May 20, 2009

Event will celebrate Dunham’s 100th birthday

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- A special celebration of American icon Katherine Dunham’s 100th birthday is set for June 27 at the St. Louis University High School’s Joe Schulte Theatre.

The event, which will begin at 6 p.m. with a reception, will include performers from the Katherine Dunham dance troupe, the Katherine Dunham Certified Instructors and other dance groups.

Dunham, emeritus university professor for the Southern Illinois University system and retired adjunct faculty member in the SIU Edwardsville anthropology department, died May 21, 2006. She would have turned 100 years old on June 22, 2009.

After a storied 35-year worldwide career as a dancer and choreographer in the theater and in film, the Chicago native came to the SIU Carbondale campus in 1964 to choreograph a student opera. It was during that time that she first visited East St. Louis, which was to become her home and base of operations. In 1967, Dunham became visiting artist in what was then known as the fine arts division of SIUE. She held that post until her retirement in 1982.

She founded the Katherine Dunham Center for Performing Arts at SIUE’s East St. Louis Center when it was located in the old Broadview Hotel. She also founded the Dynamic Museum in East St. Louis, later named the Katherine Dunham Dynamic Museum.

In 1983, Dunham received the Kennedy Center Honor for her long service to the arts, and she received a National Medal of Arts at the White House. The American Dance Festival presented her with its Samuel H. Scripps Award in 1986 and in 1987, the Alvin Ailey Dance Company created a retrospective, “The Magic of Katherine Dunham.” Dunham won many other awards throughout her distinguished career.

The public is welcome to share in the celebration of Dunham’s life through testimony and dance. Tickets are $48 for lower level seats and $25 for upper level seats. Various levels of sponsorship opportunities are available. For more information, contact Louella Hawkins at or 618/691-8595, or by contacting Mona Brown at or 618/453-3069.