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Barbara Ann Teer

Founder and CEO of the National Black Theatre, Inc., Barbara Ann Teer was born in East St. Louis, Illinois on June 18, 1937, to a family of educators and leaders in the field of community development. After graduating magna cum laude with her degree in dance education from the University of Illinois, Teer moved to New York City to begin her career as an actress, dancer, and director.

In the 1960s, Teer left show business to begin teaching at Harlem's Wadleigh Junior High School; her methods helped to develop the Group Theatre Workshop, which became the foundation for the world renowned Negro Ensemble Company. In 1968, Teer founded the National Black Theatre with the aim of maintaining and developing African American cultural traditions. In 1983, Teer expanded the purpose and vision of the National Black Theatre by purchasing a 64,000 square foot city block of property on 125th Street and Fifth Avenue, creating the first revenue generating black art complex in the country by housing several entrepreneurial businesses.

In May 1994, Teer was awarded an honorary doctorate degree from the University of Rochester, New York; in 1995, she received an honorary doctorate degree of humane letters from the University of Southern Illinois. Teer is included in Who's Who Worldwide, which recognizes her as a global business leader and has received more than sixty awards and citations. Teer passed away on July 21, 2008 at the age of 71. She leaves behind two children: her son, Michael F. Lythcott, is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia University's Business School and her daughter, Barbara A. Lythcott, is a graduate of New York University.

Dr. Barbara Ann Teer passed away on July 21, 2008, at the age of seventy-one.

Accession Number

A2005.126

Sex

Female

Interview Date

6/6/2005

Last Name

Teer

Maker Category
Middle Name

Ann

Occupation
Schools

Dunbar Elem School

Bennett College for Women

University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Barbara

Birth City, State, Country

St. Louis

HM ID

TEE01

Favorite Season

Spring, Summer

State

Missouri

Favorite Vacation Destination

Thailand

Favorite Quote

Right On.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

New York

Birth Date

6/18/1937

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

New York

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Fried Chicken

Death Date

7/21/2008

Short Description

Arts administrator Barbara Ann Teer (1937 - 2008 ) was the founder and chief director of the National Black Theater, whose mission was to maintain and develop African American cultural traditions. Teer was recognized as a global business leader, receiving more than sixty awards and citations.

Employment

National Black Theatre

Wadleigh Junior High School

Favorite Color

Blue, Pink

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Barbara Ann Teer's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Barbara Ann Teer lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Barbara Ann Teer describes her parents' family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Barbara Ann Teer recalls attending Bennett College for a year

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Barbara Ann Teer describes her training in dance and theatre

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Barbara Ann Teer recalls her sister's activism and her decision to leave acting

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Barbara Ann Teer describes growing up in East St. Louis, Illinois

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Barbara Ann Teer describes herself as a child and her experience with racism

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Barbara Ann Teer describes her schooling in East St. Louis, Illinois

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Barbara Ann Teer remembers the pressure to adapt to mainstream culture

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Barbara Ann Teer describes her childhood home in East St. Louis

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Barbara Ann Teer describes her neighborhood in East St. Louis

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Barbara Ann Teer recalls notable figures from East St. Louis, Illinois

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Barbara Ann Teer describes the sights, sounds and smells of growing up

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Barbara Ann Teer recalls attending church and school in East St. Louis

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Barbara Ann Teer recalls traveling in Europe after college

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Barbara Ann Teer recalls her experience at New York City's Henry Street Settlement

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Barbara Ann Teer describes her experience as a theatre actress

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Barbara Ann Teer contrasts her modern dance training to black dance

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Barbara Ann Teer recalls writing for The New York Times

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Barbara Ann Teer describes founding the Group Theatre Workshop

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Barbara Ann Teer describes the beginning of the Negro Ensemble Company

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Barbara Ann Teer describes co-founding the Black Arts Movement in Harlem

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Barbara Ann Teer describes Harlem in the late 1960s

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Barbara Ann Teer talks about The Last Poets

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Barbara Ann Teer talks about Amiri Baraka

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Barbara Ann Teer recalls playwrights Historymaker Paul Carter Harrison and Joseph Walker

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Barbara Ann Teer reflects upon black theatre

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Barbara Ann Teer reflects upon her role in the Black Arts Movement in the 1960s

Tape: 3 Story: 10 - Barbara Ann Teer describes her experience in Africa

Tape: 3 Story: 11 - Barbara Ann Teer reflects upon the spirituality of her work

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Barbara Ann Teer describes her experience at FESTAC in Nigeria in 1977

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Barbara Ann Teer describes her experience visiting Nigeria in 1977 and 1984

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Barbara Ann Teer describes how she would like to be remembered

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Barbara Ann Teer reflects upon the black arts and theatre community

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Barbara Ann Teer reflects upon her life and career

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Barbara Ann Teer reflects upon the importance of history

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Barbara Ann Teer describes the transformation of Harlem, New York

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Barbara Ann Teer reflects upon the gentrification of Harlem, New York

