BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Debbie Allen made her name as a beautiful young dancer in the TV series "Fame" and later in a movie by the same name. She portrayed a teacher in a performing arts high school in New York. A precursor to shows we have now like "Glee."
WAFB saw Debbie Allen this year at BRCC holding auditions for her upcoming live musical "Pepito's Story." She works with local children and adults each year to mount what is a professional level performance. If you ever wondered why, the answer is more than six years ago. Back then, Derek Gordon was director of the Arts Council of Greater Baton Rouge. Debbie had worked extensively with Gordon when he was at the Kennedy Center and Lincoln Center.
She said, "Derek came here to head up the Arts Council in Baton Rouge, and he called me and I was in California and he said, 'Debbie can you come do something for us here?' and I said 'Honey wherever you are, I'm gonna go!'"
When she was in Baton Rouge, Ms. Allen agreed to meet WAFB's Donna Britt in Magnolia Cemetery. It might seem a strange place for a meeting, but Debbie knows the cemetery well. It holds her relatives' graves.
"I think a cemetery is a very special place to visit." Allen said. "Very very special." She pointed to each grave, "Papa Lloyd, and, there, she was a teacher and my Aunt Betty. My grandmother Goldia."
"Goldia is a beautiful name," Donna said.
Allen said she loves Magnolia Cemetery, "I have just the fondest memories growing up. Felicia and I used to jump all the way through here, and go all through those graves." Her family would pack a picnic and spend the day at the cemetery cleaning up.
Allen's family includes brother Hugh, a banker; brother Tex, a jazz musician; and her famous sister, Felicia Rashad.
"Of course everyone knows Claire Huxtable on the Cosby Show and the first black woman to win a Tony for Best Actress on Broadway"
Debbie has a son and her daughter Vivien Nixon has followed in her mom's footsteps to Broadway. Vivien has starred in productions like "Memphis" and "Hot Feet".Her road to the stage was easier than Debbie's.
"My mother tried to get me in the Houston Ballet Foundation when I was eight years old," Allen said, "..and they wouldn't take me because I'm black. Then she tried to pretend I was Mexican and they still wouldn't take me!" She laughed and sighed. "So..but thing's changed." Debbie eventually danced ballet, modern, and on stage anywhere. It is that world opening experience that Allen tries to give to the children of Baton Rouge.
She said, "It doesn't matter if they become dancer. What matters is that they connect to that creative part of their brain." She'll visit Magnolia Cemetery when in Baton Rouge, and she's wanting to restore the namesake Magnolia trees. Maybe she will.