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Carl Anderson Biography - Began Singing with Large Family, Played Judas Iscariot, Began Recording Career, Continued Both Singing and Acting

jesus superstar christ stage

1945-2004

Actor, singer

Carlton Earl Anderson, known as Carl to his friends and family, became famous for his portrayal of Judas Iscariot in the stage and screen production of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's 1970s rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar. Possessed of high energy and an upbeat attitude, Anderson was also a highly respected jazz vocalist, who released nine solo albums and appeared on countless others. He died in 2004 at the age of 58 from leukemia.

Began Singing with Large Family

Anderson was born on February 27, 1945, in Lynchburg, Virginia, along with his identical twin brother, Charles Edward, who died of bronchitis at the age of 11 months. He grew up in a modest home on Boston Avenue along with his ten surviving siblings. His father, James, was a steelworker, and his mother, Alberta, worked as a seamstress. Anderson first began singing and performing as a child along with his family at the Rivermont Baptist Church.

Anderson attended the racially segregated Dunbar High School during the mid-1960s, where he sang in the school choir. In 1962, as a junior, he served as the choir's student director. Following his junior year, Anderson abandoned school and enlisted in the U.S. Air Force, serving as a communications technician. His experience singing in the World Wide Air Force Talent Contest first prompted Anderson to consider a career in music. After a two-year stint in the military, Anderson returned to Lynchburg and completed high school, graduating in 1965.

In 1969 Anderson moved to Washington, D.C. He simultaneously enrolled in classes at Howard University, took a job as the assistant director of the Columbia Heights Boys Club, and sang in clubs around town. During this time Anderson joined some friends to form a band, which they named The Second Eagle, because their first performance was on the night the Eagle One landed on the moon. With Anderson on lead vocals, the group covered songs at the jazz clubs along M Street in Georgetown to mixed reviews.

Played Judas Iscariot

On Palm Sunday in 1971, The Second Eagle was playing a gig at St. Stephen's Church, and Anderson sang several covers from Jesus Christ Superstar, which was released as an album before ever being staged. A talent scout from the William Morris Agency was in the audience and recognized Anderson's potential. As a result, on June 27, 1971, Anderson auditioned in New York City for the stage production of Jesus Christ Superstar. He landed the part of Judas Iscariot and started rehearsals two days later.

Five months later Anderson made his Broadway debut, replacing an ailing Ben Vereen. Later, the two would share the role of Judas. Anderson spent six months on stage in New York before moving to Los Angeles to prepare for a West Coast staging of the production. However, while still in rehearsals, he flew to London to audition for the movie version of Jesus Christ Superstar. Awarded the role of Judas, he then went to Israel for the shooting of the film.

Already a popular hit on stage both in the United States and the United Kingdom, the movie version of Jesus Christ Superstar hit theaters in 1973. This rock opera (all dialogue is sung and there are no spoken words) told the story of the last six days of the life of Jesus Christ through the eyes of Judas, who is portrayed as more sympathetic than sinister. Although the film-as well as the album and stage production-created controversy among some religious groups, it became a huge success. Anderson, who first received press coverage because of the decision to cast an African American as Judas, soon turned the critics' attention to his outstanding, vibrant performance, which was roundly applauded. He received the NAACP Image Award and two Golden Globe nominations for best motion picture actor in a musical/comedy and most promising male newcomer.

Began Recording Career

In the same year, the original motion picture soundtrack from Jesus Christ Superstar was released, featuring Anderson as Judas. The 1970s were busy and exciting years in Anderson's life. Not only had he gone from obscurity to fame as Judas Iscariot, he also signed a record deal with Motown Records and worked with the popular musician Stevie Wonder on his seminal album Songs in the Key of Life, released in 1976. During this time Anderson married Kathleen McGhee (they later divorced) and had a son, Khalil McGhee-Anderson. He spent much of the early and mid-1970s touring and promoting Jesus Christ Superstar. In all, Anderson appeared on stage in the role of Judas more than 1,200 times.

Although Anderson appeared in a Spanish film, The Black Pearl, in 1978 (which was never distributed in the United States) and in the made-for-television thriller Mind Over Murder in 1979, by the end of the 1970s and early 1980s, he was primarily focusing on his music career. Gaining recognition from his performances in clubs around Los Angeles, he was able to land a record deal with Columbia Records to release four albums on the Epic label. His first two albums, Absence without Love and On and On, did not garner much attention from the critics or the public. However, Anderson worked with Earth, Wind, and Fire's Al McKay to produce Protocol in 1985, which included what is considered one of his best singles, "Can't Stop This Feeling." Despite the improvements in song selection and production, Protocol remained basically untouched in the stores.

In 1985 Anderson released the single "Friends and Lovers," a duet with Days of Our Lives soap star, Gloria Loring. The duet was a phenomenal success and reached the number-two spot on the charts. Epic hoped that Anderson's fourth album, Carl Anderson, would benefit from the popularity of the single, but ultimately found few buyers. With Epic losing interest after completing its four-record deal, Anderson released Act of Love in 1988 under RCA's Polydor label. Despite positive critical reviews for its smooth jazz sounds, the album once again failed in stores, and Polydor declined to extend Anderson's contract.

