Keith David was born in Harlem, Manhattan, New York City, New York, USA, and raised in East Elmurst, Queens, New York, USA. As a child he realized he wanted to act after playing the cowardly lion in his school's production of "The Wizard of Oz". He later enrolled in New York's High School of the Performing Arts and continued his studies at Juilliard. After graduation he was hired as an understudy for Tullus Aufidius in William Shakespeare's "Coriolanus". In 1992 he received a Tony Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor in a Musical for his role in the Broadway play "Jelly's Last Jam".