Dunham, Katherine


Vintage signed photo of the “Matriarch & Queen Mother of Black Dance”



Autograph ID: 3193
Condition: Very good, slight bend at top right corner
Description: “(1909-2006) African-American dancer, choreographer, songwriter, author, educator, activist who trained as an anthropologist. For 30+ years ran the Katherine Dunham Dance Company, only permanent, self-subsidized US Black dance troupe at that time, choreographed 90+ individual dances. Innovator in African-American modern dance, leader in field of Dance Anthropology, or Ethno-choreology. In 1935-36, conducted ethnographic study of Caribbean dance forms, especially in Haiti. In 1939 submitted her thesis: “Dances of Haiti, Their Social Organization, Classification, Form and Function”. Stay in Jamaica led to book, “Journey to Accompong”. In Martinique and Trinidad & Tobago then to Haiti, where she remained for several months, first of many visits there. Investigated Voodoo rituals and years later became a mambo (priestess) in Vaudon religion. Returned to Chicago 1936, awarded degree in Social Anthropology. Academics led to the Dunham Technique, which like her choreography, synthesizes traditional elements of European-American ballet with movement qualities that highlight Afro-Caribbean personality with African drums and rhythms. At 21, formed Ballet Nègres, 1st US Black ballet company. From 1933-36 she was guest star for the Chicago Opera Company. With designer John Pratt, (her husband), produced 1st version of her dance composition “L’Ag Ya”, premiered Jan. 27, 1938 as part of the Federal Theater Project in Chicago. In 1939, she and her troupe performed in “Tropics” and “Le Hot Jazz”. Company was on Broadway for 20 weeks in “Cabin in the Sky”, staged by Balanchine, with Dunham in a lead role, before moving to West Coast. In 1941, Dunham starred in short film “Carnival of Rhythm”, 1st Hollywood dance film in color. Other movies in this period inc. “Star Spangled Rhythm” (1942), Abbott and Costello comedy “Pardon My Sarong” (1942), and Black musical, “Stormy Weather” (1943). In 1943, troupe opened in “Tropical Review”, enormous Broadway success. Dunham also produced “Rara-Tonga”, “Rites de Passage”, and “Plantation Dances”. In 1945, opened and directed Katherine Dunham School of Dance and Theatre near Times Square with rent-free space for 3 years from Lee Shubert. In 1947 it was expanded and chartered as Katherine Dunham School of Cultural Arts, thrived for about 10 years. Other Broadway hits in 1945 were “Carib Song” and “Windy City”; acclaimed for her ballet, “Choros” In 1946 returned to Broadway for “Bal Nègre”, in late 1947 opened in Las Vegas, first year it became a popular destination. Next 20 years mostly in Europe, North Africa, South America, Australia and the Far East. Appeared in 1948 film “Casbah”, and in 1st hour-long NBC TV spectacular. She did some choreography for several movies, inc. “Green Mansions” and “The Bible”. Last appearance of the Dunham Company on Broadway in 1962 in “Bamboche!” With “Aida” in 1963, became 1st African-American to choreograph for the Metropolitan Opera. In 1965 dissolved company when LBJ nominated her to be technical cultural adviser to Senegal to help train Senegalese National Ballet, and assist in sponsoring First Pan-African World Festival of Negro Arts in Dakar 1965-66. Retired 1967 after final show at Apollo Theatre in Harlem, continued choreography, directed Scott Joplin’s opera “Treemonisha” 1972. Continued publishing anthropology articles under name “Kaye Dunn”, gave occasional lectures in anthropology, inc. at Yale, and the Royal Anthropological Societies in London & Paris. Wrote autobiographies “A Touch of Innocence”(1958), “Island Possessed” (1969), and Kasamance”(1974). In 1992, at 82, went on hunger strike to protest discriminatory US policy against Haitian boat-people, ended after exiled Haitian President Aristide and Jesse Jackson personally requested she stop risking her life; Aristide later awarded her Haiti’s highest honor, and called her the “Spiritual Mother of Haiti”. Received 1983 Kennedy Center Honor.
SP, vintage 10 x 8 portrait of Dunham in exotic hat, necklace & earlings, signed with sentiment. Pencil note on verso indicates photograph ca. 1944.”
Type: Photograph

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