Selections from the Katherine Dunham Collection
at the Library of Congress
Special Presentation: Katherine Dunham Timeline
Katherine Mary Dunham is born on 22 June 1909 in a Chicago hospital. Her father, Albert Millard Dunham, is black; her mother, Fanny June Dunham, is a woman of French-Canadian and American Indian heritage. Shortly after her birth, her parents take the infant Katherine to their home in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, a village about fifteen miles west of Chicago. She spends her early years there in the company of her brother, Albert Jr., who is six years older than she. They become devoted to each other.
Fanny June Dunham, twenty years older than her husband, dies. Katherine and Albert Jr. are sent to live with their father's sister, Lulu, on the South Side of Chicago.
Albert Sr. marries Annette Poindexter, and the children go to live with their father and stepmother in Joliet, Illinois. Their stepmother becomes a benevolent influence, but their father is a strict disciplinarian who lays down hard rules of behavior and dispenses physical punishment for infractions.
Dunham's short story, "Come Back to Arizona," written when she was twelve years old, appears in volume 2 (August 1921) of The Brownies' Book, a periodical edited by W.E.B. Du Bois.
In high school, Katherine Dunham joins the Terpsichorean Club and begins to learn a kind of free-style modern dance based on ideas of Jaques-Dalcroze and Rudolf von Laban. At fourteen, to help raise money for her church, she organizes a "cabaret party." She is the producer, director, and star of the entertainment.
In Chicago, Dunham begins to study ballet with Ludmilla Speranzeva, who had come to America with a Franco-Russian vaudeville troupe known as the Chauve-Souris. Speranzeva, one of the first ballet teachers to accept black dancers as students, introduces Dunham to the Spanish dancers La Argentina, Quill Monroe, and Vicente Escudero. Dunham also studies ballet with Mark Turbyfill and Ruth Page and, through Vera Mirova, is exposed to East Indian, Javanese, and Balinese dance forms.
Having attended a junior college in Joliet, Illinois, Katherine Dunham follows her brother Albert to the University of Chicago. She attends a lecture by Robert Redfield, a professor of anthropology who specialized in American Indian and African cultures. From him she learns that much of black culture in modern America had begun in Africa. She decides to major in anthropology and to focus on dances of the African diaspora. In the course of her studies, she attends classes taught by Redfield, A. R. Radcliffe-Browne, Edward Sapir, Lloyd Warner, and others.
Katherine Dunham forms a dance company, Ballet Nègre, one of the first Negro ballet companies in America.
Ballet Nègre gives its debut performance at the annual Beaux Arts Ball in Chicago. One of the numbers on the program is Negro Rhapsody, which is well received. No engagements follow, and the group disbands.
Dunham marries Jordis McCoo, a postal worker. Although he dances in some of her productions, he does not share her interests. They gradually drift apart.
Dunham consults Speranzeva about her idea to open a school for young black dancers, where she could teach them about their African heritage. Speranzeva advises her to forgo ballet, to focus on modern dance, and to develop her own style. [ Katherine Dunham on Need for the Dunham Technique ]
Dunham opens her first dance school, the Negro Dance Group, in Chicago. With Speranzeva's help, it survives a rocky start and Dunham's subsequent absences when she was engaged in anthropological fieldwork.
In a Chicago Opera production, Dunham dances the leading role in Ruth Page's ballet La Guiablesse (The Devil Woman). Based on a Martinican legend, it has an all-black cast. Dunham continues to appear as a guest artist with the Chicago Opera, where she acts as assistant to its ballet director, Ruth Page.
Dunham revives her company, Ballet Nègre, with students from her school, the Negro Dance Group. Works in the repertory choreographed by Dunham include Spanish Dance and Fantasie Nègre.
Dunham and her company appear at the Chicago World's Fair.
Dunham receives a grant from the Julius Rosenwald Fund to study the dances of the West Indies. After a course of study with Melville Herskovitz, head of the anthropology department at Northwestern University, she embarks for the Caribbean with letters of introduction written by Herskovits to Haitian anthropologist Dr. Jean Price-Mars, Colonel Simon Rowe of the Maroon people of Jamaica, President Stenio Vincent of Haiti, and other government officials and scholars in Haiti.
Dunham arrives in Whitehall, Jamaica, whence she travels to the mountain village of Accompong. After a brief stay, she travels to Martinique and Trinidad. She conducts anthropological fieldwork wherever she goes.
Early in the year Dunham arrives in Haiti, the final stop of her field trip. She feels a strong sense of identification with the place and the people. She is fascinated with the danced religion called Vodun. In late spring Dunham returns to the United States, and in June she presents the results of her research to her sponsors at the Rosenwald Fund. Her presentation includes pictures, music, and dance.
In August Dunham receives a Ph.B. degree (bachelor of philosophy degree) from the University of Chicago. Her major field of study is recorded as social anthropology.
