Guide to the Photograph Collection on Katherine Dunham

Processed by Audrey Pearson; machine-readable finding aid created by Audrey Pearson
Special Collections and Archives
The UCI Libraries
P.O. Box 19557
University of California, Irvine
Irvine, California 92623-9557
Phone: (949) 824-3947
Fax: (949) 824-2472
Email: spcoll@uci.edu
URL: http://special.lib.uci.edu
© 2007
The Regents of the University of California. All rights reserved.


Descriptive Summary

Title: Photograph collection on Katherine Dunham
Date: 1938-1959
Collection Number: MS-P047
Extent: 1.6 linear feet (3 boxes and 4 oversized folders)
Languages: The collection is in English, German, French, and Spanish.
Repository: University of California, Irvine. Library. Special Collections and Archives.
Irvine, California 92623-9557
Abstract: This collection comprises approximately 875 photographs of Katherine Dunham, the renowned dancer, choreographer, teacher, anthropologist, and humanitarian, and of the Katherine Dunham Dance Company. The collection contains photographic prints, proofs, contact sheets, and postcards depicting performances, rehearsals, portraits publicity efforts, and candid moments. The collection also contains typewritten letters concerning payment for photographs and other logistical matters of the Company.

Important Information for Researchers

Access

The collection is open for research.

Publication Rights

Property rights reside with the University of California. Literary rights are retained by the creators of the records and their heirs. For permissions to reproduce or to publish, please contact the Head of Special Collections and Archives.

Preferred Citation

Photograph collection on Katherine Dunham. MS-P047. Special Collections and Archives, University of California, Irvine Libraries, Irvine, California. Date accessed.
For the benefit of current and future researchers, please cite any additional information about sources consulted in this collection, including permanent URLs, item or folder descriptions, and box/folder locations.

Acquisition Information

Acquired in 2001 and 2004.

Processing History

Processed by Audrey Pearson, 2007.

Historical Background

Biography

Katherine Dunham was a choreographer, dancer, teacher, writer, anthropologist, social activist, and one of the founders of the anthropological dance movement. She was the creator of the Dunham Technique, which blends African and Caribbean-based rhythm with classical movement and greatly influenced American modern dance.
Born in 1909, Dunham came from a multi-ethnic background. Her mother was of Native American, French Canadian, English, and possibly African ancestry, and her father was of Madagascan and West African ancestry. This multi-ethnicity contributed to Dunham's interest in the culture and dances of Africa and the West Indies. She was also inspired early in life by the Terpsichorean Club at her high school, which taught modern dance techniques based on the ideas of Jaques-Dalcroze and Rudolf von Laban, and by her ballet studies with Russian ballerina Ludmilla Speranzeva.
Dunham attended the University of Chicago to study anthropology. There she earned a Rosenwald Fellowship to travel to the West Indies to undertake research on Caribbean dance cultures. This first-hand experience developed into her master's thesis, entitled "The Dances of Haiti: Their Social Organization, Classification, Form, and Function." While in Chicago, Dunham continued to pursue dance and formed one of the first African American ballet companies, Ballet Nègre, as well as a dance school, the Negro Dance Group. She was also a member of the Works Progress Administration's Mid-West Federal Writers' Project.
In 1938 Dunham left the university to pursue dancing and choreography in New York. There she formed the Katherine Dunham Dance Company, one of the first self-supporting African American dance companies. From the early 1940s until the mid-1960s, the Company toured as a concert dance group, introducing African and Caribbean dance and culture to United States and international audiences. Many of the works performed were dance representations of Caribbean, African, or American cultural events. Dunham's most celebrated choreographed pieces included L'Ag'Ya, a story of a tragic love triangle based on a Martinique fighting dance; Barrelhouse, an Americana piece based on a Florida swamp shimmy; and Shango, based on a vodoun ritual. During this time Dunham also choreographed and danced in a number of Hollywood movies, including Stormy Weather (1943).
In 1946 Dunham returned to New York and founded the Katherine Dunham School of Arts and Research. The school's emphasis was on interdisciplinary study and included the Dunham School of Dance and Theater, the Department of Cultural Studies, and the Institute for Caribbean Research. Courses included general anthropology, introductory psychology, ballet, modern dance, history of drama, and Caribbean folklore. Among students who attended the school were James Dean, Peter Gennaro, Marlon Brando, Chita Rivera, Eartha Kitt, and José Ferrer.
Dunham continued to tour with her company from the 1940s until the mid-1960s. Later in life she took on the role of humanitarian and scholar, living in Haiti for a time, serving as an adviser to the cultural ministry of Senegal, and working as artist-in-residence at Southern Illinois University, where she later became professor and director of the Performing Arts Training Center. In 1983 Dunham was awarded a prestigious Kennedy Center Honor alongside Frank Sinatra and James Stewart for her lifetime contribution to the arts and American culture. She also received the United States National Medal of the Arts in dance in 1989 "for her pioneering explorations of Caribbean and African dance, which have enriched and transformed the art of dance in America."
Dunham was also known for taking political stands. In 1944 she informed her audience in Lexington, Kentucky that she would never dance there again because it was a segregated theater. In 1951 her troupe performed Southland, a controversial piece in which a black man hangs from a rope while a woman sings the anti-lynching song "Strange Fruit." Remarkably, at the age of 82, Dunham staged a 47-day hunger strike in protest of the United States ordering the return of starving Haitian refugees to Haiti. She ended the strike only after a visit from the ousted Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
Dunham died in 2006 at the age of 96.

