Profiles of LGBT people, from the past and today – and celebrating their birthdays! All Birthdays →

Alvin Ailey

Alvin Ailey was born to African American parents on January 5, 1931, in Rogers, Texas. He first became interested in dance as a teenager in Los Angeles, where he began to work for the Lester Horton Dance Company. Ailey’s work as a dancer and choreographer was influenced by his experience growing up in the segregated South and his gay sexual orientation. After relocating to New York City, in 1958 he established the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, which toured around the world throughout the 1960s and 1970s. In 1968 Ailey’s ballet Revelations was performed as part of the opening ceremonies for the Olympics in Mexico City. In 1969, he founded the Alvin Ailey American Dance Center. In 1977 the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater performed at U.S. President Jimmy Carter’s inaugural gala at the White House. Ailey was awarded the United Nations Peace Medal in 1982. Throughout his career, Ailey advocated for black dancers who were denied opportunities. Some of his most famous ballets include Revelations, Blues Suit, and Cry. Ailey died on December 1, 1989. In 2014, U.S. President Barack Obama posthumously awarded Ailey the Presidential Medal of Freedom. For more about Ailey’s life and legacy, see LGBT African Americans by Kali Henderson and Dionn McDonald.