There aren’t a lot of guys who can hide a coin in the palm of his hand, while simultaneously knowing the history of black magicians like the back of his hand.
Magician Ran’D Shine, who has appeared on the CW’s Penn and Teller: Fool Us and has performed in over 20 countries, is determined to share the stories of black magicians. Like Henry “Box” Brown, a pre-Houdini magician who was born a slave in Virginia and shipped himself to Philadelphia (and freedom) in a crate. “I am very proud to be an African American magician,” Shine said.
Shine will perform his Heart and Soul of Magic Show twice in the area in the coming weeks, including a sold-out benefit for the Domestic Violence Center of Chester County on Saturday. The Inquirer talked to Shine about when he knew he wanted to be a magician, African Americans in magic, and what to expect at his show.
Can you tell me how you got into magic?
During graduate school at Penn State, students in the student union were showing me some card tricks. It immediately sparked my interest. Shortly after, I was conducting post graduate research, after receiving my Masters Degree, at the University of the Western Cape, in CapeTown South Africa. I then returned to Drexel, where I was working toward my Ph.D in public health, and told [my adviser] that I had another passion, which was magic. She told me to give it some time, but I never gave it a second thought. There was no doubt in my mind, that I wanted to pursue magic as a full-time career.
Can you tell me a little about the International Association of Black Magical artists?
I am the cofounder and past president. The reason why we formed it was because a lot of black magicians in the world were rarely heard from. It is a great way to communicate with each other. Did you know that the first American-born magician was an African American illusionist named Richard Potter, who was born in New England? Not only was he the first American-born magician, but he was also a successful ventriloquist. Last year, a book about him was written, which is entitled Richard Potter: America’s First Black Celebrity.
Do you have any inspirations?
I have no idols, just people who inspire me. The majority of them are not known like Kevin Bethea from Jersey, who toured the world performing. He’s such a deep thinker when it comes to magic, and that inspires me. It is cool to have him in close proximity — him being in Jersey, and me being from Philadelphia. Another inspiration of mine is Hiawatha Johnson Jr., who is a great sleight-of-hand magician from Virginia. He was the first African American magician I had ever heard of. I saw him on the cover of Genii Magazine, a trade magazine for magicians, and got inspired because I saw a magician who looked like me. We met at the Theory of Art of Magic Conference in 1999 and are good friends to this day.
Can you talk about what it’s like being one of a few black magicians?
I feel like that is a misstatement, because we are not given a platform, we are creating our own platform with organizations like IABMA. Some [other black magicians] are local and international, like Michael Vincent from the U.K., who has won multiple awards doing close-up [magic]. It feels good to be a magician of color, but it’s more [about] being a person of color that does other things besides singing and dancing. … I am proud to be one of those. We as black magicians, people, and actors even, have to break that glass ceiling. Instead of being marginalized, we have to let people know that we are out there.
Tell me about your show, Heart and Soul of Magic. When did you start that?
I started it in 2001 because I hadn’t seen a magic show that featured a predominantly black group of magicians. The first one was at the African American Museum of Philadelphia. I have done 14 so far. There are usually about four to five magicians with different styles, and I am generally the host. We have Paris, who is a juggler; Jamahl Keyes is a magician that fuses jazz music, from the Harlem Renaissance, tap dancing and Magic; and Kid Ace, who once bedazzled Steve Harvey. It was created to showcase to the world, that there are several outstanding black magicians, and that we are very talented.
How do you use your magic to help charities? How is money raised?
During the month of October I usually donate money from my college and corporate shows and or time to various nonprofits, schools, and social organizations in Philadelphia. In the past I have given to Bebashi: Transition to Hope, sponsored an essay contest for senior students at The Philadelphia School for Creative and Performance Arts on the topic “What is your Magic?” Students had to write about what they were proud of, and what made them unique. The top three winners won a book scholarship for college. Last year I taught magic for an after-school program at Hope Partnership for Education. I use magic as a tool to teach the students creativity, public speaking, and collaboration. Next month I will be reading books about magic for children for the West Philly Alliance for Children, which is a nonprofit organization that reopens previously closed libraries in Philadelphia public schools.
Ran’D Shine’s Heart and Soul of Magic
6 p.m. Saturday, Farmhouse at People’s Light, 39 Conestoga Road, Malvern, sold out, dvccc.org
8:30 p.m. April 3, Widener University, Alumni Auditorium, One University Place, Chester, 610-499-4000, widener.edu
2:45 p.m. April 10, Haverford Township Free Library, 1601 Darby Road, free, Havertown, 610-446-3082, haverfordlibrary.org.
For more information you can go to Ran’D’s website at www.RandyShine.com