With her new podcast, Fresno’s Salisha Thomas is hair for Black women
When last we caught up with Bullard High School grad/Broadway performer Salisha Thomas, she was lamenting a COVID-19 crisis that meant the cancellation of the planned new Britney Spears musical, in which she’d been cast as understudy to a leading role.
But those of you who have had the privilege of talking to Thomas — or seen her buoyant personality on stage — know that nothing can keep her down. With Broadway dark, how did she continue to get into the musical-theater groove? First she joined more than 60 Broadway theater artists and emergency healthcare professionals across the country in a video called the “Resilient Project,” which I wrote about in May.
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But that was a one-time project. Recently she’s been hard at work on a new pastime during her downtime: doing her own podcast.
“Black Hair in the Big Leagues” premiered this week on all the places podcasts can be found, including the Broadway Podcast Network, which helped her launch the program. She’s recorded a bunch of interviews in advance and is unveiling a new one weekly.
The subject is fun, decidedly niche, and definitely one about which Thomas has many opinions.
“Growing up it was easy to feel like the way my hair grew out of my head wasn’t beautiful,” she says. “Now I know that was completely false. My natural hair is beautiful. Love the way you actually look and embrace it.”
In high school, Thomas confronted issues that trouble many Black girls: Her natural hair was seen as unkempt and not professional. She spent lots of time and money trying to conform — by straightening her hair or wearing wigs. When she won the title of Miss California for the Miss World organization, she didn’t dare go natural.
“We straighten our hair here,” she says of Black culture in California.
Even after moving to New York and nabbing a role in first the tour and then the Broadway version of “Beautiful: The Carole King Story,” she would take off her show wig when she came off stage and put a personal wig on before walking out the stage door.
“My own cast did not know what my natural hair looks like,” she says.
But soon after, something changed. She decided to stop using heat and chemicals to conform to a dominant society’s idea of what hair should look like. New York City is an epicenter of natural hair in the Black community, she says.
In her podcast, she explores this theme by talking to a number of noted Black women on Broadway. (“I literally sat down with 25 of my friends in four weeks,” she says with a laugh.) Among them: Aisha Jackson, the first Black standby for Anna in “Frozen”;and Brittney Johnson, the first Black to play Glinda in “Wicked.” She also booked Cheslie Kryst, Miss USA 2019; and for a local Fresno connection, she will feature her good friend Chantea McIntyre, a mother of four.
She talks to men, too. One of her favorite upcoming episodes is an interview with Geo Brian Hennings, one of the only Black men working as a hair supervisor on a Broadway show. (He had that role in the musical “Tina” before the pandemic closed it down.)
She also had a chat with musician and actor Todrick Hall. They talked about his career, his life as a gay Black man, and, of course, his hair.
Has this podcast changed her own feelings on the subject?
“I have a pretty healthy relationship with my hair today. I didn’t always. But it’s nice to hear other people’s perspectives. It’s nice to know what works for people I have a hair crush on.”
She’s excited, too, at expanding the scope beyond the Broadway community. Even the name, “Black Hair in the Big League,” leaves Thomas with a chance for expanding her reach. Hey, a person can dream.
“If Michelle Obama wanted to stop by, the title is not going to hold her back,” she says.