Black Ancestors : Pearl Primus


Feb 28, 2009
Pearl Primus
Born: November 29, 1919
Died: October 29, 1994
Occupation: dancer, choreographer

Primus was born in Trinidad and raised in New York City, where she attended Hunter College. After graduating in 1940 with a degree in biology, she received a scholarship to study at the New School for Social Research in New York. Primus made her professional debut in New York in 1943, performing her own "African Ceremonial." She then began performing at the Cafe Society Downtown, an integrated nightclub, and in 1944 she gave her first solo recital, performing to poetry and the music of folksinger Josh White. That show met with such success that it moved to Broadway. In 1946, Primus appeared in a New York revival of "Showboat," as well as in Louis Gruenberg's opera "The Emperor Jones" at the Chicago Civic Opera.

Primus, who founded her own dance company in 1946, was best known for her "primitive" dances. She was famed for her energy and her physical daring, which were characterized by leaps up to five feet in the air. Dance critics praised her movements as forceful and dramatic, yet graceful and deliberately controlled. During this time Primus often based her dances on the work of black writers and on racial issues. In 1944, she interpreted Langston Hughes' "The Negro Speaks of Rivers" (1944), and in 1945 she created "Strange Fruit", based on the poem by Lewis Allan about a lynching. "Hard Time Blues" (1945) is based on a song about sharecroppers by folksinger Josh White. In 1949, Primus received a grant from the Julius Rosenwald Foundation to study dance in Central and West Africa. In the years that followed, she also studied and danced throughout the Caribbean and the southern United States. She drew her subjects from a variety of black cultures and figures, ranging from African stonecutters to Caribbean religious practices to rural life in the American South.....

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