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William Adolphus Wilson
Born: April 21, 1935
Died: August 14, 1994
Occupation: dancer
Born in Philadelphia, one of four children, Billy Wilson began dance training in the public school system. At 16, he was awarded a scholarship to study ballet with Anthony Tudor at the Philadelphia Ballet Guild, and within two years he performed with its associated company. He moved to New York in 1956 and danced in "Carmen Jones, Bells Are Ringing," and "Jamaica" on Broadway; in 1958 he went to London to perform in "West Side Story." At the invitation of artistic director Sonia Gaskell, Wilson joined the National Ballet of Holland, where he created the title role in Serge Lifar's "Othello" (1960). In 1965 Wilson married Sonja van Beers, prima ballerina of the National Ballet of Holland, and the couple returned to the United States, where he taught at Brandeis University, in Waltham, Massachusetts; staged several seasons of the "Hasty Pudding Show" at Harvard University; and directed the dance company of the National Center of Afro-American Artists in Boston. Wilson choreographed several Broadway productions, including "Bubbling Brown Sugar" (1976); an all-black revival of "Guys and Dolls" (1976); "Eubie" (1978); and the children's television program ZOOM (1976-1981), for which he received an Emmy Award. Many of his immensely popular concert dances have been performed by the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Dance Theater of Harlem, Dayton Contemporary Dance Ensemble, and Philadanco, including the frisky "Concerto in F" (1981), set to the music of Gershwin; "Rosa" (1990), a moving dance tribute to Rosa Parks; the atmospheric dance-drama "Ginastera" (1991); and "The Winter in Lisbon" (1992), a boisterous celebration of the music of trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie.

-- Thomas F. DeFrantz

Fanger, Iris M. "Billy Wilson--Curtain Going Up." DANCE MAGAZINE (June 1976).
Kisselgoff, Anna. "Prep Students Toe Mark--for Ballet." NEW YORK TIMES, June 5, 1969.

Source Citation: "William Adolphus Wilson." ENCYCLOPEDIA OF AFRICAN-AMERICAN CULTURE AND HISTORY. 5 vols. Macmillan, 1996. Reprinted by permission of Gale Group.