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Bill T. Jones

Dancer and choreographer Bill T. Jones was born on February 15, 1952 in Bunnell, Florida. He was the tenth of twelve children born to Estella Jones and Augustus Jones, both migrant farmers. At the age of twelve, Jones’ family moved to Wayland County in upstate New York. After graduating from Wayland High School, Jones enrolled at the State University of New York (SUNY) at Binghamton where he studied dance and participated in track and field.

In 1971, Jones met Arnie Zane, a photographer, who helped him discover his destiny as a dancer. Jones and Zane joined with one of their professors, Lois Welk, to form the American Dance Asylum (ADA). Their work with the ADA eventually led to Jones’ solo debut with the Dance Theatre Workshop’s Choreographers’ Showcase in 1977. During the next few years, Jones and Zane performed internationally. In 1982, Jones and Zane formed the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company. Although the dance troupe met with great success, Zane took ill in 1984; and, in 1988, he died of AIDS-related lymphoma. Jones continued to work with the troupe and created personal works that allowed him to express his grief. One such work, “Absence,” made its debut in 1989. In 1990, the troupe premiered another work inspired by Zane, “Last Supper at Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”

In addition to creating more than 140 works for his own company, Jones has been commissioned to create dances for several modern and ballet companies, including Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Boston Ballet, Lyon Opera Ballet, and Berlin Opera Ballet, among others. Jones directed and performed in a collaborative work with Toni Morrison and Max Roach, “Degga” (1995), at Alice Tully Hall, which was commissioned by the Lincoln Center’s Serious Fun Festival. His collaboration with Jessye Norman, “How! Do! We! Do!” (1999), premiered at New York’s City Center. In 2010, Jones was named executive artistic director of New York Live Arts, a company formed by a merger of the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company and Dance Theater Workshop.

Jones’ work has been recognized with the 2010 Jacob’s Pillow Dance Award; the 2005 Wexner Prize; the 2005 Samuel H. Scripps American Dance Festival Award for Lifetime Achievement; the 2003 Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize; and the 1993 Dance Magazine Award. Jones has also received Honorary Doctorate Degrees from Yale University, the Art Institute of Chicago, Bard College, Columbia College, Skidmore College, the Juilliard School, and Swarthmore College. He is a recipient of the State University of New York at Binghamton Distinguished Alumni Award.

Bill T. Jones was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on October 8, 2014.

Accession Number

A2014.190

Sex

Male

Interview Date

10/8/2014

Last Name

Jones

Maker Category
Middle Name

T.

Occupation
Organizations
Schools

Wayland-Cohocton High School

State University of New York at Binghamton

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Bill

Birth City, State, Country

Bunnell

HM ID

JON38

Favorite Season

Spring

State

Florida

Favorite Vacation Destination

New Mexico

Favorite Quote

Naming Things Is Only The Intention To Make Things.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

New York

Birth Date

2/15/1952

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

New York

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Anything My Companion Makes

Short Description

Dancer and choreographer Bill T. Jones (1952 - ) cofounded the American Dance Asylum and the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company. He also served as executive artistic director of New York Live Arts.

Employment

American Dance Asylum

Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company

New York Live Arts

Dance Theatre Workshop

Favorite Color

None

Timing Pairs
0,0:10080,217:10368,222:14595,246:18195,367:28620,577:37640,661:71730,1284:76755,1429:109352,1935:118091,2134:121094,2224:127950,2324:132375,2449:149614,2711:149962,2716:156835,2855:157357,2862:163969,2955:164491,2962:171036,3021:171756,3037:172836,3077:202964,3508:204830,3531$0,0:2607,53:3160,61:4187,177:13625,352:23565,587:38660,815:39540,827:41460,921:63533,1219:64101,1229:66586,1277:67367,1291:72266,1402:74112,1463:75461,1503:76810,1537:77520,1554:80502,1647:80999,1656:88840,1680:93000,1749:95184,1799:95704,1805:114950,2017:120880,2135:125600,2226:140458,2456:145160,2531:148730,2595
DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Bill T. Jones' interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Bill T. Jones lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Bill T. Jones describes his father's upbringing and occupation

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Bill T. Jones describes his mother's upbringing and personality

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Bill T. Jones talks about how his parents met

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Bill T. Jones describes his likeness to his parents

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Bill T. Jones describes his earliest childhood memories

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Bill T. Jones describes his home in Wayland, New York

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Bill T. Jones lists his siblings

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Bill T. Jones describes the African American community in Wayland, New York

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Bill T. Jones talks about race relations in Wayland, New York

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Bill T. Jones describes the sights, sounds and smells of his childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Bill T. Jones remembers his most influential teachers

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Bill T. Jones describes his experiences at the Wayland Central School in Wayland, New York

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Bill T. Jones remembers his house burning down

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Bill T. Jones recalls his family's musical talents

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Bill T. Jones recalls his introduction to dance

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Bill T. Jones recalls working with Percival Borde

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Bill T. Jones remembers meeting Arnie Zane

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Bill T. Jones remembers traveling to Amsterdam, the Netherlands

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Bill T. Jones remembers studying dance in California with Lois Welk

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Bill T. Jones recalls establishing the American Dance Asylum

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Bill T. Jones describes the style of the American Dance Asylum

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Bill T. Jones remembers documenting his early choreography

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Bill T. Jones lists the choreographers who influenced him

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Bill T. Jones recalls his debut at the Delacorte Theater in New York City

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Bill T. Jones recalls the response to his first major performance

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Bill T. Jones talks about his relationship with Lois Welk

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Bill T. Jones talks about his partnership with Arnie Zane

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Bill T. Jones talks about the critical reception of his work

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Bill T. Jones remembers meeting Alvin Ailey

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Bill T. Jones describes his choreographic influences, pt. 1

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Bill T. Jones describe his choreographic influences, pt. 2

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Bill T. Jones remembers forming the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Bill T. Jones talks about Arnie Zane's death

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Bill T. Jones describes the influence of the AIDS crisis upon his work

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Bill T. Jones talks about his grieving process

Tape: 4 Story: 10 - Bill T. Jones remembers his relationship with Arthur Aviles

Tape: 4 Story: 11 - Bill T. Jones recalls the start of his relationship with Bjorn Amelan

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Bill T. Jones reflects upon his romantic relationships

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Bill T. Jones remembers receiving a MacArthur Fellowship

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Bill T. Jones talks about his critics

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Bill T. Jones describes his family's reaction to his work

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Bill T. Jones remembers collaborating with Max Roach and Toni Morrison

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Bill T. Jones remembers his choreography for 'Spring Awakening'

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Bill T. Jones remembers directing and choreographing 'Fela!'

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Bill T. Jones recalls his company's merger with the Dance Theater Workshop

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Bill T. Jones talks about New York Live Arts

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Bill T. Jones describes 'Story/Time'

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Bill T. Jones talks about 'Analogy/Dora: Tramontane'

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Bill T. Jones describes 'A Letter to My Nephew'

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Bill T. Jones describes his plans for the future

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Bill T. Jones reflects upon his legacy

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Bill T. Jones describes how he would like to be remembered

DASession

1$1

DATape

3$5

DAStory

7$5

DATitle
Bill T. Jones recalls his debut at the Delacorte Theater in New York City
Bill T. Jones remembers collaborating with Max Roach and Toni Morrison
Transcript
In '77 [1977] is when you have your--your debut (simultaneous).$$(Simultaneous) Debut at the Delacorte Theater [New York, New York].$$So tell me how that came to--came about.$$Around this time--was it around the same time that we had seen Robert Wilson at the Met [Metropolitan Opera House, New York, New York]? I'm not sure; the dates don't quite work out. But we were down in one of our few visits to New York [New York] like I--as I say, we had this kind of--we were dismissing New York. Came down, and we went to take a class in release technique, which was the rage in certain quarters; very slow moving, getting at some sort of primal state of ease to release unin- uninflected or unaffected movement. I think her name was Susan Kline [ph.] was--and, and in her studio, at least the space that we were teaching, there was a poster advertising auditions at Clark Center dance festival--at the Clark Center [Clark Center for the Performing Arts; Clark Center NYC, New York, New York] for the dance festival. And on a lark, I thought, what the hell? I don't care what they say in New York; it doesn't matter, but I'll come down and try. And I came down and I did a piece that I had premiered at the American Dance Asylum with me on a pair of shoes, dancing to a high--white blocks, actually--a piece called 'Everybody Works' ['Everybody Works/All Beasts Count,' Bill T. Jones] which had been a larger piece; it had one solo, and then it was a piece about unemployment with animal heads--don't ask me; stamping your--'cause we were all unemployed--stamping your--you know, with the unemployment--you know, to get your check every week, you have to show that you looked for work. So that's what it was--'Everybody Works.' And it was Jesse Fuller, this old one man band from the Bay Area [San Francisco Bay Area, California]. (Singing), "Got the blues from my baby down by the San Francisco Bay," ['San Francisco Bay Blues'], that was one of his hits, and (singing), "Everybody works at my house but my old man" ['Everybody Works at My House but My Old Man']. So those were all musics in the solo; I auditioned it. It must have been a mess, but I--obviously it was something to it. I improvised by shouting to a stranger to turn the lights on and off 'cause, of course, they hadn't given you any time, and I was just being provocative and I, I threw in an obscene gesture in what I was doing, and I was doing everything to let them know that I was free person and I did not care. They were all sitting in the dark. For years later, people would come say, "You know, I was there the day that you did that." Now, were they the ones who voted for me or not, I don't know. And then I got a call, or some sort of notification, back in Binghamton [New York], that Louise Roberts wanted to speak to me. Louise Roberts, is a feisty Jewish woman, really important to--$$Dance.$$--progressive dance, who invited me--but with a caveat that I had to change certain things. And I said, "You are trying to censure my work." And she says, "Listen buster, you got a chip on your shoulder and New York's gonna knock it off; do you wanna do this or not?" And I sputtered a bit, and I said, "Yes, I do." And so I did the, the Delacorte Theater--biggest audience I'd ever been in front of, on the same program with the Joffrey Ballet and Charles Moore and--I don't remember the other people, but it was, it was serious dance world, and who is this person out of nowhere? That's how it happened, and it was actually well received.$I want--did Toni Morrison--I wanted to ask you about working with her and--$$And Max?$$--and Max, right.$$'Degga' [Bill T. Jones]?$$Right, that's right.$$Right, right.$$How did that come about?$$Through Max, through Max.$$Max Roach is what we're talking about (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) Max Roach, he had--Max Roach, yes. And I had already--Max Roach and Arnie [Arnie Zane] and I, with Connie Crothers, had done a piece called 'Intuitive Momentum' at the Brooklyn Academy of Music [Brooklyn, New York] on one of the first Next Waves [Next Wave Festival], so he and I had a, had a relationship, and he and I had also, I think, at that point, had done some solo concerts in, in Lisbon [Portugal] and in Seville [Spain], I believe--I, I--yeah, in Seville. So we had a relationship, and then he--there was this opportunity through the Lincoln Center [Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, New York, New York]--Jane Moss, I believe, for us to do anything we wanted to do, and Max said, "We should get Toni involved." And he told me that--well, and Toni, and Toni said, you know, "I'm not interested in dancing and, and reading--dancing and movement." You know, she was very hu- tough like that, and Max tells me about the time that they were doing--and they flew across country to do something, an event, and she didn't speak the whole time; she was reading, and he said, "Toni, shouldn't we be talking about what we're gonna do?" She said, "You're gonna play and I'm gonna read." (Makes sound) Back to her book, you know? Now, he's bringing in this guy--I don't think she had ever even seen the work--probably, probably didn't care very much for contemporary dance, and he's bringing it in--bringing me in, and we met one afternoon in the studio; I think it was at Lincoln Center, I'm not quite sure, and she read beau- you know how she reads very quietly. She read from 'Beloved' [Toni Morrison]--enchanting; and then I danced a capella--danced a capella, and I sang a folk song as I was improvising, and something in it moved her. And then we went out to eat, and at the end of the book, I remember her say that--we were sharing, and she reached over and took a--something off my plate, and the bite, and I knew that we would be all right. And we did enjoy, we did enjoy. She, she said no, she isn't gonna dance. She said, "You want Madonna, you don't want me," you know. She had knee problems and all, and--but by the end of it--she was loose, you know, she, she enjoyed, you know. I wish we could have done it more, but it was a--one of those things I'm very, very proud of.

