Los Angeles' California African American Museum celebrated its annual gala, An Artful Evening at CAAM, on Saturday. The gala this year honored legendary husband-and-wife entertainers Geoffrey Holder and Carmen de Lavallade with Lifetime Achievement Awards for Dance, Choreography, Design and Acting; businessman Leon T. Garr with the Tom Bradley Unsung Hero Award for Business, Real Estate and Philanthropy; and visual artist and educator Phoebe Beasley with the Lifetime Achievement Award for Visual Art.
“I must say, L.A. grows dancers very well,” de Lavallade said at the gala. “They grow up here and they are always the best dancers who come to New York.” She and Alvin Ailey attended Jefferson High School together in Los Angeles and both went on to prestigious careers as dancers in New York. Discussing her early inspirations to pursue dancing, de Lavallade spoke of her cousin Janet Collins, who was a prima ballerina and the first person of color at the Metropolitan Opera. De Lavallade made her Broadway debut partnered with Ailey in Truman Capote’s House of Flowers in 1954. It was with Holder that de Lavallade choreographed her signature solo, Come Sunday. A documentary titled Carmen & Geoffrey chronicles their careers, lives and marriage.
Holder, a Trinidad native, won two Tony Awards for his direction and costume design for the hit Broadway musical The Wiz, has designed and choreographed ballets for the Dance Theatre of Harlem, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and Pennsylvania Ballet and appeared in such films as the James Bond film Live and Let Die.
The gala was hosted by Emmy-nominated actress CCH Pounder (Sons of Anarchy, The Shield, Avatar). Pounder spoke enthusiastically about the museum and its continued outreach and education efforts, calling CAAM “an unsung hero type of museum that does marvelous things.” She is involved in helping the museum reach out to other institutions like neighboring USC to broaden the reach of their education programs.
Honoree Beasley (whose paintings are in the collections of such names as Oprah Winfrey, Tyler Perry and Samuel and LaTanya Jackson) added that she values the museum because “nobody else is doing it, particularly in Los Angeles. They are preserving and collecting and telling the story about our art, our history, our culture, our traditions -- those of African-American artists and the African diaspora. And they are making it possible for the public domain. So to be able to do that on such a small staff with such a broad mission for the entire state is remarkable.”
Finally, trailblazing African-American banker Garr – the subject of the Antwone Fisher-directed documentary This Life of Mine -- gave a moving speech reflecting on his “99 and a half years” as a businessman and philanthropist in Los Angeles. He may have accidentally invited all 300people to his big birthday coming up next year. This was a fitting gesture for a man who credits a big part of his success to “having a lot of friends, because you can’t do it alone.”
Current exhibitions at CAAM -- which opened in 1981 and is located at 600 State Drive in Exposition Park -- include Soul Stirring: African American Self-Taught Artists from the South (through April 6); The Legacy of the Golden State Mutual Life Insurance Company: More Than a Business (through December); and The March on Washington: A Tribute, 50 Years Later (through Feb. 23).