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When one hears the name Muhammad Ali, the first thing that comes to mind is perhaps the phrase: the greatest boxer of all times, and it is hard to imagine he also explored the nooks of arts and changed, for a very short period of time, the boxing ring for a theater stage.

Yes, Muhammad Ali, one of the most influential African Americans in sports of the 20th century, had his Broadway Debut in 1969, performing in the musical ¨Buck White¨at the George Abbott Theater.

The musical was an adaptation of an already existing theater play, named “Big Time Buck White ” by Joseph Dolan Tuoti, and Muhammad played the character of a figurehead at a meeting group named B.A.D  (Beautiful Alleluia Days)

According to Zev Bufman, the show´s producer, Muhammad and the cast nailed it during the previews, delivering ¨the most astonishing theatrical event I ever lived through” and owning the stage with extraordinary presence and charisma. He also said that after the last preview was done, the audience gave the boxer a five-minutes standing ovation. There was joy and excitement after previews and everyone was certain they had a show that would be a total success during the regular season.

Then opening night came, lots of expectations in the room, the theater packed with adults and even children waiting for their idol to do his public debut as a musical actor. But things didn´t go as desired and four days later the show was closed.  That´s perhaps the reason we don´t know anything about Muhammad´s acting endeavors. ¨Buck White¨ didn´t last long and was given a theatrical ¨knockout¨.  There´s no video or musical recordings. A copy of the original script at Howard University is the only written proof of this show’s existence. 

Certainly, the critic´s mix-feelings about the show might have fueled this abrupt closing, but they do not entirely explain it since there have been Broadway shows with worst reviews that have lasted longer. A critic from The Times, Clive Barnes, actually gave a good review to the cast but didn´t like the music: ¨the musicalization drowned what had been a powerful play in a “frothy sea of well-meaning clichés.”

So the real reasons for this sudden withdrawal remain a mystery and have served the table for lots of speculation: Was it to black or perhaps too¨radical¨ for 1969´s white America?  Did the FBI had something to do with this abrupt closing?  Was ¨Buck White¨actually not ready for theatrical primetime? or perhaps was it an error of judgment to hire the boxing star for the role, without any acting technique which could jeopardize the production when inspiration didn´t hit?

The only thing we know for certain is that ¨Buck White¨starring Muhammad Ali, aka¨The Greatest¨, didn´t last to see any theatrical glory. And the muses and charismatic talent displayed during previews didn´t show up during the opening night. His exploration of this performing art couldn´t have been more ephemeral.

We decided to highlight this, during Black History Month, to get a taste of this unknown facet of such an iconic figure of the African-American community who attempted something so out of his comfort zone and bet it all, even if it led to failure. Embracing defeat, for someone accustomed to triumph, might not have been easy. But whatever he learned from falling and rising again, was in itself a great accomplishment.

Until next time,


Original Article Credit: Adam Langer






  • : 2020-02-11T10:00
  • : 2021-02-10T12:00
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