The League of Allied Arts is one of the oldest existing Black women’s non-profit arts organizations in Los Angeles.
Founded in 1939 by Dorothy Vena Johnson, a poet and creative writing teacher for the Los Angeles Unified School District, and Juanita Miller, a social worker for the County of Los Angeles and wife of distinguished civil rights attorney Loren Miller. The League was established to support and promote the arts in Los Angeles. Langston Hughes was one of the League’s first beneficiaries.
When the young Harlem Renaissance poet and playwright came to Los Angeles to visit friends, he wanted to present a play. However, due to racism, no theater would allow Hughes to present his work.
The industrious and civic-minded Juanita Miller and Dorothy Vena Johnson thereby pooled their resources together to help support Langston Hughes successfully present his play, Don’t You Want to Be Free?
HISTORY OF THE LEAGUE
In late 1939, for the first time in the Los Angeles community, a group of outstanding Black women came together for the purpose of bringing cultural enrichment to their community. Just prior to this time, the late Langston Hughes came to Los Angeles to find a local Black Theater group and to produce his play “Don’t You Want to Be Free.”
He asked his friends, Dorothy Vena Johnson and Juanita Miller, to assist him in soliciting patrons for the opening night. Dorothy Johnson went ahead to do so with the help of friends who called themselves the “Promotion Committee of the New Negro Theater.” The Committee decided to broaden its scope and to promote all forms of art. Thus, The League of Allied Arts was organized with Dorothy Johnson as the first president, serving in that capacity for more than twenty-five years.
The League officially incorporated as a non-profit organization on December 12, 1974.
In conducting our programs, we give scholarships to students, groups, and schools in all areas of the arts. We sponsor and promote concerts, art exhibitions, and art festivals. We encourage and help unknown artists by providing opportunities for displaying their talents. We also give recognition for displaying their talents. We also give recognition to established artists for artistic achievements. Our programs have been diversified and exciting.
We sponsored an outstanding exhibit at the Greek Theatre, where over 600 paintings were hung, and 3,000 people attended. A city block was roped off for our “Street Festival” which supplied an art festival in a gay and colorful setting.
The League, among the first to sponsor a concert blending poetry and jazz, presented the late Langston Hughes backed by the Buddy Collette Jazz Quintet at the Screen Directors Guild Theatre in Los Angeles. At the same event, actress Jan Sterling presented a scroll for the League to actors Sidney Poitier and Tony Curtis for their performances in the breakthrough film “The Defiant Ones.”
The League has sponsored autograph parties including one for the late Judge Loren Miller upon the publication of his book The Petitioners, the story of the Black struggle through the Supreme Court of the United States. We also held a Book Party featuring Standing Fast, the autobiography of the late Roy Wilkins.
Honors and Special Guests
We honored Black American composer Dr. William Grant Still with a formal testimonial dinner at the Music Center. Another memorable event occurred on November 5, 1970, when more than 500 friends gathered at Widney High School to pay tribute to our founder and first president, Dorothy Vena Johnson, educator, and matron of the arts.
The League has entertained or presented as guest speakers outstanding personalities in various areas of the arts. These outstanding performers included Dorothy Maynor, Katherine Dunham, Roi Ottley, Countee Cullen, Ethel Waters, Aaron Douglas, Sinclair Lewis, Diego Rivera, and W. C. Handy. We presented our first significant grant to the Inner-City Repertory Dance Company and have supported the Inner City Cultural Theater, the Los Angeles Opera Company, the Lester Horton Dance Studio, Frank Silvera’s Theatre of Being, Nick and Edna Stewart’s Ebony Showcase Theater, The Los Angeles Heritage Singers, and the Carlo Fouchee Dancers.
Presentations to more recent artists included Roscoe Lee Brown, actor; Nola Richardson, Frances Barnes, poetess, John Weaver, author; Mary Jane Hewitt; Mayme Clayton, authorities on Afro-American History; Jimmy Jones, Suroject Chatterji, pianists; Virginia Hayes, Ora Williams, Joy Mason and Dolores Bosquito, vocalist, Charles Veal, Jr., violinist.
