Black Theatre Alliance honors Julian Swain

Acclaimed performer Julian Swain was selected to receive the Paul Robeson Award from the Black Theatre Alliance/Ira Aldridge Awards.

Official presentation will be made at a ceremony on Monday, Sept. 15, in the Hyatt Regency McCormick Place Hotel, 2233 S. Martin Luther King Drive in Chicago.

A Chicago native, Swain has distinguished himself in many local performances and is familiar to Rockford audiences. Swain grew up on the South Side of Chicago where, as a talented dancer and singer, he was inspired and supported by his teachers. The teen-age Swain received further instruction at the South Side Community Center, founded by Margaret Burroughs, where many fine African-American artists got their start.

He first began performing in the 1950s as part of the famed Co-Op Trio, and toured with Duke Ellington, who composed a concert titled “Threesome for the Trio.” He also appeared as choreographer and lead dancer in the Club DeLisa in Chicago, the Count Basie Show at the Regal Theatre, and the Rockheads Club in Montreal, Canada.

In the 1960s, integration provided opportunities for young dancers to learn their craft in African-American venues. To provide a training ground for these young people, he formed The Julian Swain Inner City Dance Theatre. His classes were honored to be invited to “Festac 77” in Lagos, Nigeria.

In 1980, he founded Julian Swain and Friends, a musical performing group. It was during this period that he began performing in musical theater as a singer, actor and dancer. They performed at the South Shore Cultural Center, the Chicago Cultural Center, MAATA Conference in Milwaukee, Wis., The Newberry Library, and for Catholic Charities in Chicago.

Still actively performing, Swain was featured in Dr. Randall Johnson’s Stardust Revue II at Malcolm X College, produced and starred in A Tribute to Duke Ellington at the Chicago Cultural Arts Center, and starred in Okoro Johnson’s Don’t Get Around Much Anymore at ETA Arts Foundation, Inc. He was featured in Chuck Hoenes’ Best of the Hit Paraders and Sugar at the Clock Tower Dinner Theatre in Rockford, and entertained with Julian Swain and Friends for the Friends of the Howard Colman Library Annual Dinner. He participated in the Dance Panel at the Cultural Arts Center as a part of Dance Africa and in 1999 was featured in Swing at the Clock Tower Dinner Theatre.

In 2001, Swain was master of ceremonies and performer at “Encore Chicago, Valentine Ball.” He also appeared in Kaleidoscope 2001, where he was featured artist at the Coronado Theatre in Rockford. He was also master of ceremonies and vocalist for “Summer Showcase, Encore Chicago.” In 2002, he appeared in an Encore Chicago video documentary with students from Roosevelt High School, and with Carl Cole and Family in Sinnissippi Park Band Shell, as well as the Mendelssohn Club and Cliffbreakers for the Rockford Jazz Society. Last year, he performed in a music video, The Game of Love, with Carlos Santana and Michelle Branch.

Swain is currently completing his first CD, working with Carl Cole, doing part of the work at Mike Castronova’s Studio B, achieving a long-time dream. Consisting of jazz classics, it is a tribute to Duke Ellington, Fats Waller, Louis Armstrong and many others whose contributions have vitalized the world of music.

The Black Theatre Alliance Awards, Inc. was established to honor African-Americans who achieve excellence in theater, dance, and all areas of the performing arts.

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