Reflections on Mike Malone: An Innovator with a Mission to Educate, Empower Black Youth Through the Arts

Reflections on Mike Malone: An Innovator with a Mission to Educate, Empower Black Youth Through the Arts

by Micha Green

A leader in Washington, D.C.’s Black arts movement, Mike Malone’s work not only changed the lives of thousands of Black artists, but revolutionized arts education and theater in the nation and world.

Although born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on February 25, 1943, Malone is key to the District’s arts history and culture.

“He’s such a pioneer. He’s so ingrained in the early careers of those of us who studied in D.C. in the late 70s, 80s, 90s, and early 2000s,” said multi-hyphenate artist Roz White, a D.C. native currently starring as Zelma Bullock, Tina Turner’s mother, in the Broadway national tour “Tina- The Tina Turner Musical.” “His name comes up over and over again. He has just been the grandfather for all others. Because of his journey– because he was taken under the wing by someone— I believe he felt that was important to do as well.”

Malone began pursuing a French degree at Georgetown University, but then received an opportunity to dance in Paris. There, he met Josephine Baker, who took him under her wing and made a lasting impression.

When he returned to D.C. he was already on a mission.

“His decision to come to D.C. and to work there was a part of him expanding his education. He was very, very, very academically driven,” said White, who began studying under Malone when she was 14-years-old.

He graduated from Georgetown in 1964 and then received a masters in French literature from Howard University in 1967.

He eventually began teaching at Howard University in the early 1970s, and also led the D.C. Black Repertory Dance Company until 1977.  A visionary in Howard University’s musical theater department, Malone trained the likes of Debbie AllenLynn Whitfield, and many more.

Along with Peggy Cooper-Cafritz, Malone also co-founded Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Northwest, D.C., which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.

Exposing youth and the community at-large to the power of the arts was important for the artist and educator.

“I was 14 years old, begging him to put me in a show and he finally did, and he never stopped putting me in,” White, an alumna of Duke Ellington and Howard, told The Informer. “It’s one of those things where he had a journey that was special, and that was blessed and he was able to pass that on… He was able to pull artists from the grassroots— from this neighborhood and from that neighborhood— and put us all together on one stage and create these beautiful stories that help people understand a little bit better about who we are as artists and as Black people.”

Malone, who also famously directed the musical “Black Nativity” across theaters nationwide, died December 4, 2006 at his home in Washington, D.C. He was 63.

White said almost two decades since his death, Malone’s legacy continues.

“He was the grandfather of it all when it came to making sure that young artists got the support that they needed to pursue careers in the arts, whether it be behind the scenes or on stage.”

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