Grandness and Grace

Michael Sainte | 2/22/2012, 4:39 p.m.

When I had my catering business, one of the skills I discovered was just as important as preparation was presentation. I think it is an element shared in the business of celebrity and entertainment, as well. On this past Tuesday evening, I witnessed very specifically how this plays out on a personal level: I interviewed the one and only Maurice Hines. I have met Mr. Hines casually a few times over the years, but never had any personal time with him. So, having the chance to talk with him one-to-one was exhilarating and, yes, entertaining!

He recounted the magnificence of growing up in a show business family (his grandmother was a Cotton Club showgirl and he and his younger brother, the late Gregory Hines, danced for years with their father, Maurice Sr.). He relished the memory of the excitement of performing all over the world and getting a truly global education through travel and entertaining. Most notably, however, he credits the strength and closeness of his family as the strongest factor in his life. The love, support, faith and understanding of his family have been the constant in all of his incredible accomplishments and success.

I recently saw the movie, "The Cotton Club," featuring Maurice and Gregory as tap-dancing brothers. In the storyline, the brothers start out as a team and eventually the younger brother (Gregory) decides to have a solo career, estranging his brother, but they eventually reunite. I asked Mr. Hines how closely that reflected his actual relationship with his brother and he said that Francis Ford Coppola, the director, decided not to script their scenes. He told them to improvise based on their own experiences and that's what you see onscreen. I now understand why those scenes resonate with such truth and power. In real life when they split, they enjoyed success separately and then reunited with great aplomb in the Broadway revue, "Eubie!" He made it very clear that even when he and his brother were not performing together, their love, respect and support for each other never wavered.

I asked him about his general philosophy of life and he said he learned from the great choreographer, Louis Johnson, that we are all just "works in progress."

"I'm grounded in a strong faith and understanding of my many blessings and live my life every day trying to always be a better human being," says Mr. Hines. He continues, "When you've seen as many sides of human nature as I have over the course of my life and career, you just develop a more balanced understanding about the complexity of human beings and you don't sweat it as much, you know what I mean?"

His affability and approachability is refreshing and engaging. Even just hearing that his leading lady had lost her voice just before rehearsal that evening, he graciously made the time for my interview and made me feel totally comfortable. It was like "tossing it back" with an old friend following his overwhelming success in the Arena Stage production of "Sophisticated Ladies" at the historic Lincoln!