Sallid: The Artistic Prowess

A humanitarian, Sallid recently conducted a dance workshop at the Brooklyn Restoration Center for youth in the Bed-Stuyvesant Community.

[Entertainment: Music]

Choreographer Otis Sallid is the first American born Kittian in his family whose origins are inherent to the Caribbean Island of St. Kitts.  Sallid was drawn to the arts when he first saw Shenequa Baker Scott dance at the Kennedy Community Center. 

The beauty and form of her dance made Sallid want to emulate her.  He initiated his training at the Kennedy Community Center, then via the anti-poverty program known as HARYOU-ACT where teachers such as Alvin Ailey, Thelma Hill, and Jeffery Holder encouraged Otis to enroll in the High School of the Performing Arts.  Otis spent 4 years there studying alongside classmates such as Ben Vereen, Michael Peters (Thriller) Christian Holder (Joffrey Ballet) and violinist Pinkus Zuckerman.  After the High School of Performing Arts came Juilliard.

“After Juilliard, I did the Broadway show “Purlie,” with Melba Moore,” said Otis.  “I continued to do Broadway until I decided to found the New Art Ensemble, my dance company.  I produced the company at the Edison Theatre on Broadway with the aid of Gregory Hines.  His funds enabled me to do my concerts,” explained Sallid.   “Hinton Battles who later went on to win Tony Awards was in my company.  So were Michael De Lorenzo, Michael Peters, and Debbie Allen.  Debbie asked me to go to California with her to be her assistant choreographer. Once there, for the next 4 years I worked on the TV program “Fame,” stated Otis.

“I began directing and producing episodes of “Fame” as well as occasionally write music for the show.  This enabled me to learn how to produce for film and TV,” explained the talented artist who went on to do 50-60 commercials all over the world for Burrell.  Also for General Motors, Ford, Coca-Cola, the Georgia State Lottery, Procter and Gamble, MacDonalds, Infinity, Polaroid, and the Dance Theatre of Harlem for Tide, et al.

Eventually, Sallid came to the attention of Spike Lee who asked Otis to choreograph his movies.  Otis worked for Spike for 10 years.  He worked on the movie “School Daze.”  Vibe Magazine will be featuring Otis and School Daze’s 20th anniversary in their February 2008 edition. He also worked on Do the Right Thing, and Malcolm X.  After Spike, Otis directed “Living Single” and For You’re Love.” He directed, choreographed and produced “Suddenly Susan,” “Moesha,” “Sister Act II,” and “The Jeff Foxworthy Show.”

He conceived Broadway’s Smokey Joe’s Café and wrote the title song for “Suddenly Susan,” and “Showtime at the Apollo.” He created dance sequences for the children’s show Gullah Gullah for Nickelodeon and Out of the Box for Disney.  “It’s a natural progression to go from choreography to directing,” remarked Otis, who after working on TV and commercials knew his way around a camera.

Endowed with copious talent, Otis found time to choreograph both the Essence Awards and Academy Awards.  “During the Academy Awards, I also worked with non-dancers.  For example, I instructed Billy Crystal where to move on stage when he did his Master of Ceremony skits, etc.  As the resident choreographer, I was responsible for choreographing the entire show.  The year I did the Awards, Riverdance performed, so I became their ambassador.  I did the opening event of the Super Bowl with Stevie Wonder through my creative company, Creative Otis as well.  My company had to take care of all the FBI clearances, travel, costumes and getting the stars where they had to go,” mentioned Otis. 

“People may not know this but the entertainment involved with the Superbowl cannot be done at the Superbowl arena.  You have to do hair, makeup and/or whatever a few blocks away.  The Superbowl lets you know that the Superbowl is about sports and has nothing to do with entertainment,” declared Otis who has worked with artists Faith Hill, Bill Cosby, Tony Bennet, Julio Iglesia, Lawrence Fishburn, Viveca Fox, Brooke Shields, Patti Labelle, Denzel Washington, Samuel L. Jackson, Queen Latifah, Iyanla Van Zant, Christina Ricci, James Ingram, Whoopi Goldberg and the list goes on.

Sallid who has been living in California for the last 15 years will soon become bi-coastal as he brings more creative projects to New York, where he plans to move forward on his creation Gospel Gospel Gospel and activate plans to direct more New York based artistic endeavors.

“Gospel Gospel Gospel” is special to me because I felt I had to tell our history, especially our musical history from 1929 to the present, and what brought it about.  The project tells the story of the great Black migration north and how huge it was. It encompasses the Emancipation Proclamation, the trial of Dred Scott and later the Civil Rights Movement. When you start putting the music to the great migration it highlights the power of our history,” noted Sallid.  “Sometimes, it’s shocking to find how many of our young people are unaware of the struggles of their own people and the strength it took for them to survive in the midst of such adversity.  How they endured tar and feathers and public beatings. This is history our children really need to understand.” 

Sallid expanded his talents to story telling via his book entitled Harlem Stories which details stories of his childhood growing up in Harlem.  His tribute to Big Joe Turner and all the great blues artists prompted him to write about its historical significance in his work Big Otis Jump Up Blues Revue.

A humanitarian, Sallid recently conducted a dance workshop at the Brooklyn Restoration Center for youth in the Bed-Stuyvesant Community.  Otis is a winner of 4 Audelco Awards, The NAACP Theater Award, The Fosse Award, The MTV Music Video Award, The Lehman Lifetime Achievement Award and the Mosaic Council Award New York Arts and Entertainment Award “For Making A Difference.”  Otis recently produced the opening and closing event at the Abu Dhabi Middle East International Film Festival.

For further information see

To comment or to subscribe to or advertise in New York’s leading Pan African weekly investigative newspaper, or to send us a news tip, please call (212) 481-7745 or send a note to
[email protected]

Also visit out sister publications Harlem Business News and The Groove music magazine at

“Speaking Truth To Empower.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *