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Donald McKayle

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Information about Donald McKayle

Profile image of Donald McKayle

Profession

Category:
ArtMakers
Occupation(s):
Choreographer
Director
Educator

Favorites

Favorite Color:
Green, Purple
Favorite Food:
All Food
Favorite Time of Year:
Spring
Favorite Vacation Spot:
None
Favorite Quote:
None

Birthplace

Born:
7/6/1930
Birth Location:
New York, New York

Profession

Category:
ArtMakers
Occupation(s):
Choreographer
Director
Educator

Favorites

Favorite Color:
Green, Purple
Favorite Food:
All Food
Favorite Time of Year:
Spring
Favorite Vacation Spot:
None
Favorite Quote:
None

Birthplace

Born:
7/6/1930
Birth Location:
New York
See how Donald McKayle is related to other HistoryMakers

Biography

Choreographer and educator Donald McKayle was born on July 6, 1930 in New York City, New York to Eva Wilhelmina Cohen McKayle and Philip Augustus McKayle. Inspired by a Pearl Primus performance, he began dancing his senior year in high school, and won a scholarship to the New Dance Group in 1947.

In 1948, McKayle choreographed his first piece of work with the New Dance Group, and premiered his solo piece, Saturday's Child. From 1951 to 1969, McKayle founded and directed his own dance company, Donald McKayle and Company, which premiered his first major work entitled Games in 1951. McKayle then went on to choreograph masterworks Rainbow 'Round My Shoulder, District Storyville and Songs of the Disinherited. Golden Boy (1964) was his first Broadway production, followed by I'm Solomon (1969) and Dr. Jazz (1975). McKayle directed and choreographed Raisin (1974), which was awarded a Tony for best musical. He was responsible for the entire concept, staging and choreography of the award-winning Sophisticated Ladies (1981). McKayle has also choreographed for films, including Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1970), The Great White Hope (1972), and The Minstrel Man (1976). McKayle has also choreographed stage acts for singers such as Harry Belafonte and Rita Moreno. In 2001, he choreographed the monumental ten-hour production of Tantalus.

The repositories for McKayle’s work include the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, the Cleveland San Jose Ballet, and the Los Angeles Contemporary Dance Theatre. He served as head of the Inner City Repertory Dance Company from 1970 to 1974, and then as choreographer for the Limon Dance Company since 1995. In all, McKayle choreographed over ninety performances for dance companies in the U.S., Canada, Israel, Europe and South America. He has taught at Bennington College, the Juilliard School, the American Dance Festival, and in Europe. McKayle served as dean of the School of Dance at the California Institute of the Arts, and as professor of dance and the artistic director for the University of California, Irvine Dance.

McKayle has received numerous honors and awards, including an Outer Critics Circle Award, a NAACP Image Award, the Capezio Award, the Samuel H. Scripps/American Dance Festival Award,  the American Dance Guild Award, a Living Legend Award from the National Black Arts Festival, two Choreographer’s Fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Dance/USA Honors, the Martha Hill Lifetime Achievement Award, the Annual Award from the Dance Masters of America, the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Dance Under the Stars Choreography Festival, the Black College Dance Exchange Honors, the Dance Magazine Award, and the American Dance Legacy Institute’s Distinguished and Innovative Leadership Award, among others. In 2005, McKayle was honored at the John F. Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. and presented with a medal as a Master of African American Choreography. He has been named by the Dance Heritage Coalition as "one of America’s Irreplaceable Dance Treasures: the first 100."

McKayle is the author of the 2002 autobiography, Transcending Boundaries: My Dancing Life.

McKayle passed away on April 6, 2018.

Donald McKayle was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on December 17, 2013.