Biography/Organization History

Chronology

1909 June 22 Katherine Mary Dunham born in Glen Ellyn, Illinois.
1928 Entered University of Chicago.
1933 Appeared with Chicago Opera in La Guiablesse.
1935 Awarded a Rosenwald Travel Fellowship and began fieldwork in West Indies.
1936 Earned Ph.B. in Social Anthropology from University of Chicago.
1938 Federal theater performance of L'Ag'Ya.
1939 Choreographed Carnival of Rhythm (Warner Bros.).
1940 Choreographed and performed Cabin in the Sky.
1940 Formed the Katherine Dunham Dance Company.
1940-1941 First U.S. tour with Cabin in the Sky.
1941 Married John Pratt.
1941-1947 Second tour in United States and Canada, choreographed and performed Tropical Revue, Carib Song.
1942 Choreographed Pardon My Sarong (Universal Pictures).
1942 Appeared in Star Spangled Rhythm (Paramount Pictures).
1943 Choreographed and appeared in Stormy Weather (Twentieth-Century Fox).
1945 Opened Katherine Dunham School of Dance in New York.
1947-1949 Toured Mexico and Europe.
1948 Choreographed and appeared in Casbah (Universal Pictures).
1950 Toured South America.
1950 Appeared in Botta e Riposta (Ponti-De Laurentiis).
1950 Purchased Habitation Leclerc.
1951-1953 Toured Europe, North Africa.
1951 Adopted four-year-old Marie-Christine.
1954 Choreographed and appeared in Mambo (Paramount Pictures).
1954 Choreographed and appeared in Liebes Sender (Germany).
1955 Choreographed and appeared in Música en la Noche (Mexico).
1956-1957 Toured South Pacific and Far East.
1957 Wrote A Touch of Innocence.
1958 Choreographed Green Mansions (M.G.M.).
1959-1960 Third European tour.
1960 Choreographed and appeared in German television special Karaibishe Rhythmen.
1962 Bamboche opened after recruitment in Morocco.
1963 Choreographed Aida.
1964 Choreographed "Sodom and Gemorah" scene in The Bible (De Laurentiis / Twentieth-Century Fox / Seven Arts).
1964-1965 Artist-in-residence at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale.
1964-1965 Choreographed Faust.
1965 Dissolved company to become adviser to the cultural ministry of Senegal.
1966 Offered training, choreographed for Ballet National de Senegal.
1966 Represented United States at the First World Festival of Negro Arts in Dakar.
1967 Jailed in East St. Louis for disorderly conduct following a meeting with local gang members promoting her Performing Arts Training Center to inner-city youth.
1979 International opening of the Katherine Dunham Museum.
1980 CBS grant for Children's Workshop.
1982 Retired from Southern Illinois University.
1983 Received Kennedy Center Honors Award.
1986 Husband John Pratt died.
1991-1992 Fasted for Haitian refugees.
2006 May 21 Died of natural causes at age 96.

