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Celebrating Black History Month: Geoffrey Holder, History-Making Tony Award-Winner

Holder is the first Black man to be nominated for Best Director of a Musical and Best Costume Design at the Tony Awards

Celebrating Black History Month: Geoffrey Holder, History-Making Tony Award-Winner

To celebrate Black History Month, BroadwayWorld is spotlighting the lives and legacies of Black artists from every corner of the theatrical spectrum.

Today it's all about history-making performer, choreographer, director, costume designer, composer and visual artist, Geoffrey Holder.

Who is Geoffrey Holder?

An actor, dancer, musician, and artist Geoffrey Holder is the Tony Award-winning director and costume designer of the groundbreaking original Broadway production of The Wiz. In 1975, Holder became the first Black man to be nominated for Best Director and Best Costume Design at the Tony Awards and took home historic wins in both categories.

Broadway Legacy

Holder's Broadway credits as a performer include a debut in the Howard Arlen and Truman Capote's musical House of Flowers (for which he also provided the choreography), an all-Black 1957 production of Waiting for Godot, and a 1964 Broadway revue with Josephine Baker.

Behind the scenes, Holder returned to Broadway as director and choreographer of the 1978 musical Timbuktu! and in 1993 as director of the concert event The Harlem Boys Choir and Friends.

Dance Legacy

His dance legacy begins in his homeland, Trinidad, where he made his stage debut at the age of seven as part of his brother Bosco Holder's dance company. Geoffrey made his way to America when legendary choreographer Agnes De Mille saw him perform on St. Thomas and invited him to New York to work with her there.

In 1955, Holder joined the Metropolitan Opera Ballet as a principal dancer, where he remained for 10 years before heading to Broadway.

Holder was also a close collaborator with legendary choreographer Alvin Ailey and worked extensively with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, creating choreography, music, and costumes for Prodigal Prince in 1967.

For Dance Theatre of Harlem, he created choreography, music, and costumes for Dougla in 1974, and designed costumes for Firebird in 1982. His 1957 piece "Bele" is also part of the company's repertory.

Film and Television

For his film work, Holder is probably best known to Broadway fans as Punjab in the 1982 film adaptation of Annie.

Holder made his way to the big screen in 1963, with a role in the a British modern retelling of Othello, All Night Long. His other film roles include Willie Shakespeare in Doctor Dolittle (1967), the Sorcerer in Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex*, Baron Samedi-in the Bond film Live and Let Die (he also contributed to the film's choreography), and the 1992 film Boomerang with Eddie Murphy. He also provided narration for Tim Burton's 2005 film Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

His television roles include voice work as Ray on the children's series Bear in the Big Blue House and notable turns in commercials.

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Holder was the spokesman for the soft drink 7 Up as part of their "uncola" campaign. He reprised his role the 2011 season finale of The Celebrity Apprentice, where he appeared as himself in a commercial for "7 Up Retro" for Marlee Matlin's team.

Awards, Honors, and Additional Achievements

In addition to two Tony Awards for direction and costume design of The Wiz, Holder also won the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Costume Design.

When not creating pieces for the musical theatre and dance worlds, Holder was a prolific painter, art collector, book author, and music composer. Lena Horne and William F. Buckley, Jr. are counted among patrons of his work.

As a painter, he won a Guggenheim Fellowship in fine arts in 1956. A book of his photography, Adam, was published by Viking Press in 1986.

Geoffrey accepts the Tony Award for Best Director of a Musical for The Wiz:

Geoffrey dances with Ann Reinking, in the 1982 film adaptation of Annie:

Geoffrey portrays Baron Samedi in the Bond film, Live and Let Die:

A short documentary on Geoffrey's work on Firebird at Dance Theatre of Harlem:

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