Black History Month: Family discusses the late Larry Leon Hamlin and the NCBRC

Black History Month: Family discusses the late Larry Leon Hamlin and the NCBRC
February 15
09:00 2018

The name Larry Leon Hamlin is synonymous with the city of Winston-Salem and performing arts across the country but as the saying goes, behind every good man is a strong woman, and in Larry’s case, there were two: his mother Annie Hamlin-Johnson, and his wife, Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin.

Larry, a native of Reidsville, is best known as founder of the North Carolina Black Repertory Company (NCBRC), the first professional black theatre company in the state and host of the bi-annual National Black Theatre Festival (NBTF). Long before the NBTF became one of the city’s biggest events, it was Larry’s mother who introduced him to the stage.

Hamlin-Johnson, who starred in several on-stage productions herself, said she first introduced Larry to theatre through productions at church. From there, Larry showed so much interest that she had a stage built at home so Larry and his friends could work on their acting skills.

“We began in the church and Larry’s interest just grew from there. He would pretend he was one of the big name actors on TV,” she laughed. “But that’s how he got started. When I saw how interested he was, we got children from the neighborhood and started putting on productions at home.”

Larry’s love for the arts stuck with him through grade school and high school, where he sung on the choir, and led the drama club. After graduating from high school, Larry went off to attend Brown University, where he studied theatre.

In 1979, following the death of his older brother, Larry returned to North Carolina with a vision to create a one-of-a-kind theatre company committed to exposing the local community to African-American classics, the development and production of new works, and sustaining black theatre. While selling tickets for his first show at a social event, Larry met Sylvia and told her what he was trying to do, and the rest is history. Although she had seen several on-stage productions in Philadelphia, where she lived for 10 years, Sylvia said it was Larry who introduced her to the theatre world.

“Larry came back to Winston-Salem in May of 1979 and we met in June that same year.” Sprinkle-Hamlin said. “He said he wanted to start a professional company because he felt that actors and actresses, writers, and directors didn’t get the recognition they deserved.

“He was always in to exposing people to black history, and I was, too, so it really worked out.”

A few months later Sylvia, Annie, and Larry signed the charter for the company and the trio got to work spreading the word.

In the early days, Sylvia and Annie were responsible for managing the box office, amongst several other responsibilities.

Sylvia laughed, “We would be sitting in the theatre hoping someone would come. We had no idea that it would grow to what it is today. We were just supporting Larry. From having hardly anyone in the audience to the big audiences like the Black Theatre Festival, we’ve seen it all, but we were determined.”

In 2007 following a long illness, Larry passed away at his home in Pfafftown, but the NCBRC is still going strong. The company is universally recognized for its artistic and administrative achievements and its international outreach. During an interview with The Chronicle earlier this week, Hamlin-Johnson, who was always there to support her son emotionally and financially to reach his goal, said it makes her feel good to know Larry’s legacy will live on.


“I think about him a lot and things he used to do as a child,” Hamlin-Johnson said. “Sometimes I go way back and talk with my daughter about things we use to do. I must say I am proud of what Larry accomplished.”

When discussing the future of the NCBRC, Sprinkle-Hamlin, who serves as president of the board of directors, said with new programs like the Teen Theatre, the future is bright. She also mentioned that Larry’s son and grandson are now working in theatre and hopes they will follow in Larry’s footsteps here in Winston-Salem

“I think we have enough support that it will continue to grow and Larry’s legacy will continued to live on,” she said. “We have a really good team and hopefully that team can lead the company into the future.”

About Author

Tevin Stinson

Tevin Stinson

Related Articles


Featured Sponsor

Receive Chronicle Updates

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.



More Sponsors