At 34, Johnathan Lee Iverson is a veteran circus performer.
He was 22 when he became the youngest and first African-American ringmaster at Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey.
He said he learned quickly how demanding 400 shows and 48 weeks of travel a year was to his body.
“Ringling Bros., as someone once told me, is like ‘special forces’ of entertainment,” Iverson laughs. “I’ve come to realize that the circus arts are really the zenith of human artistry.”
Iverson, who grew up on the Upper West Side in New York City, said singing was his passion at an early age.
And he learned a valuable lesson when he first joined the Harlem Boys Choir at age 11. He assumed once he joined, he would be able to perform and travel the world just like he had seen on television.
He was mistaken.
”[The performing choir was] like little Jedi’s,” Iverson said of the group’s elite status. “I had to earn my spot, to travel, perform, it wasn’t easy. But once I got that spot [at 13,] I never let go of it.”
Becoming the “prime minister,” as Iverson says to describe his position at Ringling Bros., wasn’t even on his radar when he graduated from the University of Hartford’s Hart School in 1998.
His degree was in vocal music, which his roommate teased would never amount to anything.
But some five months after he graduated, an audition for a dinner theater part led to a chance meeting with a Ringling Bros. director who was looking for a ringmaster.
“I thought it was a joke, almost,” Iverson said. “I was fresh out of college and didn’t know what a ringmaster did. But then I said, ‘wow, why not?’”
And Iverson doesn’t plan to take off his sequenced red top hat any time soon.
“I really feel like a glorified fan who gets to wear marvelous suits and brag about his superstar friends,” Iverson said. “If I’m going to represent the greatest artists on earth, I’ll be giving my utmost every time out—just like they do.”