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Stephanie Hughley

Stephanie Smith Hughley is executive producer and co-founder of the National Black Arts Festival in Atlanta, Georgia, one of the most important African American arts festivals in the world and founded in 1987. Hughley served as its Artistic Program Director until 1992. She returned to Atlanta in 1999 to revive the failing and debt stricken organization. Under her leadership, the festivals have expanded from a bi-annual summer arts festival to a yearly ten-day festival held during the month of July and a year round African arts cultural teaching institution, which includes an annual curriculum for teachers and students.

Hughley was born in Canton, Ohio to Lillie Mae and Robert Lee Smith, Sr. on October 16, 1948. She attended Kent State University with aspirations of becoming a medical doctor. While at Kent State, she was introduced to dance. Hughley moved to Boston, Massachusetts in 1969 where she completed her studies and entered the Elma Lewis School of Fine Arts. Hughley obtained her B.S. degree in biology from Northeastern University and her M.Ed. from Antioch College at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

In 1971, Hughley became a dance instructor and taught at Smith College as well as Northeastern, Brandeis and Harvard Universities. She danced with the Dance Theatre of Boston and the National Center of Afro American Artists. In 1976, Hughley moved to New York City, auditioned for a part in the Broadway production of Bubbling Brown Sugar, studied dance at the Alvin Ailey School of Dance and the Little Red School House and apprenticed under the directorship of Ashton Springer in order to expand her theatre management skills. She became General Manager of the Negro Ensemble Company in 1982. Hughley managed and supervised the production of over twelve Broadway shows including, Your Arms Are Too Short To Box With God, Ain’t Misbehavin’ andBubbling Brown Sugar and toured the United States and Europe as the Company Manager of For Colored Girls.

In 1992, Hughley was Theatre and Dance Producer for the Atlanta Committee for the Cultural Olympiad for the 1996 Olympic Games. In 1996, she was commissioned to serve as Vice President of Programs for the newly formed New Jersey Performing Arts Center. Hughley returned to Atlanta in 1999 to become head of the Black Arts Festival.

Hughley serves on the boards of the Metro Atlanta Arts and Culture Coalition (MAACC) and the Atlanta Convention Center and Visitors Bureau. She has been a member of the Association of Theatrical Press Agents and Managers since 1977.

Hughley resides in the Atlanta area with her surviving son, daughter-in-law and three grandchildren.

Accession Number

A2006.014

Sex

Female

Interview Date

2/13/2006 |and| 2/15/2006

Last Name

Hughley

Maker Category
Schools

Mckinley High School

Washington Elementary School

Henry S. Martin Elementary School

Hartford Avenue School

Kent State University

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Stephanie

Birth City, State, Country

Massillon

HM ID

HUG05

Favorite Season

Fall

State

Ohio

Favorite Vacation Destination

Sapello Island, Georgia

Favorite Quote

All Things Work Together For The Good Of Those That Love The Lord And Are Called According To His Purpose.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

New York

Birth Date

10/16/1948

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

New York

Country

USA

Favorite Food

Salad

Short Description

Arts administrator and stage producer Stephanie Hughley (1948 - ) co-founder of the National Black Arts Festival in Atlanta, Georgia, one of the most important African American arts festivals in the world. Hughley is also a dancer and has taught dance at several universities. Hughley managed and supervised the production of over twelve Broadway shows including, Your Arms Are Too Short To Box With God, Ain't Misbehavin' and Bubbling Brown Sugar.

Employment

Negro Ensemble Company

Theatre Management Associates

New Jersey Performing Arts Center

Cultural Olympiad

National Black Arts Festival

Favorite Color

Yellow

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Stephanie Hughley's interview, session 1

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Stephanie Hughley lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Stephanie Hughley describes her mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Stephanie Hughley describes her father, Robert Smith, Sr.

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Stephanie Hughley describes segregation in Canton, Ohio

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Stephanie Hughley describes her maternal grandmother, Lola Bradley

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Stephanie Hughley describes her maternal grandfather's farm, pt. 1

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Stephanie Hughley describes her maternal grandfather's farm, pt. 2

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Stephanie Hughley recounts stories of World War II and the Great Depression

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Stephanie Hughley describes her paternal grandparents

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Stephanie Hughley remembers her maternal grandmother's house

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Stephanie Hughley describes holidays with her family

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Stephanie Hughley lists her siblings

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Stephanie Hughley describes the neighborhoods she grew up in

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Stephanie Hughley describes the sights, sounds and smells of her childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Stephanie Hughley describes her childhood community in Canton, Ohio

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Stephanie Hughley speculates about her paternal grandmother's heritage

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Stephanie Hughley remembers the schools she attended

