Academic Minute Podcast

Ken Jones, Northern Kentucky University – A Forgotten Voice is Heard

The arts can bring forgotten voices to the forefront.

Ken Jones, professor of theatre at Northern Kentucky University, shows how.

Ken Jones has had original plays and musicals produced throughout the US, Canada, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand. His play, DARKSIDE, was chosen as TIME Magazine’s Critic Choice and was also recognized as one of the best plays of the 1980’s. Other works include A RED EAGLE FALLING, THE MIDDLE OF YESTERDAY, LINCOLN: A PIONEER TALE, BURGERTOWN, the musical, CHURCH GIRLS the musical, VICTIMS OF THE ICE AGE and SLEEPING BEAUTY: RISE AND SHINE.

Ken Jones earned his B.FA. degree in Acting/Directing from the University of Florida, a M.F.A. degree in Playwriting from the University of Virginia and continued to graduate in Playwriting from the Institute for Advanced Theatre Training at Harvard University.

In addition to his career of writing for the stage, Jones has also created content for film and television. He was a member of the prestigious Warner Bros. Television Writer’s Workshop and went on to serve as the Head of Development for Light Point Entertainment at Disney/MGM Studios for the development and creation of content for television and film.

Ken Jones is an active member of the Dramatist Guild of America, the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, and the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society.

A Forgotten Voice is Heard

While digging through the National Archives in D.C. and the George Washington Presidential Library at Mount Vernon, a historical narrative appeared, a thought-provoking look at a key moment in America’s history between George Washington, and enslaved person, William ‘Billy’ Lee.

Billy Lee, who served by Washington’s side for 7 years of war, was there in the documents and letters, hiding behind the legend, waiting to have his own voice, body, and soul.

The idea for the play, BILLY AND GEORGE was born. The setting is the afternoon of December 25, 1776, hours before the Continental Army crosses the Delaware River to defeat the Hessian soldiers in New Jersey. The turning point of the American Revolution.

One room, two characters, the clock ticking as they prepare for the crossing while discussing, arguing, and challenging the concepts of love, hate, war and freedom.

The research uncovered indisputable facts:

Billy was owned by George Washington.

Officers in the American Army stated that, besides Martha, Billy was George’s closest and most trusted companion.

Washington spoke and wrote about his admiration and love for Billy Lee.

After Billy was hurt in a riding accident, Washington enlisted engineers to construct braces for Billy’s legs, so that he could join George during the Presidency.

Billy’s image is in the background of several portraits of the Founding Father.

Upon Washington’s death, only Billy out of 317 slaves was freed in George’s last Will and Testament.

And at Mt. Vernon, their graves are within 50 feet of each other. George lies in a marble tomb, while Billy lies in an unmarked grave.

Private conversations occurred between George Washington and Billy Lee, of which, there are no official records but instead historical markers, directional signs, pointing to a relationship that lasted over 20 years in total, which is the inspiration for the play, BILLY AND GEORGE.


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