WILEY FILMS & ENTERTAINMENT
I come from a rich legacy of performing artists in the entertainment industry. My great-great grandfather Richard Wiley was an actor, musician and an orchestra leader. He taught his son (my great grandfather) Arnold Wiley to dance and play the piano. By the age of 18 my great grandfather was a brilliant pianist and began touring Oklahoma with the “Charles English Black Troubadours”. By the age of 19, Arnold met and married Bertha Long Lee (my great-grandmother) and in 1919 they formed an act entitled “Wiley & Wiley”- he would play the piano and she would sing, both in Blackface with vibrant outfits as was the custom of that time.
Unfortunately their union didn’t last but they did have one child together, my grandfather Arnold Wiley Jr. who was a trumpet player and would often join the act when his father was on tour. In the 1920s, my great grandfather Arnold Wiley Sr. travelled to Chicago and formed a new version of his act “Wiley & Wiley” with his sister, Irene Wiley. They toured with the T.O.B.A circuit, the (Theatre Owners Booking Association) also affectionately called “The Chitlin Circuit” because at that time it was the only outlet that would allow African American talent to perform. Where white vaudevillian performers were booked in theatres, the black vaudevillians were only allowed in certain venues– sometimes a tent show or a theater, sometimes one night in each town, from state to state.
[Arnold Wiley Sr. & Arnold Wiley Jr. (My Great Grandfather and my Grandfather)]
After the Wiley & Wiley act ended my great aunt Irene went on to marry and form a one-woman show entitled, “The Kate Smith of Harlem” and appeared in 264 performances of the 1945 Broadway show, “Are You With It”. My great grandfather Arnold Sr. went on to have small feature moments in Oscar Micheaux’s films, “Ten Minutes to Live” and “The Veiled Aristocrats”. He also recorded 10 ragtime pieces for Columbia Records, which he composed.
I learned about my family history in the entertainment industry from my aunt Irene Wiley, who I met as an adult. She is my great grandfathers daughter from his second marriage and the namesake of my great aunt Irene. Irene is a phenomenal actress and writer. She had a co-star role in the movie S.W.A.T and has been in more theatre productions than I can name.
When I got married I rejoiced. Not simply because I loved my husband and I was excited to begin our life together but because I was ready to embrace a fresh start with a new name. Although I have always been proud to be a Wiley, the name also came with a fair amount of pain attached to it. My parents divorced when I was a baby and though my father and I mended our relationship in my adult years, growing up, my father abandoned me physically, emotionally and financially. So unlike other women I had no deep historical familial connection to my maiden name, I had not attained any profound career success under it, thus no desire to hyphenate; I was looking forward to the NEW.
However, a few years after I became Erin Sands and achieved a fair amount of my career goals under my new name, when I decided to start my own production company, I kept being drawn back to the Wiley name. I couldn’t figure it out…why that name? Why me? Why now? So…I spent some time in prayer and then I understood. No matter what mistakes my father made, it was still my name. No, I had not been raised to know his people but their history was still apart of my legacy. Yes, in marriage, I had changed my name but it was still Wiley blood that pumped through my veins.
In that moment, with that realization, I made the decision to honor the legacy of the Wiley’s who came before me. The Wiley’s, who carved out a space for their talent and in spite of the opportunities denied to them because of their African American heritage, honed their craft and became excellent at what they did. The legacy of Wiley’s, who danced, sang, wrote music and performed on stages across this country because they were artists and determined to be artists no matter what the cost. This company is for them and for me. May I make them proud.
The mission of Wiley Films and Entertainment is to create quality content that is entertaining, thought provoking and creates a platform for voices seldom heard and stories not often told.
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