What do international star Josephine Baker, music legend Count Basie, Dan Akroyd, Dr. Margaret Boroughs, E. Faye Butler, Dorothy Paige-Turner and Carl Cole have in common? They have all worked with the groundbreaking dancer, choreographer and overall entertainer, Julian Swain.
Join the African-American Gallery of Rockford’s Ethnic Heritage Museum from 2 to 4 p.m., Sunday, July 7, as it showcases its newest exhibit honoring the man and his music, Julian Swain.
In the 1940s, Swain worked as a choreographer in several Chicago night clubs. He gained his greatest notoriety as a member of the Co-Op Trio with Peter Green and Ann Henry. The Co-Ops performed with acts like Count Basie and in venues like Larry Steele’s Club Harlem in Atlantic City, N.J., and Arthur Bragg’s Idlewild Review in Michigan.
In 1968, Swain formed the Julian Swain Dancers, a company dedicated to heightening blacks’ consciousness of their African heritage. During the ’70s, the company performed not only in Chicago, but in Africa. In 1978, Swain started a school, and many of his students moved on to such national companies as the Dance Theatre of Harlem and Alvin Ailey Company. In 1971, Julian formed the Julian Swain Inner City Dance Theatre at Malcolm X College.
As a singer and actor, Julian performed in many musical revivals including Don’t Get Around Much Anymore, Le Stardust Revue, A Tribute to Duke Ellington, Chuck Hoenes’ Best of the Hit Paraders and Sugar.
Julian was featured in the movie The Blues Brothers and performed in Carlos Santana and Michelle Branch’s “The Game of Love” video. Among the many awards Julian received were the Black Theatre Alliance Award, 2004 Chicago Senior Citizen Award, Muntu Dance Theatre and African-American Arts Alliance Lifetime Achievement awards and Najwa Dance Corps for his contribution to the arts and dance.
An “In Tribute” CD was produced and released in 2003 by Edith McCauley, president of JMc Records as well as Swain’s manager and companion. It was recorded at “Studio B,” owner and engineer, Michael Castronovo. Carl A. Cole (Mr. C) was the musical director and music producer for the project. He also pre-recorded all keyboard tracks along with his son Andrew on drums and the late “Maestro” Bill Doll on clarinet and tenor saxophone. The CD honored such historic artists as Louis Armstrong, Oscar Brown Jr., Nat “King” Cole, “Duke” Ellington, Shirley Horne, Nina Simone and “Thomas “Fats” Waller.
Visitors to this exhibit will have the opportunity to see some of the beautiful African outfits Swain wore, which became his signature look, see photographs that span more than four decades, and hear some of the music that helped to make him a musical legend.
From 3 to 4 p.m., Sunday, July 7, Carl Cole will perform some of the songs he recorded with Swain on the In Tribute CD.
Ethnic Heritage Museum, at 1129 S. Main St., Rockford, is unique in its blend of ethnic groups: African-American, Italian, Lithuanian, Irish, Polish and Hispanic. A visit to each gallery will enlighten visitors to their cultural history and their contributions to life in Rockford.
The “Salute to Julian Swain” exhibit will be on display every Sunday from 2 to 4 p.m. until the end of August. Admission is $5 individual, $3 student, $10 family or free to members.
From the July 3-9, 2013, issue