Mandy I. Bynum, a noted local actress who performed with The Theatre Project and was later associated with Maryland Public Television and Morgan State University’s WEAA-FM Radio, died from respiratory failure and septic shock May 18 at Northwest Hospital in Randallstown. The former Pikesville resident was 66.
“Mandy’s presence was strong and graceful,” said Joyce B. Wolpert, a longtime friend, dance therapist and licensed counselor, in a telephone interview.
“She was a highly-creative being who saw life in a wonderful way. She knew how to create healthy situations for people and always had an artistic vision,” Ms. Wolpert said. “It’s about just how she saw things. She was brilliant and when you were interacting with Mandy, you were interacting with life.”
Mandy Isabella Bynum, daughter of James Robert Bynum Sr., founder and owner of Bynum’s Fuel Oil Co., and his wife, Mandy Bond Bynum, a city public schools educator, was born in Baltimore and raised on Mondawmin Avenue in Northwest Baltimore.
She was also a granddaughter of James Emory Bond, who was the grandson of a slave. In 1964, WBAL-TV aired a 90-minute prime-time special that featured a panel of judges and law enforcement on the rising crime rate in the city. At the conclusion of the broadcast, viewers were asked to call the station with comments.
Disturbed by what he had listened to, the next morning, Mr. Bond walked to Television Hill, where he met J. Sydney King, who had produced the broadcast, and Brent Gunts, the station manager. So impressed by Mr. Bond’s comments, they let him speak for more than an hour on camera regarding his thoughts on reducing crime.
“Conversation with James Emory Bond” aired that evening in prime-time without commercial breaks, and brought an enormous response from viewers, including African Americans — so much so, that Mr. King and Mr. Gunts shipped copies to stations around the country. The program, considered a seminal moment in the civil rights movement, won an Emmy.
“We were proud of him,” said Charlotte Roberta Waters, of Columbia, also a granddaughter, and Ms. Bynum’s sister, who had taught at the School for the Arts. “Grandfather Bond and Mandy were both thinking in their time and they both represent the thread of our family. He died in 1980.”
While a student at Franklin D. Roosevelt Elementary School, one of the first racially integrated schools in the city, where she was an exceptional student, Ms. Bynum skipped several grades, and entered Pimlico Junior High School.
“A cousin said, when they were children, Mandy just didn’t talk, she spoke,” Ms. Wolpert said. “She didn’t just only play, she provided.”
While a student at Western High School, she joined the drama club and began performing in plays. After completing her high school requirements in three years, she matriculated at what was then Villa Julie College, now Stevenson University, where she majored in theater arts, and gave a critically acclaimed performance as Medea in Euripides’ Greek tragedy “Medea.”
After graduating summa cum laude in 1974, she continued her theater studies at Antioch College, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in 1976. Before completing her college education, Ms. Bynum worked with children at the Mount Royal Recreation Center under the director of the city’s Department of Recreation and Parks.
One of her students was Baltimore native Nicole Ari Parker, who went on to become an actress and model, and was featured in “The Incredibly True Adventure of Two Girls in Love” and “Boogie Nights.” Other students joined the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.
In the late 1970s, Ms. Bynum made a significant career move in her artistic life when she joined The Theatre Project and conducted interviews as part of its “Baltimore Voices” project that opened in 1980.
“I was born 11 years before Mandy, almost half a generation. I am white and Jewish,” wrote Ms. Wolpert in remarks she delivered at Ms. Bynum’s celebration-of-life gathering.
“I was a dancer, hiker and biker. She was Black and a Christian Scientist. She had some issues with her weight that slowed her down. These were our stated differences when I showed up at the Theatre Project to see a captivating performance of ‘Voices’ about Baltimore’s neighborhoods,” Ms. Wolpert wrote. “That is where I first saw Mandy on stage with her strong and graceful presence, her mellifluous tones and her fully on-point ability to speak with accent and dialect from multiple ethnicities.”
The show was later adapted and aired on television the next year as “The News American Neighborhood Road Show,” which was produced by and shown on Maryland Public Television. Ms. Bynum contributed interviews she had conducted with her mother, an aunt, Aunt Talmadge, and Uncle Frank Bond. She also acted in the productions.
“From these and other Baltimore Voices group interviews, a play emerged which told the history of Baltimore City,” Ms. Waters wrote in a biographical profile of Ms. Bynum for her funeral program. “This play was broadcast on local television and landed Mandy on the cover of the popular TV Guide newspaper insert.”
The second project that Ms. Bynum assembled and directed was Kuumba, a group she put together of four talented, local women. She performed with the group in the hilarious ‘Thunder Thigh Review,’ which celebrated their full-figured glory,” her sister wrote. “This production went on to garner national and international acclaim.”
“Later, I had the very precious opportunity to witness Mandy’s direction of Kuumba, a Black women’s cabaret group presenting their multiple artistic skills in a very avant-garde way,” Ms. Wolpert wrote.
“On display was Mandy’s genius of taking individual talents, highlighting their strengths, then delivering a cohesive message of Black women finding their voices and speaking out. I, who at the time, had only been in a few community theater productions, knew that I was witnessing the work of a brilliant mind,” she wrote.
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In the late 1980s, Ms. Bynum had been appointed by Gov. William Donald Schaefer to head the arts and crafts program at the Cloisters Children Museum in Brooklandville.
Ms. Bynum continued working in stints with Maryland public libraries, WHFS-FM Radio, modeling professionally for local agencies and voice-over work. She later worked at Morgan State University’s WEAA-FM and her final job at Maryland Public Television where her “voice can still be heard today,” her sister said.
Since 2017, Ms. Bynum had resided at the Levindale Hebrew Geriatric Center and Hospital in Northwest Baltimore.
She enjoyed collecting vintage clothing, jewelry and antiques.
“The trailblazer she was, Mandy believed in diversity and inclusion,” her sister wrote. “As a result, she attracted and connected people and experiences from all walks of life. It was not unusual for Mandy to host impromptu gatherings of dancers, actors, drummers, singers, intellectuals, activists and the like who shared interesting conversations, inspired each other, and had a great time.”
A celebration-of-life-gathering was held June 9 at the Joseph H. Brown Jr. Funeral Home in West Baltimore.
In addition to her sister, Ms. Bynum is survived by her mother, Mandy Bond Bynum of Pikesville; a brother, James Robert Bynum Jr. of Edmondson Village; and many nieces and nephews.