Dunham and her company make a one-time appearance at the Young Men's Hebrew Association (YMHA) on Ninety-second Street in New York City, joining African and African-American modern dancers Edna Guy, Alison Burroughs, Clarence Yates, and Asadata Dafora for A Negro Dance Evening. On the first half of the program, Dunham presents a suite of West Indian dances. In the second half of the program, "Modern Trends," Dunham presents Tropic Death, which casts Talley Beatty as the fugitive from a lynch mob.
As part of the suite called Primitive Rhythms, Dunham premieres Rara Tonga at the Goodman Theater in Chicago. It will subsequently be performed as an independent work.
Dunham and her dancers premiere Tropics at the Abraham Lincoln Center in Chicago. The suite of dances includes Woman with a Cigar.
Dunham choreographs and produces her first full-length ballet, L'Ag'Ya, which debuts in January at the Federal Theater, Chicago. Based on a fable of love, jealousy, and revenge, culminating in a staged version of the ag'ya, the fighting dance of Martinique, Dunham's ballet became part of the repertory of Ballet Fedré, a component of the Federal Theater Project, at the Great Northern Theater.
View video clips of L'Ag'Ya and Katherine Dunham:
- Pas de deux from L'Ag'Ya
- Mazouk from L'Ag'Ya
- Charm Dance from L'Ag'Ya
- Ag'Ya Fight from L'Ag'Ya
- Katherine Dunham on L'Ag'Ya
- Katherine Dunham on "Mazouk" from L'Ag'Ya
Tropics is performed at the Goodman Theater in Chicago.
Dunham is named director of the Negro Unit of the Chicago branch of the Federal Theater Project and stages dances in several Chicago productions, including Run Li'l Chil'lun and The Emperor Jones.
Dunham choreographs A las Montanas, one of her first solos, and dances it at the Abraham Lincoln Center in Chicago.
Dunham submits a thesis entitled "Dances of Haiti: Their Social Organization, Classification, Form, and Function" to the Department of Anthropology at the University of Chicago in partial fulfillment of the requirements for a Master of Arts degree.
Dunham choreographs and performs in Barrelhouse, a duet. It is one of her earliest works of Americana.
Dunham choreographs Son (Sound) and, in October 1938, introduces it into the suite Primitive Rhythms. On a Caribbean island plantation, a slave sings a love song while his companions work. A girl becomes possessed, dances herself into a frenzy, and falls exhausted.
Katherine Dunham and Jordis McCoo divorce.
Katherine Dunham and Dance Company perform for the Quadres Society of the University of Cincinnati.
Dunham begins her film career with Carnival of Rhythm, a short film written by Stanley Martin, directed by Jean Negulesco, and produced by Warner Brothers is devoted entirely to her, her company, and her choreography. She, Archie Savage, and Talley Beatty are the stars. Released in 1941, it includes Ciudad Maravillosa and early versions of Los Indios, Batucada , and Adeus Terras. All are based on Brazilian themes.
Katherine Dunham and Dance Company perform Tropics and Le Jazz "Hot" in the College Inn Panther Room at the Hotel Sherman in Chicago.
Dunham choreographs Bahiana, which premieres at a concert at the University of Cincinnati. Set to music by Don Alfonso, it concerns a woman of Bahia, Brazil, who dances and sings as she becomes entwined in the ropes of a group of dockside rope weavers at work. This number would become one of Dunham's most celebrated characterizations and would remain in her repertory throughout the 1940s.
Published under the pseudonym Kaye Dunn and the heading "Sketchbook of a Young Dancer in La Martinique," two articles by Dunham appear in Esquire: "La Boule Blanche" (September 1939) and "L'Ag'ya of Martinique" (November 1939).
Dunham begins work on Broadway. She is invited to contribute new material to the popular musical revue Pins and Needles, produced by the International Ladies Garment Workers' Union Players. For the second edition, entitled Pins and Needles 1940, she creates a dance to music by Harold Rome for "Bertha, the Sewing Machine Girl, or It's Better with a Union Man." Archie Savage is among the dancers.
For the American Negro Light Opera Association of Chicago, Dunham stages and choreographs Tropical Pinafore, a takeoff on the popular Gilbert and Sullivan work. The costumes are designed by John Pratt.
As Pins and Needles 1940 continues its run at the Windsor Theater, New York, Dunham books her own company into the theater for a Sunday performance, which is so popular that the company repeats the Sunday performances for another ten weeks. These concerts, billed as Tropics and Le Jazz "Hot," consist of dances based on Latin American and Caribbean sources (Island Song, Tropic-Shore Excursion, and Woman with a Cigar) and dances based on African-American sources (Br'er Rabbit an' de Tah Baby, Flaming Youth, 1927, and Floyd's Guitar Blues ).