Supportive Services, Outreach and Contributions
Occasionally we have performed other supportive services, such as the purchase of a seat in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion of the Music Center and a chair in Bella Lewitzky’s Dance Gallery. We have maintained sustaining membership in the Southeast Symphony Association and Our Authors Study Club annually since their inception. We fostered the William Rene Jazz Quintet, two school concerts commemorating Martin Luther King, Jr.
We have given funds to the Vernon Branch Library for the purpose of books on Black literature and history; to Great Leaps, Inc. a group of community artists working in schools with children, grades kindergarten through twelve; to Brockman Gallery Productions; and to the Los Angeles Contemporary Dance Theatre.
Substantial contributions were given to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; and, to the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, housed in Harlem, the world’s greatest source for studies of Black history. The League sponsored an exhibition of the Howard Multi-Ethnic Drum Collection at Central City Community Mental Health Facility for more than a year. The collection, the largest of its kind in the world, was on loan from Dr. Joseph H. Howard.
The League co-sponsored an evening at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, a viewing of the Treasures of Tutankhamen Exhibition. Proceeds from the evening were used to purchase a piece of sculpture by the fames Richard Hunt, which is on permanent display at the Museum. Dedication of the sculpture was held on May 18, 1978.
Through our efforts, the Garden Gate High School was renamed for our founder Dorothy Vena Johnson on October 17, 1980.
The 45th Anniversary of the League was celebrated by sponsoring Ain’t Misbehaving at the Aquarius Theatre. Citations were given to outstanding performers in the field of jazz, including Harold Brown, Lawrence Brown, “Red” Callender, Benny Carter, Buddy Collette, Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, Dexter Gordon, Earl “Fatha” Hines, Nellie Lutcher, Carmen McCrae, Peppy Prince, Della Reese, Sarah Vaughn, and Jose Williams.
Culminating our 45th Anniversary in 1984, we honored ten artists: Richard Barthe, Melonee Blocker, Elizabeth Catlett, Alonzo Davis, Maren Hessenger, Varnette Honeywood, Yvonne Cole Meo, William Pajaud, Bettye Saar, and Ruth Waddy.
Accomplishments and moments of pride
A recent accomplishment of The League was an introductory evening at the exhibition of the Ancient Treasurers of Nigeria at the Applied Art Gallery of the Museum of Science and Industry.
The mid-1980’s was a rebuilding period for The League in preparation for embarking on our fiftieth year of contributions to the cultural affairs of Los Angeles. With a rejuvenated historical committee, we began to diligently prepare our archival material to be presented to the California Museum of Afro-American History and Culture. The League expanded its membership, taking in 13 new members over a four-year period.
The League of Allied Arts continued to offer scholarships to outstanding young artistic talents from our community. Our prize scholarship recipient, Sheila Tate, was accepted into the New York Metropolitan Opera’s Young People’s Program and she has consistently received rave reviews wherever she performs.
Performance and Events of Note
The League supported a new production, Down Payments, written and produced by Emmy Award winning actress, Tracee Lyles. Down Payments, the story of a close-knit group of five women was a critically acclaimed production and ran successfully at The Inner City Cultural Center. For the first time in the history of the League, the organization received public funds from the City of Los Angeles to help put on Black History Month programs sponsored by the Cultural Affairs Department.
The League sponsored an evening of August Wilson’s Two Trains Running at the James A. Doolittle Theatre. We also hosted the premier preview of Wilson’s Seven Guitars. We joined the Museum of Contemporary Art in an “Evening of Jazz on Central Avenue.” This event commemorated the reopening of the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) at the Temporary Contemporary building on Central Avenue. Music was provided by the Buddy Collette Quintet and Teddy Edwards Ensemble.
A book signing at MOCA for the Lynell George’s book No Crystal Stair was another great event. Lynell is a journalist for the Los Angeles Times and the daughter of one of our Leaguers, and former president, Elodie George.