Donald McKayle

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.

Accession Number

A2013.342

Sex

Male

Interview Date

12/17/2013 |and| 7/28/2014

Last Name

McKayle

Maker Category
Middle Name

Cohen

Organizations
Schools

New Dance Group

City College of New York

P.S. 101 Andrew Draper School

St. Charles Borromeo School

P.S. 46 Arthur Tappan School

Junior High School 118, William H. Hines

DeWitt Clinton High School

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Donald

Birth City, State, Country

New York

HM ID

MCK16

Favorite Season

Spring

State

New York

Favorite Vacation Destination

None

Favorite Quote

None

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

California

Birth Date

7/6/1930

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Los Angeles

Country

United States

Favorite Food

All Food

Death Date

4/6/2018

Short Description

Choreographer and educator Donald McKayle (1930 - 2018) was the author of Transcending Boundaries: My Dancing Life. His major choreographic works include Games, Rainbow Round My Shoulder, District Storyville, Raisin, and Sophisticated Ladies.

Employment

New Dance Group

Donald McKayle and Company

Inner City Repertory Dance Company

Limon Dance Company

University of California, Irvine

California Institute of the Arts

Bennington College

Juilliard School

American Dance Festival

Favorite Color

Green, Purple

Timing Pairs
0,0:693,13:1771,32:2310,46:9317,131:28080,377:41942,532:67624,823:68308,875:82522,1023:83140,1030:86436,1082:87260,1091:98766,1287:108292,1336:165136,1725:165654,1846:166024,1852:172778,1956:175886,2031:184986,2150:201736,2292:202348,2297:205612,2360:266308,2885:266889,2893:267221,2898:267968,2907:274027,2994:275521,3025:300890,3271:319814,3490:320269,3496:327094,3628:340305,3856:352510,3945$0,0:17510,221:23910,288:80629,876:117713,1277:152745,1689:156940,1739:160020,1796:185999,2069:187187,2082:205012,2183:231779,2322:278122,2924:282952,2958:287202,2975:300270,3041:312472,3196:319020,3258
DAStories

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

DASession

1$1

DATape

3$5

DAStory

4$2

DATitle
Donald McKayle remembers joining the New Dance Group
Donald McKayle remembers creating 'Rainbow Round My Shoulder,' pt. 1
Transcript
When did you first consider--is this when you first considered dancing?$$After seeing Pearl Primus, yeah. I, I formed a--I worked that next week and we had meetings at Club L'Ouverture, I said, "I saw this wonderful woman dance and we should have--we should make--have a dance group here." And I asked other members of the club to come in to rehearsals. I, I was rehearsing people. Didn't know a thing, but (laughter) rehearsing people and making up dances, choreographing before I knew anything.$$That's something, so you just started, you know.$$(Makes sound), yeah. And then I went to audition at the New Dance Group for the scholarship and I got it, although I was sure I would be eliminated 'cause I didn't know anything. But they gave me a scholarship, they saw something.$$So what was the first thing--can you think of what you--what did you choreograph, I mean what did you--$$I choreographed a spiritual, 'Go Down Moses.' And I had all my fellow club members in a chain going around and they were bent over, things they could do, and I was improvising in the middle, breaking through trying to get out. When I think of it, I smile. It was so innocent and quite wonderful.$$So right after graduation [from DeWitt Clinton High School, Bronx, New York] or did you become a part of the New Dance Group before graduation or after?$$Before, 1947 was when I started the New Dance Group and I graduated about the same time, yeah.$$Okay, 1947, all right. She actually danced to 'Strange Fruit' too, right?$$Yes. (Singing), "Southern trees bare a strange fruit." She danced to a poem though, it wasn't sung.$$Well, tell us about your early days with the New Dance Group?$$Well, I got a scholarship and I was--I was going at that time to college, to City College [City College of New York, New York, New York] and so I would go and take early morning classes, about eight o'clock classes, then I'd go down to the New Dance Group which was on 59th Street between 5th [Avenue] and Madison [Avenue] at the time. And I would work with Sophie Maslow, Jane Dudley, William Bales, the New Dance Group company, and then I'd go back and finish more classes at CCNY, go home, have dinner, do homework, that was my life. And I started choreographing with the company in '51 [1951].$$Now, was this when you performed 'Saturday's Child' [Donald McKayle]?$$I did that first at the Club Baron in Harlem [New York, New York]. And that was Paul Robeson was part of it, and [HistoryMaker] Leon Bibb, [HistoryMaker] Harry Belafonte. I was a youngster in the group. And I did 'Saturday's Child,' Countee Cullen's poem.$$Okay, so this was a part of a larger performance of?$$No I was, I, I made--I made it as a solo for me. I spoke the poem and danced at the same time, which was unusual, people didn't do that, do that. So it was a dramatic dance and I was a homeless person.$$It was in a program that included Paul Robeson, and--$$Well, Harry Belafonte gave a benefit for Paul because he couldn't work and he couldn't leave the country. And I had done this dance and they asked me to do it at the Paul--and they said Paul would sing for me 'By 'n' Bye' and I said, "Okay I'd love to." I couldn't believe it. And I went down to the Golden Gate Ballroom, which was on Lenox Avenue [Malcolm X Boulevard], a little bit down from the Savoy [Savoy Ballroom, New York, New York] in the 40s, yeah. And I got there and there was no stage, just a bandstand with a piano, so it was large enough for a grand piano and then a few steps for the other instruments and it was carpeted. And there was Paul in the nook of the piano and Lawrence Brown [Lawrence Benjamin Brown] was sitting at the keyboard and I said, "Well if he's gonna sing for me, I'm gonna dance up and down this carpeted steps, and I did." But that was 'By 'n' Bye,' I didn't do 'Saturday's Child' at that particular performance. But it was very important for me. Big moment in my career.$All right, 'cause our next, next note is that in '59 [1959] you, you produced 'Rainbow Round My Shoulder' [Donald McKayle], right?$$Yes.$$Okay. Well, what is that about, and what--?$$'Rainbow Round My Shoulder' is about prisoners on a chain gang in the Deep South and they're brought to work on the roads to break rock to make gravel to lay the rock--gravel bed and then they put macadam and tar, blacktop on it for the roads. In fact the first song is, "Picks, rocks and gravel to make a solid road, but it wouldn't get done lessen captain had a gun. 'Cause is always being watched over by the overseer." And they're men that are prisoners and they dream of freedom and freedom comes to them in the guise of a woman. So there's one woman and seven men in the dance. And it's a--it's a huge success. As I said I've done it for other companies, I did it for the Batsheva Company [Batsheva Dance Company] in Israel, and I did it in Paris [France], did it in Buenos Aires [Argentina]. So it's a--it's a lasting dance.$$So this is--there's a theme although you've conceived of it as being something that's particular to the United States or something?$$Yes, it's definitely an American dance and the music are chain gang songs, and I got--the ones that I use in the--in the actual production were gathered by John [John A. Lomax, Jr.] and Alan Lomax on location as the men were working. There's one piece as a solo for the woman, it's called "Jinx Blues" and that was--she was heard a woman singing this song while she was washing clothes at the river and he recorded it on one of his field trips. (Singing), "I had a gal she was long and tall and moved her body like a cannonball." That's the female solo. And the woman who did it first, Mary Hinkson, was a dancer with the Martha Graham Company [Martha Graham Dance Company]. And in fact, on YouTube you can see her and me and Matt Turney dancing in a jazz piece called 'On the Sound' sitting--Long Island Sound. And that was done in '62 [1962] so we stayed as a kind of nice knit group there.$$How would you characterize your dancing technique in those days?$$It was very fluid, athletic, but very sort of muscular rather than light.$$Okay, okay. And what did dance critics say about you in those days?$$I got very good reviews from critics. And 'Rainbow' was hailed as a masterpiece.$$And it resonated with audiences abroad as well?$$Oh very much. I remember when we did it, well, I didn't do it, it was done by the Dayton Company, Dayton Contemporary [Dayton Contemporary Dance Company] in Russia. At the end of the performance there was just silence and then suddenly applause. And Charles Reinhart [Charles L. Reinhart] who was a director went out to the audience to see what was wrong. He said it was just like seeing your own history right in front of them in another form. So they just couldn't believe what they were seeing. And I did it, I went to Russia afterwards and I set it on Russian dancers. That was a wonderful experience.$$Okay, okay, so, so this is--how long did you perform--I mean did it perform for a season and then you--$$Well it performed for many seasons, it's a classic piece that's brought back by a company. And I'll--they'll call me to come in and restage it.

Sylvia Waters

Artistic director and dancer Sylvia Waters was born in New York on January 22, 1940. She began dancing in junior high school and joined an after school dance group when she was twelve years old. Waters went on to attend The Juilliard School, where she studied with Martha Graham, José Limón, and Anthony Tudor. She received her B.S. degree from Juilliard in 1962, continuing her studies at the Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance.

Waters began dancing with Donald McKayle’s dance company before touring Europe, performing in Langston Hughes’ Black Nativity in 1964. Waters then settled in Paris, France for three years, where she appeared on television and danced in the Paris Opera Ballet under Michel Descombey. After performing at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, in Maurice Bejart’s Ballet of the Twentieth Century, at which Alvin Ailey’s Revelations was also performed, Waters returned to the United States and began touring as a principal dancer with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater company. In 1974, the Alvin Ailey Repertory Ensemble, later renamed Ailey II, was founded in order to help Ailey dance students transition into the professional world. A year after its creation, Waters was hired as the director. Ailey II has since toured all over the country as one of the most successful companies in the United States.

Waters has received numerous awards, including an honorary doctorate from the State University of New York at Oswego, the Dance Magazine Award, Syracuse University’s Women of Distinction Award, and the Legacy Award from the twentieth Annual International Association of Blacks in Dance Festival. She has also served as a panelist for the National Endowment for the Arts and the New York State Council on the Arts, and has worked as a guest lecturer at Harvard University in 2001.

Waters lives in New York, New York.

Sylvia Waters was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on August 27, 2010 and October 4, 2016.

Accession Number

A2010.108

Sex

Female

Interview Date

8/27/2010 |and| 10/24/2016

Last Name

Waters

Maker Category
Marital Status

Divorced

Middle Name

B.

