Living his life out on a public stage

Published 12:00 am Monday, November 24, 2003

Actor/singer Nick La Tour, a native of Montgomery,

who has lived in Los Angeles for nearly 30 years, spoke this past week to drama students at

Selma Middle CHAT Academy.

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La Tour &045; born Edgar Daniel Nixon Jr. &045; has had a fascinating career spanning some 55 years on screen and on stage in the United States and abroad and he’s still going strong.

He was in Selma this past week visiting Ron McCall’s drama classes at CHAT academy.

La Tour and McCall, himself a professional actor,

have known each other for the past 10 years and enjoy a warm friendship. So when La Tour knew that he was going to be visiting in Montgomery where he still owns the family home, he was more than happy to come to Selma and spend a day with McCall and his students.

Before Los Angeles La Tour made his home in

New York City. He arrived in New York at age 15 after graduation from high school and made his night club debut.

He toured with many musical revues throughout the United States and Canada, served in the Army, earned a college degree in Mexico City, appeared in off-Broadway plays and then on Broadway, toured Europe in a Langston Hughes’ musical and ended up having his own Nick La Tour TV show in New York City.

La Tour moved to Hollywood in 1976, appeared in a number of TV series such as &uot;The Jeffersons,&uot; &uot;In the Heat of the Night,&uot; &uot;Murder She Wrote&uot; and a dozen or so others. He appeared in several feature films and did a number of commercials including one with Lena Horne. An MCI spot won a Clio Award in the best commercial category.

In 1991 La Tour made his Montgomery debut in the Alabama Shakespeare Festival.

He can currently be seen in &uot;The Rosa Parks Story&uot; and the TV show &uot;Any Day Now.&uot;

His one-man show, performed in many locations across the country, &uot;Spirit in the Wind,&uot; tells the story of his 55-year career in song, through classics, show tunes, blues and gospel.

La Tour was born Edgar Daniel Nixon Jr. in Montgomery. His father was a major regional civil rights leader both in his roles as state and local president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and as state and local president of the NAACP. Rosa Parks was the NAACP secretary at the time she was arrested, which led to the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott. La Tour’s father bailed Rosa Parks out of jail.

By this time, however, La Tour was already gone from home &045; much to his father’s displeasure. While his mother, who died when he was 9 years old,

instilled in him the value of the arts, his father wanted his only child to become the first black lawyer in Montgomery.

When young Nixon told his father that he was going to New York to pursue a career there as a singer and an actor his father was crushed, in fact was furious according to La Tour. For La Tour’s father, actors were the lowest of the low-life. And no one, he said, had ever been able to defy his father.

It was not until Nick La Tour’s name began appearing in the newspaper and in TV credits did his father come to appreciate his son’s career, and not until La Tour’s Broadway debut in Neil Simon’s play, &uot;God’s Favorite,&uot; did formal reconciliation occur, according to La Tour.

Actually, La Tour said that at the time he thought that the only reason his father, who was deeply religious, came to New York was because he thought the play was &uot;religious,&uot; which was not the case in the traditional sense.

La Tour has not been absent from the civil rights movement, but from age 9 he knew he wanted to sing and to act.

He recalls being asked to participate in an Eleanor Roosevelt-sponsored fund-raiser for the Montgomery Bus Boycott at Madison Square Garden in New York City. He knew almost nothing about the event or his role in it. All he had, he said, was a single sheet of paper containing the musical number he was supposed to sing.

As it turned out, right before he was to go on, he found that he was following Sammy Davis Jr., which was frightening, and then the truly frightening occurred. The piano player in the orchestra left with Davis at the conclusion of Davis’ number and there La Tour stood, without accompaniment, without even an introduction, in front of 2,500 people in Madison Square Garden.

So he sang his heart out &045; a cappella &045; and as it turned out, his song about a lynching, was the only one of the evening whose subject matter pertained to the object of the fund-raiser &045; the bus boycott &045; which redounded to his favor. He got a tremendous response.

As a young person &045; before he left for New York City &045; La Tour had met all the civil rights greats of the time because they eventually found their way to Montgomery and his father’s home.

La Tour is proud of the fact that his father led statewide voting registration efforts as early as the 1940s, and that he gave his life to the movement for civil and human rights.

La Tour finished high school, not in Montgomery, but in Snow Hill in Wilcox County, just south of Dallas. At the time the Snow Hill Institute, founded by a protg of Booker T. Washington, was a highly prestigious secondary school for African-Americans. He attended school there with Consuela Lee, who continues to keep the institute alive, though it is no longer a school. La Tour noted that her brother, Bill Lee, is the father of actor Spike Lee.

La Tour and Consuela Lee had a reunion at Alabama State University earlier this year, with her accompanying him singing.

La Tour is pleased that he is still &uot;in demand&uot; and that he is physically able to do concerts, lectures and story telling in a variety of settings, such as Alabama State and Selma Middle CHAT Academy.