June 3, 2021




By Leslie Fields-Cruz

BPM Salutes the Life of Lewis Erskine

Lewis Erskine in flight_4x3
Lewis Erskine (1957-2021)


“[Lewis] was a master storyteller who edited with his whole heart."


Denise Greene, director of programs, Black Public Media



Black Public Media has learned that beloved editor and BPM Game Changer Lewis Erskine has died. He was 64.

Erskine — a native New Yorker who loved music, poetry, prose and sailing — is esteemed in the documentary film industry for his work on projects including The Black Press: Soldiers Without Swords (1999), Jazz, (2001 miniseries), The Murder of Emmit Till (2003), Freedom Riders (2010), Jackie Robinson (Part 1, 2016), Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool (2019), and dozens of other TV documentaries. In 2011, his work on Freedom Riders won an Emmy for Outstanding Picture Editing for Nonfiction Programming. 

Over the course of his long career, Erskine collaborated with some of the most acclaimed directors in the business, including Stanley Nelson, Ken Burns, Shola Lynch, Michael Moore, Walter Cronkite, and Bill Moyers. His work aired on American Masters, POV, Independent Lens, Now on PBS, and American Experience, helping to establish PBS as the go-to destination for quality documentary films.

In 2020, BPM named Erskine among its 40th Anniversary Black Media Game Changers. The bio he submitted for that recognition said, “For Lewis, being paid to edit is like being paid to have fun. He has been having this fun since 1985 and is thankful to have been invited and welcomed into the world of long form documentary by St. Clair Bourne.

“Lewis has been an anchor for so many of us in the film community,” says BPM Director of Programs Denise Greene. “He was a master storyteller who edited with his whole heart. He generously mentored, he paved the way, and he validated our experiences — all to lift us up as artists. As a friend, I will hold on to the warmth and caring in his smile, his ease and regalness. I am forever grateful." 

“I didn’t know Lewis well, I mainly knew him through his work,” says BPM Executive Director Leslie Fields-Cruz. “Those of us who understand how a documentary is put together know what a difference it can make to have a master editor work on your project. Lewis was able to make stories about Black life beautiful, creating films people want to see over and over again. His impact will be with us for generations to come.”

Erskine is survived by Keita Omowale Erskine, his son; partner, Ann Pogue; and family members here and abroad. BPM extends condolences to his family and friends.

Black Public Media is supported in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, with further funding from the MacArthur Foundation and the New York State Council on the Arts. Support for Afropop: the Ultimate Cultural Exchange and the 360 Incubator+ Fund comes from the National Endowment for the Arts. BPM is the only nonprofit that offers training, funding and distribution for projects solely about the Black experience. We are seeking foundations, corporations and individuals to help our work. For more information about underwriting and contributions, please contact Alisa Norris (Alisa@ blackpublicmedia.org). To donate, click here! In addition, you can donate to BPM through your Amazon purchases by going to smile.amazon.com/ch/31- 1335950.

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