Geoffrey Holder is a gifted artist whose extraordinary assortment of talents has earned him the respect and admiration of people around the world.
Dancer, choreographer, actor, painter, writer, director, vocalist and voice artist are among the credits of this virtuoso who was born in Port of Spain on August 1, 1930. He received his primary school education at Tranquillity in Woodbrook and spent his high school years at Queen’s Royal College. He was seven years old when he joined the dance troupe of his older brother Boscoe, who ranks among Trinidad and Tobago’s top painters.
When Boscoe moved to London in the 1940s, the teenaged Geoffrey became director of the Holder Dance Company. Geoffrey Holder’s big break came in 1952 when American choreographer Agnes de Mille saw him dance in St Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands. She immediately invited him to New York where he taught dance for the next two years at the Katherine Dunlap School of Dance. On December 30, 1954, the six foot-six inch dancer with the booming, cavernous voice made his Broadway debut at the Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre in
House of Flowers, a musical with a Caribbean theme.
The show was a huge success, running for 165 performances. For Geoffrey Holder, however, the biggest reward came in meeting his future wife, the dancer Carmen De Lavallade. From 1955 through 1956 Holder was a principal dancer with the Metropolitan Opera Ballet. It was the first of a career on stage that would include the role of Lucky in the all-Black cast of the revival of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot.
Geoffrey Holder’s acting career began in 1962 with the British _lm All Night Long, a modern remake of Shakespeare’s Othello. The movie Doctor Doolittle followed in 1967 with him in the role of Willie Shakespeare, leader of the natives of Sea-Star Island. Among his best known roles are the heavy “Baron Samedi” in the James Bond movie Live and Let Die and “Punjab” in Annie.
In 1975, Geoffrey Holder was awarded two Tony Awards for direction and costume design for the Broadway musical The Wiz (1975), the all-Black musical version of The Wizard of Oz. As a choreographer, he created dance pieces for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, among others.
Although he lives in New York, the Caribbean surrounds him. He has produced books on Caribbean folklore and cooking and keeps in touch with region, especially Haiti, one of the passions of his life. In 1972, Trinidad and Tobago honoured him with the Hummingbird Medal (Gold).