Linda Armstrong and Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin, executive producer of the National Black Theatre Festival and widow of NBTF founder, the late Larry Leon Hamlin.

Linda Armstrong: Thirty-Six Years on the Black Theatre Beat

by Herb Boyd

Linda Armstrong, in her profile of Debra Ann Byrd in the winter edition of Black Masks, cited Byrd as a "theatrical gem." That's a description that is appli-cable to Armstrong as well. What the multifaceted Byrd has done as a performer, producer, and artistic director, Armstrong has replicated as an editor, the secretary and member of the Board of Directors and the nominating committee of AUDELCO (Audience Development Committee), a member of the nomi-nating committee for the Theatre World Awards, a member of the Board of Directors of Drama Desk and most notably as a renowned theatre critic. How she manages to fulfill all of these demanding obli-gations and commitments is a question I posed to her during the recent Zoom interview we conducted for "Critical Perspectives," a forum held at the Lincoln Center Performing Arts Library (a division of the New York Public Library), where many of her stories are archived.

"Writing has always been an outlet for me to express how I feel," she says stamping the sundry assign-ments with a common mission. "When I was younger I used to write poetry and some of it was very dark, and my father asked me if I was unhappy. I told him no, it was just the way I feel. Writing has always been a relief."

What was a "relief" for Linda Armstrong has brought years of pleasure for readers of her reviews, espe-cially those that have appeared for more than a generation in the New York Amsterdam News. In fact, I first met her at the paper one day in 1985 when we both began our journey there. She was leaving Arts and Entertainment Editor Mel Tapley's office when we encountered each other. After our greetings I entered Tapley's office to be told that she was his new theatre critic. "Mr. Tapley quickly put me to work covering various Black theatre productions," she recalls. "After doing this for a while, I asked him why we aren't reviewing Broadway shows. He said, 'There is nothing on Broadway for us.' And I said, 'Well maybe there would be an interest if they knew what was going on.' After a few seconds, he said 'Okay, go for it!' And from that beginning I expanded my coverage beyond Broadway, to Off-Broadway to Off-Off Broadway. All I've wanted to do over the years is to do what I can to support Black theatre, helping the actors, playwrights, producers, directors and all those involved in providing the valuable entertainment," she asserts. Armstrong's reviews have taken her well beyond the Broadway precincts and into the hearts and minds of thousands in her fandom. Her tireless commitment has garnered her invitations to be on panels and boards from organizations seeking her expertise on Black theatre. To list just a few of the publications...(continued)

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Herb Boyd is an author, journalist, and teacher. He has published many books and articles mainly in support of civil and human rights, including Black Detroit: A People's History of Self-Determination. Like Linda Armstrong, he has been a reporter at the New York Amsterdam News for more than a generation. He has taught at several universities and currently is an adjunct professor in Black studies at the City College of New York.


Summer 2021

This article is featured in
Vol. 27, No. 1

Also in this issue:

  • Carl Cofield: Advancing the American Theatre

  • Linda Armstrong Memorializes Cortez Nance Jr. and Anthony Chisolm

  • Editor's Notes: Black Broadway

  • Arts Hotline

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    (l. to r.) Linda Armstrong with actor LaChanze and the late Grace L. Jones, former president of AUDELCO.

    Linda Armstrong (2nd from l.) with her family, (l. to r.) daughter Jasmine Michelle, husband Chris, their dog Muffy, and daughter Linda Nicole (Nikki), seated before a section of Chris's photo tribute to Linda's career.