Continued Both Singing and Acting

Eventually Anderson was picked up by the GRP label, known for its jazz offerings. Thus Anderson moved away from the adult contemporary sound to the more decisively jazz style that he loved so dearly. In 1991 he released Pieces of a Heart, which became one of his most critically and commercially successful albums. Anderson produced two more albums under the GRP label during the early 1990s, Fantasy Hotel and Heavy Weather/Sunlight Again, released in 1992 and 1994, respectively. His last album, Why We Are Here!, was released in 1997 under the Abu Khalil label, Anderson's own production company named after his son. Although Anderson's solo career never catapulted him into fame as a singer, throughout the years he worked steadily with other artists, including Kenny Loggins, Maynard Ferguson, the Rippingtons, and Peabo Bryson. "Forbidden Lover," his duet with jazz great Nancy Wilson, received a Grammy nomination.

At a Glance …

Born on February 27, 1945, in Lynchburg, VA; died on February 23, 2004, in Los Angeles, CA; son of James and Alberta Anderson; married Kathleen McGhee (divorced); married Verónica Ali; children: (from first marriage) Khalil McGhee-Anderson. Education: Attended Howard University. Military Service: U.S. Air Force, 1963-64.

Career: Stage and film actor, singer.

Awards: NAACP Image Award.

Anderson never completely abandoned acting on stage or screen. During the late 1970s and into the 1980s, he guest-starred on various television series, including The Rockford Files, Magnum P.I., The Incredible Hulk, Hotel, and Starsky and Hutch. In 1985 he played the part of Rev. Samuel in Steven Spielberg's The Color Purple, and in 1990 he was cast as Judge Walter Flynn in ABC's short-lived series Cop Rocks. Although for much of the 1980s he shied away from performing, or even mentioning, his defining role as Judas, Anderson reprised the part in 1992 for the production staged in celebration of the movie's twentieth anniversary. Slated for a three-month tour, the show received such attention that it continued for twenty-eight months and grossed over $100 million.

In 1997 Anderson appeared on Broadway as The Duke in the short-run Play On!, an adaptation of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night. He also appeared on the pre-Broadway soundtrack of The Civil War—An American Musical, and in 2002 he played the part of Dr. Klip in the short film Mello's Kaleidoscope. During the early 2000s, Anderson continued to work on productions of Jesus Christ Superstar. In the summer of 2003, while on tour, Anderson was diagnosed with leukemia. Prior to becoming ill, he was planning a reunion tour with original cast member Ted Neeley as Jesus, which had been slated to perform at the Vatican in the fall of 2004.

He died in Los Angeles on February 23, 2004. He is survived by his wife, Verónica Porche Ali, the former wife of boxing great Muhammad Ali, his son, two stepdaughters, Laila Ali and Hana Yasmeen Ali, as well as three brothers and six sisters. On May 15, 2004, the Dunbar High School Auditorium in Anderson's hometown of Lynchburg, Virginia, was officially renamed the Carl Anderson Performing Arts Auditorium.

Selected works

Albums

Absence without Love, Epic, 1982.

On and On, Epic, 1983.

Protocol, Epic, 1985.

Carl Anderson, Epic, 1986.

Act of Love, Polydor, 1988.

Pieces of a Heart, GRP, 1991.

Fantasy Hotel, GRP, 1992.

Heavy Weather/Sunlight Again, GRP, 1994.

Why We Are Here!, Abu Khalil, 1997.

Films

Jesus Christ Superstar, 1973.

The Black Pearl, 1978.

The Color Purple, 1985.

Mello's Kaleidoscope, 2002.

Sources

Books

Who's Who Among African Americans, 17th ed. Gale Group, 2004.

Periodicals

Daily Variety, March 22, 2004, p. 12.

Essence, January 1991, p. 30.

Jet, March 15, 2004, p. 18.

New York Times, February 27, 2004.

Variety, March 1, 2004, p. 45.

Washington Times, February 15, 2001, p. 3; May 11, 2002, p. D3.

On-line

"Actor Who Played 'Superstar' Judas Dead," CNN.com, www.cnn.com/2004/SHOWBIZ/Movies/02/26/obit.anderson.reut/index.html (September 27, 2004).

"Carl Anderson," The Internet Movie Database, www.imdb.com/name/nm0026483/ (September 27, 2004).

"Carl Anderson, Known as Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar on Stage and Screen, Dies at 58," Thea--terMania.com, www.theatermania.com/content/news.cfm?int_news_id=4418 (September 27, 2004).

"Carl Anderson, Star of Superstar, Dead at 58," Broadway.com, www.broadway.com/template_1.asp?CI=34296&CT=38&qq=1&qs=jesus (September 27, 2004).

"Carl Anderson, Superstar's Judas on Stage and Screen, Dead at 58," Playbill, www.playbill.com/news/article/print/84562.html (September 27, 2004).

"Carl Anderson: The Official Website," Precision Marketing, www.cstone.net/~dgarlock/carl/ (September 27, 2004).

—Kari Bethel

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