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*Pearl Primus was born on this date in 1919. She was a Trinidadian American dancer, choreographer, and anthropologist. Her work helped establish the importance of African American dance in United States culture.
Primus was from Trinidad and moved with her family to the United States as a young child. In 1940 she graduated from Hunter College with a degree in biology and premedical studies. Primus planned to become a doctor, but she became involved with a dance group and, after rapid progress, she studied, taught, and researched her first major choreographic work, African Ceremonial in 1943. In 1948 she won a Rosenwald Fellowship and spent 18 months traveling and studying dance in Africa. Primus subsequently returned to Africa several times, spending two years as director of Liberia's Performing Arts Center.
She and her husband, Percival Borde, collaborated on several works and opened a dance school in New York City. Primus lectured and taught both dance and anthropology throughout the United States. In 1978 she completed her doctorate in anthropology at New York University. Much of her work utilized her knowledge of African and Caribbean dances. She also examined racial issues in the United States in such well-known dance pieces as Strange Fruit, about a woman's reaction to a lynching, and The Negro Speaks of Rivers, based on the poem by American writer Langston Hughes.
Primus died in 1994. Her own dance company has performed her work in many Broadway musicals.
Great African American Women
By Darryl Lyman
Jonathan David Publisher, Inc. Middle Village, NY
Image: Steve Log