Jesus Christ Superstar is one of the most well-known (and most controversial) Broadway musicals ever written. Popular from its inception in the 1970s, the rock opera began as a conceptual album, was quickly staged, and soon became a motion picture. If you are familiar with the stage and film versions of the play chances are you have heard Carl Anderson’s stunning rendition of Judas Iscariot, but did you know Anderson was born and raised right here in Lynchburg?
Carl Anderson and his twin brother Charles were born in Lynchburg on February 27, 1945. His mother, Alberta, was a seamstress and his father, James, was a steelworker. Sadly, Charles passed away at eleven months of age due to a bronchial infection. Carl and his ten surviving siblings grew up at their family home on Boston Avenue.
Anderson had strong connections to Lynchburg’s downtown area. He cultivated his vocal talent as a child singing with the choir at Rivermont Baptist Church. He attended Dunbar High School, where he was active in the choir and served as its student director during his junior year in 1962. However, Anderson’s schooling was delayed when he decided that same year to serve as a member of the United States Air Force. After his release from the military, Anderson returned and graduated from Dunbar in 1965.
Though he had been engaged in music throughout his life, Anderson didn’t consider a career in the field until his time in the military. While serving, he participated in the World Wide Air Force Talent Contest, prompting him to look into music as a profession. In 1969, Anderson left his hometown and moved to Washington, D.C. The D.C. music scene welcomed Anderson, allowing him and his band, The Second Eagle, performing opportunities throughout the city. Anderson also managed to take classes at Howard University as well as work as the Assistant Director of the Columbia Heights Boys Club.
Though the play itself hadn’t yet come to fruition, the conceptual album for Jesus Christ Superstar had been out a number of years and was a favorite for Anderson’s group to cover. The Second Eagle was eventually booked to perform the rock opera for a Palm Sunday celebration at St. Stephen’s Church. Due to the unorthodox nature of the celebration, the event received media coverage and was attended by a talent scout, who recognized Anderson’s talent and got him an audition for the upcoming stage production. Five months later, Anderson was performing on Broadway.
Clip from the 1973 movie, Anderson performing “Heaven on Their Minds”
Anderson’s portrayal of Judas soon became iconic, especially after he auditioned and won the same part for the film production released in 1973. Anderson played the role of Judas throughout the 1970s, though his reluctance to even broach the subject of this role in the 1980s points to a probable burnout (something that isn’t too surprising considering he portrayed Judas over 1,200 times). During this time he focused mainly on his solo recording career. Though he released several albums and worked with the likes of Stevie Wonder, Maynard Ferguson and Kenny Loggins, most of his solo works had a lukewarm reception. His most recognized works are the single “Friends and Lovers” and the album “Pieces of a Heart.” In 1992, Anderson married Verónica Porche Ali, ex-wife of the boxing great Muhammad Ali. This same year Anderson reprised his role as Judas in the touring revival of Jesus Christ Superstar.
Anderson performs “Superstar” on The Tonight Show in the 1990s
Despite a heavy focus on his recording career in his later years, Anderson continued to act, not only on stage but also on screen. He appeared in several movies, probably most famously as Reverend Samuel in The Color Purple, as well as guest starred in several television shows. Once again Anderson returned to the stage as Judas during the early 2000s revival of Jesus Christ Superstar. He was set to go on a reunion tour with some of the original cast in 2003 when he received the devastating diagnosis of leukemia. Anderson died in Los Angeles on February 24, 2004, leaving behind his wife, son Khalil, and step-daughters Laila Ali and Hana Yasmeen Ali, as well as several brothers and sisters. However, Anderson’s legacy lives on here in Lynchburg. To find out more, check back for part two of this series.
By Holly Phelps, Staff
Lynchburg Museum System