Calvin Orlando Smith has taken advantage of every avenue to higher education that UGA has to offer, from evening classes to study abroad to correspondence courses. However, his first year was cut short when, as he puts it, “show business called.”
Smith’s AB ’00 pathway to earning his UGA degree took more twists and turns than most. He was accepted to the university in 1980 and graduated 20 years later in 2000 while he was taking part in UGA’s study away program at Oxford University in England.
Smith continued his education at Cambridge University and was the first African American to be accepted to and receive a degree from the department of history of art and architecture. He graduated with a master’s degree in philosophy in 2004.
“It took what it took,” he says. “It was the most wonderful, glorious, informative, difficult thing I’ve ever undertaken. And that’s what made it worth it.”
For two years after Calvin took his first break from UGA, he answered that show business call, singing his heart out on the national tour for Gentlemen Prefer Blondes or on a plane to wherever the next showing was.
He hasn’t slowed down.
I was on the road doing Evita for a couple of years, but I kept coming back to the university because that degree was important to me. In fact, the entire UGA community has remained incredibly close to my spirit.” — Calvin Orlando Smith AB ’00
Smith made his Broadway debut as the pirate Cecco in Peter Pan before joining the show on its international tour. Since then, he has performed major roles in Music Man, My Fair Lady, and the world premiere of Pinocchio, among others.
In all, over the past 40 years, Smith has performed three shows on Broadway, seven national tours, and too many concerts to count. During the periods he wasn’t on stage, Smith would come back and take classes at UGA.
“I was on the road doing Evita for a couple of years, but I kept coming back to the university because that degree was important to me,” he says. “In fact, the entire UGA community has remained incredibly close to my spirit.”
His musical talents have taken him beyond the stage as well. From singing backup on Garth Brooks’ stadium tour to making his debut at Carnegie Hall in Brahms’ Requiem, Smith is a man of many talents.
And he has never forgotten his beginnings in Athens. He has shared the stage more than once with hometown heroes The B-52s, and in 1993, he put his travels on hold to do a one-man show that reopened the historic Morton Theatre. He remembers it as “one of my proudest moments because we all came together as a community.”
This year, his name was added to the Athens Music Walk of Fame just in time for a planned solo concert in 2024 to honor King Charles III’s coronation. Smith won’t be intimidated, though: He once sang The Star-Spangled Banner for the king’s father, the late Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh.