Donald McKayle

Donald McKayle (1930–2018)

UCI News reports that choreographer, dancer, director, and teacher Donald McKayle died on April 6, 2018. He was the first African American man to direct musicals on Broadway, such as Sophisticated Ladies (1981) and Raisin (1973)—the latter of which received a Tony Award. He worked with some of the dance world’s finest, including Martha Graham, Merce Cunningham, and Anna Sokolow. McKayle’s own pieces—including Games (1951), Blood of the Lamb (1963), and Incantation (1968), among others—are still performed regularly around the globe. He was a professor emeritus at the University of California, Irvine and influenced generations of students.

McKayle was born in Manhattan’s Harlem neighborhood. He received a scholarship to study with the New Dance Group, where he worked under modern dancers such as Jean Erdman and Sophie Maslow. His professional dancing debut was in 1948, when he was only eighteen years old.

Howard Gillman, UCI’s chancellor, said: “Donald McKayle’s passing is truly the end of an era in American dance. His passion for teaching and mentoring young, talented dancers remained unabated throughout his long life, and one of his greatest legacies is the hundreds of professional dancers now performing around the world.”

“There was so much joy in the room at all times. He led with laughter and joy and song,” said Bret Yamanaka, McKayle’s choreographic assistant and rehearsal director at UCI. “The studio and students were his life. He would light up when he was teaching. He was so quick and lively—even to the end.”