Althea Waites, pianist, was presented in concert by the League. Ms. Waites has been highly acclaimed throughout the United States, Canada, Latin America, and Europe as a brilliant soloist and chamber musician.
Bring in ‘Da Noise Bring in ‘Da Funk, produced by Savion Glover and George C. Wolfe was as big a hit in the theater in Los Angeles as it was in New York. We were proud to have sponsored a group of 20 students from the Dorothy Vena Johnson School to see the play. We sponsored “An Evening with Patti LaBelle” at the Hollywood Bowl in August 1997, which was a very successful fundraiser. Three hundred Leaguers and their guests dined before the concert in Camrose Park and continued the evening in the Bowl with entertainment by Patti and the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, ending with a fireworks show.
The League sponsored another existing fundraiser in August 1998, featuring Grover Washington, Jr. at the Hollywood Bowl.
The League’s 60th Anniversary was celebrated on October 10, 1999, in the Starlight Ballroom of the Miramar Hotel in Santa Monica. The celebration included an afternoon reception followed by a luncheon, entertainment, and an award ceremony. Leaguer Carol Hall Holliday, producer, writer, and narrator, presented the 60-year history of the League in a presentation entitled “Keeping the Arts ‘Central’ in Our Community.” We honored five of illustrious alumnae members: Mabel Hurd 1939; Mae Harvey 1947; Jane Aileen Floyd 1956; Kathryn “Penny” Carr 1957; and Aurora Hoskins 1959. The artists honored were: Phoebe Beasley, Buddy Collette, Fayard Nicholas, Brock Peters, and O.C. Smith. Each honoree was presented with a medallion from the League.
The League’s 65th Anniversary was celebrated on Sunday, October 17, 2004, at the Biltmore Hotel. Jazz Artist and USC Professor, Dr. Ron McCurdy presented the Langston Hughes Project. The League honored and gave recognition and awards to: Dr. Samella Lewis, Artist and Scholar; Albert McNeil, Founder/Director of the Albert McNeil Jubilee Singers; John Outterbridge, Artist and Musician; Dorothy Taylor, Fabric Artist; Amazing Grace Conservatory; California Dance Center; and Towne Street Theatre.
In April 22, 2007, the League held its salon at the Huntington Library in celebration of the library’s acquisition of the Langston Hughes Papers. The Library allowed guests an opportunity to view the Hughes papers for the first time. The Library, an internationally recognized research institution in San Marino, California, received the Langston Hughes Papers from members of the Miller Family. The Huntington Curator of Literary Manuscripts described the collection as “…an extraordinary collection”. Arnold Rampersad, the Langston Hughes biographer and cognizant Dean of Humanities at Stanford University, remarked: “I have always been interested in the connection between Hughes and the donating family. I have no doubt that [the collection] adds to our resources for understanding him.”
On July 29, 2010, the League celebrated its 70th Anniversary by attending the Thurgood production, starring Laurence Fishburne at the Geffen Playhouse. In addition, the League, in conjunction with Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, and the Langston Bar Association supported “Youth in the Arts.” An outreach program was prepared for high school students regarding the value of public education with the development and introduction of a Study Guide on Thurgood. The outreach program was conducted by the Langston Bar Association. The Study Guide focused on the contribution of NAACP Attorney Thurgood Marshall and that period of history that existed during the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court case. Thurgood also included background on Thurgood Marshall’s appointment to the Supreme Court. The “Youth in the Arts” outreach program culminated in a field trip for 100 students and chaperons, sponsored by Supervisor Ridley-Thomas, to see the play and participate in a question and answer activity with Laurence Fishburne following the performance. In addition, sustaining scholarships were awarded to the following previous undergraduates, now working on master degrees: Danielle Bowman, Gabrielle McClinton, Phylicia Saunders, and Kristopher Bowers. A fifth scholarship, the Dorothy Vena Johnson Scholarship, was awarded to Shaquida Alexis.
