Actor Keith David gains Emmy-winning success with voiceovers – New York Daily News
Even as a child, Keith David had special admiration for masters of voice — those few unique actors who skillfully craft moving voice-overs for commercials, TV shows, documentaries and animated programs and make them works of art. Today, David, a classically trained actor who achieved fame and respect for big- and small-screen roles and stage productions, is one of those esteemed voice masters.
The New York-born actor’s credits are impressive, and so is his voice-over work — which includes many commercials, more than 20 video games, and work with documentarian Ken Burns that won David three Emmy Awards for narration. But voice work is only one part of his well-rounded body of acting. The multi-faceted actor is currently working on several projects.
He has a television show debuting this month, and a 10-year-old project to bring late singer Joe Williams to life on the stage is also due. All his accomplishments are the result of acting talents he started perfecting as a child.
Acting was always his focus, but when David added voice work to his repertoire, he satisfied a long-sought desire — and his work has paid off. His voiceover resume is filled with television commercials for upcoming shows, animated programs, and work for corporate clients.
David’s long affiliation with Burns has brought the actor much notoriety and much honor for his voice work. David won Outstanding Voice-Over Performance Emmy honors in 2004 for his work on “Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson;” won another Outstanding Voice-Over Performance Emmy Award for the “A Necessary War” episode of Burns’ “The War” documentary in 2008 and clinched an Outstanding Narrator Emmy Award for “Jackie Robinson” in 2016. There was also an Emmy nomination for Burns’ “Jazz” documentary in 2001.
Interestingly, David has long thought about the voices that narrated the programs he grew up watching as a youngster. “I’ve been an actor all of my life,” he said. “But I was always interested in doing voiceover work because as a child, I loved watching documentaries, especially about animals. ‘Wild Kingdom’ and ‘National Geographic’ were some favorite things to watch.”
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But before he entered the voiceover arena, he said, no one mentioned voiceovers as a career possibility. Despite his versatile baritone voice — which ranges from warm and loving to stern and commanding — David said, no one told him: ‘You have a great voice; you should try voiceovers.’
When David started auditioning for voice work, he discovered that “there weren’t terribly many brothers in the business.” Black actors in the field, such as Charles Turner and Adolph Caesar, were “very few and far between,” recalled David.
But his self-confidence and invaluable support from his agent paid off. “Finally, I started getting requested. That was a great gift!”
How did David’s 20-year-plus relationship with Burns begin? “I auditioned like everybody else,” he said simply. He voiced one of the many characters in a Burns’ production, before landing the job of narrator for the “Jazz” documentary — by auditioning for the part!
“Auditioning is just the nature of the process. It began a relationship that has lasted over 20 years now,” he said, adding that just like Burns’ documentary viewers, he’s learning too.
“Of course [I’m learning], but also like my viewing audience, do I retain every speck of knowledge that’s disseminated?” said David. “I have to go back and go back in.”
However, he added, “One of the most wonderful things about any documentary, but especially about a Ken Burns documentary, it invites you to want to learn more on your own.”