Beloved musician, Black Rep musical director Charles Creath dies at 68
To truly understand the scope of the musical gifts of longtime Black Rep musical director Charles Creath, one would need to watch
him sing through a musical theater production for the first time and then return for opening night. Each time, the transformation was
Talented individuals would become a musical family — and create a musical experience that was impossible for audiences to disengage from.
“He had a way of getting the best out of everybody — the singers, the musicians — everybody,” said Ron Himes, founder and producing director.
Himes and Creath were discussing plans for The St. Louis Black Rep’s upcoming season before Creath fell ill a few weeks ago. He died on Christmas Day. His death came one month after his 68th birthday. His passing is a tremendous loss for the cultural community in St. Louis — and abroad.
“Next year is the 45th anniversary and we were talking about opening with a big musical and closing with a big musical,” Himes said. “On our musical work, he was the hand. There will be a tremendous void.”
Theirs was a creative partnership that stretched nearly 40 years. The company’s final mainstage production was a revival of the first show that had Creath at the musical helm.
In the early 1980s, The Black Rep staged a presentation of the Broadway musical “Don’t Bother Me, I Can’t Cope” at their first permanent home theater — often referred to as “The Miracle on 23rd Street,” located at the corner of St. Louis Avenue and 23rd. Last year, Creath once again set the tone for the show when the production played Washington University’s Edison Theatre as part of the Black Rep’s 44th season.
“He was a musical genius that could play anything. He was renowned among the gospel and church musicians. You could talk to the jazz cats about him and they would let you know he knew all of that music — and like nobody’s business he could pick up a Broadway score and play the hell out of it.” — Ron Himes, founder and producing director, The St. Louis Black Rep
“There was no time that I could call him and he wasn’t available — other than when he was in Europe,” Himes said.
“Whether it was a pickup rehearsal, an idea I wanted to work on or a show that I was thinking about and needed to hear the music.”
In Europe, Creath was treated as musical royalty. Not because of his musical theater reputation, but his ability to showcase the intricate chord progressions and harmonies of gospel with his group The Gospel People. He would often tour and offer workshops. Many times he would take St. Louis singers and musicians with him.
Music was in Creath’s blood. His grandfather, Charles Cyril “Charlie” Creath, was a multi-instrumentalist and bandleader from the 1920s whot is often counted among the best St. Louis jazz musicians of all time. The elder Creath also made history as the first Black band booker in St. Louis.
“You could take a score and burn it up – and Creath could gather those embers and make beautiful music out of it. That’s how cold he was.” — Stanley Coleman, saxophonist and retired music educator
Creath was also the nephew of late community icon Ida Goodwin Woolfolk. She never missed the opportunity to brag on the talents of her nephew, and was a longtime supporter of The Black Rep, partly because of the family connection.
Woolfolk and Creath also shared special love for their mutual alma mater, Sumner High School. He was a proud member of Sumner’s class of 1970. He went on to hone his talents at Yale University and Vandercook College of Music.
“He was a musical genius that could play anything,” Himes said. “He was renowned among the gospel and church musicians. You could talk to the jazz cats about him and they would let you know he knew all of that music — and like nobody’s business he could pick up a Broadway score and play the hell out of it.”
In addition to serving as resident musical director for the Black Rep, Creath was artistic director for the Gospel People, an organist for Galilee Baptist Church and a pianist for the Muny.
Creath left the same impression on all of the musicians and artists he worked with.
“You could take a score and burn it up – and Creath could gather those embers and make beautiful music out of it.” said Stanley Coleman, saxophonist and retired music educator who often played with Creath and the band for several Black Rep musicals. “That’s how cold he was.”
Himes remembered a time when Creath made musical magic out of thin air.
Whenever Himes was hired to direct a production of the Black Broadway classic “Ain’t Misbehavin’’ in Nashville. As usual, Himes wanted Creath to be brought on as musical director. The troupe was insistent upon using local musicians.
“I said, ‘well if you are going to use local musicians, then I really have to have my musical director,’” Himes said. “I said, ‘Look, he plays the whole musical without the score — that’s how good he is.’”
The musical is based on the intricate stride piano innovations of Thomas “Fats” Waller. And Himes hadn’t given Creath a heads up that he told the company Creath could play them from memory.
With the whole staff waiting to witness the initial sing through, Himes went over and whispered to Creath just before the rehearsal started.
“Creath, I told these people you can play without the score,” Himes said. “So when we get in there, I don’t want you picking that book up.”
He played the whole opening sequence with the score book lying face down on the piano before Himes went over and opened the book, telling the company, “I don’t want the other musicians to look bad.”
Guitarist Dennis Brock was eager to articulate Creath’s reputation for making musicians shine. Brock had never worked with a theater company before he was contracted to play for the Black Rep’s production of “Tell Me Something Good” in the 1990s.
“He would amaze me with some of the things he would do musically,” Brock said.
Creath would become a mentor for Brock.
“Charles was a great influence in my life — musically, spiritually and personally,” Brock said. “We just clicked. Charles put that confidence in me to make sure that I could do what he thought I could do — even if I thought I couldn’t do it.”
According to Brock, “musical genius” should be first and foremost among Creath’s many attributes.
“He could take any type of musical situation and turn it into something spectacular,” Brock said.
Charles Creath is survived by his wife Lisa Creath, daughters Candace Creath, Kelci Creath, Lauren Morrow, son Christopher Creath, stepchildren Thomas Dickerson and LaVell Dickerson and grandchildren Kingston Moore, Creed Charles and Cruz Charles Creath.
Final services : Private family visitation. Mr. Creath will Lie in State (family will not be necessarily present)1-8pm Saturday, January 9, 2021at KRIEGSHAUSER WEST MORTUARY 9450 Olive Blvd., Olivette. In lieu of flowers, contributions should be made to the Charles Creath Memorial Fund at The St. Louis Black Repertory Co.
Due to St. Louis County mandate, the COVID restrictions include that guests must wear masks and a maximum number of 50 people so that social distancing can be practiced in our funeral home. Thank you for your patience during these difficult times.