Wendell Edward Pierce was born on December 8, 1963 in New Orleans, Louisiana, the third son of Althea and Amos Pierce, an educator and delivery man/photographer, respectively. Pierce grew up in the African-American middle class neighborhood of Ponchartrain Park and developed thespian passions, attending Benjamin Franklin High School and the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, with musician Wynton Marsalis attending both schools as well. Pierce went on to attend the prestigious Juilliard School in New York City, graduating in 1985 with a BFA in drama.
Pierce parlayed his way as an actor via television and film roles, making his screen debut as a paramedic in the 1986 film The Money Pit. More supporting roles followed in big-screen projects like Family Business (1989), A Rage in Harlem (1991), Malcolm X (1992) and Waiting to Exhale (1995), as well as the series A Man Called Hawk, The Equalizer, I’ll Fly Away and New York Undercover. Pierce enjoyed his first recurring role in the 1990 newspaper drama Capitol News and was also a featured player in The Gregory Hines Show and The Weber Show.
Starting in 2002, Pierce starred in one of the most acclaimed TV series of all time—The Wire, with the actor portraying Detective William “Bunk” Moreland throughout the show’s five-season run. Then in 2010, Pierce returned to HBO to star in the drama Treme, which told the stories of New Orleans-based communities rebuilding after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. Within a locale that represented a poignant homecoming for the actor, Pierce portrayed trombonist and vocalist Antoine Batiste. Filming Treme also allowed Pierce to spend time with his mother during her final years. He further paid homage to his hometown by publishing the memoir The Wind in the Reeds: A Storm, a Play, and a City That Would Not Be Broken (2015).
In a career that has stayed rich, Pierce became host of the radio show Jazz at Lincoln Center in 2009 and continued his film work with parts in projects like Four (2012), The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2 (2012), Elsa & Fred (2014) and Ava Duvernay’s Selma (2014), in which he played chemist and Civil Rights minister Hosea Williams. Pierce also took on more TV work as seen with The Michael J. Fox Show, Suits, Ray Donovan and The Odd Couple, the last of which starred Matthew Perry and Thomas Lennon. Having done both classical and contemporary stage work, Pierce served as producer on the shows Radio Golf (2007) and the Tony Award-winning Clybourne Park (2012).
Early 2016 saw Pierce getting his musical chops on with his portrayal of Coach Calhoun in the live TV airing of Grease! Pierce also returned to HBO's lineup that spring for the controversial, critically well-received TV movie Confirmation, in which he played future Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. The real-world judge appointed by President George H.W. Bush was accused of workplace sexual harassment by a former colleague, attorney Anita Hill (played by Kerry Washington).