Schools

The Juilliard School

P.S. 186 Harlem

I.S. 164 Edward W. Stitt Junior High School

Evander Childs High School

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Sylvia

Birth City, State, Country

New York

HM ID

WAT11

Favorite Season

Fall

State

New York

Favorite Vacation Destination

Italy, Turkey

Favorite Quote

None

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

New York

Birth Date

1/22/1940

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

New York

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Ice Cream, Vegetables

Short Description

Artistic director and dancer Sylvia Waters (1940 - ) was a principal dancer with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, and served as the artistic director for the Ailey II dance company for 38 years.

Employment

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

Ailey II

Harvard University

Favorite Color

Black, Blue, Red, White

Timing Pairs
0,0:1476,15:8700,150:11538,195:11968,201:16268,269:18934,305:19364,312:20482,324:38214,438:43643,491:44533,516:58400,603:59648,624:65186,721:79595,894:86044,954:86504,960:86964,967:88160,984:90644,1013:91196,1020:94835,1044:95285,1051:97385,1098:97910,1107:100235,1157:103235,1211:104210,1226:129919,1527:133713,1548:134101,1557:135400,1567$0,0:2776,35:8640,69:39980,438:50060,611:74420,897:75050,951:78620,1042:78970,1048:108090,1457
DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Sylvia Waters' interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Sylvia Waters lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Sylvia Waters describes her parents' backgrounds and occupations

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Sylvia Waters describes her childhood experiences in Harlem, New York

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Sylvia Waters describes her experience on her maternal grandparents' farm in Onancock, Virginia

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Sylvia Waters describes her parents' educations and how they met

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Sylvia Waters talks about her childhood interest in music and pageantry

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Sylvia Waters describes her experience in a modern dance club in junior high school

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Sylvia Waters describes her modern dance classes at Evander Childs High School and at the New Dance Group Studio

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Sylvia Waters describes meeting Alvin Ailey and seeing him dance

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Sylvia Waters describes auditioning for The Juilliard School in New York City, New York

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Sylvia Waters describes her teacher's and friend's reactions to her acceptance at The Juilliard School in New York City, New York

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Sylvia Waters describes her experience at The Juilliard School in New York City, New York and performing with pickup companies

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Sylvia Waters remembers the first performance of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Sylvia Waters describes The Juilliard School in New York City, New York

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Sylvia Waters comments on her mentors at The Juilliard School in New York City, New York

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Sylvia Waters describes her 1962 graduation from The Juilliard School in New York City, New York

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Sylvia Waters describes her jobs after graduating from The Juilliard School in New York City, New York and joining the cast of "Black Nativity"

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Sylvia Waters talks about her experience living in Paris, France and auditioning for various film and theater productions

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Sylvia Waters talks about the collegial relationships among black performers in the mid-1960s

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Sylvia Waters talks about the black expatriates she met in Europe

Tape: 2 Story: 11 - Sylvia Waters talks about meeting Josephine Baker

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Slating of Sylvia Waters' interview, session 2

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Sylvia Waters describes her time in Paris, France

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Sylvia Waters recalls meeting Langston Hughes

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Sylvia Waters talks about her role in 'Black Nativity'

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Sylvia Waters remembers the European tour of 'Black Nativity'

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Sylvia Waters describes how she was treated in Europe

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Sylvia Waters recalls her work with European dance companies

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Sylvia Waters talks about joining the Ballet of the 20th Century dance company in Brussels, Belgium

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Sylvia Waters describes her work with Donald McKayle's dance company

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Sylvia Waters talks about living in Paris, France

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Sylvia Waters remembers her experiences with racism in Portugal

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Sylvia Waters describes a racist American soldier in Portugal

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Sylvia Waters recalls labor strikes in Paris, France

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Sylvia Waters talks about her opportunities to join the Ailey American Dance Theater

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Sylvia Waters talks about her performances in Mexico City during the 1968 Summer Olympic Games

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Sylvia Waters remembers being unexpectedly hired by Alvin Ailey

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Sylvia Waters recalls professional dancers at Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Sylvia Waters recalls tension between the Portuguese and Angolan migrants

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Sylvia Waters recalls joining the Ailey American Dance Theater

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Sylvia Waters talks about everyday life as a dancer

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Sylvia Waters describes the body types of dancers in the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Sylvia Waters talks about artistic expression in dance

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Sylvia Waters remembers performance venues in New York City

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Sylvia Waters recalls the disbandment of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Sylvia Waters recalls the U.S. Department of State's intervention on behalf of the Ailey Dance Company

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Sylvia Waters recalls the censorship of dance performances when traveling to the Soviet Union

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Sylvia Waters remembers her experiences touring in the Soviet Union

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Sylvia Waters talks about the Ailey American Dance Theater's return to New York City after touring globally

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Sylvia Waters remembers the birth of her son

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Sylvia Waters talks about her promotion to director of Ailey II

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Sylvia Waters recalls her participation in 'Ailey Celebrates Ellington'

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Sylvia Waters remembers touring with Ailey II

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Sylvia Waters recalls her feelings about transitioning to artistic director of Ailey II

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Sylvia Waters talks about directing 'Revelations'

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Sylvia Waters talks about the challenges of running Ailey II

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Sylvia Waters describes touring with Ailey II

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Sylvia Waters recalls the death of Alvin Ailey

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Sylvia Waters remembers the aftermath of Alvin Ailey's death

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - Sylvia Waters describes the development of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

Tape: 7 Story: 8 - Sylvia Waters talks about her oral history archival work

Tape: 8 Story: 1 - Sylvia Waters recalls successful students trained at Ailey II

Tape: 8 Story: 2 - Sylvia Waters recalls leaving the Ailey American Dance Theater

Tape: 8 Story: 3 - Sylvia Waters reflects on her legacy

Tape: 8 Story: 4 - Sylvia Waters shares her advice for aspiring dancers

Tape: 8 Story: 5 - Sylvia Waters reflects upon her life

DASession

1$1

DATape

2$2

DAStory

3$11

DATitle
Sylvia Waters remembers the first performance of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
Sylvia Waters talks about meeting Josephine Baker
Transcript
Okay. Now, at this time, were you aware that Alvin Ailey had formed his own dance company [Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater]?$$Well, in 1958, yes, that was the first performance and I saw the first performance. It was "Blues Suite." He did share that concert with another dancer, Ernest Parham, and, what I remember in particular in "Blues Suite" was "Mean Ole Frisco," a dance for five men and, I mean, "Blues Suite" underwent many incarnations, you know, until he reached the version that it is today, but in that early first version, I remember this singer, Brother John Sellers, and he was the blind man and he was walking through the crowd of dancers on the stage. I remember Jacqueline Walcott, but more than anything I remember "Mean Ole Frisco" and these five men dancing, I-- and such power. I had never seen men dancing like that, first of all, and "Blues Suite" also was very familiar to me; you know, all those summers in Virginia and blues music, because a lot of times you did have musicians coming through and at the juke joints down there; I mean, I wasn't supposed to be in them but sometimes my uncle took me or at the little movie house there would be gospel singers and blues singers performing and also those shows that traveled around. There was always an Indian, a clown, and a barker selling (laughter) snake oil or something and very often they would have blues singers with them. So, the blues was very much a part of my background, and I had a profound understanding of it, so that familiar connection was there from the beginning.$Did you meet-- ever meet Josephine Baker?$$I did. I went to see her perform at the Olympia and it was amazing. I had seen her in the states performing at Carnegie Hall [New York City, New York] before I ever went to Europe and that was one of the most wonderful experiences I've ever had, but when I saw her at the Olympia, that was, I mean I felt even closer to her. I've been a Francophile for a long time, you know, because I was a good French student. I thought I would a linguist. That was another thing I thought I might do. So, knowing French helped a lot, but when I saw her at the Olympia, and I went back stage because I knew someone who was in the show, and there was this person at the call board, these big, huge, thick glasses on this lady, and kind of a dress-type thing, and I said, "Excuse me, I'm looking for my friend so-and-so" and she said, "Oh, she's right down there, just down the hall." I said, "Okay, thank you." And that was Josephine Baker, and I just, I mean she was so different off stage, you know, and she's just a larger than life personage on stage, you know, and that big voice, and she was just beautiful, but offstage, she was this lady with these big, thick, Coke-bottle glasses on and, you know, and a dress and I think she had a turban on or a scarf on her head, and I was so, I said, "Oh, silly, you should have asked her for an autograph." I didn't realize it was she, you know. So, that was my "meeting."

Robert Battle

Dancer and choreographer Robert Louis Battle was born on August 28, 1972 in Jacksonville, Florida to Marie Battle. Three weeks after his birth, Battle was adopted by his great-uncle Willie Horne. He was raised by Horne and his daughter Dessie Horne. Battle started dancing in high school and graduated from the New World School of Arts in Miami, Florida. He went on to attend The Julliard School, where he graduated in 1994. Battle joined Parsons Dance Company where he performed and choreographed for the next seven years. During this time, Battle also choreographed his first piece for an Alvin Ailey Foundation dance company; the piece was entitled Mood Indigo and was performed by the Ailey II Company in 1999.

In 2001, Battle left Parsons to found Battleworks Dance Company, a company he directed for the next nine years. During this time, Battle developed a close relationship with the Alvin Ailey Dance Foundation, choreographing his first piece for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Juba , in 2003, and working alongside Judith Jamison and hip-hop choreographer Rennie Harris to create Love Stories in 2004. He continued to provide material for the group and conduct workshops at the Alvin Ailey School from 2006 until 2008. In 2009, Battle’s work with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater culminated in the announcement by Judith Jamison, artistic director of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, that Battle would succeed her as the company’s artistic director in July of 2011.

Battle was named as one of the Masters of African American Choreography by the John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts in 2005, and has received numerous other awards for professional excellence. He has performed or choreographed for venues such as the Joyce Theater, the American Dance Festival, the Dance Theater Workshop, and the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival.

Robert Battle was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on August 27, 2010.

Accession Number

A2010.107

Sex

Male

Interview Date

8/27/2010

Last Name

Battle

Maker Category
Marital Status

Single

Occupation
Organizations
Schools

Miami Northwestern Senior High School

New World School Of The Arts

The Juilliard School

Orchard Villa Elementary School

Georgia Jones-Ayers Middle School

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Robert

Birth City, State, Country

Jacksonville

HM ID

BAT09

Favorite Season

Fall

State

Florida

Favorite Vacation Destination

Saratoga Springs, New York

Favorite Quote

None

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

New York

Birth Date

8/28/1972

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

New York

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Ribs

Short Description

Dancer and choreographer Robert Battle (1972 - ) was the third artistic director of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.