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Stephanie Hughley recalls her paternal grandmother's warning about skin color

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Stephanie Hughley remembers the support of her black teachers

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Stephanie Hughley describes her childhood personality

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Stephanie Hughley recalls her family's trips to Alabama

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Stephanie Hughley describes her childhood hopes and aspirations

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Stephanie Hughley talks about her sister, Sharon Smith Curle

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Stephanie Hughley describes her childhood role models

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Stephanie Hughley describes the sports culture of Canton, Ohio

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Stephanie Hughley remembers aspiring to be a doctor

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Stephanie Hughley recalls her love of dancing

Tape: 3 Story: 10 - Stephanie Hughley recalls attending Kent State University in Kent, Ohio

Tape: 3 Story: 11 - Stephanie Hughley describes the political climate of Kent State University

Tape: 3 Story: 12 - Stephanie Hughley remembers the Black Power movement

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Stephanie Hughley recalls the black student union at Kent State University

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Stephanie Hughley recalls Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Stephanie Hughley talks about her racial identity

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Stephanie Hughley explains why she moved to Boston, Massachusetts

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Stephanie Hughley describes her life in Boston, Massachusetts

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Stephanie Hughley describes her education in Boston, Massachusetts

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Stephanie Hughley recalls beginning her career in dance

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Stephanie Hughley recalls moving to New York City

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Stephanie Hughley explains how she earned a living early in her dance career

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Stephanie Hughley remembers the dance classes she took in New York City

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Stephanie Hughley recalls her decision to become a manager on Broadway

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Stephanie Hughley remembers working with the Negro Ensemble Company

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Stephanie Hughley describes the differences between producer and manager

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Stephanie Hughley recalls being asked to manage 'For Colored Girls'

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Stephanie Hughley describes touring with 'For Colored Girls'

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Stephanie Hughley remembers marrying her second husband

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Stephanie Hughley recalls her theatrical productions' international tours

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Stephanie Hughley remembers managing the Negro Ensemble Company

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Stephanie Hughley shares the history of the Negro Ensemble Company

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Stephanie Hughley recalls becoming the Negro Ensemble Company's general manager

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Stephanie Hughley remembers her decision to move to Atlanta, Georgia

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Stephanie Hughley recalls her impression of Atlanta, Georgia

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Stephanie Hughley remembers moving to Atlanta, Georgia

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Stephanie Hughley recalls becoming the National Black Arts Festival program manager

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Stephanie Hughley explains what she learned while planning the National Black Arts Festival

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Slating of Stephanie Hughley's interview, session 2

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Stephanie Hughley describes the creation of the National Black Arts Festival

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Stephanie Hughley describes her friend, LaTanya Richardson

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Stephanie Hughley remembers contributors to the National Black Arts Festival

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Stephanie Hughley remembers the National Black Arts Festival parade

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Stephanie Hughley remembers the success of the first National Black Arts Festival

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - Stephanie Hughley recalls the artists at the first National Black Arts Festival

Tape: 7 Story: 8 - Stephanie Hughley explains the difference between African and European dance

Tape: 7 Story: 9 - Stephanie Hughley describes the challenges faced by the National Black Arts Festival

Tape: 7 Story: 10 - Stephanie Hughley remembers working on the 1996 Cultural Olympiad

Tape: 7 Story: 11 - Stephanie Hughley narrates her photographs

Tape: 8 Story: 1 - Stephanie Hughley remembers introducing homeless students to a Norwegian poet

Tape: 8 Story: 2 - Stephanie Hughley remembers the dance troupes she recruited for the Cultural Olympiad

Tape: 8 Story: 3 - Stephanie Hughley remarks upon the variation in African arts

Tape: 8 Story: 4 - Stephanie Hughley remembers the Celebrate Africa festival, pt. 1

Tape: 8 Story: 5 - Stephanie Hughley remembers the Celebrate Africa festival, pt. 2

Tape: 8 Story: 6 - Stephanie Hughley recalls consulting on the New Jersey Performing Arts Center

Tape: 9 Story: 1 - Stephanie Hughley remembers leaving the Cultural Olympiad planning committee

Tape: 9 Story: 2 - Stephanie Hughley shares her memories of the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta

Tape: 9 Story: 3 - Stephanie Hughley describes the ethnic communities of New Jersey

Tape: 9 Story: 4 - Stephanie Hughley describes the New Jersey Performing Arts Center's success

Tape: 9 Story: 5 - Stephanie Hughley remembers organizing the Africa Exchange program

Tape: 9 Story: 6 - Stephanie Hughley recalls organizing festivals for the New Jersey Performing Arts Center

Tape: 9 Story: 7 - Stephanie Hughley talks about the importance of cultural exposure

