Cedric Walker

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Circus Owner

In 1994, Atlanta, Georgia saw the opening one of the U.S. most original and successful circuses, UniverSoul Circus. It had been imagined and created the previous year by Cedric Walker and Calvin “Casual Cal” Dupree, two African American showbusiness entrepreneurs; it was originally Walker’s old childhood dream, and the idea was to create a circus with a large percentage of circus artists of color that would visit urban centers with an important African American population.

A Born Entrepreneur

Born in Baltimore, Maryland, Cedric Walker has had an entrepreneurial spirit since the ripe old age of six, when he created his very first enterprise – a shoeshine business... As a youngster, he went on to sell Christmas cards, Kool Aid Popsicles, and fruits and vegetables from a horse-drawn cart: He had an innate business sense! Growing up, his family often attended the circuses that came to Baltimore: he fell in love with the circus. He and his brother Frank would go home and re-create the spectacles they had witnessed.

In fact, Cedric loved the circus so much that he seriously wanted to run away with it. In a sign of the times, especially in the South, he thought he was only qualified to clean up after the elephants—just as well as the African American workers he saw around the circus lot. But this certainly didn’t limit his imagination, and he knew that one day, he would reach further than that—much further.

In the early 1970s, he moved to Tuskegee, Alabama to live with his uncle, a prominent nightclub owner in the region. That’s where he met and later teamed up with a promising group of young musicians known as the Commodores. A tireless worker, Cedric soon worked his way up to production and stage manager and toured with them around the world. Walker would later serve as a promoter for the Jackson Five.

He struck out on his own in the 1980s to help organize and produce the Fresh Festivals—the world’s first Rap music tour to play in large arenas featuring legendary rappers Run DMC, Salt n Peppa, and The Fat Boys. In the early 1990s, he produced a couple of highly successful gospel plays, Wicked Ways and A Good Man is Hard to Find.

By the mid-1990s, Cedric and his associate, Calvin Dupree, began to look for new forms of family entertainment: "The vision was to explore the various talents other than singing and dancing that black performers had to offer," said Walker. "I envisioned hip-hop musicals, a return to vaudeville and animal acts. That’s when the decision was made to create a new entertainment complex—a full-blown circus complete with its own big topThe circus tent. America: The main tent of a traveling circus, where the show is performed, as opposed to the other tops. (French, Russian: Chapiteau) tent."

UniverSoul Circus

The idea took on a life of its own. The performers they found were very proud and overwhelmed by the vision Walker shared with them. He sent out an international call for acts to perform in newly created UniverSoul Circus. Recruiting, training, and production began in 1993—one year before the first historic performance.

Not everything went exactly as planned. Three weeks before the opening, Walker paid a visit to the training facility. It was clear the person they had chosen to present a group of tigers wasn’t working out as they had hoped. The trainer appeared apprehensive, causing a ripple effect among the tigers. They had to let him go. There was a moment—albeit a fleeting moment—when Walker considered getting himself into the cage... "That’s when I recalled my wild and crazy cousin who lived with three 14 feet boa constrictors in his bedroom. I called his home that night. By six the next morning, he’d quit his job and was ready to run away with the circus."

The historic first show took place in 1994 in the parking lot of the old Fulton County Stadium in Atlanta. From the very beginning, the circus received rave reviews from critics and audiences alike. The Atlanta Journal Constitution dubbed it "Cirque du Soul." Circus Report, a trade weekly, called it "a masterpiece of production, staging and promotion." The overwhelmingly positive initial response inspired Walker to push forward and to turn his dream of running away with the circus into reality.

"If the idea was a critical success, our first show lost every penny and then some," recalls Walker. "Although we lined up backers and sponsors, few believed in our vision. If I wanted to realize my dream, I knew I had to use my own money to finance the majority of this million-dollar operation." So he did, and since then, there has been no looking back.

Since its debut, UniverSoul has successfully turned the traditional circus world upside down. By 1997 the circus tour had grown to a 10-city tour; to 19 cities in 1999; a South Africa tour 2001, an Emmy nominated HBO special in 1998, and 25 cities in 2012. UniverSoul Circus has been a successful operation ever since.

In 2018, Cedric Walker was inducted into the Circus Ring of Fame on St. Armand’s Circle in Sarasota, Florida.

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