Employment

Parsons Dance Company

Battleworks Dance Company

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

Favorite Color

Blue

Timing Pairs
0,0:2456,80:4808,109:5228,115:5732,125:8000,162:8840,175:9428,185:10268,197:10856,206:11360,213:11780,219:15812,275:16736,291:28055,381:33095,471:33935,485:35825,577:43160,609:45422,644:46280,657:46826,666:49244,728:49868,787:55094,881:55406,886:72045,1111:72425,1116:73755,1135:78794,1173:79403,1186:80795,1212:81578,1224:86501,1277:89322,1332:90141,1342:90687,1349:91324,1358:96783,1384:98239,1405:99968,1436:101970,1541:102698,1550:113060,1677$0,0:12525,169:18890,300:19650,310:20600,326:32872,389:44202,540:44734,552:45190,559:47404,572:48142,582:48880,593:51258,627:53718,655:60688,832:62164,856:62820,865:63148,870:71650,942:73900,990:74575,1000:78119,1036:86768,1123:87370,1134:87800,1141:91436,1175:94252,1215:95044,1225:100148,1289:106175,1337:107225,1361:107675,1368:110150,1437:115352,1465:115664,1470:116132,1477:118160,1525:118472,1530:119330,1543:119720,1549:120188,1556:120656,1565:121046,1571:124344,1593:125156,1610:127573,1641:130484,1706:134815,1846:142490,1879:142890,1885:145503,1904:147735,1942:148107,1947:153290,2003:154040,2020:154790,2030:158165,2088:158690,2097:159365,2108:160715,2132:161165,2139:163490,2181:164390,2199:164915,2208:166040,2236:166415,2242:166715,2247:169940,2314:176550,2422
DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Robert Battle's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Robert Battle lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Robert Battle describes his family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Robert Battle recalls his early artistic interests

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Robert Battle describes his early education

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Robert Battle remembers his early church involvement

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Robert Battle recalls the Performing and Visual Arts Center program

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Robert Battle remembers the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Robert Battle recalls the Liberty City neighborhood in Miami, Florida

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Robert Battle describes his early aspirations and mentors

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Robert Battle reflects upon his career path

Tape: 1 Story: 12 - Robert Battle recalls his scholarship to The Julliard School in New York City

Tape: 1 Story: 13 - Robert Battle describes his first year at The Julliard School

Tape: 1 Story: 14 - Robert Battle recalls his mentors at The Julliard School

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Robert Battle recalls his first involvement with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Robert Battle remembers his role at the Parsons Dance Company

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Robert Battle recalls becoming artistic director designate of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Robert Battle describes his direction for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Robert Battle talks about the role of tradition in dance

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Robert Battle describes his company, Battleworks Dance Company

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Robert Battle describes how African American culture influences his art

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Robert Battle talks about the dance community

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Robert Battle describes his current projects

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Robert Battle shares his advice to young dancers

Tape: 2 Story: 11 - Robert Battle shares his mother's thoughts on his success

Tape: 2 Story: 12 - Robert Battle describes his legacy and how he would like to be remembered

DASession

1$1

DATape

1$2

DAStory

13$4

DATitle
Robert Battle describes his first year at The Julliard School
Robert Battle describes his direction for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
Transcript
Juilliard [The Juilliard School, New York, New York] was extremely challenging, certainly, especially my, my first year. In fact, I, I wanted to leave Juilliard because, you know as a freshman in college, nobody knows anything and you know everything, that was me. And so, this was one of those mother moments. So I made a plan to leave Juilliard and I went home for one of the holidays, could have been Thanksgiving or whatever, and I talked to the dean at New World School of the Arts college and I said, "Listen, you know, I want to move back to Miami [Florida]," and he said, "Okay, we can help you do that," you know, "We'll give you a scholarship, money in your pocket, so you can do it." You see, I always figured my mother [Battle's second cousin, Dessie Horne Williams] was reasonable if you had a plan. If you could come and show her a plan, then she'd be okay with your decision. So I got my plan together. I got--came home, I said, "Listen," to my mother, who I've always called Dessalee, I've never called her mother, "Here's the plan. I'm going to leave Juilliard, come back home, I got a full scholarship at New World, it's all going to be great, no money out of your pocket, this will be wonderful," thinking she'd say, okay. She did say okay, she did also say, "But sometimes you might want to think about finishing things when you start them." I graduated Juilliard four years later, I won the Martha Hiller Prize, Martha Hill Prize [Martha Hill Prize for Outstanding Achievement and Leadership in Dance] and the Princess Grace Award [Princess Grace Statue Award] at that time. So, she is modest when she says she has nothing to do with my success.$Now you mentioned [HistoryMaker] Judith Jamison as a choreographer and Rennie Harris and other people, so anybody, you know, paying attention to what's going on now, if they expect you to just replicate Alvin Ailey, they're probably wrong, right? Is that true?$$Yes.$$Okay.$$Yes, and I think he, he would not expect that. I think that Judith Jamison would not expect that. I mean, I, I think, well I've gotten this label of being a maverick, I always thought it was a car but, anyway, but I've always done, or tried to do that in my own work. I've always tried to, to challenge myself and challenge the audiences but I got that from, again, my modest mother [Battle's second cousin, Dessie Horne Williams] who, I remember when I was, I used to improvise when I first started dancing. I would go in the back room and I'd put on some Michael Jackson or somebody like that, and I would, I would just improvise and she would always hear the music and one time she said, "Why don't you try classical music sometimes? You don't have to always do the same music." So I tried it; but, again, it was sort of pushing me to go outside of what I thought I was capable of. And so even in my own work, I choreographed to classical music, to the Indian music I was just talking about, to African drums, to, you know, it just, it's all over the place. As one audience member said, "From Bach [Johann Sebastian Bach] to bongos," you know, and I think that's a part of what some people like about my work and it's certainly a part of what interests me about making work, is about surprising people and making them hear things in a new way, you know, that is really a part of what I love about what I do.$$So do you think that's what the search committee saw in you or did they (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) I think so.$$First did that--$$I think so, I think they saw that I had, that, that, that that would be exciting and that, but it's also done with integrity, not just for the sheer sake of making people perk up but that because I really believe in that and that's what's going to take us into the future, is always staying curious, always keeping our finger on the pulse of what's happening now and what can happen in the future. So I think that perhaps that's what they saw and that's what Ms. Jamison saw in my work and in me, which is why she chose me [as artistic director for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater].

Homer Bryant

Dance founder and instructor Homer Bryant was born in the Virgin Islands on the Isle of St. Thomas in 1950 and became involved in dance in middle school. His teacher arranged for him to dance at the Jacob’s Pillow Dance School where he studied under some of the most prominent modern dance pioneers. Bryant then came to the attention of dancer and choreographer Arthur Mitchell, founder of the Dance Theater of Harlem, the first African American classical dance company in the United States. Mitchell extended an invitation to Bryant to come to New York and study with the company, which he accepted.

In 1972, Bryant began his professional career when he won an audition to replace a member of the company. He continued to dance and tour professionally with the Dance Theater of Harlem and took a hiatus in 1978 to perform in the Broadway musical Timbuktu! alongside Eartha Kitt. He also appeared in the film version of the musical The Wiz along with Diana Ross and Michael Jackson. He then worked with Donald McKayle’s dance company and while on tour came to Chicago and danced briefly with Maria Tallchief’s Chicago City Ballet.

In 1981, Bryant returned to New York to oversee the Dance Theater of Harlem’s pre-professional workshop ensemble. Four years later, Bryant moved to Chicago to start his own dance company and school, Bryant Ballet. In 1993, Bryant began working with Cirque de Soleil, a relationship that continued for three of Cirque de Soleil’s most popular productions, Mystere, Alegria, and Quidam. Bryant also served as ballet master for the Joel Hall Dancers and Dance Chicago.

In 1997, in recognition of the school’s influence, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley issued a proclamation officially renaming Bryant’s school the Chicago Multi-Cultural Dance Center. The next year, Bryant served as lead artist for the city of Chicago’s Gallery 37.

Bryant has received the Chicago Cultural Alliance’s Lifetime Achievement Award. He also was featured in the short documentary Raising the Barre: The Homer Bryant Story in 2009.

Homer Bryant was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on August 23, 2010.

Accession Number

A2010.102

Sex

Male

Interview Date

8/23/2010

Last Name

Bryant

Maker Category
Marital Status

Widower

Schools

Saints Peter and Paul School

Erasmus Hall High School

Adelphi University

Chicago School of Massage Therapy

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Homer

Birth City, State, Country

Charlotte Amalie

HM ID

BRY04

Favorite Season

None

State

St. Thomas

Favorite Vacation Destination

None

Favorite Quote

The Fun Is In The Discipline. The Discipline Is In The Fun.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Illinois

Birth Date

3/29/1950

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Chicago

Country

U.S. Virgin Islands

Favorite Food

None

Short Description

Dancer and dance instructor Homer Bryant (1950 - ) performed with the Dance Theater of Harlem and founded the Chicago Multi-Cultural Dance Center.

Employment

Dance Theater of Harlem

Chicago Multi-Cultural Dance Center

Manhattan Festival Ballet

The Wiz

Timbuktu!

The Evolution of Jazz

Victoria Arts Collaborative

Chicago Public Schools Advanced Arts Program at Gallery 37

Chicago City Ballet

Favorite Color

Lavender, Purple

DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Homer Bryant's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Homer Bryant lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Homer Bryant describes his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Homer Bryant talks about his mother's personality

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Homer Bryant talks about his father's role in his life

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Homer Bryant describes his likeness to his maternal relatives

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Homer Bryant describes his earliest childhood memory

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Homer Bryant describes the community on St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Homer Bryant talks about the history of St. Thomas

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Homer Bryant describes the sights, sounds and smells of his childhood, pt. 1

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Homer Bryant talks about the influence of Sidney Poitier

Tape: 1 Story: 12 - Homer Bryant describes the sights, sounds and smells of his childhood, pt. 2

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Homer Bryant describes the differences between the U.S. Virgin Islands and New York City

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Homer Bryant talks about the television programs of his childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Homer Bryant recalls his early religious experiences

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Homer Bryant remembers his early influences

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Homer Bryant recalls the start of his dance career

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Homer Bryant talks about the death of his first dance instructor

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Homer Bryant recalls his friendship with Eartha Kitt

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Homer Bryant remembers his decision to move to New York City

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Homer Bryant describes the start of his ballet training

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Homer Bryant talks about Arthur Mitchell's ballet methods

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Homer Bryant describes teaching as a master

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Homer Bryant talks about modifying the classical ballet pedagogy

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Homer Bryant recalls joining the Dance of Theatre of Harlem

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Homer Bryant remembers the Dance Theatre of Harlem's debut performance

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Homer Bryant describes the influence of Cicely Tyson and Karel Shook

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Homer Bryant talks about touring with the Dance Theatre of Harlem

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Homer Bryant recalls his experiences at Adelphi University

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Homer Bryant remembers his performances outside of the Dance Theatre of Harlem

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Homer Bryant describes his favorite performances with the Dance Theatre of Harlem

Tape: 3 Story: 10 - Homer Bryant talks about filming 'The Whiz'

Tape: 3 Story: 11 - Homer Bryant recalls taking photographs on the set of 'The Wiz'

Tape: 3 Story: 12 - Homer Bryant remembers performing in 'Timbuktu!' with Eartha Kitt

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Homer Bryant remembers learning about massage therapy

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Homer Bryant talks about his decision to move to Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Homer Bryant remembers his daughter's influence on his students

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Homer Bryant remembers meeting his wife

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Homer Bryant recalls leading the Dance Theatre of Harlem Workshop Ensemble

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Homer Bryant talks about his retirement from performance

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Homer Bryant recalls teaching dance courses at Gallery 37 in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Homer Bryant remembers his involvement with Cirque du Soleil

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Homer Bryant talks about combining ballet and hip hop dance techniques

Tape: 4 Story: 10 - Homer Bryant talks about his reputation as a teacher

Tape: 4 Story: 11 - Homer Bryant describes his documentary, 'Raising the Barre'

Tape: 4 Story: 12 - Homer Bryant remembers his students

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Homer Bryant describes the location of the Chicago Multi-Cultural Dance Center

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Homer Bryant talks about the funding for black arts organizations

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Homer Bryant talks about his youth outreach

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Homer Bryant describes his hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Homer Bryant talks about his aspirations for the Chicago Multi-Cultural Dance Center

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Homer Bryant reflects upon his life

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Homer Bryant talks about his family

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Homer Bryant talks about the death of his daughter

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Homer Bryant reflects upon his legacy

Tape: 5 Story: 10 - Homer Bryant describes how he would like to be remembered

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Homer Bryant narrates his photographs

Ludie Jones

Ludie Jones is a renowned tap-dancer, famous for her performances in the era of prohibition. She was born on January 28, 1916 in New York City to Lottie and Luther Jones, a family of seven. Jones was introduced to tap in the form of the Charleston at age three. Her mother enrolled her in dance lessons at Elks Hall. At age eleven, she was asked by Amanda Kemp, a ballet teacher, to teach tap dance to her students.

