August 20, 1930
Born in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, dancer, choreographer, and painter Geoffrey Holder was one of four children in a middle-class family. He attended Queens Royal College, a secondary school in Port-of-Spain, and received lessons in painting and dancing from his older brother Boscoe.
When Holder was seven, he debuted with his brother's dance troupe, the Holder Dance Company. When Boscoe moved to London a decade later, Geoffrey Holder took over direction of the company. In 1952 Agnes de Mille saw the group perform on the island of St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, and invited Holder to audition for impresario Sol Hurok in New York City. Already an accomplished painter, Holder sold twenty of his paintings to pay for passage for the company to New York City in 1954. When Hurok decided not to sponsor a tour for the company, Holder taught classes at the Katherine Dunham School to support himself. His impressive height (six feet six inches) and formal attire at a dance recital attracted the attention of producer Arnold Saint Subber, who arranged for him to play Samedi, a Haitian conjurer, in Harold Arlen's 1954 Broadway musical House of Flowers. During the run Holder met fellow dancer Carmen DeLavallade, and the two married in 1955. During 1955 and 1956 Holder was a principal dancer with the Metropolitan Opera Ballet in New York. He also appeared with his troupe, Geoffrey Holder and Company, through 1960. The multitalented Holder continued to paint throughout this time, and in 1957 he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in painting.
In 1957 Holder acted in an all-black production of Waiting for Godot. Although the show was short-lived, Holder continued to act, and in 1961 he had his first film role in the movie All Night Long, a modern retelling of Othello. His career as a character actor flourished with appearances in Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex (1972), Live and Let Die (1973), and as Punjab in Annie (1982).
Holder has also been an active director. His direction of the Broadway musical The Wiz, (1975), an all-black retelling of The Wizard of Oz, earned him Tony Awards for best director and best costume design. In 1978 he directed and choreographed the lavish Broadway musical Timbuktu! He has choreographed pieces for many companies, including the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, for which he choreographed Prodigal Prince (1967), a dance based on the life of a Haitian primitive painter. Dance Theater of Harlem has in its repertory Holder's 1957 piece Bele, which like most of his work combines African and European elements.
Holder cowrote (with Tom Harshman) and illustrated the book Black Gods, Green Islands (1959), a collection of Caribbean folklore; and Geoffrey Holder's Caribbean Cookbook was published in 1973. He also gained widespread recognition in the late 1970s and 1980s for his lively commercials. In 1992 Holder appeared in the film Boomerang with Eddie Murphy, and in 1999 he appeared in Goosed with Jennifer Tilly. His deep, rich voice—he is perhaps best known to the public for his rolling laugh in a series of 7UP soda commercials—has placed him in demand for voice-overs, including episodes of the television series Cyberchase in 2002 and 2003. He resides in New York, where he continues to paint, choreograph, and act.
Dunning, Jennifer. Geoffrey Holder: A Life in Theater, Dance and Art. New York: Abrams, 2001.
Emery, Lynne Fauley. Black Dance from 1619 to Today. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton Book Co., 1988.
Moss, Allyn. "Who Is Geoffrey Holder?" Dance (August 1958): 36–41.
zita allen (1996)
Updated by publisher 2005