Gainesville, Fla.— One of the American theatre’s iconic stars will add a University of Florida honorary degree to her record of achievements that include Tony Awards, the Kennedy Center Honor and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
An accomplished and versatile actress, singer and dancer, Chita Rivera has won two Tony Awards as Best Leading Actress in a Musical and received eight additional Tony nominations, totaling an exceptional 10 Tony nominations. Her electric performance as Anita in the original Broadway premiere of West Side Story brought her stardom. Her illustrious career includes more than 50 stage, film and television productions.
The University of Florida will be presenting an honorary degree to Rivera on Friday, May 4, 2018 at the spring commencement ceremony. This award represents recognition of eminent achievement in scholarship or high distinction in public service, which exemplifies the purposes and ideals of the university. Honorary degrees are awarded for sustained achievements of lasting significance and value, not for a single accomplishment.
“Chita Rivera’s accomplished career and exceptional talent have left a legacy in the Broadway world,” said Joseph Glover, UF provost and senior vice president for academic affairs. “We are grateful for the connections she has made with our musical theatre program and are delighted to grant her an honorary degree from the University of Florida.”
Rivera first came to UF in 2004 to receive the Linda Wilson Lifetime Achievement Award for Excellence in Theatre. Professor Tony Mata, head of the musical theatre department, created this award with Linda and George Wilson to honor preeminent artists, and he chose Rivera to be the second recipient.
“Chita Rivera is honestly one of the few remaining legendary Broadway stars of all time,” Mata said. “There are few stars that are unlike anybody else, and she’s one of them. You can’t get any better than Chita.”
As a Latino performer himself, Mata has admired Rivera most of his life for her ability to achieve success in a musical theatre industry that was not very diverse at the time. During her visit to UF, she gave a masterclass to the UF School of Theatre + Dance students and saw their production of Anything Goes. Rivera also appeared in Mata’s documentary about Latino theatre, which was screened at the Tribeca Cinemas in 2014.
Rivera trained as a ballerina (from age 11) before receiving a scholarship to the School of American Ballet from the legendary choreographer George Balanchine. Rivera's first appearance (age 17) was as a principal dancer in Call Me Madam.
Her career is highlighted by starring in the original Broadway productions of Bye Bye Birdie, The Rink (Tony Award), Chicago, Jerry’s Girls, Kiss of the Spider Woman (Tony Award), The Dancer’s Life, Nine, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, The Visit and the original Broadway casts of Guys and Dolls, Can-Can, Seventh Heaven and Mr. Wonderful. On tour: Born Yesterday, The Rose Tattoo, Call Me Madam, Threepenny Opera, Sweet Charity, Kiss Me Kate, Zorba,Can-Can with The Rockettes.
Rivera was awarded The Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama in 2009 and received the coveted Kennedy Center Honor in 2002. In November 2016, she headlined at Carnegie Hall, and in 2015, Great Performances aired their special Chita Rivera: A Lot of Livin’ To Do, a retrospective of her extraordinary life and career, nationally on PBS. She currently tours the world with her solo concert.
Public Relations and Partnerships Specialist
University of Florida College of the Arts