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Candace Cardwell

choreographer and dancer. Born in Rogers, Texas, Alvin Ailey was raised in a single-parent home headed by his mother, Lula Elizabeth Cooper. Ailey and his mother earned money by picking cotton and doing domestic work for local families. In 1942 Ailey moved to Los Angeles; he attended George Washington Carver Junior High School and Jefferson High School, where he developed an interest in music and literature. After graduation he went on to study literature at the University of California at Los Angeles.

Ailey's dance training began in 1949 when a friend, Carmen DeLavallade, introduced him to Lester Horton, founder of the Lester Horton Dance Theater. Horton was one of the few dance instructors who accepted black students, and he became Ailey's first dance coach. When Horton died in 1953 Ailey became the director of the company The following year Ailey moved to New York City where ...


Jacqueline M. Jones

The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, founded in 1958 by Alvin Ailey, is an internationally renowned modern dance company emphasizing Western and Afrocentric concert dance. Ailey was born in Rogers, Texas, in 1931. While attending the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), he received formal training in the Lester Horton technique, which was inspired by Horton's knowledge of the cultures of Native Americans, Asians, and the African diaspora. The Horton company stressed theatrical components, including storytelling, music, and stage design. After Horton's death in 1953, Ailey served as artistic director until 1954, when he moved to New York City to study dance with Charles Weidman, Hanya Holm, Martha Graham, and Doris Humphrey. In March 1958 Ailey formed his own company Over the years the company has enjoyed financial support from many sources including the U S Department of State and ...


Constance Valis Hill

tap dancer and entrepreneur, was born Clayton Bates in Fountain Inn, South Carolina, the son of Rufus Bates, a laborer, and Emma Stewart a sharecropper and housecleaner He began dancing when he was five At age twelve while working in a cotton seed gin mill he caught and mangled his left leg in a conveyor belt The leg was amputated on the kitchen table at his home Although he was left with only one leg and a wooden peg leg that his uncle carved for him Bates resolved to continue dancing It somehow grew in my mind that I wanted to be as good a dancer as any two legged dancer he recalled It hurt me that the boys pitied me I was pretty popular before and I still wanted to be popular I told them not to feel sorry for me He meant it He began ...


Ingrid Schorr

curator, fashion designer, dancer, and artist, was born James Watson in rural Woodruff, South Carolina, to sharecropper parents whose names are unknown. Little information about his early years is available except that he attended the Fashion Institute of New York and studied at the Sorbonne in Paris before moving to New York in the 1960s.

As Chanticleer established himself as a fashion designer in New York City he also began to propagate the biographical embellishments and falsehoods that would be repeated until his death: that he was born in Harlem to a Barbadian concert pianist and a Haitian high school principal; that he completed a master's degree at the Sorbonne; that as a five-year-old he designed a prize-winning folding chair for a competition at the 1940 World's Fair.

Whether or not he grew up in Harlem Chanticleer identified so strongly with its place at the center of black history and ...


Lolita K. Buckner Inniss

aviator, dancer, and musician, was born in Muskogee, Oklahoma, the fifth of seven children to Sarah Ragsdale and a father surnamed Jones. Official records such as census records from 1930 and the Social Security Death Index list her birth year as 1906, but family records, photographs, and anecdotal evidence indicate her birth year as between 1900 and 1903. After she was widowed Marie's mother left Muskogee for Los Angeles, California, along with Marie and some of her siblings, where they settled in a vibrant, multiracial neighborhood in East Los Angeles. When Marie's mother married David Austin, a former guitarist for the singer Sissieretta Jones (Black Patti) in 1910, Marie took her stepfather's surname, Austin.

Coker attended and graduated from Central High School in Los Angeles and was the first in her immediate family to attain a high school diploma She was a precocious child particularly ...


Bill Egan

The Cotton Club opened in 1923 at 142d Street and Lenox Avenue, in the heart of New York City's Harlem. It was a lavishly refurbished version of the Club Deluxe previously run by the former heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson. Ironically, although Johnson had pioneered the “black and tan” integrated clubs of Chicago's South Side in 1912, the Cotton Club was segregated from the beginning. The new owner was Owney Madden, a quiet but ruthless gang boss who controlled a major part of the illegal liquor trade. Madden kept a low profile, with his partner “Frenchy” De Mange as the front man.

The Cotton Club served as a respectable front for the mobster s illegal activities It attracted the cream of white society lured by the thrill of slumming uptown in Harlem where they could safely observe exotic black people without actually mixing with them In addition ...


Sara Dale

vaudeville dancer and jazz club owner, was born in Asheville, North Carolina to Jessie White and Rufus Greenlee. He had seven siblings: Percy, Nello, Premular Avery, Gustarena, Jenny Mae, Josephine, and Adrian. He moved several times in his life. First he moved to New Haven, Connecticut, and later resided in New York City. As a young man he worked at a saloon on Coney Island in 1909, as well as working with traveling minstrel acts.

Greenlee learned dance at Miss Hattie Anderson's Dance School in New York City. Even at the age of twelve many people wanted to dance with him, especially a white performer known as Gertie LeClair. When he gained experience Greenlee transformed ballroom dancing, Russian dancing, and acrobatics. At the time he was one of few to tap dance to jazz music. He paired with Thaddeus (Teddy) Drayton in 1909 and partnered with Charles Johnson ...


David Bradford

show business entrepreneur, minstrel company owner and manager, interlocutor, singer, and comedian, claimed to have been born a slave in Baltimore, Maryland. Nothing is known of his parents.

