Commencement 2021 speaker Daniel J. Watts ’04 to appear on NBC’s ‘TODAY Show’ Thursday

Watts is Elon's first performing alum to be nominated for a Tony Award and is Elon's commencement speaker for the Class of 2021

Broadway star Daniel J. Watts ’04 will be interviewed on NBC’s “TODAY Show” Thursday morning, April 22, about his Tony-nominated portrayal of rocker Ike Turner, his series of self-produced shows, and the ongoing closure of Broadway in the COVID-19 pandemic.

Watts is nominated this year for the American Theatre Wing’s Tony Award as Best Featured Actor in a musical in “Tina: The Tina Turner Musical.” He is Elon’s first alum to be nominated for a Tony Award as a performer.

Watts will also deliver Elon University’s undergraduate commencement address to the Class of 2021 on Friday, May 21.

The “TODAY Show” segment featuring Watts is expected to air around 9:30 a.m. EST. Hosts Al Roker, Sheinelle Jones and Dylan Dreyer plan to discuss Watts’ career, including “The Jam” — a series of shows he writes and produces around his Broadway appearances and feature spoken-word poetry, music and dance. The shows’ themes incorporate political and social commentary and stories from his life.

Last fall, the American Theatre Wing recognized the nuance and emotion Watts brought to his portrayal of the controversial rock ’n’ roll pioneer Ike Turner, who gave Tina Turner her start but was later revealed to have abused her. Watts said he aimed to convey Ike Turner’s complexity without excusing that behavior. “Tina: The Tina Turner Musical” is nominated for 12 Tonys in all, including Best Musical. Due to the pandemic, a date for the awards ceremony has yet to be announced.

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.

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.

More information about Elon’s commencement ceremonies and plans can be found at