Charles Creath – the long-time musical director for The Black Rep – was described by many in his life as a musical genius. Ron Himes, founder and producing director of The Black Rep, who worked with Creath on numerous musicals from 1983 to 2019, wholeheartedly agrees with this sentiment.
Creath, who died in December at 68, first teamed with Himes and The Black Rep in 1983. “His first show was Don’t Bother Me, I Can’t Cope, and it was also his last show,” Himes recalls, referring to the showcase in 2019 when The Black Rep revived the musical. For the latter, Creath received the Outstanding Musical Director Award from the St. Louis Theater Circle.
Great music was in Creath’s genes. He was the grandson of hot jazz band leader Charlie Creath. The younger Creath followed in those footsteps by performing worldwide.
“He could play everything,” Himes says. “We did four or five productions of Ain’t Misbehavin’ (the Fats Waller musical), and he could play the entire show without the score.”
Others echo Himes’ assessment of Creath’s wizardry. Michael Horsley, music supervisor for The Muny, agrees: “Charles was a genius on the piano and could just about play anything, in any key.” Hired by Horsley and Muny company manager Sue Greenberg in 2012 to play preshow performances there, Creath continued in that role through The Muny’s latest season, in 2019.
Horsley praises Creath’s abilities as a soloist and a programming collaborator alike. That said, he most lauds Creath’s “approach to dealing with the process of putting these shows together. He loved working with the singers and put them at ease during the fast rehearsal time … He became a mainstay for us, and I always looked forward to working with him.”
Early in his career, Creath worked in Los Angeles as a studio musician at Glen Glenn Sound, which provided audio creative services for dozens of movies and TV series like Mission: Impossible and Star Trek.
Himes, who has dubbed Creath “an incredible arranger, composer and all-around great musician,” calls him a “tremendous gospel church musician, tremendous jazz musician, [and] could pick up any Broadway score and play it.”
During his career, Creath won numerous awards, including the Kevin Kline Award from St. Louis’ Professional Theatre Awards Council for outstanding musical director in 2011 for Five Guys Named Moe.
“Sarafina!, Ragtime and Crossin’ Over were three of his favorite shows,” Himes says, “Crossin’ Over because we built it from scratch. It covered a lot of styles [such as] spirituals, gospel music from its roots in Africa to the contemporary Black churches of today.”
In short, although other musical talents will succeed Creath, it seems likely he’ll never be replaced. Artists of his rare ability never are.