2019 National Black Theatre Festival Celebrity Co-Chairs,
Margaret Avery and Chester Gregory
When there were no blacks seen in television commercials or episodic series, Margaret Avery, with the belief and hope of change, studied and honed her craft on the stage. Roles in low budget “one take only“ Blaxploitation films of the 70’s followed. She subsequently received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress for her role as Shug Avery in the classic film, The Color Purple.
Clint Eastwood took notice of her stage performance in Does A Tiger Wear a Necktie and cast her in his film, Magnum Force, which opened doors for episodic television. She credits theatre for her career of longevity, spanning nearly 50 years. Stage is her passion as it allows her to portray a variety of characters, giving her the opportunity for continued growth.
Some of her stage credits include The Gin Game, The Glass Menagerie, Love Letters, Member of the Wedding, A Raisin in the Sun, The River Niger, Same Time Next Year, and The Vagina Monologues.
She feels blessed to have co-starred with legendary film names such as Harry Belafonte, Art Carney, Michael Douglas, Clint Eastwood, Redd Foxx, Whoopi Goldberg, James Earl Jones, Mary Tyler Moore, Richard Pryor, John Travolta, Cicely Tyson, Dick Van Dyke, Ben Vereen, Betty White, Paul Winfield, and Robert Young.
Film credits include Proud Mary, Meet the Browns, Which Way is Up, and Granddaddy’s Day Care (to be released). Ms. Avery appeared as a series regular in the television show Being Mary Jane, and guest starred in The Librarian, The Carmichael Show, and Grey’s Anatomy.
She is the recipient of two NAACP Image Awards for Best Actress in The Scott Joplin Story and The Louis Armstrong Story, the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Actress in Does a Tiger Wear a Necktie, and the Science Fiction Film Award for Best Actress in Lathe of Heaven.
Dr. Avery received a Life California Teaching Credential, BA degree and is also a California Licensed Psychologist, PhD.
Chester Gregory, a recording artist and Broadway virtuoso, was born in Gary, Indiana. He is the only artist in the National Black Theatre Festival’s history to headline three times. After starring in the iconic role as Jackie Wilson at the Festival’s star-studded Opening Night Gala, Larry Leon Hamlin (Mr. Marvtastic), the Festival’s founder spoke the prophetic words to Chester, “You are going to become a Broadway star!” That prophesy became a reality when Gregory subsequently made his Broadway debut as Seaweed in the hit musical Hairspray! For the next 10 years, he starred in Broadway productions with leading roles in Disney’s Tarzan, Cry-Baby, Shrek The Musical, Dreamgirls, Sister Act and Motown The Musical as Berry Gordy.
Dr. Gregory trained for the theatre at Columbia College in Chicago where he honed his craft and laid the foundation for his career as a performer. He also received an honorary doctorate from his alma mater.
In the spring of 2013, Gregory produced his own show titled The Eve of Jackie. Premiering in New York, Gregory performed to a sold-out audience at 54 Below, In 2015, Chester Gregory appeared in his very first August Wilson’s Two Trains Running. Mr. Gregory has received many awards including the Jeff Award and NAACP Theatre Award, and has been presented the key to the city of his hometown of Gary, Indiana, as well as East Chicago.
In addition to acting, Gregory has spent much of his career in the studio. He performed for MichaelJackson and worked with legends such as Phil Collins (Tarzan), Marc Shaiman (Hairspray and Catch Me If You Can) and Henry Krieger (Dreamgirls), as well as industry greats including PJ Morton and Eric Roberson. He released his first album, In Search of High Love, in 2008 and has worked on several other mixtapes and projects. He has collaborated with the likes of Ledisi, Dot Da Genius, Dave Tozer, 88-Keys and 9th Wonder. Chester currently records under his artist name, CHΞSS, and is working on a new project.