On October 11, 2014, the League celebrated its 75th Anniversary at The Luxe Hotel. Prior to the event, music entertainment was provided by Annelle Gregory, violinist, accompanied by Alexander Sinchuk, pianist. Annelle had been a League scholarship recipient in 2012, and was studying under Glenn Dicterow as a Trustee Scholar at USC’s Thorton School of Museum. The League honored and gave recognition to Canon Dr. Charles Cheatham, Founder and Director of the world-renowned Los Angeles Episcopal Chorale Society; and George Bohanon, a trombonist, who has won many awards for his work, including an Emmy Award. In addition, George, along with his wife, started a program called the Cultural Link, to assist in the development of extraordinary talent. In addition, the League honored Dr. Ronald McCurdy, Professor of Music at USC’s Thorton School of Music. Dr. McCurdy performed a portion of The Langston Hughes Project, Ask Your Mama: 12 Moods for Jazz. Scholarships were awarded to the following undergraduates: Aaron Shaw, composer and tenor saxophonist; Dwayne Loudermilk, pianist; Jonathan Tate, saxophonist; Lamaud Franklin, vocalist; and Myko Campbell, dancer. A fifth scholarship, the Dorothy Vena Johnson Scholarship, was awarded to Kenneth Brown, II, trumpet.
On July 9, 2016, the League held a benefit fundraiser featuring the appearance of Misty Copeland at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. Misty Copeland was a League Scholarship recipient in 1999 and the first African American dance promoted to Principal Dancer in the American Ballet Theatre’s 75-year history. The appearance by Misty Copeland in Los Angeles was phenomenal. The performance was followed by a very successful reception at the Music Center. The fundraiser was extremely successful, elevating the visibility of the League of Allied Arts.
On October 14, 2017, the League held benefit fundraiser featuring Obba Babatundé in “Once in a Lifetime”, a musical tribute to Sammy Davis, Jr. The fundraiser was held the Ebony Repertory Theatre in the Nate Holden Performing Arts Center. The show was opened with a performance by Kenneth Brown II, on trumpet. Kenneth was the Dorothy Vena Johnson Scholarship recipient in 2014 at the League’s 75th Anniversary. The performance by Mr. Babatundé was accompanied by his band, many of whom worked with Sammy Davis, Jr. In addition to this outstanding performance by Mr. Babatundé, the audience was treated to a special surprise performance by Mary Wilson, a previous member of The Supremes. The event was followed by a post event reception, wherein Aaron Shaw performed on saxophone. Aaron also received a League scholarship in 2014 at the League’s 75th Anniversary.
On December 12, 2020 The League of Allied Arts 2nd Vice President, Chairperson of Scholarships, Dr. Hassena Khan-Leonard along with the scholarship committee members Ms. Barbara Mason Taylor, Mrs. Virginia Higgins Bland, and Mrs. Gloria Sherriffe presented their scholarship awards. The presentation was held via Zoom due to COVID-19 and Stay at Home Order. Mr. Brian Sherriffe and his wife League Scholarship member Gloria Sherriffe provided professional assistance with the production. League President Mrs. Velonne Atkins presented the opening remarks that included the History of the League.
Four students received scholarship awards on December 12, 2020. They include Mr. Solomon Leonard, Violist who received the Dorothy Vena Johnson Incentive Award. Mr. Kenneth Brown, II, Trumpet, is one of the League’s sustaining students. Kenneth initially received the Dorothy Vena Johnson Incentive award at the age of 14. Ms. Tatianna Tate, Trumpet is our third (3rd) sustaining student. Mr. Jonathan Tate, saxophonist is our fourth (4th) sustaining student. Each student was given 2 – 3 minutes to perform. Their performances were excellent and were done with enthusiasm, professionalism, and grace. They left us wanting for more. The event concluded with the students performing the finale together. All performances were stupendous. Each student received their checks and a certificate by mail. The League of Allied Arts 2020 Scholarship Awards Presentation can be seen below.
The members of The League of Allied Arts have pledge themselves to carry forward the work started by a group of farsighted women who knew the value of cultural fulfillment, both to the individual and to the community.