Living... glamorously but isolated, in New York City in 1962. Dr. Don Shirley resides in an impeccably decorated, palatial apartment above Carnegie Hall.
Visiting... the Midwest and Deep South on an eight-week concert tour.
Profession... concert pianist. Dr. Shirley is one of the most renowned artists in his field—regularly selling out major concert halls and events. Growing up, he wanted to be a classical pianist, but he was told that audiences wouldn’t want to see a black musician play classical musical. Instead, Dr. Shirley created his own sound that blends jazz and popular music with a classical flair.
Interests... fine art, classical music, and drinking more than he should.
Relationship Status... single. Dr. Shirley often feels removed from the rest of the world and that includes in his love life. His marriage ended in divorce because the demands of his career were too intense. Given the prejudices of the era, Dr. Shirley isn’t always able to openly love the people he wants to.
Challenge... surviving his trip through the Deep South. Despite being invited to perform at elite venues for wealthy white patrons, Dr. Shirley still faces phenomenal racism and prejudice on his eight-week trip through the Midwest and Deep South. That includes sometimes from his own driver and bodyguard Frank “Tony Lip” Vallelonga. Tony uses The Negro Motorist Green Book guide to find places where Dr. Shirley will be allowed to stay in segregated cities. However, the trip is as much a challenge to Dr. Shirley’s mental health as it is to his physical well-being.
Personality... poised, refined, and reserved. The elegant, intelligent Dr. Shirley is the strong and silent type. He has the soul of an expressive artist, but he prefers to sit with his own thoughts rather than make unnecessary small talk. Dr. Shirley often struggles to figure out his place in the world. He feels removed from both the black and white communities, which leads to an inner frustration and sadness that can sometimes emerge in self-sabotaging ways. As Dr. Shirley exclaims at one point, “So if I’m not black enough, and if I’m not white enough, and if I’m not man enough, then tell me, Tony, what am I?” Above all, Dr. Shirley is deeply brave. He’s willing to put his safety at risk to try to change people’s hearts and minds with his music.
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