Internationally famous choreographer,
dancer, anthropologist, Dr. Pearl Eileen Primus (1919-1994) was hailed by critics as "...one of the United States' most spectacular dancers." Her
interpretation of Black Heritage through the medium of dance
was regarded as being without peer this side of the Atlantic.
Pearl Primus conducted extensive research
in Africa, the Caribbean Islands and the Southlands of the
United States. She lived and worked with the people of these regions
and shared their daily lives.
The Oni (King) of Ife, H.E.
Sir Adesoji Aderemi II, who ruled as Spiritual Head of the Yoruba People
of Modern Nigeria (1930-1980), officially adopted her as his daughter
and renamed her Omowale - translated as, "child returned home."
member of the Black Academy of Arts and Letters, Pearl Primus'
extensive studies into Afro-American and Afro-Caribbean cultures
found expression in her art form, in her dedication to education,
and in the promotion of greater understanding between all
She was the recipient of numerous honors
and awards among which are: The cherished Liberian
Government Decoration, "Star of Africa"; The Scroll of Honor from
the National Council of Negro Women; Membership in Phi Beta
Kappa; The National Culture Award from the New York State Federation of Foreign Language Teachers
Commendation from the White House Conference on Children and Youth.
As a working artist, Pearl Primus made
appearances as a soloist and with her own professional company
of dancers, singers
and musicians at numerous concerts, operas, and festivals
throughout the United States, Europe, Israel, Africa, the
Caribbean Islands and Mexico. From Harlem to Broadway, as
well as American TV, she displayed with phenomenal precision
and agility the unique Pearl Primus Dance Technique woven
from her personal studies of African, Afro-American, Afro-Caribbean
dance and life, the Modern Dance techniques of America and
the Ballet. During her peak, Dr. Pearl Primus was frequently
requested to give Command Performances before distinguished
heads of State.
As an Artist/Educator, Dr. Primus
lectured at outstanding universities and centers of learning
in America and abroad. She was an ethnologist for major art
museums and Broadway productions. She received her BA from
Hunter College, her MA in Educational Sociology and Anthropology
and her Ph.D. in Anthropology from New York University.
As an Anthropologist, she conducted
cultural projects in Europe, Africa and America for such organizations
as the Ford Foundation, US Office of Education, New York University,
Universalist Unitarian Service Committee, Julius Rosenwald
Foundation, New York State Office of Education, and the Council
for the Arts in Westchester.
choreographed works, The Wedding (1961) and Fanga (1949), were performed
by the Alvin Ailey Dance Company and greeted with thunderous
ovations from audiences and critics at City Center Theater
and the State Theater at Lincoln Center, New York City. Her album,
Pearl Primus' Africa - produced especially to assist
teachers in elementary and high schools - was received with great acclaim
in the field of education.
Pearl Primus was an Artist-in-residence
at the New Rochelle Community Action Agency. Her efforts brought
into being the Whitney Young Jr. Theater Dance Company, the
then official resident troupe of the Agency. Mrs. Whitney
Young was the distinguished patron.
She was married to the outstanding artist-dancer Percival
Borde (passed 1979), who was an Associate Professor of Theater at Binghamton
University, New York. Their son, the late Onwin Borde, was a Master
drummer and did work with stage pyrotechnics. Their work together would keep them in the Southern
Tier NY area for extended periods of time, so they maintained a residency
in Johnson City. In 1985, Dr. Primus was given a commendation
by the City of Binghamton for her use of arts "to promote
Black culture and interracial understanding."
Still, Westchester, New York was where the family made their home. Dr. Pearl Primus was given numerous honors from her community including: selection as "One of Westchester's most admired women" by
Westchester Magazine, and as "1974 Woman of the Year" by the Westchester
Chapter of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority. She
was cited for her integrity as an artist by the New Covenant
Church of the Holy Spirit in New Rochelle, commended by the
Human Rights Commission of New Rochelle, honored by the Youth
Bureau of New Rochelle for her "outstanding contribution to
youth," and further honored by the Westchester Chapter
of Hunter Alumni. She served as a member of the Board of Trustees
of the Council for the Arts in Westchester and as a member
of the Board of Trustees of the Neuberger Museum. In Westchester
she taught at State University of New York at Purchase, College
of New Rochelle, Iona College and assisted the New Rochelle
High School with cultural presentations.
At the time of her death (1994), Pearl Primus was working on plans
for The Pearl Primus Dance Arts Foundation. She felt that
more needed to be done to preserve and document the great
dance heritage of the people of African ancestry as part of
the cultural contribution of America to the world.
Dr. Pearl Primus was indeed a privileged
person. And she often would say this. As choreographer and
dancer she had the privilege of studying modern dance techniques
with America's great dance pioneers- Martha Graham (1894-1991), Doris
Humphrey (1895-1958), Hanya Holm (1893-1992) and Charles Weidman (1901-1975). She was trained
in classical and pre-classical dance forms by the master teacher,
Louis Horst (1884-1964).
Her knowledge of ballet, character and
folk dances of Europe and America as well as her solid base
in creative modern was gained by study at the New Dance Group
in New York City. Among those teachers who helped shape her
destiny as a serious dancer were Jane Dudley, Sophie Maslow,
Nona Schurman, Eve Gentry, Margo Mayo, Beryl McBurnie and
Travel and study within the interior villages of Africa, the Islands
of the Caribbean and throughout the Southlands of the United
States gave her the unique training which characterized her
as a prominent specialist in the dance heritage of Black people. Dance
critic Walter Terry (1913-1982) called her "...the world's foremost authority
on African dance."
Dr. Primus created her own dynamic
technique of dance. She and husband/partner Professor
Percival Sebastian Borde taught this technique in various American
founded and directed the Pearl Primus Dance Language Institute,
Inc. She earned her Ph.D. in Anthropology from N.Y.U.
fields of Anthropology, Art and Human Relations, the names
of those great teachers who shared their specialized knowledge
with Pearl Primus read like a Who's Who. Not only were these
pioneers her professors at Columbia University and New York
University, they were also her special friends. Among these
distinguished professors were Ruth Benedict, Franz Boas, Ralph
Linton, George Herzog, Margaret Mead, Duncan Strong, Paul
Wingert, William Sears, Ethel Alpenfels, Dan Dodson, Gene
Weltfish, Charles Wagley, Harry Shapiro, Joseph Greenberg,
Elsie Hug, Marion Smith and Patricia Rowe. All of these and
other outstanding scholars helped stimulate, feed and direct
African, American, European and Caribbean governments; institutions
of higher education; national, state, city and private funding
sources; and community-based organizations: all afforded her valuable experience
as a project director, arts administrator, consultant for
cultural affairs, curriculum developer and special conference
Dr. Pearl E. Primus was the recipient of one
of the first Three Year Choreographers Fellowship Grants from
the National Endowment for the Arts as well as previous NEA
Grants, numerous other awards and honors.
Pearl Primus was also Director of the
Cora P. Maloney College at State University of New York at
Buffalo, while holding the position of Associate Professor
in Theater and Dance. She was always accompanied by her late son, Master
Drummer Onwin Babajide Primus Borde, whenever she presented
her professional dance company Earth Theater, or when performing
in concert, and when lecturing and conducting workshops.
Dr. Pearl E. Primus was truly unique in
her field. |
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