Alvin Ailey (January 5, 1931 - December 1, 1989) was an African American modern dancer and choreographer who founded the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.
Ailey was born to his 17-year-old mother, Lula Cooper, in Rogers, Texas. Alvin developed an early interest in art. In 1943 Alvin and his mother moved to Los Angeles. It was here that Alvin's eyes were opened to the world of contemporary art. Initially, he took dance classes from choreographer Katherine Dunham and later studied under Los Angeles dance teacher Lester Horton. While studying with Horton Alvin pursued college courses in the Romance languages. At various times Ailey was enrolled at UCLA, Los Angeles City College, and Berkeley. He studied authors like James Baldwin, Langston Hughes, and Carson McCullers. Alvin's appetite for academics was probably why he was attracted to Horton's choreography which consisted of theater pieces based on pictures by Paul Klee, poems by Garcia Lorca, music by Duke Ellington and Stravinsky, and even Mexican themes. When Lester Horton passed away in 1953, twenty-two year old Alvin was chosen to fill the shoes of his mentor. Alvin became the director and resident choreographer for the Lester Horton Dance Theater. Within one year Alvin choreographd three original dances for Horton's company: Creation of the World, According to St. Francis, and Mourning Morning.
Alvin Ailey was gay and was a longtime lover of David McReynolds in the 1950s.
Ailey started his own dance company in 1958 featuring primarily African American dancers. He integrated his dance company in 1963. He also directed; one notable production was Langston Hughes's Jericho-Jim Crow (1964).
The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater popularized modern dance throughout the world with his international tours sponsored by the U.S. State Department. Because of these tours it is theorized that Ailey's choreographical masterpiece Revelations is the most well-known and frequently seen modern dance performance.
Revelations: The Autobiography of Alvin Ailey is based on Ailey's experience growing up as an African-American in the South.