Pearl Primus


John Albert, [Pearl Primus dancing at a Fiesta Republicana, Dexter Park, Queens, New York], July 19, 1943 (2013.115.41)

“In Memory of Free Spain Pearl Primus, of Café Society (downtown), entertains at a Fiesta Republicana held yesterday at Dexter Park, Queens, by friends of Republican Spain on the seventh anniversary of Franco’s rebellion.” (PM, July 19, 1948)

At the age of two, Pearl Primus (1919-1994) moved, with her family, from the Laventille ward of Port of Spain, Trinidad to New York City. She grew up in the city and aspired to become a doctor. While pursuing a graduate degree in biology from Hunter College she discovered dance and won a scholarship from the New Dance Group. Her debut performance in February 1943 was met with great acclaim. It lead to her becoming a regular at the famous Café Society Downtown, performing at the Negro Freedom Rally in Madison Square Garden, and many more honors within the same year. Pearl Primus devoted her career to studying African dance and traveled extensively for her research. She was instrumental in introducing those traditions to America and western Modern Dance.


Barbara Morgan, Pearl Primus–Speak to Me of Rivers, 1944(printed ca. 1972) (546.1986)

This image of Pearl Primus was taken by Barbara Morgan (1900-1992), an American interdisciplinary artist, who is best known for her definitive photographs of many pioneers of modern dance. She was an early member of the Photo League and co-founded Aperture magazine.

Alexander DeSouza, intern, Collections department

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About claartjevandijk

Assistant Curator, Collections at the International Center of Photography, New York
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