Alvin Ailey was born on January 5, 1931, in Rogers, Texas. His experiences of life in the rural South—picking cotton with his mother and watching river baptisms at his church while the choir sang spirituals—inspired some of his most memorable dance works.
Carmen de Lavallade and Alvin Ailey at Jacobs Pillow (1961) by John LindquistAiley
Alvin Ailey's Introduction to Dance
His dance career began in Los Angeles in 1948, when his friend and muse Carmen de Lavallade introduced him to choreographer Lester Horton and his integrated dance company. They joined the company and later moved to New York in 1954 to perform on Broadway.
First Performance program of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater (1958)Ailey
The First Concert
On March 30, 1958, he founded Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater with its first performance in New York City with the ballet Blues Suite, which has stood the test of time and remains one of his most popular works.
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Alvin Ailey's Revelations (1991/1992) by Jack Mitchell © Alvin Ailey Dance Foundation, Inc. & Smithsonian InstitutionAiley
When Mr. Ailey began creating dances, he drew upon his "blood memories" of Texas—the blues, spirituals, and gospel as inspiration, which resulted in the creation of his most popular and critically acclaimed work, Revelations.
A Lifetime of Distinction
Throughout his lifetime, Mr. Ailey was awarded numerous distinctions, including the Kennedy Center Honors (1988) for contributing to American culture. He posthumously received the Presidential Medal of Freedom (2014), for his commitment to civil rights and dance in America.
Continuing Alvin Ailey's Legacy
When Mr. Ailey died on December 1, 1989, it was a great loss to the organization and the dance world. He was loved not only for his creative genius but also for his humanity, warmth, and generosity of spirit. His successor, Judith Jamison, protected and expanded upon his legacy.