ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



Region Sparkles With Katherine Dunham’s ‘

Leg-a-cy’ Amidst Renewal of Her ‘Vision’



Books by and about Katherine Dunham


Katherine Dunham Dancing a Life  / Island Possessed  / Black Dance from 1619 to Today  /  A Touch of Innocence: A Memoir of Childhood


Dances of Haiti  /  Equality For A Lightning Bug: A Small Collection of Poems  /  Journey to Accompong


Kaiso!: Writings by and about Katherine Dunham  /  Katherine Dunham: Pioneer of Black Dance

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Katherine Dunham

(22 June 1909 – 21 May 2006)


Katherine Dunham was born June 22, 1909, in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. Her parents–Albert Millard Dunham, a tailor and Fanny June Guillaume Taylor, an assistant principal — afforded her a rather middle class existence. As a teenager her life became a bit rocky with her mother’s death, her father’s remarriage, and with her father being a strict disciplinarian.

In 1928, Katherine Dunham, with help from her brother Albert Jr., moved to Chicago and began classes at the University of Chicago. Dunham would later earn bachelor, masters and doctoral degrees in anthropology. more

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East St. Louis Plans Big Tribute

June 22 Lincoln Middle School Gymnasium

12 South 10th Street — noon to 3 pm


Wednesday May 31, 2006


East St. Louis — Famed dancer and Choreographer Katherine Dunham died last week at the age of 96. But this city — her adopted hometown — is making sure she’s not forgotten anytime soon.


On Tuesday, organizers announced that a citywide tribute to the civil rights activist, anthropologist and publisher will be June 22 — what would have been her 97th birthday — Lincoln Middle School Gymnasium — 12 South 10th Street — noon to 3 pm.

Eugene Redmond, who heads the committee planning the event honoring his friend of nearly four decades, said the celebration is to include testimonials by people influenced by Dunham, the namesake of the technique melding movements from traditional African and Caribbean dance styles.

The event titled “Katherine Dunham: a Familial Memorial Celebration,” also is to feature dancers and drummers, Redmond said. “It will be a celebration of her life and an ode to her legacy,” said Redmond, who also serves as vice president of the board for the local Katherine Dunham Centers for Art and Humanities.


Charlotte Ottley, a former aide to Dunham, said that culturally, this is a boost East St. Louis needs, and it will happen. Dunham, who died May 21 in an assisted living center in New York city, called East St. Louis home for more than 30 years. She once pressed a cultural crusade that some credited with putting gang leaders in leotards. At the time, she called on everyone to share her love for the arts and “something more constructive than genocide.”


Dunham moved to New York in 1999. But Ottley said Dunham had planned to move back to the area for good next month before her 97th birthday bash at St. Louis’ Missouri History Museum, also scheduled for June 22. That event will follow the East St. Louis tribute.


Dunham’s body has been cremated and a private service by the family was held Friday at the Frank E. Campbell Funeral Chapel, a worker there said Tuesday. Dunham’s husband, John Pratt, died in East St. Louis in 1986.


Source: Belleville News-Democrat (Wednesday, May 31, 2006)


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Region Sparkles With Katherine Dunham’s ‘Leg-a-cy’ Amidst Renewal of Her ‘Vision’ EAST ST. LOUIS TO HOST ‘MEMORIAL CELEBRATION’ FOR THE ‘EMPRESS’ ON JUNE 22 AT LINCOLN MIDDLE SCHOOL(Day of ‘Memory’ & ‘Honor’ Includes Tours of Katherine Dunham Museum)By Dawn Orisha Special to the World

East St. Louis, Illinois—Katherine Dunham, a multi-tiered genius known as “the Duke Ellington of dance,” will be celebrated during a memorial “afterglow” from noon to 3 p.m. on Thursday, June 22, at Lincoln Middle School, 12 South Tenth Street at Broadway Avenue. Called “Katherine Dunham (1909-2006): A Familial Memorial Celebration,” this homage to the “Empress” is free to the public. (Lincoln School’s outstanding alumni include Attorney-philanthropist Peggy (Gregory) Newman, musicians Eugene Haynes, Miles Davis, Reginald Thomas, and Russell Gunn, athletes LaFonso Ellis and Jackie Joyner-Kersee [who took classes in Dunham Technique at the Mary Brown Center in the 1970s], Ambassador Donald McHenry, National Black Theatre founder Barbara Ann Teer, vocal stylist Leon Thomas, former Peace Corps administrator Reginald Petty, and writers John Hicks, Jerry Herman, and Darlene Roy.) In 1967—after more than 30 years of studying, performing, consulting, filmmaking, and championing humanitarian causes in 60 countries—the anthropologist-dancer-author opened her Performing Arts Training Center in East St. Louis, one of her “three spiritual homes.”