Tape: 9 Story: 8 - Stephanie Hughley remembers returning to Atlanta, Georgia

Tape: 9 Story: 9 - Stephanie Hughley recalls returning to the National Black Arts Festival

Tape: 10 Story: 1 - Stephanie Hughley describes the educational component of the National Black Arts Festival

Tape: 10 Story: 2 - Stephanie Hughley describes her hopes for the National Black Arts Festival

Tape: 10 Story: 3 - Stephanie Hughley remembers the September 11 attacks

Tape: 10 Story: 4 - Stephanie Hughley talks about the effects of the September 11 attacks

Tape: 10 Story: 5 - Stephanie Hughley remembers the Diverse Voices, Collective Spirit holiday celebration

Tape: 10 Story: 6 - Stephanie Hughley talks about the frequency and location of the National Black Arts Festival

Tape: 10 Story: 7 - Stephanie Hughley recalls the themes of recent National Black Arts Festivals

Tape: 10 Story: 8 - Stephanie Hughley talks about the National Black Arts Festival's twentieth anniversary

Tape: 11 Story: 1 - Stephanie Hughley talks about celebrating African American pioneers

Tape: 11 Story: 2 - Stephanie Hughley talks about her family's white ancestry

Tape: 11 Story: 3 - Stephanie Hughley explains why she decided to share her story

Tape: 11 Story: 4 - Stephanie Hughley offers advice to young people

Tape: 11 Story: 5 - Stephanie Hughley describes her hopes for the African American community

Tape: 11 Story: 6 - Stephanie Hughley describes how she would like to be remembered

Tape: 11 Story: 7 - Stephanie Hughley reflects upon her legacy

Tape: 11 Story: 8 - Stephanie Hughley talks about the importance of The HistoryMakers

