Arthur Mitchell, the first Black ballet dancer to receive international acclaim, died of heart failure Wednesday morning in New York City, The New York Times reports. He was 84 years old.
Mitchell was the first Black dancer admitted to the New York City Ballet, where he danced from 1955 to 1968. He went on to become the founding director of the Dance Theater of Harlem, the country’s first major Black classical dance company.
The native of Harlem began working to help support his family at age of 12 following his father’s incarceration. Within two years, he enrolled at the High School of Performing Arts, winning a scholarship to study at the School of American Ballet. The proud New Yorker made his Broadway debut in the 1952 production of opera Four Saints in Three Acts.
Three years later, Mitchell became the first Black dancer to join the NYC Ballet, climbing the ranks to become a principal dancer in one year.
Rest in peace Arthur Mitchell. Your incredible artistry and trailblazing spirit will be forever felt. https://t.co/vG4Wkjjfnu
— New York City Ballet (@nycballet) September 19, 2018
Mitchell co-founded The Dance Theater of Harlem in 1969 alongside teacher Karel Shook. Beginning in a church basement with 30 aspiring dancers, the school quickly expanded to more than 400 students, later becoming one of the most respected dance companies in the country.
The Dance Theater of Harlem released the following statement on Mitchell’s passing via Twitter.
It’s with the deepest sadness we share the news that our founding artistic director, the great, Arthur Mitchell has passed away. His legacy of passion, power, and perfection will live on through each and every person he’s touched in his lifetime. We love you and we honor you! pic.twitter.com/eGnOntPXRz
— DanceTheatreofHarlem (@DTHballet) September 19, 2018
Check out classic images of the legendary dancer courtesy of the Johnson Publishing Company below.