The former PATC Complex, including a residence and namesakes Museum/Children’s Workshop, is located on North Tenth Street, a. k. a. Katherine Dunham Place. The public is invited to tour the Museum (KD Place and Pennsylvania Avenue) from 9:30 to 11:30 am on June 22. Among the first wave of students, artists, consultants, administrators, and instructors at PATC—part of Southern Illinois University’s Experiment in Higher Education program—were dancers Darryl Braddix, Valerie (Howard) Adams, and Ron Tibbs; poets Henry Dumas, Sherman Fowler and Eugene B. Redmond; filmmakers Reginald and Warrington Hudlin; translator Jeanelle Stovall; drummers Mor Thiam and Rene Calvin; activists Taylor Jones III and Charles Koen; musicians Bernie Dunlap and Julius Hemphill; and singer-actors Oscar Brown, Jr. and Camille Yarbrough.

(During the 1970s, Julliard-trained pianist-composer Eugene Haynes served as PATC’s director.) The June 22 event will include an invocation by a 97-member drum ensemble (led by PATC-trained percussionists Sylvester Sunshine Lee and Arthur Moore), dance numbers by certified teachers of Dunham Technique, readings of proclamations and telegrams from global dignitaries and organizations, testimonials from Dunham protégés and devotees, poetic recitations, film clips, photo exhibits, and musical selections. A sampling of speakers/participants includes ESL Mayor Carl Officer, Illinois Rep. Wyvetter Younge, US Cong. William Lacey Clay (St. Louis), Top Ladies of Distinction (national) President Peggy LeCompte, and Illinois Sen. James Clayborne. According to Fowler, one of the organizers of the Memorial Celebration, the June 22 event “will put us on the road to achieving a primary goal of Miss Dunham’s—that of placing East St. Louis at the cultural, educational, and artistic center of the world.” Echoing Fowler’s sentiments, Charlotte Ottley, consultant for Katherine Dunham Legacy Affairs, noted: “The ‘Memorial Celebration’ will be a once in a lifetime experience for all of us who have shared the magic of Katherine Dunham: those who remember ‘when,’ the ones who succeeded against the odds in the struggle for institutional survival, and others committed to the future by keeping her legacy alive. Miss Dunham would love our unity, love and collective energy. I’m looking forward to making the world take a second look at East St. Louis, Illinois as re-energized by Miss D’s enormous legacy.” The Board of Directors of the Katherine Dunham Centers for Arts and Humanities is overseeing the memorial. KDCAH President Dr. Lena Weathers said she is “very grateful for the outpouring of support, especially from School District 189, and extremely pleased with the way things are falling into place for this international memorial celebration.” (East St. Louis Poet Laureate Redmond, also a member of the KDCAH board, is chairing the memorial planning committee.) ESL poet Darlene Roy, another member of the planning committee, noted Miss Dunham’s “mystique—and ‘Technique’—still informs (and forms) us as we pledge to tuck-point her institutions and stoke the fires of her awesome legacy.” Persons desiring to help with expenses for the June 22 memorial may send checks or money orders to Katherine Dunham Centers for Arts and Humanities (KDCAH), 532 North Tenth Street at Katherine Dunham Place, East St. Louis, Illinois 62201. Those wanting to make repetitive long-term contributions in support of the Katherine Dunham Legacy (Museum, Children’s Workshop, upkeep of properties) should send tax-deductible donations online to A 7 p.m. post-memorial program in the Lee Auditorium of the Missouri History Museum—at Lindell and DeBaliviere in St. Louis’ Forest Park—is also free to the public, and will include performances, exhibits, and testimonials. Information: 314 361-8017. Miss Dunham, who died May 21 in New York City, is survived by a daughter, Marie-Christine Dunham-Pratt; a nephew, Kaye Lawrence Dunham; a goddaughter, Kati Stovall; and former designer and longtime friend Madeline Preston. All survivors will attend the June 22 celebration. Miss Dunham’s husband, John Pratt, died in 1986 in East St. Louis. For more information about the East St. Louis Memorial, contact Eugene B.Redmond—Chair, Katherine Dunham Familial Memorial Celebration Committee—at 618 650-3991; Email: 

Source: (Courtesy of Drumvoices/EBR Writers Club Grapevine News Network)

Related links:


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Katherine Dunham

Centers for Arts and Humanities

532 Katherine Dunham Place at 10th Street   East St. Louis, Illinois 62201

phone (618.531.0403     fax: 618.271.0519


Now let’s invest in making it a lasting one!