Dunham remounts scenes from the Spanish Earth, originally choreographed as a benefit for Spanish Civil War victims, at New York's Windsor Theater,
The Dunham Company opens the nightclub at the Hotel Sherman in Chicago with a repertory that includes the Polynesian-influenced Rara Tonga, Barrelhouse , Bre'r Rabbit an' de Tah Baby, Cakewalk, and Woman with a Cigar. George Balanchine and Vernon Duke see a performance and invite Dunham and her company to come to New York to perform in a new Broadway show.
Dunham collaborates with Balanchine on choreography for dances in the musical play Cabin in the Sky. The show opens at the Martin Beck Theater in October 1940 and runs until March 1941, playing 156 performances.
Dunham and her company of dancers and musicians embark on their first United States tour in the Broadway production of Cabin in the Sky.
Dunham marries Canadian John Pratt, an established white artist who had joined her company as its set and costume designer. Henceforth, he would design sets and costumes for virtually every production of the Dunham Company and every costume Dunham would wear on stage and in films.
Dunham premieres Rites de Passage at the Curran Theater in San Francisco.
Hollywood summons her again. Contracted to be a featured dancer in the patriotic film Star Spangled Rhythm, Dunham choreographs and appears in a solo number, "Sharp as a Tack," with music by Harold Arlen and lyrics by Johnny Mercer.
Dunham stages dances for the film Pardon My Sarong, a comedy starring Bud Abbott and Lou Costello. Neither she nor members of her company appear in the film.
Impresario Sol Hurok presents Katherine Dunham and her company in Tropical Revue, which opens at New York's Martin Beck Theater. The show is billed as "a musical heatwave … voodoo! Boogie! Shimmy! jazz and jive! primitive rites!" The show opens with lively Latin American and Caribbean dances and, in the second part, a dramatic ballet, such as Rites de Passage or L'Ag'Ya , is featured. The finale usually consists of plantation dances, dances set to Negro spirituals, and American social dances. The original two-week engagement is extended by popular demand into a three-month run. After eighty-seven performances on Broadway, the company takes the show on a national tour.
Dunham and her company appear in the film Stormy Weather, a show-business story starring Bill Robinson and Lena Horne.
In January, Dunham premieres Choros (nos. 1-5) at the Royal Alexandra Theatre, Toronto. Set to music by Vidaco Gogliano, Choros is a stylized version of a nineteenth-century Brazilian quadrille. Two of the sections (nos. 1 and 4) would later be joined and performed as an independent work.
In February, Flaming Youth, 1927 premieres in New Britain, Connecticut. The scene is a small Chicago nightclub, where a hostess wearily awaits the arrival of customers. The women are dressed as flappers, in knee-length beaded dresses and cloche hats; the men wear slickers and raccoon coats; a gigolo sports a satin shirt. They dance the Charleston, the Black Bottom, the Mooch, the Fishtail, and Snake Hips. A drunken woman starts a fight. The police are called.
The Dunham School of Dance and Theater opens in New York in Caravan Hall (Isadora Duncan's former studio) on West Fifty-ninth Street.
Dunham and her company appear in such clubs as Chez Paree in Chicago, El Rancho Hotel and the Trocadero in Las Vegas, and Ciro's in Hollywood.
Tropical Review appears for one week at Cleveland's Hanna Theater. Plain Dealer critic William F. Mc Dermott writes that the show "is frantic in movement, primitive in feeling, bold in suggestion and yet it is projected with a finesse and adroitness based on discipline, control and intelligence…. Miss Dunham is a show woman of great deftness, both as a director and as a performer."
In October, Dunham addresses the all-white audience at Memorial Auditorium in Louisville, Kentucky, in a curtain speech in which she speaks out against segregation. "It makes me very happy to know that you have liked us . . .," she says, "but tonight our hearts are very sad because this is a farewell to Louisville. . . . I have discovered that your management will not allow people like you to sit next to people like us. I hope that time and the unhappiness of this war for tolerance and democracy . . . will change some of these things. Perhaps then we can return."
The Dunham School in New York moves to 220 West 43rd Street, where it will continue to operate until 1957.
Tropical Review tours to Los Angeles, where critic Edwin Schallert raves that "Miss Dunham virtually had the audience tearing down the house at times with applause, and there was hardly a moment of her varied program that did not intrigue with its strange veerings from violence to languor" (Los Angeles Times, 9 April 1945).
The Katherine Dunham Dancers appear at the Belasco Theater in New York in Blue Holiday, a Negro variety show starring Ethel Waters. Dunham creates and stages two numbers: "Voodoo in Haiti," featuring Josephine Premice, and "Fiji Island," featuring Lavinia Williams and Talley Beatty. The show closes after eight performances.
Dunham choreographs, directs, and stars in the musical play Carib Song, which opens in September at the Adelphi Theater in New York. The finale to the first act is Shango , a staged interpretation of a Vodun ritual that would become a permanent part of her company's repertory.
John Pratt is drafted into the U.S. Army, and Dunham assumes charge of the company's costumes and sets, in addition to directing the company.
