The Indiana University African American Arts Institute announced the hiring of directors to lead two of its performing ensembles this fall. Stafford C. Berry Jr., a renowned choreographer and teacher, will direct the IU African American Dance Company; IU alumnus James A. Strong Jr., an accomplished bassist and musical director and producer, will lead the IU Soul Revue.
"We are very fortunate to be able to bring to IU two artists who have achieved such high levels of excellence in their fields," said Charles Sykes, executive director of the African American Arts Institute. "Stafford Berry brings to us a reputation for engaging choreography centered on the black experience, and as a master teacher. James Strong, who I've known since we were both students in the 1980s, has built a long-standing reputation as an excellent bassist and music director in the highly competitive music industry. I'm happy to witness his return to where his career started, with the IU Soul Revue. I look forward to working with both of these gentlemen, and most important, I look forward to them sharing their gifts with our students."
Berry is replacing professor Iris Rosa, founding director of the African American Dance Company, who retired in May. Strong is replacing Crystal Taliefero, who left the position to focus on her professional music career.
Previously an assistant professor of dance and black studies at Denison University, Berry has taught, choreographed and performed African-rooted dance and theater throughout the United States and the Caribbean. He has also served as the associate artistic director of the African American Dance Ensemble for 12 years, managing director of the Berry & Nance Dance Project and faculty of the American Dance Festival.
Berry said he was impressed by IU's efforts to share African American culture and the African American Dance Company's storied history within the university.
"I was most impressed by the model that exists at IU through the African American Arts Institute incorporating the arts, African American culture and the academic goals of the Department of African American and African Diaspora Studies," he said. "I've never seen a model like this across the country. It let me know that there is an interest in African American culture and that it's important to IU."
Strong, an IU Soul Revue alumnus and Indianapolis native, is a renowned bassist, musical director and producer. He has worked with popular artists such as Toni Braxton, En Vogue, Tupac, New Edition and LL Cool J and performed for sold-out crowds at New York's Madison Square Garden and Radio City Music Hall. He has also recorded and produced for top record companies including RCA, Warner Bros., Sony, Virgin, Atlantic, Universal, J Records, Jive and Capitol.
Strong credits his time at IU and with the IU Soul Revue, under the mentorship of James E. Mumford, as an integral part of his success as a musician and business owner in the music industry.
"My time at Indiana University was priceless; I am a product of the IU Soul Revue. It helped create who I am," he said. "IU not only encouraged me to dream but also gave me the tools to make my dreams come true. It's like I've come full circle."
Strong started his IU career at IU Bloomington and later earned a degree in business from IU East. In 2013, he received the Herman C. Hudson Alumni Award, which recognizes former African American Arts Institute ensemble members who have made outstanding contributions in the arts.
"While we will dearly miss Professor Rosa, I'm quite confident that Stafford Berry will extend her legacy and that of the African American Dance Company as a premier ensemble that greatly enriches the lives of IU Bloomington students," said James Wimbush, vice president of diversity, equity and multicultural affairs, dean of the University Graduate School, and Johnson Professor for Diversity and Leadership. "And given his background, I'm ecstatic that James Strong has elected to return to IU, so he can share his fantastic professional experiences with the next generation of Soul Revue students who hope to follow in his footsteps.
"Having teachers and artists who have accomplished what they've done throughout their careers ensures that the African American Arts Institute will maintain the high standards it's had throughout its existence, benefiting students, the university as a whole and the greater community in the process."
The African American Dance Company and IU Soul Revue, in addition to the African American Choral Ensemble directed by Raymond Wise, are performing arts ensembles managed by the African American Arts Institute, a unit of the Office of the Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Multicultural Affairs, at IU Bloomington. The three ensembles are courses offered to IU students, for credit, through the Department of African American and African Diaspora Studies.