Katherine Dunham renowned dancer-choreographer-anthropologist-author, performed on stage (and screen) in 62 countries during 30 years of touring. For nearly 40 years she ahs made East St. Louis (Illinois) her home — a hub of cultural influence attracting the world attention. The Dunham centers need your help. Please select one of the following ways you or your organization can support.


Host a Fundraiser/ Love Offering

Underwrite Scholarships for Young Artists-in-Training

Become a KDCAH Volunteer (Recruitment, Clerical, PR)

Provide & Solicit Donations for Upkeep of Dunham Museum

Assist in Renovation of the KD Children’s Workshop

Board of Directors: Dr. Lena J. Weathers, Eugene Redmond, Laverne Wizard, Johnny Campbell, LLC, Riley Owens, Theodore Wofford, Charlotte Ottley, Liaison.

This is a tax exempt 501c. 3 not for profit organization. All donations are tax deductible.


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Katherine Dunham Dancing a Life

By Joyce Aschenbreener


Throughout the better part of the twentieth century and in performance halls, classrooms, and communities throughout the world, Katherine Dunham’s remarkable career can be traced to the intersection of dance, culture and society.

More than a recounting of Dunham’s accomplishments as a dancer and choreographer, this biography is the first to examine thoroughly her pioneering contributions to dance anthropology and her commitment to humanizing society through the arts

Founder of the first self-supporting African American dance company, Dunham relied on her fieldwork as an anthropologist to fundamentally change modern dance. She shaped new dance techniques and introduced other cultures to U.S. and European audiences by fusing Caribbean and African-based movement with ballet and modern dance.

Her revolutionary approaches to dance and its connection to the world influenced a generation of dancers, theatrical performers, and scholars. She believes that dancing involves the development of an entire person and that the rituals and traditions of dance are integral to the study of culture.

Throughout her career, she has been a living model of the socially responsible artist working to whet cultural appetites and combat social injustice.

Building on Dunham’s published memoirs–A Touch of Innocence (1969; 1980) and Island Possessed (1969; 1994)–Joyce Aschenbrenner’s multifaceted portrait blends personal observations based on her own interactions with Dunham, archival documents, and interviews with Dunham’s colleagues, students, and members of the Katherine Dunham Dance Company.

Integrating these sources, Aschenbrenner characterizes the social, familial, and cultural environment of Dunham’s upbringing and the intellectual and artistic community she embraced at the University of Chicago that laid the groundwork for her development as a dancer, anthropologist, and humanitarian. The book vividly depicts Dunham’s and her dancers’ touring experiences and includes detailed descriptions of her community cultural and educational programs in East St. Louis.  

“Katherine Dunham: dancing a Life is extremely important because there is no other book available that adequately addresses this artist/anthropologist’s vast contribution to American culture. Although Dunham’s impact on American dance is as great as Martha Graham’s, most historians and critics have not given her work the attention it so richly deserves. Joyce Aschenbrenner’s deeply researched book is a treasure trove of new information and a labor of love and commitment.”

–Jacqui Malone, author of Steppin’ on the Blues

“This anthropological biography is a unique labor of love celebrating the roles and contributions of Katherine Dunham. For almost thirty years, Joyce Aschenbrenner, herself an established anthropologist, has been personally and professionally involved with ms. Dunham and Dunham Company programs. Thus, the usual participant-observation fieldwork methodologies and directed and nondirected interviews employed by anthropologists have been enriched by Aschenbrenner’s long-term, multifaceted experiences. 

“This long-awaited biography contributes greatly to understanding of this powerful African American woman, her pioneer work in dance anthropology, and her continuing efforts to use the arts to challenge injustice whenever possible.”

–Charlotte J. Frisbie, professor emeritus of anthropology at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville


The Wisdom of Katherine Dunham

I used to want the words “She tried.” on my tombstone. Now I want “She did it.” If you dance, you dance because you have to. Every dancer hurts, you know. Go within every day and find the inner strength so that the world will not blow your candle out. The best career advice given to the young is: “Find out what you like doing best and get someone to pay you for doing it.” I always believed that if you set out to be successful, then you already were. I wasn’t concerned about the hardships, because I always felt I was doing what I had to do, what I wanted to do and what I was destined to do. We weren’t pushing Black is beautiful. We just showed it.

