Broadway star Daniel J. Watts ’04 to deliver Elon’s 2021 undergraduate commencement address

Watts is Elon’s first alum to be nominated for a Tony Award, receiving praise for his breakout performance as Ike Turner in “Tina: The Tina Turner Musical.”

Daniel J. Watts ’04, Tony Awards nominee for his breakout performance as Ike Turner in “Tina: The Tina Turner Musical,” will deliver Elon University’s undergraduate commencement address to the Class of 2021 on Friday, May 21.

Watts got his start on Broadway in 2005 when he was tapped to fill a role in “The Color Purple.” Producers saw his talents and Watts went on to win roles in the Broadway productions of “Hamilton,” “In the Heights,” and “Memphis,” among others. Along with numerous off-Broadway performances, including his original productions, he has had recurring TV roles on Amazon’s “Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” NBC’s “Blindspot,” HBO’s “Vinyl” and “The Deuce,” and Tracy Morgan’s “The Last O.G.” on TBS.

Last fall, the American Theatre Wing recognized his first lead performance as one of Broadway’s best, nominating him for a Tony as Best Featured Actor in a Musical. “Tina: The Tina Turner Musical” is nominated for 12 Tonys in all, including Best Musical, and Watts is Elon’s first alum to be nominated for the prestigious award. The awards ceremony has not yet been scheduled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Watts first became involved in theater when he was 13 and was encouraged to audition for a play about a historically black neighborhood in Charlotte, N.C. He says he was enthralled with the expression possible on stage and captured by the stories of Black Americans around the turn of the century. Watts followed that performance with involvement in summer stock theater, which forged his determination to pursue a higher education degree and a career in the performing arts.

Since graduating from Elon’s music theatre program in 2004, Watts has returned to campus numerous times for performances and workshops with the Department of Performing Arts and he has performed at events promoting Elon in New York City. In 2014, he directed undergraduates in “As We Journey from Mind to Mouth …,” an original piece they created. In 2011, Watts was recognized by Elon as its Young Alumnus of the Year.

Commencement 2021

Planning is still underway for Commencement 2021 as the university evaluates the various health and safety considerations as well as local and state regulations related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Plans for Commencement 2021 as well as plans for an in-person celebration of the Class of 2020 will be announced by Friday, March 26.

Information about Elon’s Commencement week activities will be posted to once events and programs are finalized.