Samm-Art Williams, ‘Home’ Playwright and ‘Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’ Producer, Dies at 78

His Tony-nominated play from 1979 is being revived on Broadway this year


Samm-Art Williams, playwright of the award-winning “Home” and producer whose credits included “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” and “Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper” has died. He was 78.

Willams’ death at his home in North Carolina was confirmed by family members.

His 1979 play “Home” was first directed by Douglas Turner Ward and produced on Broadway by the Negro Ensemble Company. The show will return to Broadway in June of this year. “Home” was nominated for Best Broadway Play in 1980, as well as an Outer Critics Circle Award, a Drama Desk nomination, the NAACP Image Award and the North Carolina Governor’s Award.

The play tells the story of Cephus Miles, a Black farmer from the southern United States who ends up in jail after he opposes the Vietnam draft. Miles moves to the northern U.S., where he is surprised to experience discrimination.

Williams’ additional credits as a playwright include “Welcome to Black River” and “Friends.”

He was also a prolific television writer whose credits included “Solomon Northup’s Odyssey,” “John Henry,” “Badges,” and episodes for “Cagney and Lacey,” “The New Mike Hammer,” “Miami Vice.” He was nominated for two Emmy Awards as a producer for “Frank’s Place” and “Motown Returns To The Apollo.”

Williams joined “Fresh Prince” as an executive producer in 1990 and stayed with the show until 1993.

His career also included stints as an actor. Roles of note included as Jim in the 1985 American Playhouse/PBS limited series “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” and appearances on “Miami Vice,” “Frank’s Place,” and “A Rage In Harlem.”

Williams was born on January 20, 1946, in Burgaw, North Carolina. He was raised by his mother, an English and drama teacher he credited with influencing his career path.

He began performing onstage in the 1970s and began writing plays by the decade’s end. He was well known within the Negro Ensemble Company for both roles. The company was established in 1965 by Douglas Turner Ward “to create a theater concentrating primarily on themes of black life.”

Like his character in “Home,” Willams eventually moved back to the southern state where he spent his childhood. In a 2007 interview he said that despite living in New York and Los Angeles for most of his career, “I think pretty much all of my work will be set in the South from now on. I’m living back here now, and I’ve always considered myself a Southern writer.”

Of people he met outside the region, he added, “If these people are looking down on me because I’m from the South, that means I’ve really got to stand up for myself. You have to deliver.”


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