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Joyce Aschenbrenner, professor emerita of anthropology at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville, is the author of Katherine Dunham: Reflections on the Social and Political Contexts of Afro-American Dance and Lifelines: Black Families in Chicago. She is coeditor of The Processes of Urbanism: A Multidisciplinary Approach and acting curator and education coordinator of the Katherine Dunham Museum.

University of Illinois Press 1325 South Oak Street, Champaign, IL 61820 (217) 244-4689 /  Fax: (217) 244-8082

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Selections from the Katherine Dunham Collection at the Library of Congress

The Katherine Dunham Collection consists of materials purchased from the archives of the Dunham Centers in East St. Louis, Illinois, and is made possible through a grant from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. The Collection comprises 1,694 items in a variety of video/motion picture formats. It documents many aspects of Dunham’s dance career: her work as a choreographer, her dance technique and teaching method, various of her performances and productions, and her anthropological analysis of the dance and ritual of the African diaspora. The Collection also testifies to her global activism and leadership in the field of human rights and her advocacy of African American causes in her community.

The materials in this collection are housed and available for use in the Motion Picture, Broadcasting, and Recorded Sound Reading Room. Viewing requests should be directed to the MBRS Reading Room at 202-707-8572. Items should be requestedusing the “Motion Picture ID#” given in this document. The numbers found in the field labeled “Tape #” are only included for use in provenance tracking. (Those are the numbers that were on the tapes at the Dunham Center Archives in East St. Louis.) Continued . . .

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A Life in Dance

By Vicky Risner

Dance Specialist, March 2004


Although long recognized as a major force in American dance, Katherine Dunham (22 June 1909 – 21 May 2006) is less a household name than some of her contemporaries such as Martha Graham or George Balanchine. Nonetheless, her creative influence is just as profound. In addition to her theatrical career, Dunham did pioneering work in the field of dance anthropology and founded a school that embodied multi-cultural principles decades before the term was used in the field of education.

Born in 1909 in Chicago, Katherine Dunham is an American dancer-choreographer who is best known for incorporating African American, Caribbean, African, and South American movement styles and themes into her ballets. As a young dancer and student at the University of Chicago, she chose anthropology as her course of study. The union of dance and would have a profound impact on her choreographic style throughout her career.

Mrs. Alfred Rosenwald of the Julius Rosenwald Fund attended one of Dunham’s dance concerts (some say at the urging of Erich Fromm, a friend and mentor of Dunham’s at the University of Chicago) and became fascinated with the young dancer’s ideas about dance and its potential for understanding other cultures. As a result, Dunham was awarded a Rosenwald Fund Fellowship to study the dance forms of the Caribbean under the aegis of the University of Chicago’s anthropology department and Melville J. Herskovits, head of the anthropology department at Northwestern University. Thus began Dunham’s historic journey in American dance.

Dunham’s original goal was to analyze the dances of the Caribbean, but she soon recognized that this was much too extensive a task for one trip. Her revised agenda included a stop in Jamaica to study a Maroon village, which resulted in her first book,

Journey to Accompong. This was followed by visits to several other islands before her arrival in Haiti where she stayed for nine months. Her work in Haiti resulted in her thesis, “The Dances of Haiti: Their Social Organization, Classification, Form, and Function” and another book, Island Possessed. These pioneering dance/anthropology works were significant first steps toward the now recognized sub discipline of dance anthropology. Continued . . .

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Dancer Katherine Mary Dunham

St. Louis, MO (KPLR)—Katherine Mary Dunham was born June 22, 1909 in Chicago, Illinois. From the moment she took her first steps, it was apparent she would become dance’s “Katherine the Great.” In her late teens she took up formal dance but attended the University of Chicago on a scholarship to study anthropology. After graduation she made her way to the West Indies to study both of her loves. “So she went to Cuba. She went to Haiti. She went to Jamaica, to study the dance that the inhabitants did there. Because they were a part of the French and Spanish in those cultures and allowed them to practice their African roots.” said Director of the Katherine Dunham Dance Center Ruby Streate. Dunham’s dancing feet took her around the globe and back to Haiti on numerous occasions. She even set up a residence for some time. Her dance company employed as many as 40 members touring extensively. Sometimes stepping on toes to break down racial barriers. Her fame gained in Europe and she showcased her troupe in film. Most notably the breakthrough musical “Stormy Weather” in 1943. She continued to dance, teach and perform in the then segregated South. But it was the 1960’s she answered the call to help once again. It’s been said, dance is a delicate balance between perfection and beauty. Katherine Dunham did both with grace and ease.—KPLR

