DUDLEY WILLIAMS, ELOQUENT DANCER WHO DEFIED AGE
A spokesman for the company said Mr. Williams was found dead in his apartment on Sunday. No cause was given, but the medical examiner’s office said the death was not considered suspicious.
Mr. Williams was dancing with the Martha Graham Dance Company when he was recruited by the choreographer Alvin Ailey as a last-minute replacement for an Ailey troupe member in 1963. He performed with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater until 2005, continued to dance with Paradigm, a trio of older dancers he formed with Carmen de Lavallade and Gus Solomons Jr., and taught at the Ailey School, on West 55th Street in Manhattan, until he died.
At 75, in 2013, Mr. Williams returned to the stage, at City Center, for an Ailey company New Year’s Eve performance of “Rocka My Soul in the Bosom of Abraham,” the rousing finale of the troupe’s classic “Revelations,” which was choreographed by Ailey.
Mr. Williams’s signature solo, “I Wanna Be Ready,” was also from “Revelations,” in a repertoire that included Ailey’s “Reflections in D,” “Love Songs” and “Blues Suite”; Donald McKayle’s “Rainbow Round My Shoulder,” Lucas Hoving’s “Icarus,” Louis Falco’s “Caravan” and his role as Nelson Mandela in “Survivors.”
Judith Jamison, who succeeded Ailey as artistic director, described Mr. Williams as the epitome of “the male lyric modern dancer.”
Critics lionized him. In The New York Times, Anna Kisselgoff, the chief dance critic, wrote in 1984: “Mr. Williams manages to inject the smallest gestures with an understated but powerful poignancy. One of the finest American dancers of his era, he has carved a niche for himself as that rare performer who can dazzle technically without for a moment losing sight of the dance’s dramatic resonance.”
Dudley Eugene Williams was born in East Harlem on Aug. 18, 1938, to Ivan Leroy Williams, a carpenter, and the former Austa Beckles. His brother, Ivan Jr., is his only immediate survivor.
Dudley was dancing from a young age. Indeed, as he recalled, his mother enlisted an aunt to find someplace for him to take dance lessons “before,” as she put it, “he breaks my lamps.” She skimped to buy a piano, too.
He flopped at tap dancing and was taunted in the East Harlem housing projects for his devotion to dance, but he persisted, spending days at the movies with a friend watching dance films. When, as a 12-year-old, Dudley stopped to hear his uncle sing at Sheldon B. Hoskins’s theater school, he peeked into a dance studio and decided to stay, paying for his lessons by hawking copies of The Amsterdam News.
He also became a proficient pianist and applied for admission to the music division of the High School of Performing Arts. When he was told his application came too late, he was asked if he had any talent besides piano playing.
“I said, ‘I can dance,’ ” he recalled in 1978. “I thought I’d take dance and switch over after a half term, but I never did.”
After graduating in 1958, he formed a dance company called The Corybantes, which toured union halls and Army bases; danced with the May O’Donnell, Donald McKayle and Talley Beatty troupes; and studied briefly at the Juilliard School before transferring to Martha Graham’s school on a scholarship. He was invited to join her company in 1962.
Mr. Williams said he had been planning to leave the Graham troupe eventually when Ailey asked him to replace a dancer who had quit his company just before a season in London. Mr. Williams danced with both companies for a few years, though he grew unhappy with the Graham troupe. “I bought a steamship ticket to anywhere, just to get out,” he said.
“Finally I had to choose,” he said, “and when I told Ms. Graham, she slapped me across the face. I deserved it.”
Working for Ailey was no cakewalk.
“Alvin used to rehearse us until curtain; he was brutal in that way,” Mr. Williams said. But he preferred him over Graham, he said, “because he was doing dances that weren’t about legends.”
“They were more about today people,” he went on. “His work was more humanly possible for me.”
