By: Kymberly Amara
Renowned actor. Sex symbol. Cultural icon. From The Temptations to The Five Heartbeats, famously known as, “Leon,” has represented the culture and entertained us by playing some iconic roles. We have been privileged to witness the sheer talent of the critically acclaimed actor who started in theatre and pushed his way into our hearts and minds for decades. Masterful at his acting craft, many people are unfamiliar with his notable music career. He has been the lead vocalist and songwriter for the popular band, Leon & The Peoples for over a decade.
How he became interested in the performing arts…
Leon shared that he was bitten by the singing and acting bug during his childhood recalling how he would sneak into the Wakefield movie theatre in the Bronx and watch Elvis Presley movies. Growing up in New York, despite being steered towards sport she became more interested in the performing arts while attending school.
“When I was in grammar school, I saw my sister’s high school class do a rock ‘n’roll revival and I used to go to a catholic elementary school. They used to do this corny variety school every year and so in the ninth grade, I convinced the nuns to allow me to do this variety show where I choreographed all of the numbers and I played Chubby Checker, my other friend played Elvis Presley and the girls played the Dandridge sisters and we did a show and it was held over and I got the bug right then.”
At the time, his school, which was an all-boys prep academy, didn’t have a drama department. With no avenue to exercise his singing and acting chops at the time, Leon excelled in athletics playing sports such as football and basketball. Of course, his grammar school has since added a drama department being that he once walked the hallowed halls of the academy and is now an alumna.
Leon never lost his passion for the performing arts and we are thankful he didn’t because he went on to play some memorable roles like Shep in “Above The Rim,” David Ruffin in “The Temptations,” and J.T. in the cultural classic, “The Five Heartbeats.”
Leon & The Peoples…
Years ago, he was asked to join a band, The Young Lions, that became popular around New York City playing cover songs. While grateful for the opportunity, Leon says he wanted to play his own music, “I wanted to play original music and they were playing cover songs so, I formed my own band called The Peoples and then I called them Leon & The Peoples because we got better gigs.”
Through his music, Leon hopes to convey a message of happiness and love through hosting shows and performing his thought-provoking music at festivals. “I have activism through the arts…and I put out a song [called], “The World’s Gonna Come Around.” That’s a song in which I take my activism and put it into my music and to let people know about how I’m feeling and about what we should be doing and how we should be doing it…So much of my music is about bringing us together from all around the world. Because we’re all human beings, we all have thoughts, we all love and live and we’re all trying to be happy no matter where you are in the world…I definitely want to take our music worldwide, it’s not a domestic thing.”
In the song, “Sometimes I Wish I Was Single,” Leon takes listeners back to the early days when they met their special love interest and things were much easier. It also signifies freedom in that when you’re single you can simply pick up and go because you don’t have to answer to anyone or deal with the complexities of being accountable to others.
Like other celebrities, the pandemic impacted his work as filming was suspended and live gigs were canceled. Leon was blessed in that he was able to begin working last September on an upcoming project. Being able to create and tell stories is not lost on the actor as he acknowledges that in his line of work, he is not considered an essential worker. “During the pandemic when it was at the height of the pandemic, working of any sort was a bit of a savior to know that you could at least do what you do and that wasn’t taken away from me. Yes, we’ve got a whole lot of protocols and it’s not easy but, such is life.”
Upcoming projects and future artists…
Leon is a lifetime student of the arts and has become a steward of his craft. As we look to the next generation of creators and artists, Leon believes that it’s important to continue to, “have really good art.” With hard work, he believes that the next generation of creatives will go far. “I hope that when people see my work, young people especially realize that you can do it. You just got to put that work in. Ya’ know, what do you consider to be good? Do you consider having a million likes good or do you consider having a 30-year career good? That’s what you have to make that decision. Are you trying to be hot now or are you trying to be hot forever?” Although we’ve come a long way, content-wise, especially in the stories that are being told about us and how we are portrayed both on and off-screen, we still have a ways to go. To help diversify and improve the black content space, Robinson has been creating content over the last five years for both television and film through his production company, Motion Mob Films. He hopes to produce content that will cross generational and racial barriers.
Beyond his successful career, Leon also holds the role of father to his beautiful young adult daughter, Noelle Robinson, whom he shares with model and reality-star, Cynthia Bailey. Of all his accomplishments, he says he’s most proud to be her dad. You can listen to his latest album, “Love Is A Beautiful Thing” on all platforms. He can also be found in the upcoming action-heist film, “A Day to Die,” where he’ll be co-starring alongside Bruce Willis, Frank Grillo, and Kevin Dillon. You can also catch him on the provocative series, “A Luv Tale” and he will have a recurring role on the BET series, “Games People Play.”
Time has been wonderful to Leon who has aged like a fine wine; distinguished, complex and leaving a lingering positive experience for those who encounter him. He shared that he hopes to be remembered for the stories that he was a part of for years to come.
“I think I was born to be on the screen and I think that’s a calling that luckily I was able to answer.”