Born in South Dakota, Brian Cummings grew up under the dual care of his parents and his grandmother, starting his career in radio as a teenager. Little did he know what the Lord had in store for him, as he went on to find the gospel, raise a family, and bring to life the voices of animated characters such as Chef Bouche (the stove) in Beauty and the Beast, Doofus in the original Duck Tales, and Papa Q. Bear in The Berenstain Bears.
Cartoons, Radio, and Everything in Between
Even from a young age, Cummings remembers his fascination with cartoons. Growing up with a father who was very ill and therefore a family without much money, Cummings recalls having to visit his friends in order to watch television. He says, “Perhaps because it wasn’t something that we had access to at home, I became more fascinated with [television cartoons] than I probably would have otherwise.
But because of his father’s poor health and his place as the oldest child, when Cummings was in high school, he stayed with his grandmother on the other side of the state for a few years. It was there that he first forayed into theater. Cummings describes his auspicious beginning, “I went and asked if I could be in the play, and they didn’t have any roles for me. So I sat backstage during that first play, and I was given a plug. They didn’t have a light switch for one particular set light, and my entire contribution was that during the play, I plugged the plug in, and on cue I unplugged the plug about three times.” But his taste for drama wasn’t dimmed by his minor role.
Cummings recalls his uncle Don who played jazz guitar and who would bring home comedy records to play for him. Later, inspired by these records, Brian worked in a few comedic twists to his performances with the Dixieland band he organized while he was a drummer in his high school band. But comedy wasn’t the only thing Cummings learned from his uncle. He recalls, “I was not a Latter-day Saint at the time, and I think the first time I started to understand higher values was when my uncle was given an opportunity to join a famous band. He turned the opportunity down, married his sweetheart, and went on to manage a department store and raise a family. He would play occasionally on the weekends, but he chose his family over his business.”
That positive influence would continue to have a positive impact on Cummings in later years.
Bugs Bunny and a Lucky Break
Cummings was hired as a part-time disc jockey at a local radio station during his last year of high school—the same year his father passed away.
From there, he went on to radio school and worked for a variety of mostly rock stations. “My career started out in small market radio, and I learned as I went from station to station and larger stations as time went on,” Cummings shares. He eventually ended up in Nashville as a DJ and music director, where he also started freelancing and doing commercials. Then Cummings read about an opportunity to study with Mel Blanc, the voice of Bugs Bunny, in California. He applied for it, but when the station management found out about it, they fired Cummings. Not long after, Mel Blanc was in a car accident that left him unable to teach and Cummings not sure where to go.
Fortunately, he had friends who connected him with a radio syndication company, allowing him to move to Los Angeles. There he was highly valued because, unbeknownst to Cummings who was used to doing everything for small-town radio stations, he was actually doing the job of two or three people. They began sending him out with a tape recorder to collect comments about upcoming movies from theatergoers. It turned out to be a good job for him, preparing the shy young man to be able to put himself out there and engage with people—a useful skill he used again not long after when he was a production manager and ended up hosting an interview show for a host who didn’t show up for work. He says, “When someone asked if I could do something, I got used to just saying, ‘I can do that.’ Even if it scared me, I just did that.” And he continued to do so. It was while he was doing imitation work and saying yes to new things that a children’s agent, who also managed a few adults, approached him and he began working freelance in Los Angeles. Though it started as an attempt at doing on-camera work, Cummings says, “Out of that, I learned that one thing often leads to another, which leads to another.” In this case, the on-camera work did not take off, but it did lead to Cummings meeting a wonderful mentor—the legendary voice master Daws Butler (known for doing character voices like Yogi Bear, Huckleberry Hound, and countless others).
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Finding the Gospel
Another one of the “other” opportunities Cummings was lead to was to learn about the gospel of Jesus Christ. After working in the West for a while, Cummings returned to Black Hills to live with the grandmother he had lived with in high school. There, Cummings landed a local radio job. During his show, a young lady would often call in. When she showed up at a live event with her family, Cummings surprised them with one of his funny voices and got them to talk with him on air. After that, Cummings shares, “They did what good Latter-day Saint families do: They invited me to come to family home evening. They were doing missionary work, and I joined them.” Not long after, Cummings, who had been going to his grandmother’s church, began dating a Latter-day Saint woman whose father made Cummings promise that he would take her to church every Sunday. “So I cut a deal with her father,” Cummings recalls. “I said, ‘We’ll go to my church on the first Sabbath and then the next week we’ll go to your church, and if we continue to date, we’ll alternate every other week.’ The first week we went to the church I had been going to, the second week we went to the little Latter-day Saint chapel, and then the third week we went back to the Latter-day Saint chapel, and I never ended up going back to my old church. Everybody’s testimony comes in different ways. I knew what was being said in sacrament meetings was true the instant I was there, so it was never questioned from that point on that I would join the Church, which happened shortly thereafter."
