Judith Jamison on Facebook Live

Harriette Cole and Judith Jamison

Dancer, choreographer, and Artistic Director Emerita of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater Judith Jamison was the special guest on this week's "Real Conversations With..." series presented by AARP Black Community on Facebook Live. She was interviewed by Harriette Cole, who describes herself as "a life stylist, author, nationally syndicated advice columnist, motivational speaker, media trainer, magazine editor, lifestyle writer, wife and mother."

Judith Jamison

I have watched Judith Jamison's career through the years since my days as an undergraduate in Philadelphia at the Curtis Institute of Music, when Sophisticated Ladies came to town for its pre-Broadway run. During yesterday's conversation, Jamison praised the cast and music of the production, Duke Ellington's band and Gregory Hines, with whom she starred and choreographed the show. This production happened many years after her groundbreaking international success for Cry in 1971. Alvin Ailey choreographed this sixteen-minute dance solo as a birthday present for his mother, Lula Cooper, and later dedicated it to "all-black women everywhere, especially our mothers."

Alvin Ailey
Alvin Ailey

I had known that Judith Jamison had attended Fisk University, so I was especially excited to talk to her after the performance in Philadelphia. During the interview she spoke of the recently-departed Civil Rights icon John Lewis, who also was a student at Fisk at that time:

    Harriette Cole: "You mentioned you came to New York in 1965. Civil Rights is still happening; we're moving into Black Power... Talk about what was happening for black people in the arts at this moment."

    Judith Jamison: "I was so protected as a kid during the Civil Rights Movement, that many things were kept from me. John Lewis was ahead of me at Fisk University." 

    HC: "Right! Because you went to Fisk."

    JJ: "Yes, yes! And, he was the one who was taking the chances. You know what I'm saying? He was the one who was doing what he said he would do. And he went and DID it. So I was at Fisk. I was also listening to the Jubilee Singers, who were singing Spirituals. Little did I know that I would connect with those Spirituals later."

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s “Revelations.” (photo by Paul Kolnik)

As we all know, Alvin Ailey utilized the Spirituals in many of his great works, incorporating the recordings by the Moses Hogan Chorale for the performances. While Jamison was a student at Fisk, my father Matthew Kennedy was director of the Fisk Jubilee Singers at the time. When I spoke to her in Philadelphia, I was curious as to whether she remembered my  parents. She didn't seem particularly interested in talking to me, but she was visibly interested in talking to the men around me.

Listening to Judith Jamison speak, I was reminded of the danger my parents were subjected to while touring with the Fisk Jubilee Singers in the Deep South during the days of threatened bombings and attacks by the Ku Klux Klan. These students were in my parents' care, and were put in harm's way because of the racist climate of the day. As a child I was often in those Greyhound buses with the group. We are indeed lucky that we survived those tours without incident.

Geoffrey Holder and Carmen de Lavallade

Cole and Jamison also spoke of ballerina Carmen de Lavallade and her husband Geoffrey Holder, most famous for his 7-Up commercial describing "the Un-Cola nut," and his choreography and role in the 1973 James Bond film Live and Let Die. Geoffrey Holder came to Fisk to present "An Evening with Geoffrey Holder" during the annual Spring Arts Festival in the 1970s. I remember being in the audience and asking him for his autograph, which he happily gave to me. I have just recently written about the famous couple in my second book of memoirs Practice What You Preach, coming out in 2021.

Judith Jamison has been an icon for black women all over the world for many years, and we were happy to see her looking so well, and to hear her pearls of wisdom. Thank you, AARP Black Community!

Judith Jamison in Cry



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