In 1934, Jones graduated from Wadleigh High School for Girls and began touring around England with the chorus line of “Lew Leslie’s Blackbirds of ’34.” Upon returning to the U.S., Jones immediately became a member of “The Lang Sisters” along with Marion Worthy and Peggy Wharton. The three of them attended Buddy Bradley’s School of Dancing in London and began working with Louis Armstrong at the Paramount Theatre in New York.

By 1941 “The Lang Sisters” had disbanded so Jones formed the group “The Three Poms” with Sybil Warner and Geraldine Ball. As a group, they were the opening act for the Cab Calloway Band. “The Three Poms” also did shows for troops during World War II in Okinawa, Japan, and the Phillipines before breaking up in the early 1950’s. In 1984, Jones was asked to join the musical “Shades of Harlem” and they toured internationally. That same year, she and Ruby Riley began teaching senior citizens how to dance at the Kennedy Center in Harlem. They called themselves the “Tapping Seniors."

In 2008, Jones was honored at the St. Louis Tap Festival and was given an award on behalf of the Robert L. Reed Tap Heritage Foundation. Two years later, she continued to teach with the “Tapping Seniors” and has been an active member of the Central Harlem Senior Citizens Coalition since 1984. Jones has been featured in many books including Tap Dancing America: A Cultural History by Constance Valis Hill.

Jones passed away on October 3, 2018.

Ludie Jones was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on April 26, 2010.

Accession Number

A2010.008

Sex

Female

Archival Photo 1
Interview Date

4/26/2010

Last Name

Jones

Maker Category
Marital Status

Single

Organizations
Schools

P.S. 141

J.H.S. 69

Wadleigh Secondary School for the Performing & Visual Arts

Search Occupation Category
Archival Photo 2
First Name

Ludie

Birth City, State, Country

New York

HM ID

JON22

Favorite Season

Winter

State

New York

Favorite Vacation Destination

Bahamas

Favorite Quote

I'm Good.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

New York

Birth Date

1/28/1916

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

New York

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Spaghetti, Sausage

Death Date

10/3/2018

Short Description

Dancer and dance instructor Ludie Jones (1916 - 2018) was a tap dance legend who tapped for over seventy years. Once a member of The Lang Sisters and The Three Poms, she later performed in Shades of Harlem and taught the Tapping Seniors at the Kennedy Center.

Employment

New York Telephone Company

Lew Leslie's Blackbirds of 1934

'Shades of Harlem'

Favorite Color

Blue

Timing Pairs
0,0:955,22:1905,38:9885,252:11880,286:26776,470:35826,564:40556,661:41244,672:46576,796:60110,905:63080,948:70091,1012:70850,1018$0,0:1236,18:7210,109:7622,114:45920,651:48626,698:48954,703:56292,846:56644,851:68964,1126:87308,1385:93528,1413:95408,1474:112200,1665:112900,1673:113600,1681:126100,1852:127135,1862:133040,1935:141738,2070:142198,2076:147724,2143:155544,2357:161380,2393:162000,2398:180476,2755:199156,2923:200092,3137:229890,3351:247672,3625:253653,3657:254199,3665:255655,3680:256110,3686:256474,3691:261664,3838:271890,3998
DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Ludie Jones' interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Ludie Jones lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Ludie Jones describes her mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Ludie Jones describes her mother's move to New York City

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Ludie Jones describes her father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Ludie Jones talks about her parents' relationship

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Ludie Jones lists her siblings

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Ludie Jones describes the Phipps Houses in New York City

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Ludie Jones remembers the entertainment of her youth

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Ludie Jones describes the sights, sounds and smells of her childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Ludie Jones recalls her start as a dancer

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Ludie Jones remembers one of her early dance performances

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Ludie Jones remembers the entertainers of her childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Ludie Jones describes her educational experiences in New York City

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Ludie Jones remembers auditioning for 'Lew Leslie's Blackbirds of 1934'

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Ludie Jones recalls touring Europe with 'Lew Leslie's Blackbirds of 1934'

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Ludie Jones remembers the stars of 'Lew Leslie's Blackbirds of 1934'

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Ludie Jones describes the formation of the Lang Sisters

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Ludie Jones talks about the Lang Sisters' performances

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Ludie Jones remembers performing with notable jazz bandleaders

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Ludie Jones remembers touring with the Lang Sisters

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Ludie Jones talks about Bill "Bojangles" Robinson

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Ludie Jones remembers touring with the United Service Organizations

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Ludie Jones remembers her tap dance contemporaries, pt. 1

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Ludie Jones remembers her tap dance contemporaries, pt. 2

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Ludie Jones talks about her favorite tap dancers

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Ludie Jones reflects upon the decline of tap dancing

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Ludie Jones describes how she came to work for the New York Telephone Company

Tape: 3 Story: 10 - Ludie Jones remembers dancing in 'Shades of Harlem'

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Ludie Jones recalls her experiences in France and the U.S. Virgin Islands

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Ludie Jones remembers being asked to tour with the 'Shades of Harlem'

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Ludie Jones remembers the Ludie Jones Day celebration in St. Louis, Missouri

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Ludie Jones reflects upon the changes in dance and music

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Ludie Jones describes her hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Ludie Jones reflects upon her life

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Ludie Jones reflects upon her legacy

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Ludie Jones describes how she would like to be remembered

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Ludie Jones narrates her photographs, pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Ludie Jones narrates her photographs, pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Ludie Jones narrates her photographs, pt. 3

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Ludie Jones narrates her photographs, pt. 4

DASession

1$1

DATape

2$3

DAStory

3$1

DATitle
Ludie Jones remembers one of her early dance performances
Ludie Jones remembers performing with notable jazz bandleaders
Transcript
Can you remember your first show, the first show you were in?$$No, no, you mean as far as the dance class?$$Yeah, when you were a little--$$No, no (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) The first time you were put onstage to dance?$$No, the only thing I can remember now is that when I, like when I told you, I had to sing this real southern song, "Oh, they picking on your baby, 'cause you're a pickaninny rose," she [Jones' dance instructor, Emma Kemp] had me to sing that. Everybody who did a specialty, they wore a dress, real pretty dresses, what have you, when my mother [Lottie Watkins Jones], my aunt had made a very beautiful, accordion pleated peach dress, when I got ready to go on--my mother had put the dress on me, and she saw me, you know, naturally, she's at the stage, she said, "Take that off of her, put those overalls on her." I tell you she's prejudiced, and I had to sing and dance in the overalls. And I sang, "Oh, they picking on your baby, because you're a pickaninny rose." Now she's a black woman.$Tell me about the personalities of Luis Russell and Louis Armstrong and?$$Well, Luis Russell was a, he was a very nice guy, I liked him. He'd come in and he'd vocalize and he'd have a little poodle, and he call 'em Charm, and he'd vocalize, "Oh, Charmee," that's how he would warm up, warm his throat up. And Luis Russell was, he was very staid, you know, he, I don't say he was, wasn't friendly, but he wasn't outgoing like Luis Russell--Louis Armstrong.$$Okay. So, Louis Armstrong had what? A bigger, bigger, personality (simultaneous)?$$(Simultaneous) Yeah.$$A lot of people have not heard of Luis Russell, these days, now, Louis Armstrong was the national icon--$$Oh yeah, but Luis Russell, at that time, he was quite big too. And then, like I said, I worked with Fats Waller.$$Yeah, now what was Fats Waller like? Now there were plays about Fats Waller--$$Oh, he was high all the time. He was high all the time (laughter).$$On what? What do you think he--$$He drank.$$Okay, so he drank.$$He was a lush.$$I know that he wrote a song about--called the 'Viper Drag' [sic. 'Viper's Drag'] or something.$$Yeah, something like that.$$About smoking, herb too, so I don't, I didn't--$$Well, I don't know about whether he smoked, I guess he could have, but I know he used to drink. He'd be drunk on that stage (laughter).$$Did that (simultaneous)--$$--(simultaneous) but I mean, he played that piano.$$What kind of a person was he?$$Oh, he was nice, he's dolly, very nice, very nice, dolly.$$Yeah, he seemed to be kind of a witty person, the way they portray him on--$$Say what?$$A witty person--$$Yeah.$$--a clever person, and his speech--$$Yeah, he would be, yeah, I enjoyed working with him. I only worked, you know, maybe about a month or so on the road with him.$$Who else were we talking about? We talked--oh, Cab Calloway.$$Oh, Cab Calloway, he was something else (laughter), we used to work with him and The Peters Sisters, at the time. Did you ever hear of The Peters Sisters? They were the fat girls, black girls, and they could sing, and they were on a show with Pearl Bailey and me, I mean, this is with The Poms now, I'm all switched from the Lang Sisters, now to The Poms--$$Now, well, let's just talk about the Lang Sisters for a minute. How did (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) Oh, well, I didn't work with Cab with the Lang Sisters.$$Okay, how long did the Lang Sisters last?$$We came back in '35 [1935], '36 [1936]--about a year, two years, 'cause at that time, 'The Mikado' with Bill Robinson [Bill "Bojangles" Robinson] opened up, and Marion [Marion Worthy Warner] decided (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) 'The Swing Mikado'?$$Yeah, Mikad- yeah [sic. 'The Hot Mikado,' W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan], and Marion went for an audition, I went too, but they didn't take me, she got the job, and--of course, and so that left me out. I wasn't working anymore, you know, Peggy [Peggy Wharton] had stopped, and Marion when she got the job, naturally she was a chorus girl went into the chorus, so I was by myself, I didn't work by myself, but in, let's see '39 [1939], I think it was, the--an agent, told me he had two girls that wanted to dance with me, and that's how I became The Three Poms.$$Okay, The Three Poms.$$Um-hm.$$All right, so it was with that group that you danced with Cab (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) I was there with them for about, let's see, we went to Japan, we went to--all over the USO shows [United Service Organizations], the US- shows from north to south, east to west, twice--$$The Poms, were they formed at the onset of World War II [WWII], around the same time as the war?$$Yeah, while the war was on.$$Okay. So this is about, so it's about four years when you're not working with a group (simultaneous).$$(Simultaneous) Yeah. That's right, I didn't work.$$Well, what did you do?$$Nothing. My mother [Lottie Watkins Jones] was taking care of me (laughter).$$Did she like the idea of having you home?$$Oh yeah, oh yeah.$$All right.$$I didn't do anything.

Ferne Yangyeitie Caulker

Dancer, choreographer, artist and educator Ferne Yangyeitie Caulker was born on August 9, 1947, in Sierra Leone, Africa. Caulker studied with the National Dance Company of Ghana at the University of Ghana, Legon, then returned to the United States.

