In 1994 the UniverSoul Circus was born. The vision was to explore the various talents other than singing and dancing that black performers had to offer. We had the idea to present something different, to create a show that presented a wide spectrum of black talent to a wide demographic of spectators. To reach deep into our culture and search for what talent and skills lie asleep in the black entertainment experience. We wanted to apply our gathered years of experience in the live appearance industry, to make a difference, to change the industry we lived in, creating growth and new opportunity.
Our journey began in libraries, first researching black entertainment from the turn of the century, until today. We came across a black circus operating in 1893. I envisioned hip-hop musicals, a return to vaudeville and animal acts. That's when the decision was made to create a full-blown big top circus.
We had to find black circus performers. But where would we find them? How could we express our culture through circus arts? In what form or forum would the presentation take place?
Well, as the saying goes, if you take the first step Providence moves in. All sorts of things happen in your favor.
While walking through a Black Expo a few weeks later, the corner of my eye caught one particular booth. The sign said: OF BLACKS AND CIRCUS RINGS . I became so excited; I couldn't believe what I was seeing. This vendor had artifacts, pictures, videos and in-depth knowledge of African American contributions to the circus industry.
He shared a wealth of knowledge and contacts with us. He led us to Prince BoJino, one of the first black lion tamers. He helped us organize training for all of our animal acts. He introduced us to legendary black performers who helped us pull it all together. The idea took on a life of its own with black circus performers. They were overwhelmed by the concept. They sent an international call to other black circus performers.
Recruiting, training and production began in 1993. Three weeks before the opening, I paid a visit to the training facility. It was clear that the person we chose wasn't working out. After watching rehearsals all that flashed in my mind was possible the headlines: “FIRST BLACK CIRCUS. TIGER EATS TRAINER ON OPENING DAY.” So I fired the guy. I'm three weeks away from advertising this black lion tamer and I'm sitting in my office at 11 p.m. saying to myself, “Okay Cedric, you've really done it this time. Now you've got to go into the lion's cage.” I was attempting to convince myself that I could do it, when, thank you Jesus, I thought about my “crazy” cousin who lived with three 14 feet boa constrictors in his bedroom. I had a feeling he would be interested in the job. I called his home that night. By six the next morning, he had quit his job and was ready to join the circus.
The first show lost every penny. But the idea was successful. Although Walker lined up backers and sponsors, few believed in his vision, so his own money financed the majority of the million-dollar production. UniverSoul had successfully turned the traditional, “pomp and circumstance” circus world upside down in 1994 when Walker's dream of “Hip Hop under the Big Top” turned into a reality in the parking lot of Atlanta Fulton County Stadium. Despite going deep into the red during the first season, enthusiastic crowds and rave reviews encouraged Walker and company to continue operations. By 1997 the circus tour had grown to 10 cities, 19 cities in 1999, 31 cities in 2000, toured South Africa 2001– its first international destination, and 32 cities in 2005.