Dunham's article "Goombay," a memoir of her visit to the Maroon people of Jamaica, appears in the November issue of Mademoiselle.
In January, Dunham premieres Nañigo and La Camparsa, as numbers in the suite Motivos, at the Temple Theater in Portland, Oregon. Nañigo, set to music by Gilberto Valdes, is a choreographic interplay among a group of male practitioners of an Afro-Cuban religious cult. A soloist represents ancient Yoruba dance tradition, while the other dancers perform modern variations. La Camparsa, set to music by Ernesto Lecuona, centers on a lone woman, wandering the streets in the early-morning hours after Carnival, who encounters three men, one of whom she believes may be her husband.
The Dunham School is now known as the Katherine Dunham School of Arts and Research. Its components are the Dunham School of Dance and Theater, the Department of Cultural Studies, and the Institute for Caribbean Research. Teachers in the Dance Division include Todd Bolender (ballet), Marie Bryant (tap and boogie), and José Limón (modern dance). Dunham Technique is taught by Tommy Gomez, Archie Savage, Lavinia Williams, and Syvilla Fort, who also teaches ballet. Teachers in the Drama Division include Herbert Berghof (acting), John Pratt (visual design), and Karl Vollmoeller (history of drama, play writing). Among performers who study at the school over the years are Arthur Mitchell, James Dean, Peter Gennaro, Marlon Brando, Chita Rivera, Eartha Kitt, and José Ferrer.
Dunham's first book is published: Journey to Accompong (New York: Henry Holt, 1946; reprint, Westport, Conn.: Negro Universities Press, 1971). It recounts her experiences among the Maroon people of Jamaica in 1935-1936.
John Pratt is discharged from the army. He rejoins the company in time for the production of Bal Nègre, a music and dance revue directed and choreographed by Dunham.
In December, after a nine-month tour, Bal Nègre opens at New York's Belasco Theater. It receives glowing reviews.
Bal Nègre attracts attention from European producers, which leads to the company's first European tour and results in an invitation by Doris Duke, the tobacco heiress, to appear in Mexico under a contract with Teatro Americano.
The Katherine Dunham Experimental Group presents Caribbean Backgrounds at Howard University in Washington, D.C.
Dunham choreographs the musical play Windy City, which premieres at the Great Northern Theater in Chicago. The show concerns the character and vitality of the people of Chicago and is said to have influenced Jerome Robbins's choreography for West Side Story.
"Dances of Haiti," Dunham's thesis written for the University of Chicago in 1937, is translated into Spanish by Javier Romero and published as Las danzas de Haití as a special issue of Acta antropológica 2.4 (Mexico, 1947). It will subsequently be published in French as Les danse d'Haïti, with a foreword by Claude Lévi-Strauss (Paris: Éditions Fasquelle, 1950), and in English as Dances of Haiti, with photographs by Patricia Cummings (Center for Afro-American Studies, University of California, Los Angeles, 1983).
Rhumba Trio is premiered at Mexico's Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes.
Bal Nègre plays at the Geary Theater in San Francisco.
Dunham choreographs Angelique, Blues Trio, and Veracuzana for engagements at Ciro's nightclub in Hollywood. Veracruzana will be included in later revues and will become one of Dunham's most popular numbers. In his review of a performance in 1955, Walter Terry writes, "'Veracruzana' . . . is alive with colorful and humorous incidents and inspired passages of choreography. In this number, one of the most unforgettable of Dunham images is to be found, the sight of the star herself dressed all in white and lolling on an enormous white swing which spans the stage" (New York Herald Tribune, 23 November 1955).
Dunham and her company appear in the film Casbah, a romantic tale of jewel thieves in Algiers starring Yvonne de Carlo, Tony Martin, and Peter Lorre. Dunham (uncredited) appears as Odette; Eartha Kitt appears as herself. Dunham choreographs and stages two scenes: the Ramadan Festival and the Casbah Nightclub.
Dunham appears with her company in London at the Prince of Wales Theatre in A Caribbean Rhapsody, a music and dance revue. Theater critic David Lewin notes that "A first-night audience was bewildered, enthralled, wildly enthusiastic about a new-type musical which exhilarates with its speed and animal primitiveness" and observed that Dunham "scored the greatest hit since Danny Kaye" (Daily Express, 6 May 1948).
Dunham delivers an address, "The State of Cults among the Deprived," to the Royal Anthropological Society in London.
Dunham and her company perform at the Alhambra Theater in Brussels.
Dunham premieres Jazz in Five Movements at the Théâtre National de l'Opéra in Paris. One of the dances on the program, Tango, is later performed as an independent work.
Dunham and her company appear in the Italian film Botta e risposta. Louis Armstrong, Fernandel, and Isa Miranda are also featured. Two numbers from the Dunham repertory, Batucada and a segment of Jazz in Five Movements, are included.
