Wendell Pierce finds the Vineyard’s frenetic August scene to his liking. In a way, it resembles the pace of the actor’s professional life since his star turn in the acclaimed HBO series, The Wire.
Mr. Pierce arrived on the Island with four other cast members of The Wire to headline a campaign fundraiser for President Obama on Wednesday night, then attended the W.E.B. Dubois forum Thursday evening, participated in a reading to benefit a nonprofit on Friday night and served as an emcee at the one-day Jazz on the Vineyard on Saturday.
And then there was Saturday night at the Tabernacle in Oak Bluffs, where he watched his New Orleans high school classmate, jazz great Wynton Marsalis, perform with his quintet.
“That’s the kind of tradition here that I enjoy, these forums and roundtables and fundraisers,” he said. “I like that schedule.”
Despite several previous roles in films and on television, Mr. Pierce saw his career shift into overdrive after he appeared in The Wire, the feature series about the drug trade in Baltimore that ran for five seasons ending in 2008. His cigar-chomping homicide detective Bunk Moreland was among a strong ensemble of characters, many of them African American, that earned nearly universal praise from critics. (The show’s creator, David Simon, also appeared on the Island last week.)
In the past few years, Mr. Pierce has played Antoine Batiste, a struggling trombone player, in another HBO series created by Mr. Simon called Treme, this one set in post-Katrina New Orleans. The third season begins Sept. 23.
“It has put me out there as an actor, and people are [now] bringing work to me,” he said in an interview Friday. “It is the high water mark of my career. Not saying my best days are behind me, but this will have been a distinguished period of time in my career.”
Mr. Pierce, now 49, has had opportunities in other areas — for example, he is host of Jazz at Lincoln Center Radio, a broadcast on public radio that sometimes features Mr. Marsalis, who heads the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra.
It doesn’t mean he has any plans to climb on a stage with Mr. Marsalis to either sing or play trombone (he does both on Treme). “I’m not that bold,” he said, laughing. “I wouldn’t dare.” Mr. Pierce was content to watch Saturday’s concert from his second-row seat.
Just as he has experienced a career upswing, Mr. Pierce has tried to create some opportunities for others, primarily in his hometown. He has been part of a community partnership to help New Orleans recover from the catastrophic effects of Hurricane Katrina by developing affordable housing.
“It’s a tough haul but it’s important work,” he said. “While we were doing that I saw the need for grocery stores coming back to the neighborhoods — and they weren’t coming back.”
So he recently became a partner in an initiative to bring grocery stores to underserved parts of the city. Two convenience stores are in operation and the first grocery store, under the name Sterling Farms, is due to open this fall, with others to follow, he said.
He said his community work stems from sacrifices of his parents’ generation after World War II to remake segregated, “separate-but-equal” New Orleans. In the early 1950s, blacks were barred from visiting parks except one day of the week, Wednesday. In response, the Pontchartrain Park neighborhood was designed and built for working-class and middle class blacks with green space in mind, with 1,000 homes surrounding a golf course.
“Out of something ugly, they made something beautiful, this bucolic, black Mayberry,” said Mr. Pierce. The neighborhood produced the city’s first black mayor, first black district attorney, and the musician and composer Terence Blanchard, among others. Including Mr. Pierce.
“They gave us such a great foundation to go out into the world, that we owe it to them, to lift up their legacy and go on,” he said.
Mr. Pierce has maintained strong connections with many of the people he has worked alongside over the past decade. For example, he was part of a reading on the Island Friday to benefit ReWired for Change, an organization started in Baltimore after The Wire ended, to help inner city youth. It was launched by Sonja Sohn, who played a detective on the HBO show with Mr. Pierce.
“It’s always about the work and the people you meet, and I have been blessed with both,” he said. “It’s really, really a family.”