By now, you might have heard that the legendary Dr. Maya Angelou passed away last night at 86. And while you’re probably most familiar with her work as a civil rights activist and an American author (with masterworks like I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings), you might not have known she was also a celebrated dancer and singer.
In the 1950s, Angelou was pretty entrenched in the American modern dance scene. She studied modern dance in San Francisco with Anna Halprin—where she met another legend: Alvin Ailey. The two became dance partners and formed an act called Al and Rita. Angelou also performed in a Calypso revue in 1957 Brooklyn, NY, produced by modern dance great Geoffrey Holder—alongside Ailey and Donald McKayle. (Years later, Angelou read her poem “When Great Trees Fall” at Ailey’s funeral in 1989, and when McKayle received the prestigious Scripps/ADF Award in 1992, Angelou was there to present the award.)
In 1957, Angelou produced a solo album titled Miss Calypso, and that same year she appeared as herself in the film Calypso Heatwave. You can see a piece of it in this clip from Oprah’s “Super Soul Sunday,” starting at 1:54.