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Scholarship fund in Myers’ name to be announced at WVSU event Friday


Charleston Gazette-Mail

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Lydia McLeod attended West Virginia State College in Institute at the same time as Cabin Creek native Lou Myers.

Cabin Creek native Lou Myers, seen here in his iconic role as Mr. Gaines from “It’s A Different World,” will be honored with a memorial tribute Friday at his alma mater, West Virginia State University in Institute. Myers died in 2013 at age 77.
(Submitted photo)

She did not know him well, but characterized him as “a regular guy with a very warm sense of humor.”

Myers would graduate in 1964 with a degree in sociology. He would instead go on to a globetrotting career in TV, film, theater and cabaret performance.

About five years ago, McLeod and her husband, Ron, who had been following Myers’ career and meeting him at homecomings back in Institute, went to see him perform on Broadway in “The Color Purple.”

“We didn’t realize until we got up to our seats — which were up in the nosebleed area in the last row — and everybody sitting on that row was from West Virginia State,” she recalled.

They sent word backstage that a bunch of alumni were there and could he meet them at the stage door, McLeod recalled.

“And so we did. I said, ‘I bet you don’t remember me,’” she remarked to the actor, who didn’t miss a beat, even recalling her maiden name.

“I remember you very well, Lydia Alvarado McLeod,” he said.

So, it is Lydia McLeod’s turn to remember the life and legacy of Myers, who died in 2013 at the age of 77. She and her husband have pulled together the Lou Myers Lifetime Achievement Tribute from 10 to 11 a.m. Friday at the Davis Fine Arts Center at West Virginia State University (the former college became a university some years ago). A portrait of Myers will be unveiled, memories of Myers will be shared and there will be an announcement of the Lou Myers Endowed Scholarship with donations sought to support the scholarship. The event is open to the public.

Many know Myers chiefly as a comedic actor through his role as Mr. Vernon Gaines in the wildly popular TV sitcom “It’s a Different World” (1988-1993). Along with Myers, the show had another West Virginia connection. According to a biography compiled for the event, Myers told a classmate that the Grill Restaurant featured on the series was based on Andy’s Grill, a popular student hangout near WVSC in the ‘50s through the ‘70s.

But the arc of Myers’ accomplishments extends far beyond his high-profile role as Mr. Gaines, including a host of other TV roles.

He worked alongside some of the most notable actors and actresses of his generation and among the movies he appeared in were “Tin Cup,” “The Wedding Planner” and “How Stella Got Her Groove Back.”

His theatrical turns included roles in “The Color Purple,” Driving Miss Daisy,” “The Piano Corner” and “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.”

Perhaps inspired by the Silas Green Black Minstrel Show he saw growing up in West Virginia, Myers created his own globe-trotting traveling show, The Lou Myers Cabaret Show, a combination of him playing piano, singing, acting and storytelling.

Myers was also devoted to civil rights, black history and African culture (he studied and learned several African dialects and was also proficient in French, German and Spanish). He often visited and performed in Africa and was founder and director of the Tshaka Ensemble Players.

He was initiated in Ghana as a “griot,” an African tribal figure who serves up history as a poet, praise singer and wandering musician, according to his biography. He took to listing his middle name as “Leabengula,” the name he was given when initiated as a griot.

Actors function as storytellers, said Myers in a previous Charleston Gazette profile. “Basically, the griot is what we really are.”

Myers returned often to West Virginia where he’d grown up with a father, Otis Louise Myers, who was a coal miner. He later built his mother a home in the Chesapeake/Cabin Creek area with a notable historic connection. The funds for its construction came from the sale of the North Carolina ancestral property of Myers’ great-great-great-great grandmother, who was a slave.

Myers won the NAACP Best Actor Award and an off-Broadway Audience Best Actor awards for his role as Stool Pigeon in “King Hedley II,” and his role as the tap dancing bodyguard in “Fat Tuesday.” He also received the Living Legend Award from the National Black Theater Festival.

In 2005, the Appalachian Education Initiative listed Myers as one of 50 “Outstanding Creative Artists” from the state of West Virginia and featured him in their coffee table book “Art & Soul.”

Myers was also chairman and “chief enlightenment officer” of Global Business Incubation established in 1991 with Loyola Marymount University, set up as a “thinkubator” to promote the growth and development of global enterprises. He also launched the Lou Myers Scenario Motion Pictures Institute.

Myers, a veteran of the U.S. Air Force, is buried in Institute at the Donel C. Kinnard Memorial State Veterans Cemetery.

The ripples of his performing career spanned the globe, but had smaller, but no less personally significant effects for an old classmate like Lydia McLeod.

“Watching him perform made me want to do it, too,” she said.

She ended up working as an extra in films in the early ‘90s.

“I really enjoyed being a part of the different shows, seeing the actors and actresses,” she said.

She last saw Myers at a West Virginia State homecoming two years before his death.

“We went into the dance and I saw him over at a table,” she said. “I went over to greet him and say hello. We hugged. I said: ‘You know what? We want to do something for you to recognize all your talent and achievements and how you’ve made so many people happy with your performances.’ He just smiled. His family was sitting at his table and they all said in unison, ‘Aaaawwwww …’”

Two years later, Myers had passed on, which spurred McLeod and her husband to fulfill the promise of that evening.

“I was so disappointed because we didn’t get a chance to start that when he was alive. I said, ‘We need to follow through on this, Ron, and make this happen!’”

Contact Douglas Imbrogno at 304-348-3017, e-mail [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @douglaseye

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