Harold Bradley Jr. was a true Renaissance man. Whether it was his illustrious career as a Hawkeye and NFL football player or his time as an actor, artist, and music sensation, Bradley Jr. succeeded in everything he pursued.
Born in 1929 on Chicago's southside, Bradley Jr. enrolled at the University of Iowa in 1946 to study art and found mentors in Paul Engle (32MA), founder of the Iowa Writers' Workshop, and Helen Lemme (28BA), Iowa City's iconic civil rights activist. While Iowa opened his eyes to the world and shaped his international destiny, Bradley Jr. also faced racial discrimination on campus. He was not allowed to live in the university dorms, and instead, resided in Lemme's boarding house.
Bradley Jr. excelled on the field in college and the NFL—earning Iowa football MVP honors in 1950 and winning two NFL titles with the Cleveland Browns. The arts, though, were his true calling. Bradley Jr. landed a scholarship to study in Italy and moved to Rome, where he painted and began a career as an actor—landing roles in more than 20 films, including starring alongside Elizabeth Taylor in Cleopatra. His art studio eventually morphed into a music venue, II Folkstudio, which became a hub for hip culture in Rome and attracted the likes of Bob Dylan and Pete Seeger.
Though Bradley Jr. eventually returned to the U.S. for 19 years to work for the Illinois Arts Council, University of Illinois, and Illinois State Board of Education, he went back to Rome in 1987 to celebrate the 25th anniversary of his music venue and never left—becoming a world-renowned ambassador to the Italian public on Black music styles and culture. Bradley Jr. would go on to record six albums later in his life and sing before individuals such as the Pope and Nelson Mandela.
Ted Wheeler (57BA), 1956 Olympian and former Iowa track and field head coach, was his college classmate. He said of Bradley Jr. who died earlier this year: "From the day I met Harold, it was obvious to me that this man was indeed a special person. Harold's commitment to excellence—to be the best he could be—was an inspiration to all who knew him."
Since 1963, the University of Iowa has annually recognized accomplished alumni and friends with Distinguished Alumni Awards. Awards are presented in seven categories: Achievement, Service, Hickerson Recognition, Faculty, Staff, Recent Graduate, and Friend of the University.