Although André De Shields made a good part of his living and his fame working at night, he is an early riser by habit. Thursday, he woke up particularly early before catching a train south to the city he left long ago, but never let go of.
De Shields is a true triple threat in the entertainment business, a singer, dancer and actor, and has the Tony, Grammy, and Emmy awards to prove it. He dreams “in Technicolor” he said, but there were not enough colors to dream of the day ahead, so he stayed up all night.
“My head was swirling,” said De Shields, 77. “I made sure I got a good shave, got my hair just right, picked out the right suit.”
That is how it goes when your hometown renames a street after you. The 1800 block of Division Street in the Upton neighborhood where he grew up is now known as André De Shields Way.
“I live in New York,” he told a crowd of a few hundred. “But I could not have made it in New York if I did not make it in Baltimore.”
The city was more than happy to claim him yet again. Several years ago, he received the keys to the city under previous Mayor Jack Young. On Thursday, proclaimed André De Shields Day, he was flanked on a stage by current Mayor Brandon Scott, City Council President Nick Mosby, and state Sen. Antonio Hayes. He was treated to a command performance of “Louie Louie” and “Word Up!” by the marching band of Baltimore City College, from which he earned his high school diploma in 1964, before leaving Baltimore.
The city honored De Shields as part of its preparation for Artscape, the outdoor arts festival that aims to position Baltimore as a hub of creativity and culture. De Shields’ dream is that his day marks the “beginning of Baltimore’s renaissance.”
When you’re a neighborhood treasure, it takes a long time to walk through your neighborhood, at least on your day. Hugs, handshakes, and selfies made the going slow as he walked with perfect posture toward the street sign that now bears his name. True to Mayor Scott’s observation that De Shields is “one of the best-dressed men on the planet,” he wore a slim-cut crimson suit, pants cuffs hemmed high to show off his salmon-colored socks. De Shields wore his salt-and-pepper hair high and swept slightly back, giving him the look of someone in constant forward motion.
His career is only gaining momentum in his later years. He was in his 70s when he won his first Tony Award in 2019 for Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical for his role as Hermes in the Broadway musical “Hadestown.” He last performed the role in 2022, the same year he played Ben Loman in a revival of “Death of a Salesman.” He also won a Grammy for Best Musical Theater Album for his performance.
De Shields was also in the original Broadway casts of “The Wiz” and “The Full Monty.” His Emmy award came from his role in the 1982 television broadcast of “Ain’t Misbehavin.’”
De Shields has been candid about aspects of his personal life. An openly gay man, he was diagnosed with HIV, which he contracted during the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s. He was honored by the Gay Men’s Health Crisis last year for his advocacy work for those living with HIV.
His technicolor dreams might have to wait one more night. He did not plan to sleep much on André De Shields Day.
“I’m going to party like it’s 1999,” he said.