Even so, Mr. Williams redefined human possibilities. He suffered a knee injury in the 1960s and was told he would never walk again, but he was back onstage in two weeks after a regimen of Pilates exercises. Most dancers stop performing professionally around 30. For Mr. Williams, that was not even the halfway mark. He pushed his slight 5-foot-8, 130-pound frame to its fullest.
“I feel that God has given me a gift,” he said, “and if you don’t use it, shame on you.”
In 2003, when Mr. Williams was 65, Ms. Jamison said: “Dudley is surrounded by dancers two or three generations younger than he is, and there he is, very spry and very much like a grasshopper. Dudley has a lot to teach, by just the movement of a hand.”
He taught by example, explaining that a dancer needed a reason for every movement.
“You can’t just put your hand out,” he said. “You have to know what happens when you put your hand out and your body goes with it. And I dance to the music, no matter what it is. I stretch my whole body — you have fingers, so use them — to every plink of the piano. You must listen to the music and love it, and then you can do the dance differently every time.”
Ailey, who died in 1989, tried to recruit Mr. Williams to be his assistant, but Mr. Williams demurred.
“I said, ‘You know, I still want to dance,’ ” he recalled in 2003. “I had a need to dance and I still do.”
“It’s a hunger — doing it until you do it right,” he added. “It’s a nervousness that puts me on the stage, it’s palms sweating, feet sweating, wondering, ‘Am I going to hit this position?’ ”
He added: “You’re always striving for a perfect performance. And that will never happen. When it does happen, that’s when I think you should give it up. The challenge is gone.”
An obituary on Thursday about the longtime Alvin Ailey dancer Dudley Williams, using information from Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, misstated the given name of his father and his brother. They are both Ivan, not Iban.SOURCE
RONNIE GILBERT, FOLK SINGER FOR THE WEAVERS
The death was confirmed by her partner, Donna Korones.
Ms. Gilbert had a résumé as a stage actor and later in life a career as a psychologist, but her enduring impact was as a singer.
The Weavers, whose other members were Pete Seeger, Lee Hays and Fred Hellerman, started playing together in the late 1940s. Like-minded musicians with progressive political views, they performed work songs, union songs and gospel songs, and became known for American folk standards like “On Top of Old Smoky,” “Goodnight, Irene” (first recorded by the blues singer Lead Belly), Woody Guthrie’s “So Long, It’s Been Good to Know Yuh” and “The Hammer Song” (a.k.a. “If I Had a Hammer”) by Mr. Seeger and Mr. Hays, as well as songs from other cultures, including “Wimoweh” from Africa and “Tzena Tzena Tzena,” a Hebrew song popular in Israel (though it was written before Israel was established in 1948).
Their voices, especially Ms. Gilbert’s, were powerful, their harmonies were distinctive and their attitude was an enthusiastic embrace of the listener. Together those elements created a singalong populism that laid the groundwork for a folk-music boom in the 1950s and 1960s and its concomitant earnest strain of 1960s counterculture.
The Kingston Trio, the Limeliters and Peter, Paul & Mary, among others, were direct musical descendants; slightly more distant relations included Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and Phil Ochs.
“We sang songs of hope in that strange time after World War II, when already the world was preparing for Cold War,” Ms. Gilbert recalled in “The Weavers: Wasn’t That a Time,” a 1982 documentary about the group. “We still had the feeling that if we could sing loud enough and strong enough and hopefully enough, it would make a difference.”
The Weavers’ own narrative was a dramatic one, a product of the political moment. Hardly confrontational or subversive in their presentations — in their public appearances they were well groomed, the men often wearing jackets and ties and Ms. Gilbert a dress — they were nonetheless targeted by the anti-Communist right wing.
In 1949 they were still an informal ensemble, playing at union meetings and on picket lines but rarely if ever for money. They were on the verge of dispersing when Max Gordon, owner of the Village Vanguard in Manhattan, booked them to play for two weeks during the Christmas holidays. Instantly a hit, they were so popular that they stayed at the Vanguard for six months and were signed by Decca Records. For the next two years, touring and recording and appearing on radio and television, they were among the biggest musical stars in the country.
