WBAI To Air Special on Life and Work of Lorraine Hansberry


Lorraine Hansberry

Lorraine Hansberry

On Tuesday, February 23, 2016, at 7pm, Out-FM, the LGBT program on noncommercial Pacifica radio station WBAI, 99.5 FM, will present “The Life and Work of Lorraine Hansberry." The two-hour special will include excerpts from "Lorraine Hansberry in Her Own Words," a 1967 radio drama aired on WBAI and Los Angeles Pacifica station KPFK. The drama was the prototype for the play, "Young, Gifted and Black," and helped it gain the attention it needed to get booked on Broadway. In addition, biographer Margaret Wilkerson, Professor Emerita of African American Studies at the University of California/Berkeley, will discuss Hanberry's significance to the debates surrounding the Civil Rights Movement, and an often overlooked  part of her life: her lesbianism, her affiliation with the Daughters of Bilitis, an early lesbian rights organization, and her letters to the organization’s magazine. Wilkerson has discovered previously unpublished writings of Hansberry that deal with lesbian topics.

The 1967 drama was a personal and literary biography with performances of parts of Hansberry’s plays, letters, and other writings. “This amazing program wove her politics and her art together in an uplifting way,” said Nancy Kirton, one of the original Out-FM producers (who died in 2014). Sixty-one Broadway and Hollywood stars -- many of them internationally renowned -- took part in the production, which was narrated by actor Ossie Davis and actor-director Harold Scott. Actors range from Ruby Dee to Sidney Poitier, from Betty Davis to Paul Newman. Part of the work was rediscovered last year in the Pacifica Radio Archive and saved for posterity in pristine condition by digitization. The Los Angeles-based Archive contains thousands of hours of broadcasts from the 59-year-old non-profit social justice radio network, including the voices of  James Baldwin, Langston Hughes, Malcolm X, and many others. “We’re lucky the Archive was able to save this recording, Kirton said. “The Archive has been diligently working to save these recordings from oblivion by digitizing them, since many will deteriorate if not digitized soon.” The recordings have since been digitally restored as a result of a gift from Lilly Tomlin and Jane Wagner.

Hansberry was a renowned African American playwright best known for her hit Broadway play and later Hollywood movie, “A Raisin in the Sun.” In 1959, at age 28, she was the youngest playwright and first Black person to win the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award for Best Play of the Year, which propelled her into the media spotlight. Her work reflected the struggles for civil rights and Black liberation in the U.S. at the time.

Hansberry was also known for her later plays “Les Blancs,” “The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window,” “The Drinking Gourd,” “The Movement,” and “What Use are Flowers?” According to Out-FM producer John Riley, “Lorraine Hansberry was able to project her strong leftist and feminist views through her work in a non-preachy way, using deep characterization and fascinating plots.”

Hansberry died in 1965 at the age of 35 of cancer. She was born on May 19, 1930, and would have been 85 on the day of the upcoming broadcast.


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The special program will be part of WBAI’s Winter Membership Drive, with the 1967 6 hour production available as an MP3 CD as a premium. The program’s producers include Out-FM’s Nancy Kirton, John Riley, and Brad Taylor. Out-FM is a progressive LGBT news, culture and activist hour that airs weekly on Tuesday at 7:00 pM. It is broadcast on WBAI/NY 99.5FM and the Internet at www.wbai.org, with archives available at the same website after each show. A list of actors in “Lorraine Hansberry in Her Own Words,” follows:


The following is a list of the actors participating in the production (transcribed from the credits at the end of the CD)

Bena Lisa

Anne Bancroft

Lauren Bacall

Ralph Bellamy 

Hershel Bernardi

Theodore Bikel

Claire Bloom

Roscoe Lee Browne

Morris Carnovsky

Howard Chamberlain

Godfrey Cambridge

Lee J. Cobb

Howard DaSilva

Bette Davis

Ossie Davis

Ruby Dee

Gabriel Dell

Colleen Dewhurst

Melvin Douglas

Alvin Epstein

Frances Foster

Gloria Foster

Al Freeman, Jr.


Will Geer

Alice Ghostley

Jack Gilford

Louis Gossett

Julie Harris

Rosemary Harris

Uta Hagen

June Haver

John Heffernan

James Earl Jones

Anne Jackson

Angela Lansbury

Theodore Lakell

Rosetta LeNoire

E.G. Marshall

Elaine May

Claudia McNeil

Rita Moreno

Rosemary Murphy

Paul Newman

Sir Laurence Olivier

Geraldine Page


Shawneal Perry

Sidney Poitier

Leslie Rivers

Paul Robeson

Diana Sands

Harold Scott

Madeline Sherwood

Louis Stubbs

Diana Sands

Harold Sands

Maureen Stapleton

Rod Steiger

Louise Stubbs

Barbara Ann Teer

Rip Torn

Cicely Tyson

Douglas Turner Ward

Eli Wallach

Joanne Woodward

Teresa Wright



Script material selection and direction by Robert Nemiroff (Hansberry’s ex-husband)

Engineering and tape editing by Sid Presberg & Ed Walker

Editorial assistance Charlotte Saltzberg & Willie Northrop

All artists participated with cooperation of AFTRA

“Raisin in the Sun” and ”The Sign in Sidney Burstein's Window” are plays published by

Random House and New American Library.

Production recorded and produced by Ted Rubin

Broadcast 1967 on WBAI and KPFK

Lorraine Hansberry died on Jan. 12, 1965.