our major plays. It hangs in the house today, a daily reminder of this generous, true artist.”


Here’s a classic throwback from the inaugural season at the Negro Ensemble Company (circa 1967-68.) I’m with legendary choreographer Louis Johnson as he creates Stage Movement for our amazing ensemble actors in “Song of the Lusitanian Bogey” our very first play! Louis was with the company for decades providing brilliant choreography and mesmerizing stage movement for our productions. 

National Black Theatre Festival 1999 — with Robert Hooks, Glynn Turman, and Larry Leon Hamlin.


From left to right: Judyann Elder, Robert Hooks, Denise Nicholas, Arthur French, and Hattie Winston, all original members of New York’s world-famous Negro Ensemble Company. Enjoying a reunion lunch honoring Arthur French, in Los Angeles appearing in must-see production of “The Trip to Bountiful”. Over half a lifetime of friendship in this photo! The only missing West Coast NEC original member was David Downing who, sadly, simply could not be reached for this extra special occasion. A grand and joy-filled reunion was had by all!

After the Los Angeles tribute to the Negro Ensemble Company – Classic 50th anniversary many of my cherished NEC compatriots gathered on stage for commemorative photos. A deeply moving and meaningful experience for me. And I look forward to seeing other alums at the New York and Atlanta events to come. A powerful time indeed! — with William BT Taylor, Hattie Winston Wheeler, Judyann Elder, Luise Heath, Denise Nicholas, Chester Sims, Nancy Carter, Glynn Turman, and Ed De Shae.