Bibliography

Aschenbrenner, Joyce. Katherine Dunham: Dancing a Life. Urbana, Ill.: University of Illinois Press, 2002.
Beckford, Ruth. Katherine Dunham: A Biography. New York: M. Dekker, 1979.
Dunham, Katherine. Dances of Haiti. Los Angeles: Center for Afro-American Studies, University of California, Los Angeles, 1983.
Dunham, Katherine. Island Possessed. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1969.
Dunham, Katherine. Journey to Accompong. Westport, Conn.: Negro Universities Press, 1971.
Dunham, Katherine. A Touch of Innocence. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1959.
Harnan, Terry. African Rhythm -- American Dance: A Biography of Katherine Dunham. New York: Knopf, 1974.

Collection Scope and Content Summary

This collection comprises approximately 875 photographs of Katherine Dunham and of the Katherine Dunham Dance Company. The collection contains photographic prints, proofs, contact sheets, and postcards depicting performances, rehearsals, portraits, publicity efforts, and candid moments of Dunham's third European tour (1959-1960), tour of South America (1950), and some American performances. Particularly well represented are stage performances of L'Ag'Ya, Bahiana, Barrelhouse, Rites de Passage, Tropics, and Veracruzana. Of Dunham's feature films, only Mambo (1954) is represented within the collection. A few photographers are identified; if not stated, the photographer is unknown. The collection also contains typewritten letters concerning payment for photographs and other logistical matters of the Katherine Dunham Dance Company.

Collection Arrangement

This collection is arranged in four series.
  • Series 1. Publicity photographs, circa 1951-1959, undated. 0.6 linear feet
  • Series 2. Performance photographs, 1938-1954, undated. 0.6 linear feet
  • Series 3. Backstage and candid photographs, 1949-1954. 0.3 linear feet
  • Series 4. Correspondence, 1952-1959. 0.1 linear feet

Related Collections

Photographs, writings, and video recordings of Katherine Dunham and her dance company are also held by New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, the Library of Congress, the Missouri Historical Society, and the Katherine Dunham Centers for Arts and Humanities.

Indexing Terms

The following terms have been used to index the description of this collection in the library's online public access catalog.

Subjects

Dunham, Katherine -- Archives.
Dunham, Katherine -- Photographs.
Katherine Dunham Company -- Archives.
Katherine Dunham Company -- Photographs.
African Americans in the performing arts -- Photographs.
African American dance -- Photographs.
Dancers -- United States -- Photographs.
Choreographers -- United States -- Photographs.
Dance -- Archives.
Dance -- Photographs.
Modern dance -- Photographs.
Dance photography -- History -- Sources.

Genres and Formats of Materials

Photographic prints -- 20th century.
Contact sheets -- 20th century.
Postcards -- 20th century.
Letters -- 20th century.

Occupations

Choreographers.
Dancers.


Collection Contents

 

Series 1.  Publicity photographs circa 1951-1959, undated

Physical Description: 0.6 linear feet

Series Scope and Content Summary

This series comprises approximately 300 publicity images taken of Dunham and her company between 1951 and 1959. It includes portraits of Dunham, photographs of the company in tourist locales, posed photographs of Dunham with her family, and artwork depicting Dunham and her dancers.

Arrangement

The series is organized alphabetically by subject.
Box : Folder FB-2 : 10-11

Ballet: Ideario de la danza 1954-1955

Physical Description: 11 black-and-white photographic prints

Scope and Content Note

From a Spanish-language magazine that featured Dunham.
 

Florence, Italy

Box : Folder 1 : 1-2

Boboli Gardens 1959 May

Physical Description: 83 black-and-white photographic proofs
Box : Folder 1 : 3

Ferragamo's 1959 May

Physical Description: 14 black-and-white photographic proofs
Box : Folder 1 : 4

Ponte Vecchio 1959 May

Physical Description: 10 black-and-white photographic proofs
Box : Folder 1 : 5

San Miniato al Monte 1959 May

Physical Description: 12 black-and-white photographic proofs
Box : Folder 1 : 6

Settignano 1959 May

Physical Description: 7 black-and-white photographic proofs
Box : Folder 1 : 7

Villa I Tatti 1959 May

Physical Description: 5 black-and-white photographic proofs

Scope and Content Note

Photographed with American art historian, Bernard Berenson.
Box : Folder 1 : 8

"Happy New Year" circa 1951

Physical Description: 13 black-and-white photographic prints

Scope and Content Note

Photographs by Studio Iris show Dunham with husband Pratt painting "Happy New Year" on a canvas.
Box : Folder 1 : 9