Tape: 11 Story: 9 - Stephanie Hughley narrates her photographs

DASession

1$1

DATape

5$6

DAStory

5$8

DATitle
Stephanie Hughley recalls being asked to manage 'For Colored Girls'
Stephanie Hughley explains what she learned while planning the National Black Arts Festival
Transcript
Okay, so what happened next? Where did you go from there (simultaneous)?$$(Simultaneous) Well, here I was in this union [Association of Theatrical Press Agents and Managers (ATPAM)]. And this young woman by the name of [HistoryMaker] Ntozake Shange had written a play called 'For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide / When the Rainbow Is Enuf.' And they had taken the play from California, I think they found it in the San Francisco [California] area, in the Bay area [San Francisco Bay Area, California], and brought it down to first Henry Street [Henry Street Settlement, New York, New York], Woodie King [HistoryMaker Woodie King, Jr.] was involved with it. And then they were--then they took it to The Public Theater [New York, New York] to the Shakespeare Festival [New York Shakespeare Festival; Shakespeare in the Park], Joseph Papp was the producer there. And he was working with a general manager by the name of Manny Azenberg [Emanuel Azenberg]. And they decided to take the show to Broadway. But Ntozake had told them that she wanted a black woman company manager. Well they weren't able to--there were, there were none 'cause the only black woman company manager [Carolyne A. Jones] was doing 'Bubbling Brown Sugar' [Loften Mitchell]. And they opened the show on Broadway and they decided that they were gonna take a company out on the road. And Ntozake told them that they were absolutely not taking out that company without a black woman manager. So I had met Joe Papp. He was certainly the impresario of Broadway. And he and Manny Azenberg took me lunch one day and asked me would I consider taking this show out on the road as the company manager. And I said, "Well, I'm only an apprentice." And they said, "Well, we'll hold the contract, we're in the union, we'll hold the contract. And you'll go take the show out." Now my union got wind of this and they were like you can't take a show out on the road, you're only an apprentice, you've only been an apprentice for a year and you have to apprentice for three years. And Joe and Manny, they said, "Listen, they can't stop you." And so I decided to take the show. So I went out on the road with the first national company. I got trained in New York [New York] at the Broadway theater, the Booth Theatre. And we had auditions there and hired all the women. But I went out on the road as the first, the first national company of 'For Colored Girls.' I was the company manager. It was funny too because at first I said to them, "Are you paying me the full salary?" And they said, "Well, but you're not really in the union." And I said, "But I'm doing the work." And they said "Okay."$$So they paid you.$$They paid me the full salary. And my goodness, this was in 1977. And you know my goodness, they were making like, I forgot like seven hundred dollars a week. Good grief, I went from poverty to, you know, to the big house.$$You're not joking. That was (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) That was serious.$$--good money.$$Those girls were making more than that. The actresses were making outrageous sums of money, plus per diem, you know, two, three hundred dollars a week per diem. So we were all in heaven. And the show as a phenomena. It--nobody knew what it was. We went all over this country, to all the A cities, Washington [D.C.], Philadelphia [Pennsylvania], Chicago [Illinois], Detroit [Michigan], you know, Wilmington [Delaware], all over the country. And nobody knew what it was. They couldn't pro- they couldn't even pronounce the title. We would go to the box office and collect all of the names. The box office treasurer would write down the names of all the names people, 'For Black Girls who Killed Themselves,' you know. But we had a phenomenal company.$$And how long did you stay on the road with it?$$We stayed on the road--well I stayed on the road with them over a year. And then I actually met my second husband [Thomas Hughley, Jr.] touring through Chicago. And one of the lead actresses, LaTanya Richardson, introduced me to him. They had gone to Spelman [Spelman College, Atlanta, Georgia] and Morehouse [Morehouse College, Atlanta, Georgia] together. And I met him and he proposed to me and I left the company and actually married him some months later. But that was a pretty amazing tour. It was, it was a phenomena, that's all I can tell you. In every city we made more money. It was outrageous.$You talk about finally getting connected to my African centeredness. I think the National Black Arts Festival did that more than anything else in my life.$$And how so would you say that occurred?$$Well, there was a man by the name of Worth Long who lives here still.$$And it's Worth, W-O-R-T.$$W-O-R-T-H Long, L-O-N-G. He has since been named a Heritage [National Heritage Fellowships] award winner from Smithsonian [sic. National Endowment for the Arts (NEA)]. But I met Worth Long, and Worth Long started to teach me about African American history. He took me over to the Sea Islands. He took me down in the backwoods of Mississippi and Alabama. I met people that were playing spoons and one string guitars and I learned about shape note singing and lining in--$$What note singing is that?$$Shape note singing and lining in hymn singing. Shape notes, do, do, do, re, mi, fa, so, la, ti, do, do-do, re-re, you know, shape note singing. I learned about lining in hymn singing, that that's what my [maternal] grandfather [Ciscero Bradley] and all those people down in--on that Alabama farm in Luverne, outside of Luverne, Alabama. Rural route box number. And that old church when one person would start singing--and then everybody would sing right behind him. I learned so many things from Worth Long. From folks at the Smithsonian Institution [Washington, D.C.], you know, about African American history. I knew my grandmothers, but I didn't know my grandmothers' grandmothers', and where they came from, and, and I didn't under--I didn't know about the Great Migration, you know. I didn't know about--I didn't even care to know about all that history going back and how a slave owner had raped the enslaved women in the house and, and how my family went from dark, dark black to white. I didn't even care about any of that until I got into the National Black Arts Festival and I started to meet the people who were rooted and grounded in the history. And I was amazed at how many people who live in Atlanta [Georgia] have never been to the Sea Islands. They didn't know about the African retention of culture in those Sea Island people. And so I saw this incredible opportunity to bridge Africa and African American history in a way that had not been really done in this country before, through music, dance, theater, film, visual art, performing art, literary art and folk art. People came from all over the world, and they came from all over this country. And they converged around this incredible celebration. I started working March or March of 1987 and we did the first festival in July of 1988. It was the end of July, beginning of August. And boy, we decided the first festival was gonna focus on the Harlem Renaissance. And it was funny because when they decided to call the National Black Arts Festival, the only thing I would have still done differently with that title. A lot of people say you shouldn't call it black, you should, you know. Only thing I would have changed would have been the International Black Arts Festival. Because there's no way that you could tell the story about African American people and not begin in Africa. So I have these incredible opportunities to travel to Africa for the first time. I got off that plane and kissed the ground in Ghana and in Senegal where I saw the people who were looking like my [paternal] grandmother's [Zella Smith] people who I decided were from Sapelo Island in Georgia, all the way up to today. I saw the continuum of African people, and I realized that we as African Americans, we were the most ignorant about it all because we had been so brainwashed into believing that Africa was the dark continent. When I got there, it was the brightest continent I'd ever seen in all of my travels. It was the most colorful, the most brilliant, the most, the most incredible sounds and smells and, and I realized that this festival was important. That it was important for us to do it. It was important for us to have this moment in time to go back and reflect and, and build the bridge. And build the bridge not only from African to this country, but from this country into our everyday lives. To bring the art back to the people. And I realized that art was just this very marginalized term in this country. That art was a picture on a wall. An artist was a singer or a painter. But in fact art was just one expression of culture, and that this was really about culture and creativity. If you boil it all down to its basic common denominator, it's about culture and creativity. 'Cause everybody has culture and everybody has creativity. And art was just one manifestation of those two things. And so for me you know, that's why I took on the National Black Arts Festival and I guess that's why I'm still here.