Office of the Chancellor

Passing of Donald McKayle

April 9, 2018

I am saddened to announce the passing of Donald McKayle, a distinguished member of our faculty for 29 years and a towering figure in the creative arts for seven decades.

A recognized master of modern dance, Professor Emeritus McKayle was an iconic dancer, choreographer, director, writer and teacher. He made his professional debut as a dancer in 1948 at the age of 18 and during his long career danced with virtually every well–known dance master in the world, including Martha Graham, Merce Cunningham, Anna Sokolow and Charles Weidman. That same year, 1948, also marked his debut as a creator and choreographer. His best–known works reflected the African American experience, exploring the human condition and celebrating the human spirit. Works such as “Games,” “Rainbow ’Round My Shoulder,” “District Storyville” and “Songs of the Disinherited” are part of the canon of modern dance, performed around the world.

Donald McKayle was awarded virtually every honor given in the dance profession. He earned two Emmy Award nominations, an NAACP Image Award and five Tony Award nominations for his choreography. He received the Samuel H. Scripps/American Dance Festival Award for lifetime achievement; the Capezio Dance Award; the Heritage Award from the National Dance Association; the Living Legend Award from the National Black Arts Festival; the American Dance Legacy Institute’s Distinguished & Innovative Leadership Award; and the Outer Critics Circle Award. In 2005, he was honored at the Kennedy Center with a medal as a “master of African American choreography.” At UCI, among several other honors, he earned the Balasaraswati/Joy Ann Dewey Beinecke Endowed Chair for Distinguished Teaching; was the only artist ever to be recognized with UCI’s Distinguished Faculty Lectureship Award for Research; and, in 2000, received the UCI Medal, the university’s highest honor. He was a Bren Fellow and one of just three UCI instructors to have been awarded the title of Claire Trevor Professor, an endowed chair.

Although he formally retired in 2010, Professor Emeritus McKayle continued to teach master classes, guide the UCI Etude Ensemble (an undergraduate dance troupe he founded in 1995) and create new choreographic works. His passion for teaching and mentoring young, talented dancers remained unabated throughout his long life, and one of his greatest legacies is the hundreds of professional dancers now performing around the world.

A celebration of Professor Emeritus McKayle’s life is being planned.

Chancellor Howard Gillman