Lobby of Stephen Foster Memorial to Be Dedicated in Memory of Dancer, Choreographer, and Pitt Alumnus Fred Kelly
Honoree was a television pioneer, taught famous people to dance, and invented the cha-cha
PITTSBURGH (2004)—He taught his brother to tap dance . . . trained young royals to swing dance . . . invented the cha-cha . . . and helped a young John Travolta polish his dance moves. Who was he? None other than Pitt Alumnus Fred Kelly, the younger brother of dancer and fellow Pitt Alumnus Gene Kelly, and an accomplished dancer, choreographer, and director in his own right.
In a tribute to Fred Kelly, the lobby of Pitt’s Stephen Foster Memorial, at the corner of Forbes Avenue and Bigelow Boulevard in Oakland, will be renamed the Fred Kelly Lobby in ceremonies beginning at 4:30 p.m. April 3. At 7:45 p.m., the 2004 Fred Kelly Award for Outstanding Achievement in Theatre will be awarded to Pitt Alumnus Tony Ferrieri (CAS ’80), director of production and scenic designer at Pittsburgh’s City Theatre.
The Foster memorial houses Pitt’s Charity Randall Theatre and Henry Heymann Theatre. The lobby dedication is made possible through financial gifts from Kelly’s son and daughter-in-law, Michael and Diane Kelly; his niece, Kathy Bailey Burk; and his nephew, John Radvansky. Michael Kelly is a television producer, currently working on The George Lopez Show on ABC.
In addition to remarks from Kelly’s relatives and Pitt dignitaries, the April 3 festivities will include a performance by Pitt student dancers; videotaped excerpts related to Kelly’s dancing career and a display of old photos and memorabilia related to his family life, career, and service to the community; and the presentation of a plaque that will be installed in the lobby. The evening will be capped off with an 8 p.m. performance of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, which runs March 31 through April 18 at the Henry Heymann Theatre. Part of the Kelly display will become a permanent exhibit in the lobby.
Fredric Kelly, born in Pittsburgh in 1916, was the youngest of “The Five Dancing Kellys,” a dance troupe made up of the Kelly siblings. He began music and dance lessons at his mother’s insistence at age 4 and was soon performing throughout Pittsburgh with his brothers and sisters. Of all the Kelly children, Fred was considered a “natural,” and by age 8, he was earning $50 a month as a performer, good money even for an adult in 1924. It was Fred who taught older brother Gene to tap dance. Soon, Fred was teaching at the school where he learned to dance, performing on riverboats during the summer, and dancing at the 1934 Chicago World’s Fair to earn money for college. He received the Bachelor of Arts degree from Pitt’s College of Arts and Sciences in 1939. During his student years at Pitt, Fred Kelly served as the Pitt Panthers mascot and a cheerleader, was the Freshman Dance publicity chair, and the Pitt Band formation instructor.
As an Army sergeant assigned to a traveling dance unit, Kelly gave England’s Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret ballroom dancing lessons. Later in his life, as head of the Fred Kelly Dance Studio in Oradell, N. J., he taught tap and jazz dance moves to a kindergarten-age John Travolta.
Kelly received three Donaldson Awards, the forerunner to the Tony Awards, for acting, comedy, and dance. In the early 1950s, he choreographed NBC’s Colgate Comedy Hour and directed more than 1,000 hours of The Steve Allen Show. While choreographer at the Latin Quarter nightclub, he and Latin band leader Tito Puente put together a Latin number based on the Lindy, but with the dancers moving sideways. They added a cry for the orchestra—“Cha, cha, cha!” —and a famous dance was born.
Kelly was well known for his stories, jokes, enthusiasm, and service to his community. He passed away in 2000 at age 83 after battling leukemia.