The Wiz was Ken Harper's brainchild. He was the program affairs director at WPIX Radio in the early 1970s and hit upon the idea of an all-black version of The Wizard of Oz. He soon left his job and devoted all of his time to seeing his dream become a reality. He convinced executives at 20th Century Fox to put up the entire backing in exchange for film rights.
In front of the camera, he hosted the CBS program Call Back and acted in the soap opera Another World.
In 1977, Harper bought the film rights for The Wiz back from 20th Century Fox and began to generate interest in making the film. Eventually Motown and Universal Pictures made the film with Harper serving as executive producer in name only.
Mainly working in the music industry, The Wiz was his only Broadway credit. In the final years of his life, Harper was trying to finance a new musical called Bamboo, which was based on a ninth century Japanese fairy tale ("Taketori Monogatari"). He had been courting Diana Ross to star.
Harper died on January 20, 1988 at age 48 at his home in Manhattan. The cause of death was officially respiratory failure, however it was not reported that it was due to complications from AIDS.