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Barbara Ann Teer reflects upon her legacy

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Barbara Ann Teer recalls FESTAC in Lagos, Nigeria in 1977

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Barbara Ann Teer recalls meeting Malcolm X

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Barbara Ann Teer recalls HistoryMaker Melvin Van Peebles and divorcing Godfrey Cambridge

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Barbara Ann Teer reflects upon the need to re-interpret black history

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Barbara Ann Teer reflects upon the power of theatre

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Barbara Ann Teer reflects upon the sustainability of the National Black Theatre

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Barbara Ann Teer narrates her photographs, pt. 1

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Barbara Ann Teer narrates her photographs, pt. 2

DASession

1$1

DATape

1$3

DAStory

5$2

DATitle
Barbara Ann Teer describes her training in dance and theatre
Barbara Ann Teer describes the beginning of the Negro Ensemble Company
Transcript
So, when I graduated, summa cum [summa cum laude], from the University of Illinois [University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Champaign-Urbana, Illinois], I was shipped off to Europe. And I studied there with everybody you can think of because of who I was within the dance profession. Now, I left Europe after Switzerland, and London [England], and, and the whole thing. Now, I came to New York [New York] to work on my master's [degree] at Sarah Lawrence [Sarah Lawrence College, Bronxville, New York]. But I was bored with school because I never saw anything that represented where I came from. It was a different, a different kind of culture. And I did well. However, when Pearl Primus came to the University of Illinois with her drummers, and her husband was Percival Borde. All these people are probably dead now--I mean, they're not probably--they are. There were five hundred young women in this gym for this master class of Pearl Bailey--I mean, Pearl, Pearl Primus. Actually, I work with Pearl Bailey. And she started playing the drums, and I just went crazy. And everybody else didn't know what was happening and I did, and I said, oh, I have to go somewhere and do what my heart is pumping. So, I went to Pearl Primus. I came to New York. I stayed at the Henry Street Playhouse [Henry Street Settlement; Henry Street Settlement, New York, New York] with Alwin Nikolais, which was, again, a derivative of Mary Wigman, Martha Graham--all those names. I mean, I was really in that profession until I hurt my knee. My daddy [Fred Teer] was a coach. He came to New York to try to help me with my knee. And I met all these wonderful actors who were in 'Raisin in the Sun' ['A Raisin in the Sun,' Lorraine Hansberry], and because one of the leads in 'Raisin in the Sun' came from St. Louis [Missouri]. The rest is history. Lonne Elder [Lonne Elder III], Lorraine Hansberry, Sidney Poitier, [HistoryMaker] Robert Hooks--all of these people became my friends, and my whatever. And I left the dance profession after travelling with Alvin Ailey, and [HistoryMaker] Louis Johnson, and going to Brazil. I mean, I did a whole lot of stuff. And then, I came into the world of theater and acting, studied with Sanford Meisner, and Philip Burton, and Paul Mann, and Lloyd Richardson. You name it, you name it, you name it, until finally, my instructor at the time was Sanford Meisner, who was the most important acting teacher. And, of course, at that time, everybody was talking about Stanislavski [Konstantin Stanislavski] and the message and, and Lee Strasberg, and all that stuff. And Sandy Knox [ph.] said, "You know, Barbara [HistoryMaker Barbara Ann Teer], you don't need to study anymore, you need to work--"$And it was so powerful 'cause I--first thing I choreographed and designed a piece, which now Ntozake [HistoryMaker Ntozake Shange] calls it choreopoems. But those days, I took a Gwendolyn Brooks poem, which was eight lines, called 'We Real Cool,' and I developed it into a whole evening. Well, Joe Pappa [Joseph Papp] was a big deal at the time. He's now dead too, Public Theater [New York, New York]--he saw it, and he loved it, and he wanted me to come and do something for him. And I said no. But he put 'We Real Cool' on the mobile unit that toured all the boroughs of New York [New York]. So, all my little kids who were 14, 13, so got to get a taste of show business. That was the beginning of the Negro Ensemble Company. So, when Douglas Turner [HistoryMaker Douglas Turner Ward] wrote an article ['American Theater: For Whites Only?' Douglas Turner Ward] for The New York Times about black people in theatre--he called it Negroes--he got a lot of opportunities to get grants. But we were in the Village [Greenwich Village, New York, New York] at St. Mark's theatre [St. Mark's Playhouse, New York, New York], and we were doing Imamu's [Amiri Baraka] plays. And I was just acting all over the place. So, what happened was when they got that first big grant from the Ford Foundation [New York, New York], they changed up on me. It was called the Negro Ensemble Company, and I--that was just offensive to me. It's black, like we're going to call it Negro, you know. It was in the Village. I thought it should be in the black community--like that. And they were picking plays that didn't have anything to do with the culture that I knew. So, I left them--my friends, I left them. I'm always leaving people. I left them and I came to Harlem [New York, New York]. With the reputation of wanting to start an authentic black theatre company, not one in the Village, but one in Harlem.