The minstrel show was, by some measures, the most popular form of public entertainment during the mid-nineteenth century. For African Americans pursuing careers in show business, there were few alternatives to blackface minstrelsy, leading to the perplexing situation of black performers perpetuating white caricatures of blacks. Some African Americans were disdainful of minstrel shows in general and especially those staged by performers of their own race (since they gave “aid and comfort to the enemy,” according to James Monroe Trotter a chronicler of black musical achievement in the 1870s Nevertheless the best black minstrel companies were enormously popular with black as well as white audiences After attending a performance of the Georgia Minstrels even the erudite ...


Robert Tracy

Jones was the tenth of twelve children, eight of them boys, of Augustus and Estella Jones. His father, a migrant farm worker, shuttled the family around the American South before settling in upstate New York, about forty miles (65 kilometers) south of Rochester in Wayland, a community of about ten thousand people, where the Jones family became one of two African-American families. In high school, Jones was introduced to the theater, playing Marcellus Washburn in a student production of The Music Man.

He entered the State University of New York at Binghamton in 1970, where he began his dance training during the spring of his freshman year. In college, Jones studied experimental movement with Kei Takei, contact improvisation with Lois Welk, Humphrey-Weidman technique, Cecchetti ballet, West African and Afro-Caribbean dance, Graham technique, and Hawkins's “free-flow.”

While in college, Jones met Arnie Zane (1948–1988 who ...


USdancer, choreographer, and company director. He discovered dance while in college on a sports scholarship (State University of New York at Binghamton) and there met Arnie *Zane, a photographer who was to become his partner and collaborator. Together they studied dance and became co-founders of American Dance Asylum, based in Binghamton in 1973. Jones was tall, black, and graceful, Zane was short, white, and pugnacious, and on stage they formed a dramatically arresting partnership. Their early works together included Monkey Run Road, Blauvelt Mountain (both 1979), and Valley Cottage (1980). In 1982 they formed Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company for which they created many works, including Secret Pastures (1984), which had settings by the graffiti artist Keith Haring. In 1983 Jones was commissioned by the *Ailey company to make Fever Swamp; Jones and Zane ...


Shivani Sivagurunathan

The first African‐American dancer to perform in Britain. Lane was born on Rhode Island and began performing at a young age, mainly at the dance halls and saloons in the Five Points neighbourhood in Manhattan. Lane first danced in Britain in 1848, where he performed in various minstrel shows in London's Vauxhall Gardens and later in Liverpool. Also known as ‘Master Juba’, he impressed his audiences with his moves, which were unusual to British crowds. His style was phenomenal owing to his flexibility, and contemporary accounts of Lane's performances describe his movements as unique. Various American and British writers commented on his style and labelled him as the greatest dancer ever known. Charles Dickens wrote about him in his American Notes (1842 describing him as a lively young negro who is the wit of the assembly and the greatest dancer known He never leaves off making queer ...


Kindra Steenerson

Minstrel shows became a popular form of entertainment especially in the northern cities during the nineteenth century Because audiences were composed of a diverse white crowd that included laborers many of them immigrants and those in the middle and upper classes the minstrel tradition proved a temporary equalizer in regard to differences in social class Moreover because the performances relied on simple and passive stereotypes of African Americans the audience could come away feeling satisfied that whites were superior and therefore should maintain their social dominance Early minstrel characters were portrayed by white performers in blackface who relied on makeup to give the impression of big lips and exaggerated eyes Dramatic behaviors ran the gamut from shuckin and jivin possum eating and breaking out into spontaneous song and dance These actions furthered the idea that slavery was not such a bad situation for ones so simple minded and childlike Of ...


USdancer, choreographer, and ballet director. He studied at the High School of the Performing Arts in New York and at the School of American Ballet. He performed on Broadway and with the Donald McKayle and John Butler modern dance troupes before joining New York City Ballet in 1955. He was one of the company's most popular soloists and was the first black dancer to reach the level of principal in an American ballet company. During his fifteen years with NYCB he created roles in many Balanchine ballets, including Allegro brillante (1956), Agon (1957), A Midsummer Night's Dream (Puck, 1962), Trois valses romantiques (1967), Metastaseis and Pithoprakta (1968), and Slaughter on Tenth Avenue (1968). He also created roles in Taras's Ebony Concerto (1960) and Butler's The Unicorn, the Gorgon and ...


Hilary B. Ostlere

Mitchell was the first black to gain prominence as a classical ballet dancer with the New York City Ballet. The eldest of five children born to Arthur and Willie Mae Mitchell, he showed an aptitude for the arts at an early age. Encouraged by a junior high school counselor to study tap, Mitchell attended New York's High School of Performing Arts, majoring in modern dance. In 1952 he got leave to appear in a revival of Four Saints in Three Acts in Paris. On graduation that same year, he was awarded the annual dance award of High School of Performing Arts—the first male student to achieve that honor.

Offers of two scholarships followed: to Bennington College, Vermont, and, on Lincoln Kirstein s invitation to the School of American Ballet Mitchell accepted the latter though he kept a foothold in modern dance by continuing to perform with various modern dance ...


Donald Bogle

Born in Lawrence, Kansas, George Walker left home at an early age to join a traveling medicine-man show that took him to California. On the road, Walker rattled bones, shook tambourines, mugged, and grinned to win laughs and applause. By the time he arrived in San Francisco, he disliked the traveling show and searched for theater work.

On a city sidewalk in San Francisco, the sprightly twenty-year-old entertainer, down on his luck, met another man who was in search of a partner for a new comedy routine. Neither knew anything about the other, yet they decided to cast their lots together, casually exchanging names. Without further fanfare, George Walker and Bert Williams embarked on one of the most successful and celebrated stage careers in the annals of American theatrical history a partnership that endured for sixteen years In recent years more attention has been paid to Bert Williams ...