Born William Tass Jones in Florida to migrant workers, his family moved north when he was 3. Jones reaches back often to memories of family, race, and his mother's sustaining religious beliefs as he choreographs his works. Zane died in 1988 from complications of AIDS, but the company they formed in 1982 continues to bear his name.
Last year, Jones stood in the spotlight at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., to receive the nation's honors, along with Oprah Winfrey, Sir Paul McCartney, and others. Jones was recognized for his accomplishments as a striking performer and creator in the uniquely American art forms of modern dance and musical theater, not to mention the fearless reflection of political concerns in his work.
The clarity of his outspokenness barely masks the fact that he cares very deeply about his family, his friends and associates, and his country. "When I dance, as when I talk, I strive for candor," Jones says.
The Kennedy Center Honors capped his annus mirabilis, a year of marvels: three more Tony Awards for the Afro-beat Broadway musical "FELA!" which he choreographed and directed, to add to his 2007 Tony for "Spring Awakening." In January, "FELA!" was broadcast live to 375 screens in 21 countries from the stage of London's National Theatre.