Releases one of his most prolific and impactful projects to date: Death of A King: A Live Theatrical Experience commemorating the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. death.
Host of the late-night television show Tavis Smiley on PBS for 14 seasons, as well as “The Tavis Smiley Show” from Public Radio International. He is the author or co-author of 21 books, and his nonprofit Tavis Smiley Foundation is now in the midst of a $3 million four-year campaign called “Ending Poverty America’s Silent Spaces” to help focus on alleviating endemic poverty in America.
With his new project, Smiley places focus on Dr. King reminding us all of the qualities, beliefs, methods, and practices it takes to make America great again! He accomplishes this by launching a multi-media stage presentation of Smiley’s best-selling book, Death of A King: The Real Story of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Final Year, commemorating the upcoming 50th anniversary of King’s death. Smiley narrates this joyful tribute that tells the little-known story of Dr. King’s final year. Against all odds and with his popularity in deep decline, King summoned the courage, conviction, commitment, and character to bring a message of peace, equality, and justice to a bitterly divided nation. Joining Smiley will be jazz pianist Marcus Roberts, the genius of modern piano.
Monarch Magazine: At first glance and having some understanding of your background, I thought this is probably a great joy to execute something of this caliber? Yet this could possibly be one of the most challenging and fearful projects at the same time?
TAVIS SMILEY: Professionally, I have derived my greatest joys from undertaking projects that challenge me. The thing is to not be frozen by fear. Fear can be a friend, reminding us that if nothing is ventured, nothing is gained.
Monarch magazine: Why launch such a project like this now?
Tavis Smiley: My mission has always been to do my small part to make the world safe for Dr. King’s legacy—justice for all, service to others, and a love that liberates people. I believe America’s destiny is inextricably linked to how seriously we take King’s admonitions about how to redeem the soul of this democracy.
Monarch magazine: I’m sure you have an idea, but producing such a project in this climate can be so impactful, inspiring, and remind a nation of what it was striving to become, in addition to steps that can be taken to get back on track?
Tavis Smiley: In a very real sense, I believe that King is America’s GPS, to help guide us out of this wilderness. If we’re going to be lost, let’s at least be lost in the right direction.
Monarch magazine: You are not normally recognized as someone that has broken ground and blazed trails in various ways. Do you feel that your accomplishments are overlooked?
Tavis Smiley: When you study how they maligned King, you learn that reputation is fleeting, character matters.
Monarch magazine: Who inspires you today?
Tavis Smiley: The folk Sly Stone called “everyday people” who are fighting to help make America the great beacon of light and hope that she should be, and can become, if we tackle the triple threat of racism, poverty, and militarism that King warned us about.
Monarch magazine: This is such a broad question, but Mr. Smiley where did America go wrong, how did this happen?
Tavis Smiley: My grandmother, Big Mama, used to always say, “You can’t start out wrong, and end up right.” King came to believe that America was rotten to the core, and called for a “revolution of values.”
Monarch magazine: The Democratic Party, what’s your opinion?
Tavis Smiley: Not much. Too cozy with big money and big business. Too centrist to advance meaningful progressive public policy. Too careful when this moment requires boldness.
Monarch magazine: Would you agree that Dr. King and his message are highly taken advantage of?
Tavis Smiley: Sure, folk have tried to hijack his message, but as King would often say, “Truth crushed to earth will rise again.”
Monarch magazine: The complaints from white America, valid or not valid, it seems as if their voice has been heard, why is it so difficult for us as African Americans to raise our voices, maintain our voices, and channel that into change?
Tavis Smiley: Change is inevitable, but growth is optional. Everything changes; we went from Obama to Trump. Talk about a 180! The question is can we grow through this moment? Do we see this wilderness experience as our destiny or a detour? Clearly, this wilderness journey is not preferable, but it might be necessary to rescue our democracy from danger.
Monarch magazine: How has this project changed you?
Tavis Smiley: Before honor comes humility. Whenever I work on any King project, I grow in grace.
Monarch magazine: How do you balance receiving backlash from the people who you have chosen to fight for?
Tavis Smiley: I have a First Amendment right to free speech, not a guarantee that everyone will understand my motives or agree with my positions. But when you love people, you hate to see them live beneath their privilege, to be treated as a political calculation or an economic commodity. I love people and I believe that, in the end, love wins.
Monarch magazine: What does Dr. King mean to you?
Tavis Smiley: Simply put, he is the greatest American we have ever produced.