At Juilliard's 107th commencement, on May 25 in Alice Tully Hall, playwright Athol Fugard will address the class of 2012. Fugard, actor James Earl Jones, and choreographer Peter Martins will receive honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degrees; singer Nancy Wilson and conductor William Christie will receive honorary Doctor of Music degrees; and authors Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith will receive honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degrees.
Playwright, director, novelist, and actor Athol Fugard was born in South Africa and is well-known for his plays about the apartheid era, among them The Road to Mecca (1984), which received its Broadway premiere by the Roundabout Theater Company in January; My Children! My Africa! (1989), which was performed at Juilliard this year by fourth-year drama students; and the Tony-nominated Blood Knot (1961/1987), which Fugard directed earlier this year at New York City's Signature Theater. He received a Lifetime Achievement Tony Award in 2011.
Fugard's numerous film directing, acting, and writing credits include The Road to Mecca,Gandhi, The Killing Fields, Meetings With Remarkable Men, Marigolds in August,Boesman and Lena, The Guest, and Totsi, which he adapted from his novel of the same name and which won the best foreign film Oscar in 2006. He has been a visiting professor at Indiana and Oxford universities and is currently an adjunct professor for playwriting, acting, and directing at the University of California, San Diego. The recipient of the South African government's Order of Ikhamanga in Silver in 2005 for his contributions to and achievements in theater, he is an honorary fellow of London's Royal Society of Literature.
Early-music specialist and founder of the period-instrument ensemble Les Arts Florissants, William Christie is known in the Juilliard community as the godfather of the Historical Performance program, which he helped conceptualize and get off the ground. Since 2008, he has worked extensively with Juilliard students in annual master classes, rehearsals, and performances; these residencies served as a precursor to the formation of Historical Performance, in 2009.
An alumnus of Harvard and Yale, Christie has been a pioneer of 17th- and 18th-century French repertoire. In 1979, he founded Les Arts Florissants, through which he has made a mark with new interpretations of largely neglected or forgotten repertoire. Major public recognition came in 1987 with the production of Lully's Atys at the Opéra Comique in Paris, which then went on to tour internationally.
Christie's work in opera includes collaborations with directors Jean-Marie Villégier, Robert Carsen, Alfredo Arias, Jorge Lavelli, Graham Vick, Adrian Noble, Andrei Serban, and Luc Bondy. As a guest conductor, Christie has regular engagements with the Berlin Philharmonic, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, the Metropolitan Opera, and the Opéra National de Lyon. His commitment to work in education has been made evident by his 13-year tenure as professor at the Paris Conservatoire and, of course, his frequent residencies at Juilliard. Born in Buffalo, Christie has resided in France since 1971.
Danish-born Peter Martins is one of today's most influential choreographers. He is the ballet master in chief for the New York City Ballet, artistic director and chairman of faculty of the School of American Ballet, and a co-founder of the New York Choreographic Institute. His association with New York City Ballet began in 1967, when he was invited to dance the title role in George Balanchine's Apollo during the company's appearance at the Edinburgh Festival. In 1970, he joined the company as a principal dancer, and became ballet master in 1981. Two years later, following the death of Balanchine, Martins served as co-ballet master in chief with Jerome Robbins, assuming sole directorship of the company in 1989. His honors include having been made a knight of the First Order of Dannebrog by Queen Margrethe II of Denmark in 1983.
Martins has created more than 80 ballets, including productions of The Sleeping Beauty, Swan Lake, and Romeo and Juliet, set to music by composers as diverse as Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Leonard Bernstein, Michael Torke, and Stravinsky. Martins has also commissioned scores from such composers as 2011 honorary degree recipient John Adams, Wynton Marsalis ('81, trumpet), Paul McCartney, faculty member Christopher Rouse, Charles Wuorinen, and Esa-Pekka Salonen. In 2004, Juilliard dancers performed the premiere of Café Music by Martins in Juilliard's "Classified Jazz" gala.
Martins launched his New York Choreographic Institute in 2000 with Juilliard benefactor (and 1992 honorary doctorate recipient) Irene Diamond. It provides rare opportunities for choreographers to work with New York City Ballet dancers and Juilliard composition students. To date, 80 choreographers have participated in the institute's 27 sessions.