But in June 1950, the influential pamphlet “Red Channels,” purportedly an exposé of the Communist infiltration of the entertainment industry, was published, and it named Pete Seeger, who had in fact been a member of the Communist Party earlier in his life.
The Weavers were blacklisted; invitations to perform and record dried up, their recordings were removed from stores, and the group disbanded. With her husband, Martin Weg, a dentist, Ms. Gilbert moved to California, where they started a family.
Then, in 1955, the Weavers’ manager, Harold Leventhal, arranged a concert at Carnegie Hall. The show sold out, perceived by many ticket buyers not just as a musical event but as an act of defiance against the overzealousness of anti-Communists.
It renewed interest in the Weavers, and though Seeger (who died in 2014) left the group a couple of years later, the group, with a series of replacements, continued to perform and record until 1964, when they gave a farewell concert in Chicago. Their influence — and Ms. Gilbert’s — was by then well established.
“I was at the 1955 concert at Carnegie Hall,” Mary Travers of Peter, Paul & Mary wrote in a companion booklet to a boxed set of recordings by the Weavers. “And surely for me part of the reason that I could sing folk songs was because of Ronnie Gilbert.
“When I first began to sing, most of the better-known people who were singing folk songs had those sort of Kentucky mountain sopranos. I of course was anything but a soprano! So when I heard the Weavers I found another voice, one that was definitely the voice of a strong woman, someone able to stand on her own two feet and face adversity.
“And she had a courageous voice: There was a tremendous sense of joy and energy and courage in her voice. She was able to be very gentle, too; she did wonderful ballads and lullabies and things; but there was that trumpet sound she had that I found very encouraging, because it said, oh, you too! You’re not a misfit, there’s somebody else out there with a big voice!”
Ms. Gilbert was born Ruth Alice Gilbert in Brooklyn on Sept. 7, 1926, and grew up in and around New York City. Her parents were immigrants; they separated when she was 11, but by then had given her piano and dance lessons. Her father, Charles, from the Ukraine, worked as a milliner. Her mother, Sarah, from Poland, was the more influential parent — a garment worker, a union activist and a member of the Communist Party who also had an interest in the arts. She brought her daughter, about 10 at the time, to a union rally at which Paul Robeson sang, an event Ronnie Gilbert would later recall as “transformative.”
“That was the beginning of my life as a singer and a — I wouldn’t call myself an activist, but a singer, a singer with social conscience, let’s say,” she said in a 2004 interview for Voices of Feminism, an oral history project at Smith College.
At 16, Ms. Gilbert was living in Washington, D.C., in the home of a friend of her mother’s, where she met other musicians and sang in a folk group called the Priority Ramblers. Later, she and Fred Hellerman met as counselors at a New Jersey summer camp, and in New York afterward they became part of a community of folk singers and musicians that coalesced around Pete Seeger.
The Weavers’ own recollections of how the group came together, given in various interviews, were hazy. But they have mostly agreed that the final makeup of the group was the result of a happy accident: When they sang together, it sounded great. It was the Village Vanguard gig that made them a real group.
“Occasionally we’d do something at a hootenanny or something like that, but usually we were just singing for the fun of it,” Mr. Hellerman recalled in the CD booklet. “Then at one point when reality was beginning to set in, and Ronnie was going to go out to California, I think to get a job out there, and I was going to go to graduate school there, I mean we were clearly going to go our own ways, so we had one last desperate thought. It was kind of ludicrous when you stop and think about it. We thought, well, gee, maybe there’s some way we could get some kind of job together so we can make just enough money so that we could continue to sing down in Pete’s basement every Wednesday afternoon.”
After the Weavers broke up in 1964, Ms. Gilbert spent much of her creative energy in the theater. She worked with the director Joseph Chaikin and the Open Theater; she worked with the experimental director Peter Brook in Paris. In 1968, she appeared on Broadway in “The Man in the Glass Booth,” Robert Shaw’s drama about the trial of a man who may or may not be a Nazi war criminal, directed by Harold Pinter. She earned an M.A. in psychology in the 1970s and worked as therapist.
