Younger audiences might recognize him as the musical math tutor in a sequined red suit and black eye patch who sings and dances his way through a song about how algebra caused the loss of his eye in the Netflix children’s comedy special John Mulaney & the Sack Lunch Bunch. The song is intentionally silly. De Shields is fantastic in the number.
De Shields was always attracted to W.E.B.Du Bois. He identifies with Du Bois' wide ranging-intellect which caused problems. He recalled the moment that Geoffrey Holder, costume director, took over from Gilbert Moses as director of The Wiz. Holder entered the theater in a cape and a Borsalino hat. He unwrapped a bundle of sage and split it in two. After lighting the sage, he started to move through the theater, explaining to the actors and crew that he was removing all the evil spirits from the theater.
The story of leaving some of his mother's ashes on the Reverend Louis Farrakhan's mantlepiece is classic. De Shields has also prowled like a panther looking for a trick in Calisto Bieto's Camino Real in Chicago.
Most touching rap was De Shield's description of his genetic heritage. His mother had wanted to be a chorus girl, his father to sing. It was pointed out that they could not afford to follow their bliss. De Shields says, "So, my parents deferred their dreams. Somewhere along the line, one of their children had to bear the x and y chromosome into which those deferred dreams were placed. That’s why I call myself lucky No. 9. I got that deferred dream from my father. I got that deferred dream from my mother.”
All three men in the rap represent the very best in their industry, the theater. If we could all listen to them talk, we would better understand this trying period we are living in, when at last America is coming to grips with the racial divide. Woodie King Jr. and his New Federal Theater have been at the forefront of theatrical revelations for half a century.