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Paul Robeson Citation Award


Baayork Lee and Lori Tan Chinn

Credit: Stephanie Masucci

Baayork Lee, an Asian American actor, dancer, singer, choreographer, director and author, has received the Actors’ Equity Foundation’s 2014 Paul Robeson Citation Award on October 10, 2014 during the Eastern Regional Membership Meeting of Actors' Equity Association.

Created in 1971, the award honors individuals or organizations that best exemplify and practice the principles to which Mr. Robeson devoted his life:  dedication to the universal brotherhood of all humankind, commitment to the freedom of conscience and of expression, belief in the artist’s responsibility to society, respect for the dignity of the individual and concern for and service to all humans of any race or nationality. Lee proudly joins a list of estimable winners, including Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee, Maya Angelou, Bill Cosby and Sidney Poitier, among others.

“This award is for all the pioneers who stuck at it and said, ‘I am here; hear me roar,’” said Lee.

Throughout her career, Lee has promoted a diverse society on American stages and has fostered opportunities for Asian American performers to play roles for which they might otherwise not be considered. In 2009, Lee founded (with Steven Eng and Nina Zoie) the National Asian Artists Project, which focuses on providing opportunities for the Asian American artistic community. 

Baayork Lee and Lee Roy Reams

Credit: Stephanie Masucci

Lee, born in New York City’s Chinatown to an Indian mother and Chinese father, made her Broadway debut at the age of five as “Princess Ying Yaowalak” in the 1951 original production of The King and I.  Her dream was to become a ballerina (she appeared in George Balanchine’s production of The Nutcracker), but this dream was dashed when she achieved her full height of just four feet, ten inches. In 1958, she returned to Broadway in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Flower Drum Song.  Other Broadway appearances were in Bravo Giovanni; Mr. President; Here’s Love; Golden Boy; A Joyful Noise; Henry, Sweet Henry; Promises, Promises; Seesaw and Michael Bennett’s groundbreaking production of A Chorus Line, in which she originated the role of “Connie.” She worked with Bennett in several productions and over the years went from being his dance partner to his assistant. She would later supervise all major productions of A Chorus Line, choreographing 35 international productions as well as the 2006 Broadway revival. She is the co-author of the book, On the Line:  The Creation of A Chorus Line, published in 1990.

Lee also has choreographed and directed scores of national and international tours of, among others. In addition, she has choreographed several productions for the Washington National Opera at the Kennedy Center, been a talent scout for Tokyo Disneyland and opened a musical theatre school in Seoul, South Korea. She was the recipient of the 2003 Lifetime Achievement Asian Woman Warrior Award from Columbia College in Chicago.      

“I was thrilled to have the opportunity to acknowledge the amazing contributions that Baayork Lee, one of my earliest role models, has made to creating new world views of inclusion in the theatre — and beyond,” said AEA Councillor and co-chair of EEO committee Christine Toy Johnson, who also presented Lee with the award.

Christine Toy Johnson and Baayork Lee


Award pages:

Arizona Theatre Service
Diversity on Broadway

On June 1, 1971, the Council of Actors' Equity Association established what is now known as the Paul Robeson Committee, and designated Frederick O'Neal as Chair. The Committee resolved to present annual citations to the individual or organization that, during the preceding year or years, best exemplified and practiced the principles and ideals of this great humanitarian, Paul Robeson. For a complete list of recipients click here.

Paul Robeson as Othello

Recipients of the Paul Robeson Award are:

Year Recipient
1974 Paul Robeson
1975 Ossie Davis & Ruby Dee
1976 Lillian Hellman
1977 Pete Seeger
1978 Sam Jaffe
1979 Harry Belafonte
1980 Alice Childress
1981 Studs Terkel
1982 Ed Asner
1983 John Henry Faulk
1984 Lena Horne
1985 Arthur Mitchell
1986 Vinie Burrows
1987 Joe Papp
1988 Jacques D'Amboise
1989 Bill Ross & Dr. Margaret Burroughs
1990 Maya Angelou
1991 Gordon Parks
1992 Art D'Lugoff
1993 Katherine Dunham
1994 Lloyd Richards
1995 Gil Noble
1996 George C. Wolfe
1997 Athol Fugard
1998 Leonard Etienne de Paul
1999 Loften Mitchell
2000 Rosetta LeNoire
2001 Brock Peters
2002 Gertrude Jeanette
2003 Woodie King, Jr.
2004 Judith Jamison
2005 Carl Harms
2006 Bill Cosby
2007 Mercedes Ellington
2008 Sidney Poitier
2009 Micki Grant
2010 Charles Randolph-Wright
2011 James Earl Jones
2012 William Greaves
2013 Shauneille Perry
2014 Baayork Lee
2015 Arthur French
2016 ASTEP
2017 Jamal Joseph

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