Black Voices

Remembering the Life and Legacy of a Pioneering Force in Chicago’s Black Theater Scene


Remembering the Life and Legacy of a Pioneering Force in Chicago’s Black Theater Scene

The life and legacy of Val Gray Ward, founder of a pioneering Black theater company, was remembered this past weekend.

Members of the Chicago arts community gathered for a memorial service to honor Ward, who founded Kuumba Theatre Company. Ward died March 7 at age 91.

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The company, a leading force for African American theater in Chicago, was founded in 1968 out of a need to build a better environment for the community, said Ward’s son, Babatu Gray.

She worked as the company’s artistic director and produced and directed numerous plays. Ward also performed a one-woman show featuring the work of Black writers.

The effort quickly grew and became a central part of the Black Arts Movement in the city.

“We performed in Japan, Montreal, Canada, Africa, all across major universities across the country,” Gray said.

Ward also worked on “Precious Memories: Strolling 47th Street,” a WTTW program that looked back on the jazz and blues musicians in 1940s Chicago.


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