Notebook of publicity proofs by Annemarie Heinrich, Buenos Aires undated

Physical Description: 17 black-and-white photographic proofs
Box : Folder 1 : 10-15

Portraits of Dunham undated

Physical Description: 124 black-and-white photographic prints and 3 black-and-white photographic proofs

Scope and Content Note

Photographs are of Dunham in various costumes. Photographers include Raymond Voinquel, Dora de Zucker, Studio Iris, B. M. Bernand, and Hector Garcia.
Box : Folder 1 : 16

Portraits of Dunham dancers undated

Physical Description: 3 black-and-white photographic prints

Scope and Content Note

Depicts two unidentified women and dancer Oscar Puente. Photographers include Foto-Semo, Nacho Lopez, and Fred Clark of Hollywood Studios.
Box : Folder 1 : 17

Souvenir drawings of Dunham and dancers by John Pratt and Waldo Glory undated

Box : Folder 1 : 18

Souvenir album of Dunham and dancers undated

Scope and Content Note

8 pages of black-and-white photographic proofs titled "Grande Serata di Gala al Teatro Sociale di Biella in Onore alla Grande Katherine Dunham."
 

Series 2.  Performance photographs 1938-1954, undated

Physical Description: 0.6 linear feet

Series Scope and Content Summary

This series comprises approximately 350 photographs taken of Katherine Dunham Dance Company performances in the United States and abroad.

Arrangement

The series is organized alphabetically by title of dance or performance.
Box : Folder 1 : 19

Afrique circa 1949

Physical Description: 1 postcard and 7 photographic prints
 

L'Ag'Ya

 

Germany 1954

Box : Folder 1 : 20

Berlin, by Herbert Tobias 1954 May

Physical Description: 2 black-and-white contact sheets
Box : Folder 1 : 21

Unidentified city 1954

Physical Description: 1 black-and-white photographic print
Box : Folder 1 : 22

Rome, Italy undated

Physical Description: 3 black-and-white photographic prints and 3 black-and-white photographic proofs
 

United States

Box : Folder 1 : 23-24

Chicago, Illinois, by Zoltan Glass and others 1938

Physical Description: 28 black-and-white photographic prints
Box : Folder 1 : 25

Las Vegas, Nevada undated

Physical Description: 11 black-and-white contact sheets
Box : Folder 2 : 1

Unknown location, by Studio Iris undated

Physical Description: 2 black-and-white photographic prints and 1 black-and-white photographic proof
Box : Folder 2 : 2

Bahiana, by Studio Iris and others undated

Physical Description: 11 black-and-white photographic prints
 

Barrelhouse

Box : Folder 2 : 3

Paris, France: Théatre des Champs élysées, by B. M. Bernand undated

Physical Description: 8 black-and-white photographic proofs
Box : Folder 2 : 4

Germany 1954

Physical Description: 4 black-and-white photographic prints
Box : Folder 2 : 5

Las Vegas, Nevada undated

Physical Description: 2 black-and-white contact sheets
Box : Folder 2 : 6-7

Unknown location, by Studio Bernand, Teddy Piaz, and others circa 1952 and undated

Physical Description: 10 black-and-white photographic prints and 1 black-and-white contact sheet
 

Batacuda (or Batucada)

Box : Folder 2 : 8

Lima, Peru 1951 January

Physical Description: 4 black-and-white photographic proofs
Box : Folder 2 : 9

Unknown location undated

Physical Description: 1 black-and-white contact sheet
Box : Folder 2 : 10

Choros undated

Physical Description: 1 black-and-white photographic print
Box : Folder 2 : 11

Flaming Youth undated

Physical Description: 1 black-and-white contact sheet
Box : Folder 2 : 12

Le Jazz Hot undated

Physical Description: 2 black-and-white contact sheets
Box : Folder 2 : 13

Mambo 1954

Physical Description: 6 black-and-white photographic prints
Box : Folder 2 : 14

Rites de Passage undated

Physical Description: 42 black-and-white photographic proofs and 3 black-and-white contact sheets
Box : Folder 2 : 15

