With its roots dating to the 1910s, Black History Month was first officially recognized by the U.S. government in 1976 to celebrate the contributions of African Americans to this country. Their influence is significant and vast, as African American history is American history, and in no area is this greater than in the arts and culture. For this reason, the Association for the Study of African American Life and History has selected “African Americans and the Arts” as its 2024 theme for Black History Month.
Faculty members in UCI’s Claire Trevor School of the Arts have contributed to this rich history, perhaps most significantly with the immense impact of the late Donald McKayle on modern American dance. The iconic performer, choreographer, teacher, director and writer created deeply socially conscious pieces focused on the human condition and the African American experience. His seminal “Games,” “Rainbow ’Round My Shoulder,” “District Storyville” and “Songs of the Disinherited” are still performed worldwide.
The first Black man to both direct and choreograph major Broadway musicals, including the Tony Award-winning “Raisin” (1973) and “Sophisticated Ladies” (1981), McKayle joined the UCI faculty in 1989 and continued to originate dance works and mentor students until his death in 2018.
McKayle’s legacy continues in the achievements of his fellow UCI faculty members, who include:
An assistant professor of art, Coleman Collins is an interdisciplinary artist, writer and researcher whose work explores the translation and transmission of information through material and linguistic forms. It has been shown and screened in exhibits throughout the world. He’s currently part of a group exhibition, “We’ll Be Your Mirror,” at Herald St, in London. Collins’ recent shows have taken place at Ehrlich Steinberg and Soldes, in Los Angeles; the Palestine Festival of Literature, in Jerusalem/Ramallah; Hesse Flatow, in New York; the Carre d’Art at Nimes, in France; and Kunsthalle Wien, in Vienna. His short story “Dive” is included in a recent MIT Press publication, Sibyl’s Mouths. His next solo exhibition opens Feb. 24 at Ehrlich Steinberg, in Los Angeles.
A UCI assistant professor of art, Jibade-Khalil Huffman is an artist and writer whose creations have employed photography, video, writing, installation and, most recently, video games. Currently, he is working on a new film and is part of a three-person exhibition called “See You on the Other Side” at High Line, in New York. Huffman’s work is in the permanent collections of the Dallas Museum of Art; UCLA’s Hammer Museum; Kadist, in San Francisco and Paris; the Pierce & Hill Harper Arts Foundation, in Detroit; and the Studio Museum in Harlem, in New York.
Ulysses Jenkins is a professor emeritus of art, focusing on video, digital and performance art. He joined the UCI faculty in the fall of 1993. A groundbreaking video artist who emerged in the late 1970s, he creates video and media works remarkable for their fusion of forms to conjure vibrant expressions of how image, sound and cultural iconography inform representation. Jenkins’ art has appeared in important exhibitions, such as “California Video” at Los Angeles’ J. Paul Getty Museum in 2008 and “Now Dig This! Art and Black Los Angeles, 1960-1980” at UCLA’s Hammer Museum in 2011/2012. In 2022, he was featured in the retrospective exhibit “Ulysses Jenkins: Without Your Interpretation” at UCLA’s Hammer Museum.
A multidisciplinary artist with a rich background in dancing, choreography, acting, producing and directing, Ariyan Johnson is considered a pioneer of hip-hop. As part of the pioneering collective of hip-hop, she globalized the dance genre in the late ‘80s and ‘90s through music videos, televised music award shows, tours, and her work as the lead in the first hip-hop female coming-of-age story in the film, “Just Another Girl on the I.R.T.,” reaching audiences worldwide. Through a dance lens, her award-winning directing in the documentary Spiritual Cyphers: Hip Hop and the Church explored African American women’s contributions as well as her article in the book Dance in US Popular Culture. During her professional dancing career, Johnson has worked with Queen Latifah, LL Cool J and many more, and she was a featured member of Forces of Nature Dance Theatre and Ronn Pratt’s Alpha Omega Theatrical Dance Company. An assistant professor of dance, Johnson came to UCI in 2020 and teaches hip-hop, jazz and healing to her students.
An assistant professor of teaching in the Department of Drama, Daniel Keeling is a versatile performing artist, educator and voice teacher who possesses wide-ranging expertise in interpreting and instructing various genres of repertoire. He has worked with Philip Glass and the late Leonard Cohen and played leading roles in operas around the world, including Figaro in Mozart’s “Il Nozze di Figaro,” Germont père in Verdi’s “La Traviata,” Oroveso in Bellini’s “Norma,” La Voce in Mozart’s “Idomeneo,” Escamillo in Bizet’s “Carmen” and Crown in Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess.” In musical theatre, Keeling has been Joe in “On the Town,” Benjamin in “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” and Fred in “Smokey Joe’s Cafe,” and he was a swing/ensemble in the first and second national tours of the 1994 Broadway revival of “Show Boat.” And that’s only the tip of the iceberg.
