Director-Choreographer Donald McKayle, Five-Time Tony Nominee, Dies at 87

Obituaries   Director-Choreographer Donald McKayle, Five-Time Tony Nominee, Dies at 87
 
Mr. McKayle directed and choreographed the acclaimed 1973 Broadway musical Raisin.
Donald McKayle
Donald McKayle Jerome Robbins Dance Division/©NYPL for the Performing Arts

Donald McKayle, the first African-American to choreograph and direct a Broadway musical, died April 6 at the age of 87 in Irvine, California, according to The New York Times.

Mr. McKayle, who was born July 6, 1930, to parents both originally from Jamaica, first took an interest in musicals and dance in his early teens, receiving a scholarship to the New Dance Group in 1947 without any formal training. It was just three years later when he would make his Broadway debut as a performer in the original musical revue Bless You All.

McKayle continued as a performer through the mid-'50s in such productions as House of Flowers and Cooper and Brass. His first associate choreographer credit on Broadway was for the 1959 Gwen Verdon musical Redhead. He subsequently choreographed the Broadway productions of Golden Boy, A Time for Singing, and I'm Solomon. In fact, it was his work for the 1964 musical Golden Boy, based on the Clifford Odets play, that earned McKayle his first Tony nomination for Best Choreography.

Raisin Playbill - Nov 1973
Raisin Playbill - Nov 1973

In 1973 McKayle directed and choreographed Raisin, the musical version of Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun. McKayle earned Tony nominations for both his direction and choreography.

He subsequently directed and choreographed the original musical Doctor Jazz, and the critically acclaimed musical revue Sophisticated Ladies was conceived by McKayle, who also provided musical staging and choreography. He received Tony nominations for choreography for both of those works.

McKayle's last Broadway outing was the 1999 musical revue It Ain't Nothin’ But the Blues.

McKayle also enjoyed success in the dance world outside Broadway: Games, which premiered in 1951 at the Hunter College Playhouse, and Rainbow ’Round My Shoulder, which debuted in 1959, are considered modern classics.

For the screen, McKayle choreographed such films as The Great White Hope (1970), Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971), and The Jazz Singer (1980), as well as the TV special Free to Be… You & Me (1974). As an actor, he appeared in the TV series Touched by an Angel and The Cosby Show and the TV film … And Beautiful. He also directed three episodes of the Norman Lear situation comedy Good Times, and was nominated for a Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Achievement in Choreography for 1977's Minstrel Man.

McKayle also spent nearly three decades as a professor of dance at the University of California, Irvine.

McKayle is survived by his wife of more than 50 years, Lea Vivante McKayle; two daughters from his first marriage, Liane McKayle and Gabrielle McKayle; his son Guy; and two grandchildren.

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