Or, an audiobook narrator pays tribute to his favorite narrator of all time
Years ago, after reading an AudioFile review of Breena Clarke’s Stand the Storm, I called a dear friend of mine, the man who’d narrated the book, and read the review aloud. “ ‘Richard Allen has it all,’ ” I said to him, “ ‘the man carries a story as if it were a beloved child, sings as if his heart will break, and expresses emotion as if he invented it.’ ” Richard’s baritone rumbled back at me as he laughed and tried to act blasé, but I wouldn’t let him off the hook. “That’s the…Keep Reading
Years ago, after reading an AudioFile review of Breena Clarke’s Stand the Storm, I called a dear friend of mine, the man who’d narrated the book, and read the review aloud. “ ‘Richard Allen has it all,’ ” I said to him, “ ‘the man carries a story as if it were a beloved child, sings as if his heart will break, and expresses emotion as if he invented it.’ ” Richard’s baritone rumbled back at me as he laughed and tried to act blasé, but I wouldn’t let him off the hook. “That’s the single greatest review ever written, hands-down,” I insisted. “You did it, you just reached the pinnacle.”
But how wrong I was. Richard Allen never stopped striving for the mountaintop, figuratively or literally.
When people ask me why I have such a passion to help narrators new to the audiobook industry, I always answer, “Because of Richard Allen, the first man to welcome me to the profession.” I never knew why, but Richard went out of his way to make me feel at home, and was tireless in his encouragement at a time I greatly needed it. He personally introduced me to Frank Muller and Barbara Rosenblat, to Brilliance Audio and Recorded Books. As a result, I try to follow his example. Sadly, Richard died quite unexpectedly on June 12th, 2013 after a brief illness. His loss leaves a throng of devastated family members, friends and colleagues behind. But as much as I personally will miss him and his unflagging support, it’s our industry that will miss him even more.
Before he passed, Richard spoke warmly of the day he discovered the world of audiobooks: “It has changed my life! You sit in a studio, all day, with a novel in your hand and get the opportunity to become EVERY character on EVERY page and make it all come to life! And in the process I have had some incredible conversations with the likes of Walter Mosley, T.D. Jakes, Shelby Steele, Eric Jerome Dickey, Terry McMillan and George Pelecanos. Actors always say that ‘it begins with the word,’ and never is that more applicable than recording a novel. From children's books to slave narratives to inspirational instruction—and a little ‘slap and tickle’ for good measure—narrating and directing audiobooks has been joyful, humbling and extremely satisfying.”
Richard was a hugely talented performer, educated at both the Duke Ellington High School for the Arts and Carnegie Mellon University. In addition to a recent recurring role on the HBO series Treme, Richard worked for more than twenty years in the world of episodic television, resulting in long-lasting praise, some of it, occasionally, from me.
Years ago I caught a repeat of one of the best Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes of all time, and when I heard his unmistakable voice coming out of the screen, I immediately called him on his cell. “You were the Tamarian First Officer in ‘Darmok’…!” I blurted, gushing like the Star Trek fanboy I am, and I heard Richard’s distinctive deep baritone laugh. “It’s been more than twenty years, but I can’t walk down the street or wait in line at McDonald’s or go into my bank without some Trekkie giving me the Vulcan sign because of that episode,” he said. “I love it.”
The stage was a particular joy for Richard, and he toured the world with various productions. It was he who originated the role of Booker T. Washington in the world premiere of Ragtime, an experience he called one of the greatest of his life. He also sank tremendous time and energy into producing theatrical shows, launching new works to audiences near and far.
But it was when Richard began working in the world of audiobooks in the 1990s that he found a calling that could equal the lure of Broadway. His rich, melodious voice instantly connected with listeners and publishers alike. The world of audiobooks also allowed him the opportunity to incorporate all of his skills at once while bringing the written word to life. In one of his favorite productions, Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe, which he produced for Tantor in 2008, it wasn’t merely his acting skills that garnered attention, but his lovely singing voice as well. Easily half of the reviews on Audible praise his rendition of the spirituals sung by the African slaves.
Though a talented voice has been stilled, Richard’s passing leaves a very personal sense of loss throughout the audiobook industry. Dan Musselman of Penguin Random House Audio praised Richard’s qualities as a man in equal measure to those he possessed as a narrator. “Richard was one of the most gracious and generous men I have ever known,” Dan said. “In the recording studio he was the consummate professional. Our first project together came in 2002, A LOVE OF MY OWN by E. Lynn Harris, when I realized what a special talent Richard was, and a special soul, too.”
Brilliance Audio, for whom Richard did much of his early work not only as a narrator but an audiobook director as well, was stunned by his death. “We were saddened and shocked to hear of Richard Allen’s untimely death,” said Laura Grafton, Producer at Brilliance Audio. “His beautiful voice and great characterizations enhanced an amazing range of titles, from suspense, science fiction, and military thrillers to self-help and religious works. We always looked forward to Richard’s visits to Michigan. He was a pleasure to work with, and he always had a funny story to share.”
Because Richard was both an inveterate gossiper as well as a dedicated drinking buddy, our evenings out together in both New York and Los Angeles were typically spent split between discussing the intricacies of our craft and the latest industry hearsay. I don’t know that I’ve ever laughed harder than in our evenings together. He was the ultimate raconteur. But more than that, he was an incredibly supportive friend and my New York anchor—when I was freaking out about relocating to New York on three days’ notice to begin cancer treatments, with no clue about where to find studio space or how I’d pull it all off, it was he who kept me sane: “I got this,” he told me repeatedly, and I instantly calmed down. And true to his word, my phone began ringing from studio owners within fifteen minutes, saying “Richard tells me you’re in need; how can I help?” It’s impossible for me to explain just how much his support meant to me, and I feel a bit bereft to know that he’s gone. It’s hard to imagine an audiobook industry without Richard Allen in it.
In the wake of Richard’s passing, I take comfort in one fact: he loved Mount Kilimanjaro, so much so that his email address incorporated the word into it, and he often spoke of his lifelong desire to climb its summit. Happily, Richard achieved his dream by climbing the mountain last year. It’s just another way he will always remain a stellar example to me: not only to be gracious, kind and welcoming to newcomers, but to never postpone our dreams.
Thanks for listening.