In 1969, Caulker founded the Ko-Thi Dance Company after returning from Ghana. The company was created to develop, educate, showcase and preserve African, Caribbean and African American dance and music. In the beginning, the company’s entire repertoire was created by Caulker. However, through the years, she developed and nurtured veteran choreographer/dancers and musicians who now contribute into the repertoire. Over the past thirty years, Caulker has developed a cadre of commissioned works by master dancers and musicians from throughout the African Diaspora.

Caulker began teaching at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 1971, creating the University’s first courses covering African, Caribbean and African American dance technique and history. Caulker then became a full professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s Dance Department.

Since 1981, Caulker and the Ko-Thi Dance Company have created major full length evening works, collaborating with various international artists from across world cultures, (East Indian, Irish), and cross disciplines, (Jazz and the spoken word), merging cross cultural forms such as the South African 'Boot Dance' and Tap. In 1995, Caulker received a Fulbright Research Fellowship, which allowed her to study in Tanzania, East Africa, for three months. While doing her own research, Caulker also taught at the University of Dar es Salaam, lectured children in the Arusha United African American Cultural Center and assisted a UWASA cultural group. In 1999, Caulker served on the Blue Ribbon Commission on the Arts in Education for the Wisconsin State Superintendent, and the following year, served for the National Endowment for the Arts 2000 Dance panel. She has proudly served on the Board of Directors of the Wisconsin Arts Board.

Accession Number

A2007.336

Sex

Female

Interview Date

11/30/2007

Last Name

Caulker

Maker Category
Middle Name

Yangyeitie

Organizations
Schools

Custer High School

Annie Walsh Memorial School

West Cornwall School for Girls

University of Wisconsin-Madison

University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Ferne

HM ID

CAU01

Favorite Season

Fall, Summer

Favorite Vacation Destination

None

Favorite Quote

God Doesn't Give You Anything You Can't Handle.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Wisconsin

Birth Date

8/9/1947

Speakers Bureau Region City

Milwaukee

Country

Sierra Leone

Favorite Food

Crane-Crane, Cussava Leaf

Short Description

Choreographer, dance professor, and dancer Ferne Yangyeitie Caulker (1947 - ) was the founder and director of the Ko-Thi Dance Company. She began her teaching career at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 1971, creating the University’s first courses that covered African, Caribbean and African American dance techniques and history.

Employment

Ko-Thi Dance Company

Favorite Color

Orange

Timing Pairs
0,0:267,4:890,12:2759,55:3293,63:6764,107:7476,116:9523,166:10235,176:23114,272:24520,295:38632,466:40348,499:40660,504:43156,541:44248,556:45574,577:46120,585:46822,596:47368,604:48070,615:48616,623:50020,654:51658,681:58940,730:63775,789:65513,811:68041,851:68910,863:70253,883:70648,889:74772,904:75864,922:76200,927:87456,1114:91950,1131:95391,1186:97703,1200:99161,1220:99566,1226:104083,1277:105910,1311:114067,1425:114343,1430:117172,1479:120001,1530:130316,1693:133202,1740:133826,1749:136478,1807:144122,2005:145838,2042:146462,2051:156709,2135:157318,2144:157840,2155:158884,2174:160537,2198:161755,2210:164452,2282:165148,2293:166801,2327:170860,2337:171484,2346:172186,2359:176632,2433:177646,2476:178738,2493:182020,2501:184018,2535:184388,2541:184832,2550:185350,2558:186682,2574:187126,2581:190826,2636:191122,2641:191640,2649:193194,2671:193638,2678:193934,2683:195044,2703:195710,2713:196376,2724:202548,2762:204738,2807:212841,2941:213790,2957:218944,2996:223762,3057:225067,3078:228982,3131:232320,3147$0,0:11690,244:11970,249:13860,287:18772,312:19708,331:26361,408:27098,425:28371,448:29577,472:30448,492:30716,497:31587,517:33731,554:33999,559:34535,568:35406,607:36076,619:37483,639:38019,648:38488,656:39158,673:39493,679:43630,688:44162,696:44922,709:45758,721:46366,731:46746,737:47126,743:47430,748:48722,769:49102,776:49482,783:50166,793:51914,820:52218,825:54574,863:55182,873:58510,879:59086,889:59590,897:59878,902:60886,918:61318,925:62110,939:64054,982:64702,994:65566,1009:66358,1021:67582,1034:68086,1043:68590,1051:69454,1066:70246,1078:75332,1091:76160,1102:76712,1109:79012,1132:80760,1156:81128,1161:84329,1172:84644,1178:85463,1193:85904,1202:86534,1222:87038,1233:87479,1242:87794,1248:88802,1275:89684,1290:94661,1387:95480,1406:95984,1415:96236,1420:97118,1441:97370,1446:97685,1452:98315,1474:104715,1524:105225,1534:105735,1541:113060,1632:113444,1640:115364,1675:116132,1693:116580,1701:117220,1713:117476,1718:117924,1727:127074,1827:127606,1836:129658,1875:130114,1882:132546,1942:133002,1950:133458,1957:138094,1975:139158,1991:139842,2002:142525,2018:143521,2034:144351,2046:146094,2066:148584,2100:148916,2105:157854,2203:158289,2209:159507,2226:161856,2247:162291,2253:165162,2289:165945,2299:166815,2310:168120,2329:174361,2351:174900,2358:175362,2365:176286,2382:179751,2459:180598,2474:184679,2536:184987,2541:185295,2546:185680,2552:191110,2598:193440,2622:193840,2628:194800,2641:195600,2652:200880,2740:203440,2780:209270,2812:209674,2817:215431,2899:218500,2906:219300,2915:220500,2929:228850,2983:229291,2991:229795,3001:230173,3008:230551,3016:234765,3046:238908,3076:244260,3139:244685,3145:246020,3151
DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Ferne Yangyeitie Caulker's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Ferne Yangyeitie Caulker lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Ferne Yangyeitie Caulker describes her mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Ferne Yangyeiete Caulker talks about her maternal grandparents

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Ferne Yangyeitie Caulker recalls her early awareness of racial discrimination

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Ferne Yangyeitie Caulker describes her father's family background, pt. 1

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Ferne Yangyeitie Caulker describes her paternal ancestry

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Ferne Yangyeitie Caulker describes her father's family background, pt. 2

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Ferne Yangyeitie Caulker describes her father

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Ferne Yangyeitie Caulker describes her father's education

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Ferne Yangyeitie Caulker recalls her early experiences in the United States

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Ferne Yangyeitie Caulker describes her likeness to her father

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Ferne Yangyeitie Caulker describes the Sande initiation

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Ferne Yangyeitie Caulker describes the sights, sounds and smells of her childhood, pt. 1

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Ferne Yangyeitie Caulker describes the sights, sounds and smells of her childhood, pt. 2

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Ferne Yangyeitie Caulker remembers living with her maternal grandmother

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Ferne Yangyeitie Caulker talks about American attitudes toward African culture

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Ferne Yangyeitie Caulker describes her early education

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Ferne Yangyeitie Caulker remembers Custer High School in Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Ferne Yangyeitie Caulker describes her early personality

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Ferne Yangyeitie Caulker describes her early interest in dance

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Ferne Yangyeitie Caulker talks about Pearl Primus

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Ferne Yangyeitie Caulker describes the Katherine Dunham Company's legacy

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Ferne Yangyeitie Caulker talks about the importance of history

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Ferne Yangyeitie Caulker recalls her courses at the University of Wisconsin-Madison

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Ferne Yangyeitie Caulker talks about her dance philosophy

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Ferne Yangyeitie Caulker describes her dance training

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Ferne Yangyeitie Caulker recalls her dance experiences in Ghana

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Ferne Yangyeitie Caulker recalls visiting the Elmina Castle in Ghana, pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Ferne Yangyeitie recalls visiting the Elmina Castle in Ghana, pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Ferne Yangyeitie Caulker talks about South African dance traditions

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Ferne Yangyeitie Caulker remembers founding the Ko-Thi Dance Company

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Ferne Yangyeitie Caulker talks about African American dance companies

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Ferne Yangyeitie Caulker describes the Ko-Thi Dance Company's educational outreach

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Ferne Yangyeitie Caulker describes the growth of the Ko-Thi Dance Company

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Ferne Yangyeitie Caulker talks about gentrification in Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Ferne Yangyeitie Caulker describes her hopes for the black arts community

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Ferne Yangyeitie Caulker describes her hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Ferne Yangyeitie Caulker reflects upon the success of the Ko-Thi Dance Company

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Ferne Yangyeitie Caulker talks about discrimination in funding for the arts

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Ferne Yangyeitie Caulker describes Ko-Thi Dance Company's performances

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Ferne Yangyeitie Caulker reflects upon her life and legacy

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Ferne Yangyeitie Caulker describes her life philosophy

Tape: 6 Story: 9 - Ferne Yangyeitie Caulker describes how she would like to be remembered

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Ferne Yangyeitie Caulker narrates her photographs