Joseph S. Lewis III
A UCI professor of art, Joseph S. Lewis III is a versatile, non-media-specific visual creator, community preservationist and writer. His work delves into the intricate relationships among underserved communities, race and representation, social justice, and the existing state. Lewis has had numerous exhibitions nationally and internationally and has participated in several residency programs, including at the Anderson Ranch Arts Center, in Colorado; the Cite Internationale des Artes, in Paris; and the Darkroom Projects, in Milan. He was also a co-founding director of Fashion Moda, an early alternative space in New York’s South Bronx. Lewis has written for Art in America, LA Weekly and Artforum, and he was a contributing editor for Artspace and a correspondent for Contemporanea, an international art magazine. His work is in the collections of New York’s Museum of Modern Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and New York’s Studio Museum in Harlem. In 2023, the California Arts Council awarded Lewis its Legacy Artist Fellowship for remarkable contributions to the arts and contemporary culture. Currently, he is working on several long-term national and international projects and publications.
An associate professor of doctoral studies in the Department of Drama, Zachary Price is a performer, writer, interdisciplinary theorist and scholar who investigates the political, economic and historical conditions that shape our culture. He teaches in UCI’s joint arts Ph.D. program with UC San Diego. His current book, Black Dragon: Afro Asian Performance and the Martial Arts Imagination, explores Black and Asian cultural creations through martial arts within a variety of performance modalities, such as everyday practice, film and media, music, theater, and dance. Price also has written and produced dramatic work in Chicago, New York and Los Angeles that includes staged readings, plays, curated discussions and solo performances.
Cyrian Reed joined UCI in 2020 as an assistant professor of dance, with an emphasis in jazz and hip-hop. As a dancer, choreographer and performance director, she draws on a variety of formal genres and styles, from ballet and tap to juke and footwork. Her most notable professional work has earned celebrity – and name-brand – recognition; Reed has collaborated with Beyoncé, CeeLo Green, Nike, Skechers and Haagen-Dazs. She contributed a piece for the campus’s Dance Visions 2023, “Soul Intelligence: A Tribute to the Late Great Pharaoh Sanders,” that honors the life and legacy of the American jazz saxophonist. Reed is co-artistic chair of Dance Visions 2024, which will take place Feb. 22 to 24 at the Irvine Barclay Theatre.
A professor of music, Darryl Taylor founded the African American Art Song Alliance. Art song is a form of classical music that ultimately became less widely known than jazz, blues and other genres of African American music, and many Black American music pioneers both composed and performed vocal and instrumental works in this style. For the past 26 years, Taylor has kept art song alive by hosting conferences every five years at UCI. The most recent was held in fall 2022. As a vocalist, Taylor has appeared with symphony orchestras in the U.S. and Europe, and he has sung with such notable jazz greats as Kenny Burrell, Hubert Laws, Jimmy Owens and Nathan Davis.
Stephen Tucker’s accomplishments would fill not only the orchestra pit but the entire Hollywood Bowl. During his 22-year tenure with the university, the professor emeritus of music conducted the campus opera, dance performances and, as its longtime director, the UCI Symphony Orchestra. Tucker’s varied musical background and repertoire, equally rich in choral and symphonic works, have made him a sought-after conductor for orchestral concerts and opera presentations. His baton has also guided musicians in Taiwan, Italy, Hungary, Slovenia and his native Jamaica. Tucker’s five-week Taiwan stint was the inaugural exchange between National Taiwan Normal University and UCI – part of a “sister school agreement.” In 2005, he made his Avery Fisher Hall/Lincoln Center debut, conducting Beethoven’s “Choral Fantasy” and Ravel’s “Piano Concerto for the Left Hand.” Additionally, Tucker has been either guest conductor or cover conductor for the Los Angeles Master Chorale, the Long Beach Symphony and the Pacific Symphony. He’s also in demand as an orchestra conductor for motion picture soundtracks, such as the one for “80 for Brady” (watch video).
S. Ama Wray
A UCI professor of dance and a 2024 Newkirk Faculty Fellow, S. Ama Wray is the custodian of Embodiology, an award-winning neo-African improvisation practice. She is a fellow of the Mind & Life Institute and a 2023 California Arts Council Established Artist Fellow. Formerly a performer with the London Contemporary Dance Theatre and Rambert Dance Company, Wray has for more than 30 years advanced the integration of music and dance through JazzXchange, working with artists such as Wynton Marsalis, Bobby McFerrin and Nicole Mitchell. Her scholarly work is rooted in practice-based field research in the village of Kopeyia in Ghana, centered on artists and community members of the Dagbe Cultural Institute. Wray’s monograph Embodiology: From Ancient Movement and Music Practices to Phenomenal Being is forthcoming on Routledge. Her explorations led her to create performances that are intertwined with technology, manifested as Texterritory – a cellphone-based, interactive form of storytelling. Wray’s innovations continue through AI 4 Afrika, an initiative she co-founded with choreographers, data scientists, scholars and entrepreneurs in 2020.
If you want to learn more about supporting this or other activities at UCI, please visit the Brilliant Future website athttps://brilliantfuture.uci.edu. Publicly launched on Oct. 4, 2019, the Brilliant Future campaign aims to raise awareness and support for UCI. By engaging 75,000 alumni and garnering $2 billion in philanthropic investment, UCI seeks to reach new heights of excellence in student success,health and wellness, research and more. The Claire Trevor School of Arts plays a vital role in the success of the campaign. Learn more by visiting https://brilliantfuture.uci.edu/claire-trevor-school-of-the-arts/.