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Donald McKayle (1930–2017), pioneering African-American choreographer

by Kirk Fox

Directed and choreographed the Tony Award-winning musical “Raisin.”

IRVINE, Calif. (AP) — Donald McKayle, a modern dancer and choreographer who brought the black experience in America to the Broadway stage in musicals such as “Raisin” and “Sophisticated Ladies,” has died. He was 87. 

His wife, Lea McKayle, told the University of California, Irvine that McKayle died Friday night. He was a UCI professor emeritus of dance.

Born in Harlem, McKayle began dancing as a teenager. 


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McKayle choreographed works that focused on black life and socially conscious themes such as poverty, homelessness and discrimination.

His 1959 work “Rainbow ‘Round My Shoulder” depicted the lives of chain-gang prisoners. 

McKayle was the first African-American man to both direct and choreograph major Broadway musicals, including 1973’s “Raisin,” which won the Tony as best musical, and 1981’s “Sophisticated Ladies.” 

We invite you to share condolences for Donald McKayle in his Guest Book.

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Written by the ASSOCIATED PRESS

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