DASession

1$1

DATape

4$5

DAStory

2$6

DATitle
Ferne Yangyeitie Caulker describes the Katherine Dunham Company's legacy
Ferne Yangyeitie Caulker describes the Ko-Thi Dance Company's educational outreach
Transcript
And then in comes [HistoryMaker] Katherine Dunham, and here is another black woman who now is the complete opposite from Pearl [Pearl Primus], light skinned, but who would not negotiate her colored-ness. Who said I'm light but I'm black and she went the Caribbean route, Haiti. Pearl went the African route with the 'Fanga' [Pearl Primus]. But these two women, I was stuck in the middle of the two of them. Looking at both of them going, my god, I can be all of this; I can be all of this. And then when I saw the academic level of the work they were doing, Katherine was writing grants and getting funded and writing articles and then now there is this huge amount of legacy this woman has left of her written works that go back to the '40s [1940s] and Pearl you know it just--. And then in steps Lavinia Williams, who was one of the dancers in Katherine's company and was her right hand. Lavinia became mu- became very accessible to me.$$Now was she--let's kind of put this in, I guess in the context of biography. When did, did you, when did you meet Katherine Dunham?$$I met Katherine--I had taken, the first time I had actually, actually really physically met her and got a chance to sit near her and take a class from her was at the--in East St. Louis [Illinois], when we did the--well there was a workshop down in East St. Louis and that's actually where I met the drummer Mor Thiam, who really helped us a lot with building the drum corps and gave us the training mechanism that we used on gym base in Ko-Thi Dance Company is Mor Thiam's technique.$$That's M-O-R capital T-H-I-A-M (simultaneous).$$(Simultaneous) T-H-I-A-M, um-hm. And she actually brought him from Senegal. So that's where I met Mor Thiam and, and took the workshop with Dunham and I was ju--$$Now about what year is that?$$That was like in the early '70s [1970s]--$$Okay.$$--mid-'70s [1970s].$$So, but you were inspired by her prior to--$$Yeah I was inspired by--$$--you became aware of her.$$--by Katherine from reading about her and then I got a chance to actually meet her. Then it was later on that I met Lavinia Williams and met a whole 'nother group of people who were actually--you know she was like their guru. Noel Hall [Noel Nantambu Hall] and Rima Pinnuck [ph.], Thomas Pinnuck [ph.], these were people in New York [New York] who were like studying with Lavinia because Lavinia learned all of the Dunham technique 'cause she was in the company [Katherine Dunham Company] but she branched off and started really doing a lot of the Haitian dance form and started teaching it and became known as a specialist in Haitian dance. And then Noel Hall studied with her, in fact she pretty much gave him all of her knowledge before she passed, and we then commissioned Noel Hall to come to Milwaukee [Wisconsin] and he choreographed a--we call it 'Suite Lavinia,' S-U-I-T-E, but S-W-E-E-T Lavinia. And it's a whole, it's a whole show that's forty-five minutes long of just the Haitian dance pantheon and he gave that all to us. So we have the lineage now through the choreography and the repertoire of--from Noel, from Lavinia to Katherine, Haiti, you know.$How did you form, how did assemble your dancers? Were the people already here involved in African dance on some level, or did you have to train them all from scratch or how did you do it?$$It was both, it was both. I, I, I started off the way most dance companies start off is you have somebody who's, who is a teacher who has an idea for a philosophy and a concept, starts throwing down some classes. And then the natural progression out of the classes is you take the students who are in your classes and you put together some kind of mini-show. And what happened with Ko-Thi [Ko-Thi Dance Company] was very simple actually. I'm like actually stunned sometimes when I think about it because there was no plan per se until ten years after we'd been working--that's when I made a conscious decision to turn it into a real serious dance company, okay. But the first ten years really we started just doing shows and people would see the shows and say you know we want you guys to come to our school and our educational outreach was what the company became, was an educational tool and put together a format that we're still using that we call Drumtalk. This format has great flexibility in terms of what it can do in a school, in terms of going into geography. We've had residencies in schools that would just blow your mind in terms of we'll go in and talk to the principal and the principals and the teachers will decide that you know this whole week that you all are here we're going to focus on Africa. We went one time to a school where each room--each classroom took a part of Africa, and that's all they focused on, and then we came in and did the whole movement thing, and it was awesome because you walk down the halls and--. I mean from the minute you entered the school it was Africa for the whole week. To me that was when a light went on for me. This was twenty years ago 'cause we're thirty-eight years old now so that's twenty, thirty years ago. We do social science, geography, history, music, song, dance and fitness and health and learning group work dynamics. How, how to work with one and other, how to, how to see yourself in space you know what I'm saying 'cause that's a whole different way of communicating in the world when you learn dance as a form in a classroom because it teaches you how to negotiate space. And that's really important in the workplace, you know. So if you never danced again in your whole life you go into a job you have to learn how to negotiate space, boundaries. How do you work with other people who are different from you, how do you communicate you know to other people? The arts teach that, that's the benefit of that, so it's for everybody. And so that's, that's was the essence of Ko-Thi Dance Company. So to preserve, promulgate, teach and give children experience and audiences and experiences--that's two-pronged, one is the actual physical experience in class the second one is the experience as an audience because those two things have to occur, you know. And it's the audience building that is the hardest you know for our community, for those of us who are in these forms.

Prince Spencer

Dancer Prince C. Spencer was born on October 3, 1917 in Jenkinsville, South Carolina to Lottie and Bunyon Spencer. Spencer’s family moved from South Carolina to Virginia, then moved to Boston, Massachusetts and finally settled in Toledo, Ohio. In 1941, Spencer joined the dance troupe, The Four Step Brothers, replacing longtime member Sylvester Johnson. The Four Step Brothers was a group of African American tap dancers that originated in the mid-1920s. They performed in several Hollywood films, and by 1946, had performed with Frank Sinatra. That same year, the group embarked on a six month European tour that included performances at the Parisian Le Lido and various other venues throughout Italy and Spain. The Four Step brothers served as trailblazers in the dance world, setting standards in their art and breaking down racial barriers. In almost forty years of performances onstage, in films and television, they danced throughout the world, inspiring others to emulate their tap and acrobatic feats.

The Four Step Brothers appeared uncredited in the 1947 film That’s My Gal. The group returned to the silver screen in 1953, appearing alongside Bob Hope in a film entitled Here Come the Girls. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, the group became frequent guest performers on the "Ed Sullivan Show" and also performed on Jack Benny’s television show. They also toured Europe again in the 1950s, performing for the Queen of England.

The Four Step Brothers were awarded a Life Achievement Award from the Dance Masters of America in 1960. Spencer continued working in Hollywood, playing small roles and collaborating frequently on projects with comedian Redd Foxx. In 1985, the group received an additional life achievement award for helping to break the color barrier, and in 1988, they received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The following year, Spencer appeared as himself in the film Harlem Nights with Eddie Murphy and Richard Pryor.

Prince Spencer was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on November 3, 2007.

Spencer passed away on October 29, 2015.

Accession Number

A2007.319

Sex

Male

Interview Date

11/3/2007

Last Name

Spencer

Maker Category
Marital Status

Married

Occupation
Organizations
Schools

Woodward Career Technical High School

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Prince

Birth City, State, Country

Jenkinsville

HM ID

SPE05

Favorite Season

Spring

State

South Carolina

Favorite Vacation Destination

California

Favorite Quote

It Don't Mean A Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Nevada

Birth Date

10/3/1917

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Las Vegas

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Pig Feet, Black-eyed Peas

Death Date

10/29/2015

Short Description

Dancer Prince Spencer (1917 - 2015 ) was a member of the dance troupe, The Four Step Brothers who appeared in a film with Bob Hope entitled "Here Come the Gals." The troupe toured Europe and performed for the Queen of England. Spencer appeared on the sitcom "Sanford & Son" and in the film "Harlem Nights."

Employment

Four Step Brothers

Major Bowes Dixie Jubilee

Redd Foxx

Food Basket Supermarket

Favorite Color

Brown

DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Prince Spencer's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Prince Spencer lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Prince Spencer describes his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Prince Spencer remembers his paternal uncles

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Prince Spencer describes his earliest childhood memory

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Prince Spencer recalls moving to Toledo, Ohio

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Prince Spencer lists his siblings

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Prince Spencer remembers his neighborhood in Toledo, Ohio

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Prince Spencer describes the sights, sounds and smells of his childhood

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Prince Spencer remembers the Hamilton School in Toledo, Ohio

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Prince Spencer remembers his early interest in dance

Tape: 1 Story: 12 - Prince Spencer describes the Warren A.M.E. Church in Toledo, Ohio

Tape: 1 Story: 13 - Prince Spencer remembers his early influences

Tape: 1 Story: 14 - Prince Spencer recalls his introduction to professional dance

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Prince Spencer recalls touring with Ben Bernie

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Prince Spencer remembers dancing with Major Bowes' 'Dixie Jubilee'

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Prince Spencer recalls joining The Four Step Brothers

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Prince Spencer describes his early career with The Four Step Brothers

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Prince Spencer recalls performing with Frank Sinatra

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Prince Spencer remembers touring Europe

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Prince Spencer recalls the changes in The Four Step Brothers' lineup

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Prince Spencer describes The Four Step Brothers' dance style

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Prince Spencer recalls his work with jazz musicians

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Prince Spencer talks about his film appearances

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Prince Spencer remembers Ed Sullivan

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Prince Spencer talks about his career with the Four Step Brothers

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Prince Spencer remembers Sammy Davis, Jr.

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Prince Spencer talks about his wife

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Prince Spencer recalls buying property in Nevada

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Prince Spencer describes his Food Basket supermarket in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Prince Spencer remembers working for Redd Foxx

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Prince Spencer remember Redd Foxx's financial problems

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Prince Spencer remembers the death of Redd Foxx

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Prince Spencer recalls working as a casino host

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Prince Spencer reflects upon the changes in the dance world

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Prince Spencer remembers receiving a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Prince Spencer reflects upon his life

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Prince Spencer describes his hopes for the African American community

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Prince Spencer reflects upon his legacy and message to future generations

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Prince Spencer narrates his photographs

Elaine Ellis

Dancer Elaine Ellis (also known as Calamity Jane) was born November 30, 1917 in Panama. She moved to New York with her mother, Flossie Freeman McNeil, and father, Clifford McNeil, at the age of seven. As a young girl, Ellis learned to dance. She was instructed by friends who attended the Henry LeTang School of Dance. After graduating from Jamaica High School, Ellis taught touch typing and eventually became a traveling instructor. Interested in going into business for herself, Ellis owned and operated a dry cleaner and later a cosmetics counter in a local department store. Disenchanted with business ownership, Ellis answered an open call at the Cotton Club for Spanish girls, and although she only knew four Spanish words, was the last chorus girl hired in 1939.

When the Cotton Club closed in 1940, Ellis continued to perform at Café Zanzibar, Club Mimo, the Lenox Lounge, in Atlantic City and at the Apollo Theater. At the Apollo Theater, Ellis performed with Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, Duke Ellington, Don Redman, and Andy Kirk. A married mother of two, Ellis eventually quit dancing to begin a lucrative twenty-five year bartending career. Ellis tended bars all over Harlem and gained quite a following, winning awards for the most congenial and best bar maid.

In 1986, Ellis was invited by Geraldine Rhodes-Kennedy to join the Silver Belles. Ellis was honored to join a group of former chorus girls including Bertye Lou Wood, Fay Ray, Cleo Hayes, and Marian Coles. The Silver Belles performed at senior centers and regularly, at the Cotton Club. In 1986, the Silver Belles were featured in a documentary about their lives, "Been Rich All My Life" directed and produced by Heather Lyn MacDonald.

Ellis passed away on December 21, 2013, at the age of 96.

Elaine Ellis was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on October 25, 2007.

Accession Number

A2007.304

Sex

Female

Interview Date

10/25/2007

Last Name

Ellis

Maker Category
Occupation
Organizations
Schools

Ps 57 Crescent School

Jamaica High School

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Elaine

Birth City, State, Country

Panama

HM ID

ELL02

Favorite Season

Fall

Favorite Vacation Destination

None

Favorite Quote

Que Sera, Sera.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

New York

Birth Date

11/30/1917

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

New York

Country

Panama

Favorite Food

Turkey

Death Date

12/21/2013

Short Description

Dancer Elaine Ellis (1917 - 2013 ) was a member of the Silver Belles, a senior dance group of the former Harlem Chorus Girls. Ellis performed with Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, Duke Ellington, Don Redmond, and Andy Kirk during her career.

