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How Princess Grace of Monaco Helped Hamilton's Leslie Odom Jr. Pay His College Bills

Updated

Larry Busacca/Getty

Before he wowed Broadway audiences with his turn as Aaron Burr in Hamilton, and before he won a Tony for best actor (and a Grammy) this past year for the role, Leslie Odom Jr. was a college student wondering how he could pay his tuition bills.

“College was always a financial sacrifice for my family,” says Odom Jr. who attended Carnegie Mellon University. “By the time I was a junior, my dad had been laid off, so it got to be difficult and we were looking for options. I’d already taken out student loans and my parents had taken out the loans that the school had given us as financial aid.” 

“My teacher told me the Princess Grace Awards helps emerging artist still in college,” explains Odom Jr., 35. “Compiling the list of recommendations sometimes felt like we were submitting for the Nobel Peace Prize! When I got the phone call I’d won the award that summer, I was working at the Public Theater in West Virginia. It was a huge help to my family and it changed my life.” 

“That’s money that would have added to my debt and would have been multiplied by thousands of dollars because I would have had to pay it back over time,” he says. “So that’s life-changing money. And it was a real vote of confidence going into my final year of education because it gave me the belief in myself that I could finish, that there was somebody in New York who believed in me.” 

 

At that point, says Odom, “I still didn’t know if I was going to have a professional career. But winning the award and getting the call from New York City gave me the belief that I could do it and that I had a real shot.”

As he says: “You’re looking for just the tiniest thread of hope, the tiniest confirmation from the universe and from the outside world that this is what you should be doing, that this is the path you should be on.”

Doc Pele/Stills/Retna
Doc Pele/Stills/Retna

 

“It was challenging in school, but it’s more challenging out of school,” he notes. “Once you’re out in the world and you get a real taste of that rejection. And what’s great about the Princess Grace Foundation, is that the relationship hasn’t stopped. Whenever I have a performance, there’s always a Princess Grace Foundation cheering section. They’ve been there every step of the way.”

Hamilton felt like the return on their investment,” says the performer, who has a new holiday album, Simple Christmas, coming out Nov. 11 on S-Curve Records. “This is what I believed I could do all these many years ago. This is what I believed was possible.”

 “I want other people starting out to have the same encouragement, to have the same opportunity that I got because it was a real turning point for me.”

And as for Princess Grace of Monaco herself, he says, “I just think that there’s no one who’s ever been more aptly named. She really was the personification of grace and dignity, and I’m proud of the association.”