Katherine Dunham—Stormy Weather  / Katherine Dunham en haar dansgroep

Katherine Dunham—Living St. Louis  / Katherine Dunham—Shango (1945)

Katherine Dunham on “Shango”  /  Alvin Ailey and Katherine Dunham 1988

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Aké: The Years of Childhood

By Wole Soyinka

Aké: The Years of Childhood is a memoir of stunning beauty, humor, and perception


a lyrical account of one boy’s attempt to grasp the often irrational and hypocritical world of adults that equally repels and seduces him. Soyinka elevates brief anecdotes into history lessons, conversations into morality plays, memories into awakenings. Various cultures, religions, and languages mingled freely in the Aké of his youth, fostering endless contradictions and personalized hybrids, particularly when it comes to religion. Christian teachings, the wisdom of the ogboni, or ruling elders, and the power of ancestral spirits


who alternately terrify and inspire him


all carried equal metaphysical weight. Surrounded by such a collage, he notes that “God had a habit of either not answering one’s prayers at all, or answering them in a way that was not straightforward.” In writing from a child’s perspective, Soyinka expresses youthful idealism and unfiltered honesty while escaping the adult snares of cynicism and intolerance. His stinging indictment of colonialism takes on added power owing to the elegance of his attack.

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Faces At The Bottom of the Well: The Permanence of Racism

By Derrick Bell

In nine grim metaphorical sketches, Bell, the black former Harvard law professor who made headlines recently for his one-man protest against the school’s hiring policies, hammers home his controversial theme that white racism is a permanent, indestructible component of our society. Bell’s fantasies are often dire and apocalyptic: a new Atlantis rises from the ocean depths, sparking a mass emigration of blacks; white resistance to affirmative action softens following an explosion that kills Harvard’s president and all of the school’s black professors; intergalactic space invaders promise the U.S. President that they will clean up the environment and deliver tons of gold, but in exchange, the bartering aliens take all African Americans back to their planet. Other pieces deal with black-white romance, a taxi ride through Harlem and job discrimination.

Civil rights lawyer Geneva Crenshaw, the heroine of Bell’s And We Are Not Saved (1987), is back in some of these ominous allegories, which speak from the depths of anger and despair. Bell now teaches at New York University Law School.—Publishers Weekly

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So Rich, So Poor: Why It’s So Hard to End Poverty in America

By Peter Edelman

If the nation’s gross national income—over $14 trillion—were divided evenly across the entire U.S. population, every household could call itself middle class. Yet the income-level disparity in this country is now wider than at any point since the Great Depression. In 2010 the average salary for CEOs on the S&P 500 was over $1 million—climbing to over $11 million when all forms of compensation are accounted for—while the current median household income for African Americans is just over $32,000. How can some be so rich, while others are so poor? In this provocative book, Peter Edelman, a former top aide to Senator Robert F. Kennedy and a lifelong antipoverty advocate, offers an informed analysis of how this country can be so wealthy yet have a steadily growing number of unemployed and working poor. According to Edelman, we have taken important positive steps without which 25 to 30 million more people would be poor, but poverty fluctuates with the business cycle.

The structure of today’s economy has stultified wage growth for half of America’s workers—with even worse results at the bottom and for people of color—while bestowing billions on those at the top. So Rich, So Poor delves into what is happening to the people behind the statistics and takes a particular look at the continuing crisis of young people of color, whose possibility of a productive life too often is lost on their way to adulthood


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Allah, Liberty, and Love

The Courage to Reconcile Faith and Freedom

By Irshad Manji

In Allah, Liberty and Love, Irshad Manji paves a path for Muslims and non-Muslims to transcend the fears that stop so many of us from living with honest-to-God integrity: the fear of offending others in a multicultural world as well as the fear of questioning our own communities. Since publishing her international bestseller, The Trouble with Islam Today, Manji has moved from anger to aspiration. She shows how any of us can reconcile faith with freedom and thus discover the Allah of liberty and love—the universal God that loves us enough to give us choices and the capacity to make them. Among the most visible Muslim reformers of our era, Manji draws on her experience in the trenches to share stories that are deeply poignant, frequently funny and always revealing about these morally confused times.

What prevents young Muslims, even in the West, from expressing their need for religious reinterpretation? What scares non-Muslims about openly supporting liberal voices within Islam? How did we get into the mess of tolerating intolerable customs, such as honor killings, and how do we change that noxious status quo?

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 — The Founding of Haiti 

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update 14 July 2012




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