Beverly J. Robinson

Photo by Michele A.H. Smith, UCLA Newsroom

African American Folklorist, Documentary Photographer, Educator, Actress, and Theatre Historian

Beverly J. Robinson


Beverly Robinson was born in Los Angeles and raised in Berkeley, California. She earned her BA from UCLA, MA in folklore studies from UC Berkeley, and PhD in performing arts and history from University of Pennsylvania in 1983. She returned to UCLA to teach African American Theatre History for nearly 25 years as a legendary professor in the School of Theatre, Film and Television until her untimely death.

Dr. Robinson was a dynamic public folklorist who documented African American folklife in the US as a scholar for both the Smithsonian Institution and the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. Like Hurston, she investigated the breadth of African American traditions and utilized a variety of media for presenting those traditions to the public. She researched African American yard expressions, Black women’s oral narratives and prayer traditions, African American traditional music, and family and food traditions across the rural South as well as in urban Los Angeles and Chicago, highlighting their many connections to African traditions. Her stunning documentary photography was featured in several Library of Congress traveling exhibits and she also organized the South-Central Los Angeles Folklife Festival for the city’s bicentennial. She later curated shows at the Library of Congress and Smithsonian National Museum of American History on Black dolls and puppets and was the lead scholar on a folklore survey of Eatonville, Florida, the oldest independent African American municipality in the US. Her commitment to educating youth is celebrated by a mentorship program bearing her name that teaches fieldwork competencies to youth in Bronx, New York.

Among her nationally recognized scholarship in folklore are:

Aunt (Ant) Phyllis (1982)

Library of Congress traveling photographic exhibit: Sketches of South Georgia Folklife (1977)

Phyllis May-Machunda

Robinson, Beverly J.. 1977. “Library of Congress traveling photographic exhibit: Sketches of South Georgia Folklife.” Call number: AFC 1982/010: 16-17556, Source Collection: South-Central Georgia Folklife Project collection (AFC 1982/010) Repository: American Folklife Center.  

Robinson, Beverly J.. 1986. Beverly Robinson course materials. photographs, articles, reviews, and course readers for Theater Arts 103A. Theater Arts Library (now the Arts Library) for student use. UCLA.  

Robinson, Beverly J.. 1989. Aunt (Ant) Phyllis. Berkeley, Calif.: Regent Press.  

Robinson, Beverly J.. 1990. “Africanisms and the Study of Folklore.” In Africanisms in American Culture. Ed. Joseph E. Holloway. Indiana University Press. pp. 356-371 (reprinted 2005).  

Robinson, Beverly J.. 1997. “Faith Is the Key and Prayer Unlocks the Door: Prayer in African American Life.” Journal of American Folklore. Vol. 110, No. 438 (Autumn, 1997), pp. 408-414.  

Robinson, Beverly J.. 2002. “The Sense of Self in Ritualizing New Performance Spaces for Survival.” in Black Theatre: Ritual Performance In The African Diaspora. Ed. Paul C Harrison, Victor L. Walker, Gus Edwards. Temple University Press. pp. 332-344.