Dunham choreographs Afrique and a new version of Adeus Terras while in Rome.
Katherine Dunham and John Pratt adopted their daughter Marie-Christine, aged fourteen months, in Paris.
After years of mental illness, Dunham's beloved brother Albert dies in Saint Elizabeth's Hospital, Washington, D.C.
Dunham purchases Habitation Leclerc, an estate in Haiti said to have been the residence of Pauline Bonaparte Leclerc, sister of Napoleon.
Sol Hurok presents Katherine Dunham and Her Company in a dance revue in three parts, a prologue, and ten scenes at the Broadway Theater in New York. The opening-night program includes Afrique, Choros , Adeus Terras, Batucada , Veracruzana, Flaming Youth, Barrelhouse , Jazz in Five Movements, and L'Ag'Ya . Afrique and Barrelhouse are subsequently dropped, and Rites des Passage and Shango are substituted. The show closes after thirty-eight performances.
Dunham and her company tour South America, Europe, and North Africa (1951-1953).
Against advice, Dunham premieres her ballet Southland at the Teatro Municipal in Santiago, Chile. Its story centers on the lynching of a black man falsely accused of raping a white girl in the American South, and Dunham's dramatic treatment of it is shocking. Under pressure from the U.S. embassy, which objects to the negative picture of American society it gives to foreign audiences, the ballet is removed from the program.
The Dunham School in New York is renamed the Katherine Dunham School of Cultural Arts.
A photograph of Dunham appears on the front cover of Ballet magazine (March 1952).
Dunham is named a chevalier of the Haitian Légion d'Honneur et Merite.
Dunham's short story "Afternoon into Night" appears in Bandwagon (June 1952). It is later reprinted in Best Short Stories by Negro Writers, edited by Langston Hughes (Boston: Little, Brown, 1967).
Dunham and her company perform in Denmark to high critical acclaim. The Berlingske Tidende (12 July) noted that the performance "became one of the great and rare experiences in which an artist and an artistically managed ensemble quite simply overwhelmed its audience on their first appearance." Berlingske Aftenavis (12 July) said that the audience "was wild with joy and cheered the unrivaled Dunham with hurricanes of applause." According to Politiken, the company took ten curtain calls and the Aftenbladet (12 July) claimed that the performance was a gift to Copenhageners, "the richest and most varied theater evening offered us in a long time."
Dunham choreographs and performs in Acaraje for Hommage à Dorival Caymmi in Arachon, France.
Dunham and her company perform at the Windsor Palace in Barcelona.
Dunham and her company tour North Africa (1952-1953).
Dunham choreographs Afrique du Nord, which she and her company perform at the Cave Supper Club in Vancouver, British Columbia.
Dunham and her company tour the United States and Mexico.
Dunham and her company tour Europe and South America (1954-1955).
Dunham and her company appear in two European films. Mambo, an Italian film starring Silvana Mangano, includes rare footage of the company in classroom demonstrations of Dunham Technique.
Dunham and her company tour Mexico.
Along with Carmen Amaya and her flamenco dancers, Dunham and her company appear in the Mexican film Música en la noche. The Dunham Company dances Dora and Cakewalk. The film is released in the United States in 1958.
Dunham and her company perform in the Greek Theater, Los Angeles.
Sol Hurok presents Katherine Dunham and Her Company in a dance revue in three acts and twelve scenes (i.e., Caribbean Rhapsody) at the Broadway Theater, New York. Dance critic Walter Terry writes, "Miss Dunham presents one of the handsomest productions you are likely to see in these parts" (New York Herald Tribune, 23 November 1955). Terry singles out three numbers for special praise: Veracruzana, Rituals (i.e., Rites of Passage), and Barrelhouse . The show closes after thirty-two performances.
Dunham and her company tour Australia and New Zealand (1956-1957).
Dunham and her company tour East Asia.
Dunham provides choreography for the film Green Mansions, starring Audrey Hepburn and Anthony Perkins. Neither she nor her company appears in the film, which was released in 1959.
Dunham's third book is published: A Touch of Innocence: Memoirs of Childhood (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1959; reprint, University of Chicago Press, 1994). In a note to the reader she says that "this book is not an autobiography. It is the story of a world that has vanished. . . . And it is the story of a family that I knew very well, and especially of a girl and a young woman whom I rediscovered while writing about the members of this family."
Dunham and her company embark on their third major European tour, which takes them to Denmark, Germany, France, Greece, and other countries.
The Dunham Company's third European tour ends in Vienna. Because of bad management by their impresario, the company is stranded without money. To raise funds, Dunham quickly negotiates contracts for television shows and a club date.
Dunham and her company appear in a German television special, Karibische Rhythmen . It includes Afrique, Rhumba Trio, Samba, Choros (nos. 1 and 4), Floyd's Guitar Blues , Strutters' Ball, and Cakewalk .
