Donald McKayle was a modern dancer, choreographer, teacher, director and writer best known for creating socially conscious concert works during the 1950s and ’60s that focus on expressing the black experience in America.
Mckayle was born on July 6, 1930, in New York City. He grew up in East Harlem which was mainly a mixed-race community. McKayle was the second child of a middle-class immigrant family. While growing up, he was influenced by his parents’ liberal and activist lifestyles and the exposure to social dance and the exuberant social atmosphere of the West Indian parties his parents attended.
McKayle premiered his solo piece at the age of eighteen, Saturday’s Child in 1948, which was choreographed to the poetry of Countee Cullen. This piece depicted the reality of poverty and the suffering of the homeless. According to McKayle’s autobiography, he was inducted into the Committee for the Negro in the Arts due to the repeated performance and high visibility of this piece.
The American dance classic Games (1951) was McKayle’s first major work and was responsible for launching his dance career. His early works attracted the interest of numerous audiences. He later began choreographing for celebrities which led to several appearances in popular television shows including The Ed Sullivan Show and The Bill Cosby Show. He choreographed for films including The Great White Hope and The Minstrel Man.
He later formed and directed his own dance company, Donald McKayle, and Dancers (1951–69), and was the head of the Inner City Repertory Dance Company from 1970 to 1974. Donald McKayle died on April 6, 2018.