This story was originally published by UVA Today.
Tony Award winner Leslie Odom Jr., who originated the role of Aaron Burr in the Broadway megahit “Hamilton,” is coming to the University of Virginia’s John Paul Jones Arena at 3 p.m. on Jan. 19 as the 2019 UVA President’s Speaker for the Arts.
The multi-talented entertainer will discuss his life and career and the impact of the arts on education and on the world in which we live during a brief address followed by a moderated conversation with UVA President Jim Ryan.
Presented in conjunction with UVA’s 2019 Community MLK Celebration, the event is free and open to the public. Details regarding the distribution of general admission tickets will be released within the next two weeks. The event will not conflict with the UVA Men’s Basketball game at Duke, which is scheduled for 6 p.m.
The appearance marks a return to Grounds for Odom following his memorable October 2017 performance on UVA’s Lawn as part of the Bicentennial Launch Celebration. The event, which drew more than 20,000 to the Lawn, was held just months after the tragic events of Aug. 11 and 12, 2017 in Charlottesville.
Odom brought the large crowd to its feet during his performance on the steps of the Rotunda during UVA’s 2017 Bicentennial Launch Celebration. (Photo by Sanjay Suchak, University Communications)
Odom included reflections about his experiences in Charlottesville in his recently released book, “Failing Up: How to Take Risks, Aim Higher, and Never Stop Learning.” In the book, he shares stories from his meteoric rise through the entertainment ranks in 2015, as well as inspirational stories of the hard work as a singer and actor that came before. In the process, readers are asked the kinds of questions that will help them unlock their true potential and learning lessons on what it truly takes to chase, and achieve, their dreams while living each day to the fullest.
In the book’s final chapter, Odom recalls a question-and-answer session with UVA drama students, during which he was asked why, in the wake of rally-related cancellations by other high-profile African-American acts, he decided to keep his commitment to come to Charlottesville. Odom answered that he wanted to see the situation for himself, and do whatever he could to help. What he saw and experienced here, he wrote, had a lasting impact:
“I’ve truly never seen a community work so hard at meticulously and deliberately defining themselves, for themselves, as I did at the two hundredth anniversary celebration for the University of Virginia.
With a unified voice, they took great care to say to the perpetrators of hatred, ‘You do not get to define us. That is not who we are.’
And you know what, I believed ‘em.”
“Failing Up” will be available for purchase at the event. The first 50 patrons to buy a book at the arena before the event will receive a special book-signing opportunity with Odom following the conversation. Pre-signed books will also be available for purchase. Odom will not sign any merchandise or posters. Photos can be taken of Odom from the book-signing line, but staged photos will not be allowed.
“Leslie Odom Jr. is a remarkably talented performer and an equally impressive person,” UVA President Jim Ryan said. “Two months after the events of August 11 and 12, 2017, Mr. Odom came down to Charlottesville to perform as part of our Bicentennial celebration, but also to stand with this community and see how he could help. I am honored that he has agreed to come back, and I hope as many people as possible will join our conversation.”
“We are thrilled to welcome Leslie Odom Jr. back to the University of Virginia, and to Charlottesville, for this special event,” Jody Kielbasa, UVA’s vice provost for the arts, said. “He is in the midst of a truly extraordinary career that includes being at the center of a worldwide cultural phenomenon in ‘Hamilton’ as well as high-profile successes in the worlds of movies and music, and now publishing. I cannot think of a better candidate to continue this series, and his heartfelt sentiments about his time in Charlottesville in 2017 only make his return here even more significant. We are honored to host him in this unique forum.”
Odom joins a growing line of distinguished artists in the UVA President’s Speakers for the Arts series, including last year’s special guest, Bryan Cranston, and UVA alumna Tina Fey.
Odom’s performance as Aaron Burr in “Hamilton” earned him the Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical, as well as a Grammy Award as a principal soloist on the original cast recording.
He made his Broadway debut in “Rent,” and starred in the stage adaptation of “Leap of Faith.” His film credits include starring alongside Johnny Depp, Daisy Ridley, Penelope Cruz, Michelle Pfeiffer and Judi Dench in Kenneth Branagh’s “Murder on the Orient Express” for Twentieth Century Fox. His previous film work includes the 2012 historical drama “Red Tails,” executive produced by George Lucas. Odom is currently in production on “Harriet,” the story of heroic abolitionist Harriet Tubman, which is being filmed in Virginia.
Odom’s television work includes a starring role in the cult-classic musical drama series, “Smash,” created by Theresa Rebeck. He has had recurring roles on NBC’s “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” and CBS’s “Persons of Interest” and “CSI: Miami.”
In 2016, Odom’s self-titled debut album was re-released with additional tracks included, and charted No. 1 on the Billboard jazz chart. He followed that effort with a re-release of his “Simply Christmas” album, which rose to No. 1 on both the iTunes and Billboard charts.
Odom’s appearance as the UVA President’s Speaker for the Arts is presented in partnership with UVA’s 2019 Community MLK Celebration and sponsored by the offices of the President and Provost, the Vice Provost for the Arts, the offices for Diversity & Equity and Equal Opportunity & Civil Rights, and The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation. Media sponsors are WTJU 91.1 FM, Charlottesville Radio Group and C-Ville Weekly.