Though Cummings and the young woman didn't end up marrying, the experience set a strong foundation for his future. He eventually met his future wife, Carla, while back in California and married her in the Los Angeles temple. Ever since joining the Church, Cummings has never let his testimony wander for long, and now he tries to pass that faith along to his eight children. “We all struggle at one point or another in our lives, but I never felt that Heavenly Father’s not been there. I never struggled much, I’ve never struggled long, I never strayed very far away from what I know to be true, and I think that’s kept everything together. I have eight marvelous children. Looking at our 20th grandchild, I look back and think what a blessing I’ve been given. I have kids who are good people. They’ve had struggles, but they’re still very strong people, and almost all are very active in the Church.”
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Joy in the Craft
Testimony isn’t the only gift Cummings believes in sharing. He is also a strong proponent of using and sharing God-given talents. In his own life, Cummings finds peace in the fact that even if he hasn’t gotten every role he hoped for, he is using the gifts that he was given to do good, and he is in the places he is supposed to be. “Heavenly Father wants us to understand that we are made in His image—we are special. But He also wants us to understand humility and be grateful for the blessings that we have received. I have been blessed with success, and I have tried to show my gratitude for what gifts I’ve been given by developing and sharing my talents,” he says.
Cummings has a talent for voiceover and acting, but he has also developed a talent for teaching. In fact, according to Cummings, teaching is half of the responsibility that comes with a talent, and everyone has potential to learn. He shares, “I’ve taught what I do for many, many years, to widely different groups of people. And my being able to teach is greatly influenced by teaching church classes.” Cummings doesn’t believe in telling his students that they will fail or that they don’t have talent and frequently reminds them that they should pursue what they want to. Instead, he always encourages them to follow a dream. He tells them, “There is no guarantee that you will be successful, but no one should tell you [that you] can’t go after your dream if that’s what you choose to do. But I think all this confidence comes from the inspired gospel of Jesus Christ and how we’ve been given it.”
To teach a skill like voice acting to others, you must first love it yourself—which Cummings clearly does. He enjoys stretching his skills and trying new projects. Whether it’s portraying the villain in GI Joe or crunching ice between his teeth and discovering his version of Humphrey Bogart, as he says, one thing leads to another, and to another. The next project around the corner is always the one Cummings is most excited about. However, there are a couple heartwarming projects he remembers with special fondness. For example, the missionary presentation that he made at the request of his son’s mission president. Or the Christmas story Cummings felt inspired to put together one year about a man who builds toys out of trash for underprivileged children. Or the narration he recorded for the Mesa Arizona Temple open house that later played on Temple Square. That one has particular meaning. He remembers visiting Temple Square with his family while his daughter was serving a mission there and getting to watch the touching presentation on families while they listened to the narration he had worked on that was accompanied by pictures of the Savior. He recalls, “It was wonderful to do that with family. It was wonderful to be involved in that process and in that project and see the spirit that it brings to the family. It is still one of the most special moments in my own family that I’ve ever had.”
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Miracles and Moving on
From the time he joined the Church, Cummings has seen blessings and miracles from heaven that he strives to always remember. He shares, “There are so many different things in life where you could see Heavenly Father’s hand. Everybody sees things differently, but I have never been able to not see Heavenly Father’s hand in my life.
Today, Cummings enjoys participating in Comic Cons and cosplay events and continuing his associations with those he has worked with over the years. He also enjoys teaching and sharing the gift that he has been given. Cummings believes that “when you teach something to someone, you’re giving them something priceless that has a shelf life and that, unless shared, may not exist in this realm when you’re gone. It’s something unique that they can’t find any place else and that can only matter when it gets passed on to somebody else.”
Cummings loves the work that he does, but not just because it makes him smile and brightens other people’s days. He loves it because it allows him to prioritize the things that matter most to him: His Heavenly Father and his family. “I think that Heavenly Father loves that we make plans and set goals. Then oftentimes the things that happen to us are not necessarily the goals we plan for, but preparation for what we can’t see in the future with our limited vision,” he says. “That’s certainly the way it’s worked for me. Voiceover has been great for me. I’ve gotten to do many things that I never would have gotten to do. As a voiceover actor, I didn’t have to work long hours and then come home and memorize lines for hours, so my family never had to sacrifice my being with them. When I was done with my work, I could go home and be with them, and that was always a huge blessing. It felt right and still has provided for us very well.”
As for the future? Cummings says, “I just keep moving forward, putting one foot in front of the other and seeing where it leads me, seeing what the Lord wants me to do. I’ll just keep on doing that.”
Watch the video below to hear many of the well-known voices Cummings has given life to over the years.