Shango undated

Physical Description: 2 black-and-white contact sheets
Box : Folder 2 : 16

Tropical Revue, by Alfredo Valente circa 1943

Physical Description: 1 black-and-white photographic prints
 

Tropics

Box : Folder 2 : 17

Las Vegas, Nevada undated

Physical Description: 6 black-and-white contact sheets
Box : Folder 2 : 18-19

Unknown locations undated

Physical Description: 17 black-and-white photographic prints and 2 black-and-white contact sheets
Box : Folder 2 : 20

Veracruzana undated

Physical Description: 7 black-and-white photographic prints and 4 black-and-white contact sheets
Box : Folder 2 : 21

Woman with a Cigar, Germany 1954

Physical Description: 1 black-and-white photographic print
Box : Folder 2 : 22

Miscellaneous performances undated

Physical Description: 16 black-and-white contact sheets
 

Unidentified dances

 

Paris, France

Box : Folder FB-2 : 12

Palais de Chaillot undated

Physical Description: 66 black-and-white photographic proofs pasted onto cardboard
Box : Folder 2 : 23

Théatre des Champs élysées undated

Physical Description: 13 black-and-white photographic proofs
Box : Folder 2 : 24

Germany 1954

Physical Description: 6 black-and-white photographic prints
Box : Folder 2 : 25

Rome, Italy undated

Physical Description: 11 black-and-white photographic proofs
Box : Folder 2 : 26-27, FB-2 : 13

Unknown locations, by Studio Iris, Gill Pax, Photo Chadel, and others undated

Physical Description: 25 black-and-white photographic prints, 1 Technicolor photographic print, 11 black-and-white photographic proofs, and 1 postcard
 

Series 3.  Backstage and candid photographs 1949-1954

Physical Description: 0.3 linear feet

Series Scope and Content Summary

This series comprises approximately 225 photographs of Katherine Dunham, her family, and her dancers in candid situations, backstage before, during, and after performances, and in rehearsal.

Arrangement

This series is organized alphabetically by subject.
Box : Folder 3 : 1

Miscellaneous candid photographs of Dunham undated

Physical Description: 6 black-and-white photographic prints
 

Performances

Box : Folder 3 : 2

Afrique, backstage at Teatro Municipal, Lima, Peru 1951 January

Physical Description: 1 sepia-toned photograph and 26 black-and-white photographic proofs
Box : Folder 3 : 3-4

L'Ag'Ya candid photographs, location unknown circa 1951, undated

Physical Description: 5 sepia-toned postcards and 17 black-and-white photographic proofs
 

Assorted performances

Box : Folder 3 : 5

Berlin, Germany, by Herbert Tobias 1954

Physical Description: 25 black-and-white photographic proofs and 19 black-and-white contact sheets
Box : Folder 3 : 6

Rome, Italy undated

Physical Description: 25 black-and-white photographic prints and 10 black-and-white photographic proofs
Box : Folder 3 : 7

Lima, Peru 1951 January

Physical Description: 7 black-and-white photographic proofs
Box : Folder 3 : 8

Unknown location undated

Physical Description: 7 sepia-toned postcards
 

Rehearsals

Box : Folder 3 : 9

Brussels, Belgium 1949

Physical Description: 49 sepia-toned photographic prints
Box : Folder 3 : 10

Berlin, Germany 1954 May

Physical Description: 6 black-and-white contact sheets

Scope and Content Note

Photographs by Herbert Tobias depict Dunham Dancers dancing on the Reichstag building.
Box : Folder 3 : 11

Rome, Italy undated

Physical Description: 26 black-and-white photographic proofs
Box : Folder 3 : 12

Unknown location undated

Physical Description: 4 black-and-white photographic prints
 

Series 4.  Correspondence 1952-1959

Physical Description: 0.1 linear feet

Series Scope and Content Summary

This series comprises letters written by Katherine Dunham, her secretary Margery Scott, photographer Hans Suter, and others. The letters mainly discuss logistical information, such as the transport of luggage and financial matters. Letters from Hans Suter concern photograph orders and ask permission to use photographs of Dunham in a Swiss magazine article.

Arrangement

This series is organized chronologically.
Box : Folder 3 : 13

Letters 1952-1959