Leon Bibb, a folk singer, Tony-nominated Broadway performer and civil rights activist, died on Friday in Vancouver. He was 93.
Bibb appeared on Broadway a number of times, making his debut as a porter (singing “Moonshine Lullaby” with Ethel Merman) in the original production of “Annie Get Your Gun.” He remained with the show during its entire run (1,147 performances) and then won roles in “Finian’s Rainbow” and “Lost in the Stars.”
In 1966 he appeared, along with James Earl Jones, Cicely Tyson and Josephine Premice, in the original play “A Hand Is on the Gate”; Bibb and Premice (not Jones or Tyson) drew Tony nominations in 1967 for best featured actor and actress. He lost to Joel Grey for “Cabaret.”
Charles Leon Aurthello Bibb was born in Louisville, where he began his singing career with the glee club of Louisville Municipal College.
Bibb came to New York to perform in musical theater, and his first audition in 1946 netted him a role in the original production of “Annie Get Your Gun.”
Eventually, however, the dearth of roles for black performers in musical theater led him to a career as a folk singer, appearing at all of the usual folk venues — the Village Gate, the Bitter End, the Hungry I as well as the Bon Soir, the Embers Nightclub in Brooklyn, Town Hall and Carnegie Hall. He also performed at the 1959 Newport Folk Festival. As part of the American civil rights movement, he performed repeatedly with artists such as Paul Robeson and Harry Belafonte.
Bibb always included songs from musicals as part of the folk tradition. While touring with “Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris,” he fell in love with Vancouver, where he moved in 1971 and worked in musicals, cabaret and television until last year.
Bibb last appeared on the New York concert stage in a concert featuring Odetta and his son Eric Bibb at B.B. King Blues Club and Grill in 2007.
He also created “A Step Ahead,” an educational program for Canadian schools that teaches diversity and anti-bullying through theater and song.