Although Golden Globe, Emmy, and Tony winner James Earl Jones is best known for his roles as the voice of Darth Vader in Star Wars and Mufasa in Disney's The Lion King, when he was growing up, in Michigan, the actor was a virtual mute for most of his early years due to a severe stuttering problem. Jones overcame his stutter with the help of an extraordinary high school teacher and went on to study at the University of Michigan, where he was a pre-med major.
After graduating from college and serving in the military, Jones moved to New York City, where he made his Broadway debut in 1957. Since then, he has appeared in the title roles of Othello, Macbeth, and King Lear with the New York Shakespeare Festival; delivered a Tony-winning performance as boxer Jack Johnson in The Great White Hope; and starred in the critically acclaimed revival of On Golden Pond. Jones also has a longstanding collaboration with fellow honorary degree recipient Athol Fugard, acting in the playwright's Blood Knot, Boesman and Lena, and Master Harold ... and the Boys, among others.
Jones's film credits include roles in The Man (1972), Claudine (1974), The River Niger (1975), Field of Dreams (1989), and Cry, the Beloved Country (1995). His television work has landed him four Emmy awards, including for his performance as Junius Johnson in Heat Wave, the 1990 TNT drama about the 1965 riots in the Watts section of Los Angeles.
In addition to receiving a National Medal of Arts in 1992, a John F. Kennedy Center Honor in 2002, and a Screen Actors Guild Lifetime Achievement Award in 2009, Jones received an honorary Oscar in 2011 in recognition for his long and distinguished career.
Longtime Juilliard benefactors Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith, founders of the Juilliard in Aiken festival and recipients of Juilliard President's Medals in November, will also receive honorary Doctorates of Humane Letters. Naifeh was born in Iran and graduated from Princeton; Smith hails from Ohio and got his bachelor's from Colby; each graduated summa cum laude. They met on their first day of Harvard Law School, in 1974, and are partners in life and work. The two have collaborated on 18 books on subjects ranging from art to true-crime; five have been New York Times best sellers. Their 1991 biography Jackson Pollock: An American Saga won a Pulitzer Prize, was a finalist for the National Book Award, and was the basis of the Academy Award-winning 2000 film Pollock, which starred Ed Harris and Marcia Gay Harden. It also inspired John Updike's novel Seek My Face (2002). In 2011, Naifeh and Smith published Van Gogh: The Life, the product of a decade of research and writing. Acclaimed as "magisterial" by The New York Times, the book earned international attention because of the pair's assertion that van Gogh's death might have been the result of a murder rather than a suicide.
In 1990, the couple moved from New York City to Aiken, S.C., to rehabilitate a long-neglected, 60-room former Whitney-Vanderbilt estate known as Joye Cottage; they chronicled their misadventures in renovation in On a Street Called Easy, in a Cottage Called Joye: A Restoration Comedy (1996). In Aiken, Naifeh and Smith formed the Joye Cottage Foundation to support arts education and to establish their home, which they have bequeathed to Juilliard, as an oasis of the arts for the community and a retreat for performing artists in perpetuity. In 2009, they helped found Juilliard in Aiken, an annual weeklong festival of performances by Juilliard students that takes place in and near the estate.
Singer Nancy Wilson has had a profound effect on pop, jazz, and blues music throughout her distinguished career. She grew up in Columbus, Ohio, where her father, an iron foundry worker, provided exposure to many vocalists. Citing her main influences as Billy Eckstine, Louis Jordan, Ruth Brown, LaVerne Baker, and Nat King Cole, among others, Wilson made her way to New York City in 1959 at the suggestion of Julian "Cannonball" Adderley, who was impressed by a performance of hers with the Rusty Bryant Band. Within six weeks, she had landed a permanent performing spot at the Blue Morocco and management with Adderley's representative. Since then, she has recorded more than 70 albums and won three Grammys, two for best jazz vocal album and one for best female vocal performance in R&B.
Wilson has made guest appearances on variety shows such as The Andy Williams Show, The Carol Burnett Show, and The Flip Wilson Show. For one season she had her own show on NBC, The Nancy Wilson Show. Her résumé also includes acting roles on TV shows like Hawaii Five-O, The Cosby Show, Moesha, and The Parkers, to name a few. In 1991, Wilson was inducted into the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and in 1998 she received the N.A.A.C.P. Image Award-Hall of Fame Award. In addition to Juilliard's, Wilson has also received honorary degrees from Boston's Berklee College of Music, in 1994, and from Central State University in Wilberforce, Ohio, which she also attended, in 1976.