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QUEEN OF DANCE

Updated: Apr 5

Ty Rawls Harlem Nights Paintings; Katherine Dunham

& Artist Elmer Simms


BY MYLES LANIER April 2024

The “Harlem Nights paintings by Ty Rawls are a tribute to Harlem, Katherine Dunham, and artist E. Simms Campbell. In 1932 E. Simms Campbell (Elmer Simms)

created a poster showing the Harlem night club scene. He called it the “Night Club Map of Harlem”. This artistic representation of old Harlem is a masterpiece, and for many years I wanted to homage this piece in some way, reintroduce it to the culture of today. The map is an artistic record of the night club scene in 1933.


Katherine Dunham


Done in a stylish and fun way, Elmer Simms captures the interest and excitement of old Harlem with this work. After years of trying various ideas to homage this piece I came across Katherine Dunham. Once the two images came together in my mind, the idea was realized quickly. Katherine became an Icon of the dance world shortly after the “Night Club Map of Harlem” was created. She opened her own school in 1933 and called it the Negro Dance Group, where she trained many big names.


E. Simms Campbell


In 1935 everything upgraded when she received funding from the Rosenwald Foundation. She traveled to Jamaica, Martinique, Trinidad, and Haiti to experience the dance and artistry of those cultures. This trip changes her work forever and helped solidify her name as one of the all time dancing greats. In 1937 she finally ended up in New York where she performed in “A Negro Dance Evening”, on 92nd street at the YMHA. Later upon her return to Chicago where she was named director of the Chicago Negro Theater as a part of the Federal Theater Project. This is where she over saw the success of many well known theater productions like“Run Li’l Chil’lun” and “The Emperor Jones”. The 40s were an amazing time for Katherine as her career took her back to New York to dance, and then to L.A. to be in movies. After this she would headline on broadway until 1948 when she began her European tour where the crowds went crazy!


Katherine Dunham

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