The Dunham Company disbands. Dunham will assemble pick-up companies for later special events, but 1960 effectively marks the end of the continuous history of a company of dancers trained by her in Dunham Technique and coached by her to perform Dunham choreography.
Katherine Dunham, a few former Dunham dancers, and the Royal Troupe of Morocco appear in a new revue, Bamboche!, at New York's 54th Street Theater. (The title is a Haitian term for "a get-together to have a good time.") After eight performances, the show closes. It is Dunham's last appearance on Broadway.
Dunham choreographs Anabacoa for an engagement at Club Antilles in the Hotel Chalfonte–Haddon Hall in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
Dunham choreographs a new production of Aida for the Metropolitan Opera in New York.
Dunham's short story "The Crime of Pablo Martínez" appears in Ellery Queen's Magazine.
Dunham provides choreography for the film The Bible, directed by John Huston and produced by Dino de Laurentiis. Dance sequences in two scenes, the Festival and the Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, are conceived, choreographed, and staged by her. Neither she nor any of her dancers appears in the film.
Dunham becomes artist-in-residence at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale.
In February, Dunham stages Charles Gounod's opera Faust at Southern Illinois University, changing the scene to World War II Germany. Her dramatic interpretive dances include students playing basketball with a skull, bodies hanging from wires, and the devil (Mephistopheles) roaring across the stage on a motorcycle. After two performances on the Carbondale campus, the production is repeated at Monticello College in Alton, Illinois.
Katherine Dunham reassembles some of her dancers for a New York performance on the occasion of American Ballet Theater's twenty-fifth anniversary gala.
Dunham directs Albert Husson's musical comedy Deux Anges Sont Venus, starring Charles Aznavour, at the Théâtre de Paris.
Dunham directs Ciao, Rudi in Rome.
Katherine Dunham is invited by President Léopold Senghor to train the National Ballet of Senegal. He appoints her adviser for the first World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture, also known as the World Festival of Negro Arts (Festival des Arts Nègre), held in Dakar in April. For the first time, the U.S. State Department gives Dunham official status in naming her U.S. representative to the festival in Dakar. In Senegal, Dunham meets Mor Thiam, a master drummer, whom she invites to teach in East Saint Louis.
Katherine Dunham and John Pratt lease a house in Dakar, Senegal, where she completes the manuscripts for Island Possessed (published in 1969) and a fantasy for young people with a Senegalese setting, Kasamance (published in 1974).
On her return to Illinois, Dunham collaborates with Buckminster Fuller on a proposal for a cultural arts center in East Saint Louis. Dunham receives a $400,000 grant from the federal Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO) but is thwarted by local politicians who do not share her vision.
The Equal Opportunity Commission, as part of the Southern Illinois University's Experiment in Higher Education, funds Dunham's proposal for creating a Performing Arts Training Center (PATC) in East Saint Louis, which eventually results in an educational center, children's auxiliary company, and a semiprofessional dance group that would tour the midwestern, southern, and eastern United States.
Dunham establishes a cultural education program at the Alton campus of Southern Illinois University and, with two former members of the Dunham company, establishes classes at Rock Junior High School in East Saint Louis.
Dunham is named a grand officier of the Haitian Légion d'Honneur et Merite and receives the Professional Achievement Award from the University of Chicago Alumni Association. She is also appointed honoree on the President's Council on Youth Opportunity in Washington, D.C.
Dunham directs A Dream Deferred and Ode to Taylor Jones in East Saint Louis with the Youth Dance Group from her Performing Arts Training Center.
Dunham receives a Dance Magazine Award. Other honorees at the award ceremony are Erik Bruhn, a Danish ballet dancer recognized as a premier danseur noble, and Lucia Chase, one of the founders of American Ballet Theater.
Dunham's fourth book is published: Island Possessed (New York: Doubleday, 1969; reprint, University of Chicago Press, 1994). It is a series of vivid and detailed descriptions of the people and culture of Haiti.
Dunham takes children from East Saint Louis to Washington, D.C., for the White House Conference on Children, hosted by Adlai Stevenson Jr.
Dunham receives the Dance Division Heritage Award from the American Association for Health, Physical Education, and Recreation.
In January, Dunham directs the world premiere of Scott Joplin's opera Treemonisha at Morehouse College, Atlanta. The concert performance is jointly produced by the Morehouse College Music Department and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, which is conducted by Robert Shaw. The orchestration was made by Thomas J. Anderson from the original piano score. The following summer the opera is staged at Wolftrap Farm Park for the Performing Arts, Vienna, Virginia, using an orchestration by William Bolcom, and is later given at Kiel Opera House in Saint Louis, where Kenneth B. Billups conducts.
Dunham receives an honorary doctorate of humane letters from MacMurray College, Jacksonville, Illinois, and a National Center of Afro-American Artists Award from the Elma Lewis School of Fine Arts, Boston.
