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Chuck Davis

Awarded Honorary Degree

Charles "Chuck" Davis, the internationally renowned founder and artistic director of the African American Dance Ensemble and the New York-based festival DanceAfrica, was awarded an honorary doctorate Dec. 3, 2009 during a ceremony held in the Bernie Dallas Room in Goodell Hall.

Chancellor Robert C. Holub conferred the degree. Other officials at the ceremony were Henry M. Thomas III of the Board of Trustees, Provost James V. Staros, Joel R. Martin, Dean of the College of Humanities and Fine Arts, and Peggy Schwartz, Professor & Director of the Dance Program.

Holub praised Davis, noting, "His decades of work have been essential in popularizing African dance and helping preserve this art form for the ages. We are privileged to know him and very proud to honor him."

Photos by John Solem

Davis has strong ties to the campus. He has visited and been in residence in recent years, to set choreography for dancers at performances, give master classes and lectures and to share the joy of dance with young children in Springfield and other local communities through the Sankofa Dance Project: Celebrating African Roots in American Dance.

The Sankofa Youth Reach program serves Springfield youth ages 14-22, bringing dance classes to the schools and providing tuition and housing scholarships to Springfield youth to attend the Sankofa Dance Project Summer Dance Intensive on campus.

Davis is a native of Raleigh, N.C. He attended Howard University where he majored in theater and dance, then continued his study of African dance under the guidance of Babatunde Olatunji, Eleo Pomare and the Bernice Johnson Dance Company. He earned a reputation as one of the best teachers and accomplished choreographers in the traditional techniques of African dance. In 1982, the American Dance Festival of Durham, N.C., recruited Davis as an artist-in-residence to organize and manage its outreach program. From this effort sprung the African American Dance Ensemble in 1984.

Internationally, Davis has led Cultural Arts Safari to the Gambia for 30 years. This trip contributes to creating humanitarian and artistic links between artists in the United States and Africa through cultural exchange and education. Through these trips and the relationships he has established, Davis has contributed to and helped sustain the development of schools and villages throughout the Gambia. His ties to the region and the effect of his work have been profound.

Peggy Schwartz, Dr. Davis, Robert Holub,
Joel Martin

Three UMass Amherst students have traveled with Davis to the Gambia on the Cultural Arts Safari and brought a wealth of knowledge and experience back to share with fellow students and faculty.

Chancellor Holub confers the Degree as
Joel Martin & Peggy Schwartz look on.

He has received many awards including the New York Bessie Award and the Brooklyn Academy of Music Award for distinguished service. In December 1998, Davis received an Honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts from Medgar Evers College of New York and another in 2005 from Williams College.

He has served as a panelist for several programs of the National Endowment of the Arts. In 1992, Davis received the North Carolina Award in Fine Arts, the highest honor bestowed in the Arts.



Davis also was honored in 2004 as a choreographer and consultant interviewed for "Free to Dance," a PBS production on the history of African-American dance since the 20th century.

Article from UMass Amherst's "In the Loop" online newsletter, December 4, 2009.

Dance Department