By Eleanor H. Oakley
President and CEO
Master choreographer Chuck Davis died earlier this month. Chuck touched many lives locally and worldwide through his dance—and through his character. Here in our part of the world, Chuck's African American Dance Ensemble has been an active, inspiring part of the Artists in Schools Directory for many, many years. While we know that his positive influence on the children in our Wake County Schools will be felt for years to come, his presence will surely be missed.
Chuck’s talent and breadth of dance knowledge informed and illuminated the work not only of his own significant dance companies but that of local arts groups too numerous to mention them all. He created memorable choreography for Rite of Spring and Lexington Avenue for the Raleigh Symphony Orchestra. More recently, Chuck choreographed Justice Theater Project’s popular Black Nativity production each year.
In 1991, as the Raleigh Little Theatre manager, I went to New York to scout out new plays, along with the theatre’s longtime director, Haskell Fitz-Simons. At that point, I had seen Chuck’s company perform several times but had not met him. After a performance of the Caribbean-themed Once Upon This Island, I asked Haskell how well RLT knew Chuck Davis—knowing that Chuck was the choreographer in our area with a deep understanding of the impact of African dance on the “new world.” Haskell grinned, which eventually meant RLT and Chuck collaborated on its 1994 production of this musical.
At the United Arts Council, Chuck’s African American Dance Ensemble has been a fixture in our Artists in Schools program for decades. A long-time staff member recalls the joy of a day in a second grade classroom with an ELS student who had never participated or even smiled once. As the child watched Chuck demonstrate a dance sequence, he began to dance with a radiant smile on his small face. Such was Baba Chuck’s powerful ability to connect.
Chuck’s booming voice taught tens of thousands of students— young and old—a call to attention, “Amo,” or “listen” in a West African dialect. The audience learned to reply “Ame,” meaning “I am paying attention.” Chuck made you practice the sequence until it was loud enough to suit the master. By that time, every soul in the room was paying attention. Anyone and everyone who spent time with this gifted giant paid attention—and his signature call and response echoes on.
We are grateful for his final peace after a long illness. We send love to those closest to him and to colleagues whose careers were changed through his talent. And our respect abides.