See how Donald McKayle is related to other HistoryMakers
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  • Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Donald McKayle's interview
  • Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Donald McKayle lists his favorites
  • Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Donald McKayle describes his mother's family background
  • Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Donald McKayle talks about his mother's upbringing
  • Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Donald McKayle describes his father's family background
  • Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Donald McKayle talks about his father's immigration to the United States
  • Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Donald McKayle describes his parent's personalities and who he takes after
  • Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Donald McKayle talks about his brother
  • Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Donald McKayle describes his earliest childhood memory
  • Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Donald McKayle remembers the Harlem community in New York City
  • Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Donald McKayle describes the sights, sounds and smells of his childhood
  • Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Donald McKayle talks about his early experiences of religion
  • Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Donald McKayle remembers the Great Depression
  • Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Donald McKayle describes his early involvement in the arts
  • Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Donald McKayle talks about his Jamaican heritage
  • Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Donald McKayle remembers the Harlem River Houses in New York City
  • Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Donald McKayle talks about his early influences
  • Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Donald McKayle remembers his election as class president at DeWitt Clinton High School in New York City
  • Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Donald McKayle talks about his Jewish heritage
  • Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Donald McKayle talks about his early cultural influences
  • Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Donald McKayle talks about his piece, 'Her Name Was Harriet'
  • Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Donald McKayle talks about the popular culture of the 1940s
  • Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Donald McKayle remembers Pearl Primus
  • Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Donald McKayle remembers joining the New Dance Group
  • Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Donald McKayle remembers the African American dancers of the 1940s
  • Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Donald McKayle talks about his dance training
  • Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Donald McKayle remembers his first pieces of original choreography
  • Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Donald McKayle talks about forming Donald McKayle and Company
  • Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Donald McKayle talks about Donald McKayle and Company
  • Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Donald McKayle talks about the black arts community in New York City
  • Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Donald McKayle remembers the early productions by Donald McKayle and Company
  • Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Donald McKayle remembers 'House of Flowers,' pt. 1
  • Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Donald McKayle talks about Geoffrey Holder
  • Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Donald McKayle remembers his marriages
  • Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Donald McKayle remembers 'House of Flowers,' pt. 2
  • Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Donald McKayle recalls touring with the Martha Graham Dance Company
  • Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Donald McKayle recalls the original Broadway production of 'West Side Story'
  • Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Donald McKayle remembers creating 'Rainbow Round My Shoulder,' pt. 1
  • Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Donald McKayle recalls the success of Donald McKayle and Company
  • Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Donald McKayle describes his start as film and television choreographer
  • Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Donald McKayle remembers moving to Los Angeles, California
  • Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Donald McKayle talks about his Broadway production of 'Raisin,' pt. 1
  • Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Donald McKayle remembers Loraine Hansberry
  • Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Donald McKayle describes his role in original Broadway production of 'West Side Story'
  • Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Donald McKayle talks about 'Rainbow Round My Shoulder'
  • Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Donald McKayle remembers the international tour of 'Rainbow Round My Shoulder'
  • Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Donald McKayle remembers the television premiere of 'They Called Her Moses'
  • Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Donald McKayle remembers creating 'District Storyville'
  • Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Donald McKayle remembers choreographing and performing in 'On the Sound'
  • Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Donald McKayle talks about his television choreography
  • Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Donald McKayle remembers working on the Broadway production of 'Golden Boy'
  • Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Donald McKayle remembers the cast of 'Golden Boy'
  • Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Donald McKayle talks about his choreography for 'The Ed Sullivan Show'
  • Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Donald McKayle talks about the choreography for 'Bedknobs and Broomsticks'
  • Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Donald McKayle remembers leading the Inner City Arts Repertory Dance Company
  • Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Donald McKayle remembers choreographing 'Songs of the Disinherited'
  • Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Donald McKayle remembers choreographing the film 'The Great White Hope'
  • Tape: 7 Story: 7 - Donald McKayle Donald McKayle remembers his directorial debut in 'Raisin'
  • Tape: 7 Story: 8 - Donald McKayle remembers his television special, 'Free to Be... You and Me'
  • Tape: 7 Story: 9 - Donald McKayle talks about his retirement from dancing
  • Tape: 7 Story: 10 - Donald McKayle remembers choreographing the film 'Minstrel Man'
  • Tape: 8 Story: 1 - Donald McKayle remembers the Broadway production of 'Sophisticated Ladies'
  • Tape: 8 Story: 2 - Donald McKayle talks about the success of 'Sophisticated Ladies'
  • Tape: 8 Story: 3 - Donald McKayle talks about his teaching career
  • Tape: 8 Story: 4 - Donald McKayle remembers his celebrity collaborators
  • Tape: 8 Story: 5 - Donald McKayle remembers his production of 'Tantalus'
  • Tape: 8 Story: 6 - Donald McKayle describes his autobiography, 'Transcending Boundaries: My Dancing Life'
  • Tape: 8 Story: 7 - Donald McKayle talks about his awards and honors
  • Tape: 8 Story: 8 - Donald McKayle reflects upon his career
  • Tape: 8 Story: 9 - Donald McKayle talks about his favorite choreographed piece
  • Tape: 8 Story: 10 - Donald McKayle reflects upon his legacy and plans for the future
  • Tape: 8 Story: 11 - Donald McKayle talks about his family
  • Tape: 8 Story: 12 - Donald McKayle talks about contemporary dance techniques
  • Tape: 8 Story: 13 - Donald McKayle describes how he would like to be remembered