Plaque Sponsor

Fifth Third Bank

1931 - 1989

"One of the processes of your life is to constantly break down that inferiority, to constantly reaffirm that I Am Somebody."

- Alvin Ailey

Born in poverty in rural Texas, where racial segregation was still in full force, Alvin Ailey grew into a gifted choreographer who drew inspiration from African-American culture and went on to become an American icon. After serving as Artistic Director of his mentor Lester Horton’s Dance Theater Company, and studying with Martha Graham, Doris Humphrey and others, Ailey gathered together a group of black dancers and, in 1958, founded Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. In 1960 he debuted his choreographic masterpiece, Revelations. Inspired by his "blood memories" of Texas, the blues, spirituals and gospel, Revelations is believed to be one of the best-known and most often seen modern dance performances ever created. Ailey combined elements from ballet, modern, jazz, African ritual and contemporary dances. Each dancer’s uniqueness was important to his choreography – a paradigm shift that brought concert dance into harmony with other forms of African-American expression. Though he sought to give black dancers opportunities they could not often find in other companies, Ailey took great pride in the multi-cultural composition of his company and quickly became a major force in modern dance, achieving worldwide popularity. Forced by the conventions of the time to be circumspect about his private life, Ailey nonetheless lived with integrity and was an inspiration to everyone who had the honor to meet and work with him. He received numerous honorary degrees, awards from the most prestigious dance organizations, NAACP’s Spingarn Award, and the United Nations Peace Medal. In 1988, one year before his death from AIDS-related illness, Ailey received the Kennedy Center Honor in recognition of his extraordinary contribution to American culture. In its obituary, The New York Times said, “You didn’t need to have known Ailey personally to have been touched by his humanity, enthusiasm and exuberance and his courageous stand for multi-racial brotherhood.”

Plaque Sponsor

Fifth Third Bank

Lesson Plan


Gender Male

Sexual Orientation Gay

Gender Identity Cisgender

Ethnicity African American Black

Nations Affiliated United States

Era/Epoch AIDS Era (1980-present)

Field(s) of Contribution

Art, Music, Literature & Theater




Social Sciences



US History

Commemorations & Honors

Awarded Guggenheim Fellowship for Creative Arts U.S. and Canada (1968)

NAACP Spingarn Medal (1977)

Kennedy Center Honoree (1988)

National Museum of Dance and Hall of Fame Induction (1992)

Posthumous Presidential Medal of Freedom For Dance (2014)

San Francisco Rainbow Honor Walk Honoree (2019)


Related Videos


Original Biography Author
Victor Salvo
Biography Edited By
Owen Keehnen
Biography Vetted, Edited, and Certified By
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
Image Rights Usage Granted By
Corbis Images
Image Source for Bronze Casting
Corbis Images
Resources Coordination
Carrie Maxwell