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Stage Preview: Acting takes Cuba Gooding Sr. on an inspirational tour

Wednesday, September 27, 2000

By Eve Modzelewski, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Cuba Gooding Sr. uses a typical, adoring proud-father tone when he boasts that his son Cuba was the sixth black person to win an Academy Award.

He sounds like he might pull out a couple of baby pictures when he goes on about his other successful show-biz kids: Omar, who has starred on sitcoms like "Smart Guy" and "Hangin' With Mr. Cooper"; and April, who recently launched her acting career.

But he has one major complaint about his children: None can carry a tune. Cuba Gooding Jr. may have captured the 1997 Best Supporting Actor Oscar for "Jerry Maguire," but a quick viewing of the movie's off-tune shower-singing scene confirms his father's claim.

For Gooding Sr. -- whose band Main Ingredient has been an R&B mainstay since the '70s, with hit songs like "Everybody Plays the Fool" -- it's hard to understand his otherwise talented progeny's musical shortcomings.

    'Be Careful What You Pray For'

Where: Byham Theater, Downtown.

When: 8 p.m. today through Friday; 3 and 8 p.m. Saturday; 3 and 7:30 p.m. Sunday.

Tickets: $19.75 to $28.75; 412-456-6666.


"I would take my kids into the studio and say, 'None of ya'll can sing,' " he said. "And they would say, 'Yeah, Dad, but you can't act.' "

A little challenge from his daughter and sons was all he needed to jump start his acting career, and now he's starring in the gospel-influenced musical "Be Careful What You Pray For," opening tonight at the Byham Theater.

"Though it's called gospel and inspirational -- all depending on who's advertising it -- it's really important for people of all races to see," Gooding Sr. said.

The musical, which addresses "what happens when the quest for love pulls against old-fashioned Christian and family values," parallels the star's personal struggles in several ways. Despite his family's recent success, things haven't always been so good for the Goodings.

His father, Dudley MacDonald Gooding, fled his homeland, Barbados, to escape servitude in 1936. He eventually moved to Cuba, where he became a follower of Pan-Africanist leader Marcus Garvey. Dudley Gooding, who spoke seven languages, married a woman in Cuba who was later murdered because of the couple's black nationalist political affiliations. Before she died, Dudley Gooding promised her to name his first son Cuba.

Despite such a poignant tragedy, Gooding Sr. said of his father: "He spent a lot of time in Cuba, and he loved the country." He moved to Harlem in 1937, where he met and married Addie Alston Gooding.

Dudley Gooding died when Gooding Sr. was just 11, so he grew up largely without a father. But when he had his first son with wife Shirley, he gave him the name his father had assigned to him: Cuba.

Cuba Gooding Jr. has achieved more household fame than his father, as his name has become synonymous with the "Jerry Maguire" catch phrase, "Show me the money!" And after he won his Academy Award for that performance, he showed his parents a bit of the money.

He sent Gooding Sr. and Shirley -- who were divorced for 17 years and remarried in 1994 -- on a second honeymoon to their ancestral home in Barbados.

"My wife and I divorced because it was a case of children raising children," Gooding Sr. said. "People in show business should wait until 35 to have kids." He was 22 the first time he married his wife, Shirley.

But his fast-paced musical career meant he wasn't around much when his children were growing up, and he gives Shirley the credit for encouraging them to pursue their entertainment careers.

"It was difficult for me to conceive that Shirley could raise three kids on her own," he admitted.

While in Barbados, Gooding Sr. started researching his family's past for an autobiography titled "Everybody Plays the Fool," for which NBC has picked up the rights. Negotiations are under way to produce a four-part miniseries based on the book.

Despite the adversity endured by his father, Gooding Sr. said, "My family has survived splendidly -- this is not 'Roots.' "

Gooding Sr.'s musical career certainly has survived, and he said Main Ingredient's funk tunes have experienced a renewed popularity in recent years.

"Now it seems our music is more popular than ever."

But in 1973, when Main Ingredient recorded the album "Afrodisiac" with Stevie Wonder as co-producer, the band's popularity plummeted.

"We put a nude black woman with an afro on the cover, and our careers were basically destroyed for two years, until 1974."

Album art like that would seem less controversial today -- Atlanta-based rap group Outkast has used similar images on its CDs -- but 25 years ago it was enough to thwart Main Ingredient's success.

Ironically, in 1998, Gooding Sr. received a proclamation from the governor of California, where he now lives, acknowledging his "clean, wholesome lyrics and music." But he still doesn't bash the more explicit rap and hip-hop tunes that have saturated the music market over the past decade.

"We can condemn the negativity of rap all we want," he said, "but it's an art form, and they are rapping about what they see. ... They only have the role models for negativity."

"But things are changing -- we have our Puff Daddies, if he can stay out of jail."

Gooding Sr. also served time in prison in the early '70s, just before he joined Main Ingredient.

"I did a couple of years for something I don't want to discuss at this moment," he said.

But he said adversity has only made him more resilient, and he has strengthened ties with his family -- including his formerly estranged son from a previous relationship, Thomas, who is now the music director for Main Ingredient.

He was sure to squeeze in a bit more bragging about his children's current projects. Cuba Gooding Jr. stars in the upcoming "Men of Honor" with Robert De Niro, and Omar is taking a step toward making this father's dream come true: He's about to release his own album.

"And he'll be the second Gooding ever to have a recording contract," Gooding Sr. gloated.

Maybe Omar will prove that the Gooding kids got a few of their dad's musical genes after all.

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