Fred Benjamin

Elma Lewis, a nationally recognized arts educator who was among the first people to be awarded a MacArthur Fellowship.

Elma Lewis, a nationally recognized arts educator who was among the first people to be awarded a MacArthur Fellowship.

{“Ms. Lewis, considered a doyenne of Black culture in Boston, was a no-nonsense mentor to generations of young dance, opera and theater students at the Elma Lewis School of Fine Arts, which she founded in 1950 in a Roxbury apartment before moving it permanently to a former synagogue and school in the same area. In 1968 she founded the National Center of Afro-American Artists, which still exists although the school closed in 1986. In addition to becoming a MacArthur Fellow, she received a national medal for the arts in 1983.

She operated the Elma Lewis Playhouse in the Park, a summer theater where musicians played to capacity audiences in Franklin Park in Roxbury after she had overseen an effort to rid the area of drug dealers and garbage. Duke Ellington and the Boston Pops Orchestra, under Arthur Fiedler, were among the performers there.  Asked in a 1981 interview in The Times if she felt like a token as one of three women among 21 MacArthur fellows, Ms. Lewis said that she had felt exclusion more because of her race than because of her sex. “As a matter of fact,” she said, “Women’s problems belong to White women because it is in that White dominant group that men are keeping women from utmost dominance. The black man is oppressed, and I can’t imagine a man brave enough to oppress me.}


Like most African-American choreographers of the time, his work was compared to that of Alvin Ailey.


 {Alvin Ailey (January 5, 1931 – December 1, 1989) was an African-American choreographer and activist who founded the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in New York City. Ailey is credited with popularizing modern dance and revolutionizing African-American participation in 20th-century concert dance.} 

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Fred Benjamin modeled himself after his idol, Tally Beatty. he was often concerned with the Black heritage, an influence he derived from the modern-dance pioneer mentor. 


{Talley Beatty (22 December 1918 – 29 April 1995) was born in Cedar Grove, Louisiana, a section of Shreveport, but grew up in Chicago, Illinois. He is considered one of the greatest of African American choreographers, and also bears the titles dancer, educator, and dance company director. After studying under Katherine Dunham and Martha Graham, Beatty went on to do solo work and choreograph his own works which center on the social issues, experiences, and everyday life of African Americans. Beatty and his technique and style of dancing have been both praised and criticized by critics and dancers of his day.}

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