In 1980, the Weavers performed one last time at a sold-out reunion concert in Carnegie Hall. Beginning in the 1980s, Ms. Gilbert also recorded and performed often with the folk singer and activist Holly Near. The two of them toured in 1984 with Pete Seeger and Arlo Guthrie in a group they called HARP, melding the first letters of the performers’ names.
In the early 1990s, Ms. Gilbert appeared in regional theaters, performing her own one-woman show about Mary Harris, the labor organizer known as Mother Jones. Her solo recordings include “Come and Go With Me,” “Alone With Ronnie Gilbert” and “Love Will Find a Way.” Her memoir, “Ronnie Gilbert: A Radical Life in Song,” is scheduled for publication by the University of California Press this fall.
Ms. Gilbert’s marriage ended in divorce. She is survived by her daughter, Lisa, and a granddaughter. Ms. Gilbert, who lived in Mill Valley, Calif., is also survived by her partner, Ms. Korones, who was her manager and business partner for many years. They were married in 2004 in San Francisco during a brief period when the mayor, Gavin Newsom, opened City Hall to same-sex weddings; theirs and some 4,000 other marriages were later declared invalid by the California Supreme Court.
JEAN RITCHIE, LYRICAL VOICE OF APPALACHIA
Her niece Judy Hudson confirmed the death.
The youngest of 14 children in a farming family from Viper, Ky., Ms. Ritchie was a vital link in a chain of oral tradition that stretched back centuries. Her recordings and concerts — she appeared on some of the world’s celebrated stages, including Carnegie Hall in New York and the Royal Albert Hall in London — helped keep the music alive for an international listenership.
Over the years Ms. Ritchie performed jointly with some of the best-known names in folk music, including Pete Seeger and Doc Watson. She was closely associated with the Newport Folk Festival, performing at its inception in 1959 and many times afterward.
With her flowing red hair and modest dress, Ms. Ritchie had a quietly striking stage presence. Hers was not a trained voice, but it was a splendidly traditional one: high, sweet, lyrical and plaintive, accompanied by the Appalachian fretted dulcimer she had learned to play as a girl.
As a result of having brought a dulcimer with her when she moved to New York in the late 1940s, Ms. Ritchie is credited with almost single-handedly reviving interest in that instrument, which is held in the lap and plucked with one hand. For about a decade, starting in the early 1960s, she and her husband, George Pickow, ran a small dulcimer-making business beneath the Williamsburg Bridge in Brooklyn.
By the time she left Kentucky, Ms. Ritchie had learned more than 300 songs by osmosis, many of them old ballads like “Barbara Allen” and “Lord Randall” that had been carried to Appalachia by settlers from the British Isles. She became a collector of folk songs and an authority on their origin, performance practice and regional variants.
She also wrote original songs (among the best known is “Black Waters,” denouncing Kentucky strip mining), which have been covered by artists including Johnny Cash, Emmylou Harris and the alternative folk singer Michelle Shocked.
Early on, as Ms. Ritchie explained in interviews, she wrote her most adamantly political compositions under a pseudonym, so as not to vex her adamantly apolitical mother.
The youngest child of Balis Ritchie and the former Abigail Hall, Jean Ruth Ritchie was born on Dec. 8, 1922, in Viper, then a village of 15 or 20 houses in the foothills of the Cumberlands.
“To stand in the bottom of any of the valleys is to have the feeling of being down in the center of a great round cup,” she wrote in her memoir-cum-songbook, “Singing Family of the Cumberlands” (1955), illustrated by Maurice Sendak.
Ms. Ritchie continued: “Travelers from the level lands, usually the Blue Grass section of Kentucky to the west of us, always complained that they felt hemmed in by our hills, cut off from the wide skies and the rest of the world. For us it was hard to believe there was any ‘rest of the world,’ and if there should be such a thing, why, we trusted in the mountains to protect us from it.”