Posted by | Cyrena Rose

Born on this day in 1943 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania is world-renowned American dancer and choreographer Judith Ann Jamison.  Taught by her father to play the piano and violin and exposed to the prominent art culture in Philadelphia at an early age, Ms. Jamison was groomed for greatness.  At the age of six she began her dance training at Judimar School of Dance.

Fast-forward…in 1964, after abruptly leaving what she felt was a poor audition held by Donald McKayle, she received a call from Alvin Ailey (McKayle’s friend) a few days later and accepted an offer to work for his dance company, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre (AAADT).

Ailey regarded Jamison as his muse, and in 1971 he choreographed the sixteen-minute solo, Cry, for her.  Cry, a birthday gift for Ailey’s mother, Lula Cooper, was dedicated to “all black women everywhere—especially our mothers.”

Jamison was a star attraction for the AAADT in the fifteen years that she danced with the company.  As one colleague remarked, “When Judy was onstage, no one else was onstage.”   Upon Ailey’s death, on December 1, 1989, she assumed the role of artistic director and dedicated the next 21 years of her life to the company’s success.

Jamison choreographed and created dances such as ‘’Forgotten Time’’, ‘’Hymn’’, ‘’Love Stories’’, and ‘’Among Us’’ for the company.  In July 2011, Jamison transitioned into the role of Artistic Director Emerita and appointed Robert Battle to the position of Artistic Director Designate.

Jamar Roberts in Jamison’s Among Us

Members of AAADT in Jamison’s Love Stories

Jamison has been the recipient of numerous awards including:

• Youngest person ever to receive The Dance USA Award (1998)

• New York State Governor’s Arts Award (1998)

• Kennedy Center Honors for her contribution to American culture through dance (1999)

• A prime time Emmy Award/American Choreography Award for “A Hymn for Alvin Ailey” (1999)

• National Medal of Arts (2001)

• Honored by the National Theater of Ghana (2002)

• The Paul Robeson Award from the Actors’ Equity Association (2004)

• Bessie Award for her commitment to development in dance and the arts (2007)

• The BET Honors Award – a tribute to the achievement of leading African Americans (2009)

• Listed in the TIME 100: The World’s Most Influential People (2009)

• Congressional Black Caucus’ Phoenix Award (2010)

• The Handel Medallion (2010)