LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Broadway star Lawrence Hamilton, an Arkansas native who performed for a U.S. president and a Pope, has died at age 59 in a New York City hospital.
His sister, Evelyn Hall, said that Hamilton died on Thursday after complications from surgery at Lenox Hill Hospital located in New York.
Hamilton, a Foreman native, has starred in Broadway hits, including "Play On," ''Jelly's Last Jam" and "Ragtime." Some of his other professional credits include serving as a musical director for opera star Jessye Norman; a vocal coach for pop group "New Kids on the Block"; and performing for former president Ronald Reagan and at the Vatican for Pope John Paul II.
"We are all saddened by the loss of Arkansas Broadway star Lawrence Hamilton," Governor Mike Beebe's office said on Twitter. "He was a good friend to the Beebes for many years."
Hamilton told the Associated Press in a 2002 interview that he used to spend his high school summers working at a southwest Arkansas poultry plant while dreaming of making it on Broadway.
"Trucks would pull up with these stinky chickens and turkeys," Hamilton told the AP. "I had to grab them by the legs. My knuckles would swell up. I told my dad, 'I'm a pianist. Look at my hands. I can't do this."
Hamilton studied music education at Henderson State University in Arkadelphia and later became a member of the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame and Arkansas Entertainers Hall of Fame.
Tom Quaintance, artistic director for the Cape Fear Regional Theatre in Fayetteville, N.C., said Hamilton had recently starred in "The Piano Lesson."
At the play's last curtain call on March 23, Hamilton spoke about how great it was acting with his co-workers. He sang a piano-rendition of "For All We Know" by Donny Hathaway, which begins with "For all we know, we may never meet again."
"There was not a dry eye in the house," Quaintance said. "That was a couple of weeks ago, his last performance."
Hamilton also worked at the Philander Smith College in Little Rock as its cultural affairs director and assistant professor of humanities.
"God has blessed this little boy who used to bale hay and pull chickens out of a crate," Hamilton told the AP in 2002.