An accomplished singer and dancer, Obba Babatunde first garnered praise for his theater work in NYC before branching into films and TV. Born and raised in Jamaica, Queens, the handsome, lithe performer was bitten by the showbiz bug early. From the age of 6, he staged shows for his family. Babatunde made his professional debut as a member of the Metropolitan Brass Ensemble on a tour of the West Indies. After graduating from Brooklyn College, he and his brother worked as teachers and administrators at Harriet Tubman School, a private educational institution geared to talented children of color. The dual demands of his growing acting career and working at the school finally came to a head around 1978 and Babatunde made the commitment to pursue his dreams. He racked up credits as a voice-over artist for TV commercials and appeared in various productions Off-Off- and Off-Broadway. One of his first breaks came in 1976 with a touring company of "Guys and Dolls" starring Leslie Uggams and Richard Roundtree. The following year, he made his film debut in a small role in the prison drama "Short Eyes." Babatunde earned notice for his supporting role in the Broadway musical "Timbuktu" (1977-78), a role that required him to perform on stilts. When the show closed, he became one of the featured performers in Liza Minnelli's concert tour (which included playing Carnegie Hall), Babatunde was given a solo, "Mr. Cellophane."
The 80s brought continued theater and TV work. After Babatunde appeared as a dancer in the ABC variety special "Baryshnikov on Broadway" (1980), he was cast C.C., as the composer-brother of Jennifer Holliday's Effie, in Michael Bennett's acclaimed "Dreamgirls," loosely inspired by Diana Ross and the Supremes. Babatunde was nominated for a Featured Actor Tony Award and found himself in demand. By the mid-80s, he was headlining in theater (a revival of "Golden Boy"), nightclubs and had landed a regular role on the ABC soap "All My Children."
Moving to L.A. in the late 80s, Babatunde began to move into primetime with guest appearances on dramas ("China Beach") and sitcoms ("A Different World") and found small roles in features as well. He has appeared in three films directed by Jonathan Demme ("Married to the Mob" 1988; "The Silence of the Lambs" 1991; and "Philadelphia" 1993). Other credits include "Dead Again" (1991), an all-black version of "The Importance of Being Earnest" (1992, as the servant Lane), "That Thing You Do," "Life" (both 1996), "How High" (2001), "John Q" (2002), "After the Sunset" and "The Manchurian Candidate" (both 2004).
The small screen has provided the actor with meaty roles, like his guest appearance as an AIDS patient on "Chicago Hope" in 1994 and, most notably, his Emmy-nominated performance as dancer Willie Johnson, one of the participants in the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment, in the HBO original movie "Miss Evers' Boys" (1997). The actor also made a strong showing as Motown impressario Berry Gordy in the NBC telepic "The Temptations" (1998) and as dance man Harold Nicholas, one of the famed Nicholas Brothers and the husband of Dorothy Dandridge (Halle Berry) in the HBO biopic "Introducing Dorothy Dandridge" (1999). He turned to series TV in a recurring roles on The WB's "Dawson's Creek" (as Principal Greene in the 1999-2000 seasons), Showtime's "Soul Food" (2000-2004), UPN's "Half & Half" (2002 - ) and ABC's "Karen Sisco" (2002-2004).
Despite leaving Broadway behind, Babatunde has not abandoned the theater completely. He has frequently appeared on stage in musicals in Southern California, including in the title role of the world premiere of "Jelly's Last Jam" in 1991. More recently, Babatunde co-starred with Jasmine Guy and Charlotte d'Amboise in the national tour of "Chicago" (1997-98).
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Cast (TV Mini-Series)
With his brother, ran The Harriet Tubman School, a private school (dates approximate)
Appeared in a touring production of "Guys and Dolls", starring Richard Roundtree and Leslie Uggams
Feature film debut, "Short Eyes"
Toured with Liza Minnelli; became known as 'Mr Cellophane Man' after his solo number
Was featured dancer in the TV special "Baryshnikov on Broadway"
Won a Tony nomination for his supporting role in the hit musical "Dreamgirls"
Starred in the Off-Broadway revival of the musical "Golden Boy"
Understudied Ben Vereen in "Grind"; played the role for the last two weeks of the show's brief run
Was featured in the PBS staging of Scott Joplin's "Treemonisha"
TV-movie debut "God Bless the Child" (ABC)
Originated the role of Jelly Roll Morton in the world premiere of "Jelly's Last Jam" in California
Played the servant Lane in an all-black film version of Oscar Wilde's "The Importance of Being Earnest"
Earned praise for his turn as an AIDS patient in two episodes of the CBS drama series "Chicago Hope"
Had featured roles in "That Thing You Do!" and "Multiplicity"
Co-starred in the HBO TV-movie "Soul of the Game"
Won praise for his performance as dancer Willie Johnson, one of the men involved in the Tuskegee Syphillis Experiment, in the HBO original movie "Miss Evers' Boys"; earned Emmy nomination
Joined cast of "Dawson's Creek" (The WB), playing the school principal
Played Benjamin Chadway in the Showtime series "Soul Food"
Co-starred in "The Visit", playing the older brother of an inmate
Appeared in "John Q" with Denzel Washington; directed by Nick Cassavetes
Cast as the Police Chief in "After the Sunset" with Pierce Brosnan and Salma Hayek
Starred in the thriller "The Manchurian Candidate" directed by Jonathan Demme
Cast opposite Hilary and Haylie Duff in the comedy "Material Girls"