Michael St. John is one of Hollywood’s elder statesmen in the struggle for diversity — a true pioneer who blazed new trails and opened doors for other African-American artists along the way.
While a high school student in Swarthmore, PA, Michael became an overnight sensation as a performer on the “Paul Whiteman TV Show” on ABC. (Paul Whiteman was the legendary bandleader who discovered Tommy Dorsey and Bing Crosby.) Michael was chosen by Paul Whiteman to sing at a special benefit for President Truman. Michael’s popularity became so great that he was invited to perform at the annual Philadelphia Music Festival, alongside Dinah Shore, Johnny Ray, Eddie Fisher, Hazel Scott, Ed Sullivan, Duke Ellington, and Louis Armstrong.
Michael attended USC’s prestigious Thornton School of Music, where he befriended fellow student Marilyn Horne. Michael and Marilyn’s on-stage chemistry led to several singing engagements, including performances for President Eisenhower at the Hollywood Bowl and world-renowned Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich during his tour of the U.S.
After graduation, Michael became a company member at the Ebony Showcase Theatre. This led to a meeting with executives at CBS and a job as a script consultant – a position that shattered racial barriers at the network. Michael also began studying at the legendary Desilu acting workshop, which was run by Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz at what is now Paramount Pictures.
Michael next scored a break-through acting role in Otto Preminger’s Oscar-winning film “Carmen Jones,” in which he co-starred with Dorothy Dandridge, Harry Belafonte, Pearl Bailey, and Brock Peters. This led to roles in other notable films of the time, including “Member of the Wedding” (with Ethel Waters), “The Desk Set” (with Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn), “Show Boat,” “House of Flowers” (with Pearl Bailey), “Porgy and Bess” (with Sidney Poitier and Sammy Davis Jr.), and the early Francis Ford Coppola film “Finian’s Rainbow.” During those days, Michael befriended James Dean and Dennis Hopper.
In the 1970s, Michael became the first African-American associate director at NBC, where he worked on shows including “Laugh In,” “The Andy Williams Show,” and the “NBC Nightly News.” In the 1980s, Michael moved to the Bay Area, becoming Arts Commissioner for the city of Berkeley — another first for an African-American. Michael hosted a syndicated radio show on San Francisco station KDIA, and served as entertainment editor of the Oakland Post newspaper.
Michael produced the Grammy-winning CD “Flight of Columbia 7 and Dances of Remembrance,” an all-star tribute album to the ill-fated crew of the space shuttle Columbia. Congresswoman Maxine Waters honored Michael and the Flight of Columbia CD before both houses of Congress that same year.
Never one to slow down, Michael stays busy in production and development, working for Universal Studios where he has several projects in the works. He is also the entertainment reporter for Los Angeles radio station 92.3 FM.