Dunham's fifth book is published: Kasamance: A Fantasy (New York: Odarkai Books, 1974). An allegorical African tale for young people set in Senegal, it is illustrated by Bennie Arrington after original drawings by John Pratt.
Dunham is named to the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame and to the Entertainment Hall of Fame Foundation
Dunham lectures at the International Institute of Ethnomusicology and Folklore in Caracas, Venezuela.
The Katherine Dunham Fund purchases three adjoining houses in East Saint Louis from Southern Illinois University. Located on Tenth Street, one is to be Dunham and Pratt's residence; one is to be used as an office (and later for storage); and the third, a stone building referred to as the "corner house," is to be a residence for students, instructors, and visitors.
Dunham is given the International Women's Year Award, United Nations Association, Saint Louis Chapter.
Dunham is visiting professor of Afro-American studies for the spring quarter at the University of California at Berkeley.
In May, an exhibit honoring Dunham is mounted in the Women's Center at the University of California at Berkeley. Entitled Kaiso! Katherine Dunham, it includes photographs highlighting the many dimensions of Dunham's life and work. Kaiso is an Afro-Caribbean term denoting praise.
The Katherine Dunham Fund buys and adapts for use as a museum an English Regency-style townhouse on Pennsylvania Avenue at Tenth Street in East Saint Louis. A carriage house on the grounds is to be converted into a studio for the Childrens Workshop.
The Katherine Dunham Museum and Children's Workshop is opened in East Saint Louis. The museum collection consists of furniture, paintings, musical instruments, costumes, decorations, photographs, sketches, a broad range of ethnic art objects, and a cross-section of personal belongings documenting Dunham's life.
Dunham receives an honorary doctorate of literature from Atlanta University.
Dunham receives the Dance Pioneer Award given by the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.
Kaiso! Katherine Dunham: An Anthology of Writings, edited by VèVè A. Clark and Margaret B. Wilkerson, is published in a limited, numbered edition of 130 copies by the Institute for the Study of Social Change, University of California at Berkeley.
In January, Dunham is presented the Albert Schweitzer Music Award "for her contributions to the performing arts and her dedication to humanitarian work." The award is given to her at "A Katherine Dunham Gala" at New York's Carnegie Hall. Organized by Glory Van Scott, the gala features performances by former Dunham Company members in their original roles as well as instructors and students from her Performing Arts Training Center in East Saint Louis..
Dunham receives three honorary doctorates of fine arts: from Westfield State College in Massachusetts, from Brown University, and from Dartmouth College.
The international opening of the Katherine Dunham Museum in East Saint Louis is attended by former members of the Dunham Company and representatives from Senegal, Haiti, and other foreign countries.
Katherine Dunham's work Rites de Passage is taped for Dance in America in a program titled "Divine Drumbeats: Katherine Dunham and Her People," WNET-TV, New York.
Dunham receives a CBS grant for her Children's Workshop in East Saint Louis.
Read notes on Rites de Passage .
Dunham receives the National Dance Week Award from the Dance Concert Society.
Dunham receives an honorary doctorate of fine arts from Washington University, Saint Louis, Missouri.
Dunham retires from Southern Illinois University.
Dunham receives an honorary doctorate of fine arts from Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville and is awarded the grande croix of the Légion d'Honneur et Merite by the Haitian embassy.
In December, Dunham is one of five recipients of the Kennedy Center Honors in Washington, D.C. At the evening performance, Agnes de Mille makes the presentation to Dunham from the stage of the opera house, giving a graceful, affectionate tribute to her friend and showing film clips of some of Dunham's signature works. Dunham and her fellow honorees – singer Frank Sinatra, actor James Stewart, stage and movie director Elia Kazan, and composer and critic Virgil Thomson – watch from the Presidential Box, where they are seated with President and Mrs. Ronald Reagan.
Katherine Dunham receives an honorary doctorate of laws from Lincoln University and an honorary doctorate of fine arts from Howard University.
The Dunham Technique Seminar is inaugurated. These annual seminars serve to codify and formalize Dunham Technique and are usually taught by Dunham and members of her company.
Katherine Dunham receives many honors: the Distinguished Service Award from the American Anthropological Association; the Southern Cross, Award of Honor and Merit from the Government of Brazil; the Samuel H. Scripps American Dance Festival Award; the Medal of Artistic Merit in Dance, given by the International Council on Dance, UNESCO; and the Oral Self-Portrait from the National Portrait Gallery of the Smithsonian Institute, Washington, D.C.
John Pratt, Dunham's husband and artistic collaborator for forty-seven years, dies.
The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater produces "The Magic of Katherine Dunham," which opens the Ailey company's 1987-1988 season. Among the works reconstructed under the supervision of Dunham are Choros, L'Ag'Ya, Shango, Flaming Youth, 1927, and Cakewalk.
Dunham receives the Ebony Magazine American Achievement Award in Fine Arts and the Candice "Trailblazer" Award from the National Coalition of One Hundred Black Women.
