On May 10, 1943, ballerina and choreographer Judith Jamison was born in Philadelphia, Pa., the younger of two children. Tall and lanky, she was enrolled in dance classes at 6 years old, where she began to exhibit grace and a dancer’s presence on stage. She also studied piano and violin, as well as classical ballet.

After attending college for three years as a psychology major at Fisk University, Jamison realized her dream was not in the field of science, but in the performing arts. Her path was then determined. She completed her education at the Philadelphia Dance Academy and was discovered by choreographer Agnes de Mille in 1964.

From there, her career skyrocketed.

The following year she moved to New York and joined the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, where she had the opportunity to explore the world as a dancer. By 1969, her love for the arts led her to collaborate with Ailey for a momentous solo performance, “Masekela Language.” It wasn’t until 1971, after 15-minute solo of Ailey’s “Cry,” that she received international acclaim.

She then began to be called on to perform and choreograph in all corners of the world.

In 1989, her dear friend and world-renowned mentor Ailey passed away. Jamison was named artistic director of the company, becoming the first African American woman to direct a major modern dance company.

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