Lifetime Achievement Award

Louis Johnson

2021 Award Honoree

Born to loving parents in Statesville, North Carolina on March 19, 1930, the family moved to Washington DC. After showing promise in gymnastics at the YMCA while at Dunbar High School in Washington, D.C., Louis Johnson began his dance career with Doris Jones and Claire Haywood of the Capitol Ballet (later named Jones & Hayward) in Washington, DC.

Jones and Haywood arranged for Louis Johnson and Chita Rivera to attend the School of American Ballet in New York City. There he furthered his career with the New York City Ballet under George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins, who cast him as a guest dancer in “Ballade”. He also studied extensively with the great Miss Katherine Dunham.

Mr. Johnson was dance director for the Negro Ensemble Company, co-director with Mike Malone of the DC Black Rep Theatre Dance Company, taught at Yale University and is credited with starting the formal dance department at Howard University in Washington, DC. Later Louis Johnson developed the Henry Street Settlement Dance Department in New York City which he led for twenty years, developing young talent. Mr. Stevie Wonder was so impressed that he invited Johnson’s proteges to participate on his show in Atlantic City. Often known as “Louis’ Kids”, they were also honored by Marion Wright Edelman’s “Children’s Defense Fund” at the Kennedy Center.

Known as “Choreographer to the Stars”, Louis Johnson choreographed for the Ed Sullivan Show, Radio City Music Hall, Peter Allen, Aretha Franklin, The Temptations, the O’Jays, and the Gerald and Eddie Lavert’s “Father and Son Tour”.

Mr. Johnson also choreographed the movies “Cotton Comes to Harlem” and “The Wiz” starring Diana Ross and Michael Jackson. Mr. Johnson’s directing credits include “Miss Truth” by Dr. Glory Van Scott, which appeared at the Apollo Theater and the Kennedy Center, “Porgy and Bess”, “Jazzbo Brown”, “Ebony Game”, and “Time in the Wind”, by Gault McDermott.

Louis Johnson appeared in the Broadway productions of “Four Saints in Three Acts”, “My Darlin’ Aida”, “House of Flowers”, “Damn Yankees”, and “Hallelujah Baby”. He then choreographed his first ballet, “Lament”, which brought much acclaim and led to him choreographing the critically acclaimed Broadway productions of “Black Nativity”, “Lost in the Stars”, “Treemonisha”, and “Purlie”, for which he received a Tony Award nomination.

In addition to having his own company that traveled world-wide, Louis Johnson created awe inspiring ballets for multiple companies including the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, The Atlanta Ballet, The Cincinnati Ballet, The Dance Theatre of Harlem, The Joffrey, and Philadanco. The Metropolitan Opera commissioned Mr. Johnston to choreograph their hugely successful productions of “La Gioconda”, starring Martina Arroyo, and “Aida”, starring opera diva Leontyne Price.

Especially noteworthy is Mr. Johnson’s iconic choreography for The Dance Theatre of Harlem’s production “Forces of Rhythm”, which has become one of the company’s signature works.

Some of Louis Johnson’s honors include: the Pioneer Award from the International Association of Blacks in Dance at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.; The HISTORYMAKER award, an honor from the California chapter of the NAACP for his work with the original Negro Ensemble Company; a special night honoring him from Ashford and Simpson, an award from the historical evening at Carnegie Hall “Black Stars On the Great White Way” co-produced by Chapman Roberts and Norm Lewis; and the DC Black Repertory Theatre Alumni Association FOUNDERS AWARD.

Criteria & Process

The criteria for the CORPS de Ballet International’s Lifetime Achievement Award candidates is as follows:

Candidates must have furthered the growth of ballet in higher education and/or made valuable contributions to ballet departments, through administration, teac hing, choreography, mentoring or research. Candidates must have worked for or with an academic institution for at least five years.

Candidates must have a prior or current relationship (choreographer,teacher, dancer, writer, historian etc.) with the professional world of ballet.

The process for Award recipient selection is as follows:

  • The body of the CORPS (all members) shall submit nominees to the awards committee, via email, by September30 of the year prior to the year the award will be given. Nominees should be sent to an awards committee member.
  • With the name of the nominee, included a brief (one to two sentence) reason why you are nominating the particular candidate.
  • The awards committee will then narrow the field of candidates to five and send the selection to the board of directors.
  • The board of directors shall vote choosing the top three candidates and then submit the final three to the membership.
  • The membership, via email, will then vote for the final candidate.
  • The president of the CORPS will receive the final count and announce to the membership the next CORPS de Ballet International Inc. award recipient.