Dunham is awarded honorary doctorates of fine arts from Tufts University and Buffalo State College.
Dunham is named a Founder of Dance in America and is honored as such at the National Museum of Dance in Saratoga Springs, New York.
The governments of both Haiti and France designate Dunham as an officier of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in their respective countries. She is also named as recipient of the President's Award of the National Council for Culture and Art, New York.
Dunham is awarded a star on the Saint Louis Walk of Fame for the field of acting and entertainment.
In November, in the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., President George Bush makes the fifth annual presentation of the National Medal of the Arts to nine people in various fields of arts and letters: Alfred Eisenstaedt (photography), Dizzy Gillespie (jazz), John Updike (fiction), Katherine Dunham (dance), Walker Hancock (sculpture), Czeslaw Milosz (poetry), Robert Motherwell (painting), Leopold Adler (historic preservation), and Vladimir Horowitz (music). John Frohnmayer, chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, reads the citations. Dunham is honored "for her pioneering explorations of Caribbean and African dance, which have enriched and transformed the art of dance in America."
Katherine Dunham receives an honorary doctorate of humane letters from Spelman College in Atlanta and the prestigious Caribbean Award from the government of Trinidad and Tobago.
Beginning in 1990, discussions at the annual Dunham Technique Seminar center around the creation of a method for certifying teachers of Dunham Technique.
Katherine Dunham begins a hunger strike to focus international attention on the plight of Haitian refugees seeking asylum in the United States who, under the orders of President George Bush, were being sent back to Haiti. After forty-seven days, she ends her fast after concerns for her health are voiced by exiled Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide and others.
The government of Haiti awards citizenship to Katherine Dunham. Dunham receives an honorary doctorate of humane letters from Chicago State University.
Katherine Dunham becomes artist-in-residence and lecturer at the University of Hawaii.
Dunham receives an honorary doctorate of fine arts from the University of Southern California, Los Angeles.
Dunham reaches the venerable age of ninety, and a large birthday party is planned. Former Dunham dancers, students, friends, and community officials gather to dance for her and to pay tribute to her in East Saint Louis. Although a heavy rainfall causes a last-minute change of venue, the celebration is not dampened. During the course of the evening, a grant from the Illinois Arts Council is announced, and a Smith Award is presented to Dunham by representatives of the Smithsonian Institution. An observer describes Dunham as "resplendent in pink from the top of her head to her toes."
Katherine Dunham is named one of "America's Irreplaceable Dance Treasures" by the Dance Heritage Coalition. The Library of Congress receives $1 million from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation to undertake the Katherine Dunham Legacy Project.
The superintendent of School District 189 in East Saint Louis and other community leaders present plans for the Katherine Dunham Academy of Performing, Visual, and Cultural Arts. The superintendent attends an institute at City Center in New York in August 2000, during which dance educators consider a pedagogy that incorporates Dunham's methods and ideas about dance and society.
A photograph of Dunham in L'Ag'Ya appears on the front cover of Dance Magazine (August 2000). The feature article in the issue, written by Wendy Perron, is entitled "Katherine Dunham: One-Woman Revolution."
Illinois governor George Ryan announces a $57.4 million educational grant to the East Saint Louis district at a meeting with singer Harry Belafonte and actor Danny Glover, who, at Dunham's request, were conducting a fact-finding mission in East Saint Louis preliminary to seeking funding for cultural and economic development projects.
In honor of Dunham's ninety-third birthday, Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival, in western Massachusetts, organizes a special tribute with American and African dancers and musicians.
Dunham receives an honorary doctorate of fine arts from Harvard University.
Dunham is honored with a three-day tribute in New York City with special presentations and performances at Symphony Space on upper Broadway.
In late March, "A Conversation with Katherine Dunham" is presented at Barnard College in New York City. Dunham is interviewed by Paul Scolieri, an assistant professor of dance, in a large lecture hall where there is standing room only. Although confined to a wheelchair, Dunham does not seem frail. She notes that she will soon be ninety-five years old but says that she intends to live to be a hundred and forty, because she still has so much to do. The audience responds with applause.
In April, Katherine Dunham headlines Baila USA, the annual African-American cultural festival in Miami, Florida, sponsored by the Ifé-Ifé Afro-Cuban Dance and Music Ensemble. She teaches a master class, with assistance from Theodore Jamison, and attends a gala performance and a bembé, a traditional party of the Santería religion.
Kaiso!: An Anthology of Writings by and about Katherine Dunham, edited by VèVè A. Clark and Sara E. Johnson, is published by the University of Wisconsin Press. A greatly expanded and updated edition of the 1978 publication, this new work is a volume of Studies in Dance History, a monograph series sponsored by the Society of Dance History Scholars and funded by the Katherine Dunham Legacy Project at the Library of Congress.
Katherine Dunham dies on 21 May 2006.
Last Updated: July 30, 2013