Some of Broadway’s most accomplished producers and directors shared their personal memories of Marva Hicks, the actress and singer whose “heavenly” voice lit up stages and screens for three decades.
Hicks, 66, who passed away last week, starred in productions that ranged from the Lion King to Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music to Motown: The Musical and Caroline Or Change to television’s Madam Secretary; she sang along side Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder and guest starred in Star Trek: Voyager and also landed a hit single of her own in the ’90s, but despite the overwhelming respect of her peer in the entertainment industry, her stardom never reached household name status alongside those she performed with.
But more importantly, inside her industry, she was beloved and regarded as a savant for the way she shined on stage—especially Broadway, said the Tony-winning choreographer and dancer George Faison.
“There are notes that you hear from some people that signal something special is happening,” he said. “That was how vital Marva was. Hers was a spiritual voice.”
Faison first met Hicks, a Howard University graduate, in 1985 during the casting for ‘Sing, Mahalia, Sing!’,a production about the life of gospel singer Mahalia Jackson that Faison wrote. A stage manager on the project knew Hicks and told Faison he needed to hear her sing. Hicks would ultimately star alongside Jennifer Holliday, who had the lead role in a production the Washington Post called
“This goddess with this soulful voice came into the room and when she sang, I was in heaven,” he said. “I knew immediately, there was my Young Mahalia.”
Dick Scanlan, who directed Hicks in Motown the Musical and in Little Shop of Horrorsdescribed a similar feeling when he met her in 2013. Hicks, he said, had a way of making any production she was in better, and not just through her performances. The Washington Post at the time said that the play delivered “more spine-chilling moments than many of the elaborate musicals in recent memory” and called out Hicks as delivering a “standout performance.
“She knew that her questions, input and point-of-view were crucial to the creation of great work,” he said. “Marva had an unerring grasp on human nature, but her ability to size someone up was in no way cynical. She understood human foibles and frailties. She set the bar in any room lucky enough to have her.”
She survived by her husband Akwasi Taha.