Employment

Max Sued School

Cotton Club

Café Zanzibar

Club Mimo

Lenox Lounge

Apollo Theater

Silver Belles

Favorite Color

Tan

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Elaine Ellis' interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Elaine Ellis lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Elaine Ellis describes her mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Elaine Ellis describes her father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Elaine Ellis recalls living in Panama as a child

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Elaine Ellis remembers moving to New York City

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Elaine Ellis describes her early education

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Elaine Ellis recalls learning to dance

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Elaine Ellis talks about her neighborhoods in Queens and the Bronx, New York

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Elaine Ellis describes her early work experiences

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Elaine Ellis remembers dancing at the Cotton Club in New York City

Tape: 1 Story: 12 - Elaine Ellis talks about her son and husband

Tape: 1 Story: 13 - Elaine Ellis recalls working as a dancer in Atlantic City, New Jersey

Tape: 1 Story: 14 - Elaine Ellis recalls working at the Apollo Theater in New York City

Tape: 1 Story: 15 - Elaine Ellis recalls working as a bartender

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Elaine Ellis remembers her bartending awards

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Elaine Ellis recalls joining the Silver Belles dancing troupe

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Elaine Ellis recalls her experiences as a dancer at clubs in New York City

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Elaine Ellis remembers the Silver Belles documentary

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Elaine Ellis narrates her photographs

DASession

1$1

DATape

1$2

DAStory

11$2

DATitle
Elaine Ellis remembers dancing at the Cotton Club in New York City
Elaine Ellis recalls joining the Silver Belles dancing troupe
Transcript
When did you decide to start auditioning for dance performances (simultaneous)?$$(Simultaneous) Oh, when I saw the ad for Spanish girls in the newspapers, in one of the newspapers. I don't know if it was the Amsterdam [New York Amsterdam News] or which one. But there was an ad for colored, for Spanish girls.$$Now, when you were working these other businesses, were you still dancing?$$Whenever I went out, I would show off a little bit.$$What kind of places did you go to?$$Different nightclubs.$$I thought maybe you might mention some of them, maybe some of them that don't exist anymore.$$Any ones, I bet you it wouldn't be existing now.$$Excellent.$$I think one was--I wish I had known you were going to ask me this. I know somebody that would have been able to tell me that.$$Who knows all the clubs?$$Yeah.$$Okay. Well, you know, I'm not going to press you if you don't remember exactly the name. I just wondered if you could think of any.$$I worked at the Lenox Lounge [New York, New York] for a while. And there was another place I worked on 7th Avenue [Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard]. I can't remember the name of it, where you went down the steps. I worked there for quite a while dancing. I remember the man that owned it. His name was Boodlum [ph.].$$Boodlum?$$(Laughter) Yeah.$$So, tell us about answering the advertisement for the Spanish chorus girls. Where was that audition held (simultaneous)?$$(Simultaneous) It was downtown at the Cotton Club [New York, New York].$$Okay.$$And I went down there, and it was a lineup of Spanish, beautiful Spanish women. But they couldn't swing, not then anyhow. The Cotton Club girls were all present. They were all present, and they put us in a line. And the first thing they asked for was the time step, which I knew. And I worked it. And then one of the girls--I saw one of the girls in the line that belonged--that worked there, motioned for me to come in the back, and I did. And they said, "Do you want to work here?" And I said, "Yeah." And they said, "We'll teach you the routines." And they did. I remember all the girls that taught me, too.$$Do you remember any of their names?$$Yes, I do.$$Will you tell us a couple?$$There were two sisters, oh, I remembered them up until now.$$Up until I just asked you.$$McCormack. Dolly McCormack and Pearl McCormack.$$And did they teach you--$$And Dot Dash [Dorothy Dash], she was married to Ed Smalls who owned Small's Paradise [New York, New York].$$Yes.$$She's the one that took me and really taught me the routines.$$And did they teach you the routines there at the Cotton Club?$$Yeah.$$How did that work?$$It worked fine.$$How much time did you spend learning?$$Every afternoon I'd go and work out with them; they took a lot of time with me. They were very kind to me.$$And how long after you started training with them did you start performing with them?$$Not too long afterwards, because I was hired.$$That same day?$$Yeah. And I remember the first time I danced I was in the lineup. All the old Cotton Club girls, they knew I was just starting with them. And they'd holler, "Smile, smile." And I won't even tell you what else they would call me. And they said, "You got to smile. And turn." They were telling me the steps while I was performing. And while we were performing, all the showgirls--you know, they had ponies and they had showgirls. The showgirls were the tall statuesque beautiful women. They would be parading while we were dancing. The ones who danced were called ponies. And that's what I was, because I'm short. But all the girls were so beautiful--tall and statuesque. They would pose, walk, and perform. That's all they did, they didn't dance at all. I'll never forget that.$$And when you were performing at the Cotton Club, what street was it on?$$It was downtown, I think on 40-something Street [48th Street] and Broadway.$$Because now we're at the Cotton Club, but we're on 12th Avenue I think and 125th Street--$$Right, right.$$--just to make the distinction.$$Right, it was a big difference.$$And what kind of bands--do you remember any of the bands?$$Andy Kirk for one, and Don Redman. Cab [Cab Calloway] didn't work--I never worked with Cab there. But I remember Andy Kirk and Don Redman.$$What was your schedule like?$$Well, I, I, I had a son [William Monroe (ph.)], so I couldn't, I didn't hang out. I used to just go to work, and after work I'd take a cab home because I knew he'd be up waiting for me.$When Geri [HistoryMaker Geraldine Rhodes Kennedy] started the group [Silver Belles], you know I wanted to be in it. Because they--she had all the great dancers, people that I really always used to look up to as far as their ability. So I was so proud to be invited. And I danced as much for her, with her group, than I did before, because we made all the big spots.$$Which ones?$$We worked Atlantic City [New Jersey] on the boardwalk with the Sister Sledge, and we were the only black female group ever to work on that boardwalk at that time. So we got a lot of, we were well-known; we became well-known. And we did a lot of benefits. When I say benefits, we used to work at a lot of senior citizen centers to try to keep the people, the elderly people, interested in doing something. Geri said that people were just sitting around waiting to die, and if they saw that we had so much fun dancing and doing things, they might wake up and do something to keep themselves, you know, motivated. That's how we got started.$$And do you think that that happened?$$Oh, it certainly did. It certainly did. I didn't know that I would become one of the ones waiting to die. At the time that we joined, none of us even thought about it. We were having so much fun just being with each other. But I think we did a lot of good, because a lot of people said, "If they're that old and they're up there dancing, we can do it too, you know." And I heard a couple of groups got started after seeing us.$$Really?$$Uh-huh.$$Perhaps at one of the senior centers?$$Yeah.$$That's excellent. So you would agree with Geri that dancing prolongs a person's life?$$Yes.$$Activity of any kind, but I just am focused on dancing.$$Well, it was fun because dancing is fun. If you like it, it's fun, and you show it. And if you show them all the energy that you have, then they'll want to do something, too. At least they'll give up sitting around waiting, thinking they can't do anything.$$Why do you think that people reach a certain age and think that they can't do anything?$$Because there's nothing out there for elderly people to do. There's nothing. Now they're opening up a lot of rehab places, but at one time there was no place for them to go. You can't, you can't hang out. There's no--where are you going to go? You need money for anything that you do. And after they retire, they don't have that kind of money. So, consequently, they just sit around and wait 'til they're taken. That's about all--

Fay Ray

Fay Ray was born in 1919 in Louisiana. Life for Ray was not easy. At the age of eleven, Ray decided to leave a hard life of picking cotton. Dressed as a boy, she rode the train to Shreveport. There, she joined a Vaudeville circuit and traveled the nation. On the circuit, Ray learned to tap dance from some of the best dances of her day. At the age of sixteen, Ray left the vaudeville circuit to sing and dance solo.

In 1943, Ray moved to New York where she found steady work as a chorus line dancer. Ray performed at Café Zanzibar, Club Ebony, 845, the Cotton Club and the Apollo Theater. Ray’s chorus line performed with premiere bands like Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, Louis Armstrong and Jimmy Lunceford who wrote Just for Dancers for Ray’s chorus line.

During World War II, Ray stopped dancing for a time, moved to Providence, Rhode Island and became a certified welder at Walch Kaiser, welding ship seams for the navy. Ray danced in the first black USO show and traveled to Europe, the Middle East and the Far East. When she turned fifty years old, Ray retired from dancing, spent two years welding on the Alaskan Pipe Line and drove a New York taxi-cab.

In 1985, Ray joined a senior dance group with other former Harlem chorus girls, the Silver Belles. Managed by Geraldine Rhodes-Kennedy, the group began rehearsing at the Cotton Club, made their debut performance at the Latin Casino and have been performing ever since. The Silver Belles have appeared in Atlantic City and on Dan Rather’s 48 Hours. In 2006, the Silver Belles were featured in a documentary, Been Rich All My Life, about their lives, produced by filmmaker Heather Lynn MacDonald.

Ray passed away on September 14, 2013

Fay Ray was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on October 18, 2007.

Accession Number

A2007.297

Sex

Female

Interview Date

10/18/2007

Last Name

Ray

Maker Category
Occupation
Search Occupation Category
First Name

Fay

Birth City, State, Country

Natchitoches

HM ID

RAY03

Favorite Season

Fall

State

Louisiana

Favorite Vacation Destination

Mexico

Favorite Quote

Let's Have Fun.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

New York

Birth Date

10/11/1919

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

New York

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Beans (Red), Rice

Death Date

9/14/2013

Short Description

Dancer Fay Ray (1919 - 2013 ) was a member of the Silver Belles, a senior dance group of former Harlem chorus girls. Ray performed as a chorus girl at several New York City theaters, including the Apollo Theatre and performed with the bands of Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong. She also danced in the first black USO show.

Employment

Triangle Records

The Cotton Club

B. Siegel Company

Café Zanzibar

Favorite Color

Blue

DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Fay Ray's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Fay Ray lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Fay Ray describes her mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Fay Ray remembers running away from home

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Fay Ray describes her relationship with her father

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Fay Ray talks about her parents' relationship

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Fay Ray describes her early education

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Fay Ray describes her travels in Italy

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Fay Ray remembers her guardian in Alexandria, Louisiana

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Fay Ray recalls being sexually abused as a child

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Fay Ray remembers learning to play the piano

Tape: 1 Story: 12 - Fay Ray recalls the influence of Bill "Bojangles" Robinson and Shirley Temple

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Fay Ray remembers being abused by the police in Alexandria, Louisiana

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Fay Ray recalls hitchhiking to Winnfield, Louisiana

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Fay Ray remembers her guardian in Winnfield, Louisiana

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Fay Ray remembers joining a traveling vaudeville company

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Fay Ray talks about settling in Detroit, Michigan

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Fay Ray recalls how she earned a living in Detroit, Michigan

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Fay Ray remembers a recently deceased friend

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Fay Ray recalls joining a community of deaf mute entertainers in Detroit, Michigan

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Fay Ray talks about her life in Detroit, Michigan

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Fay Ray remembers moving to Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Fay Ray remembers Pearl Bailey

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Fay Ray recalls performing as a chorus girl on Broadway

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Fay Ray talks about the jazz nightclubs of New York City

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Fay Ray describes the working conditions for chorus girls in New York City

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Fay Ray remembers New York City's Harlem neighborhood

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Fay Ray remembers working as a taxicab driver in New York City

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Fay Ray recalls her transition to a career as a welder

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Fay Ray remembers living in Providence, Rhode Island

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Fay Ray recalls her secretarial position at Triangle Records

Tape: 3 Story: 10 - Fay Ray reflects upon her work ethic

Tape: 3 Story: 11 - Fay Ray remembers her friendship with Joe Louis

Tape: 3 Story: 12 - Fay Ray talks about her apartment building in New York City

Tape: 3 Story: 13 - Fay Ray describes her travels in Europe

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Fay Ray recalls her return from Europe to New York City

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Fay Ray talks about her role in the documentary 'Been Rich All My Life'

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Fay Ray recalls her Christmas vacation in Sweden

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Fay Ray describes her mentorship of young entertainers

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Fay Ray remembers joining the Silver Belles

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Fay Ray talks about performing with the Silver Belles

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Fay Ray reflects upon her experiences with the Silver Belles

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Fay Ray recalls the Silver Belles' performance at the Apollo Theater in New York City

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Fay Ray describes her plans for the future

Tape: 4 Story: 10 - Fay Ray describes how she would like to be remembered, pt. 1

Tape: 4 Story: 11 - Fay Ray describes how she would like to be remembered, pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Fay Ray dances the shimmy sham with interviewer Adrienne Jones

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Fay Ray dances the shimmy sham