“Michael Peters:  The ‘Balanchine’ of MTV!”

Guest Writer: Bishop Hartsel Clifton Shirley

Michael Douglas Peters was born on August 6, 1948, in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. He was biracial: his mother was Jewish; his father was Black.  When he was four, his mother noticed that he was always dancing; therefore, she enrolled the little boy in dance classes.

Growing up, Peters witnessed gang violence, which would later become an inspiration for his choreography.  In those early years, he was heavily influenced by My Fair Lady and West Side Story; the latter heavily influenced him to begin a dance career. The youth attended Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts; but despite his academic aptitude, he dropped out. However, he resumed dance at the Bernice Johnson Cultural Arts Center in Queens, NY.

Peters’ big break came in 1975 when he choreographed Donna Summer’s Love to Love You Baby video for a Dutch radio and television company. Soon, he began appearing in numerous Broadway musicals including The Wiz, Purlie, and Raisin; he also performed with choreographers like Alvin Ailey and Bernice Johnson. It was his choreography for Summer that would make him a pioneer in video choreography.

In the 80s, the talent choreographed and appeared in many well-known music artists’ videos including Love Is A Battlefield (Pat Benatar), Running With The Night (Lionel Richie), and most famously, Beat It, Bad and Thriller (Michael Jackson). He became known as the “Balanchine of MTV,” the comparison to George Balanchine, one of the most dominant 20th-century choreographers. Additionally, Peters choreographed Diana Ross’ iconic New York Central Park concert.

Peters’ talents weren’t limited to Broadway and videos: he also choreographed dance sequences for movies. These included the TV movie The Jacksons: An American Dream, Sister Act 2, Sarafina, The Mambo Kings, and What’s Love Got to Do With It.  An accomplished director, his credits included TV shows such as Knots Landing, A Different World, Head of The Class, and Fame.

The acclaimed showman won various honors: several MTV awards, a Tony (Dreamgirls), and a prime-time Emmy (The Jacksons: An American Dream). In 1993, he advocated and fought for an Oscar for choreography.

Unfortunately, this exceptional talent succumbed to AIDS, passing at the age of 46 on August 29, 1994.

Michael Douglas Peters was proof that when we pursue our passion, we will all be a Thriller and that…

Bishop Hartsel Clifton Shirley is an author, writer, singer/songwriter, and bishop from Waterloo, Iowa. He received his master’s degree in business from the International Business Management Institute in Berlin, Germany.

Currently residing in Atlanta, Mr. Shirley is a National and International Social Action bishop, part of New Direction Overcomers’ International Fellowship (based in Richmond, Virginia).   

A multi-faceted talent, Hartsel is a writer, author, and singer/songwriter. A bronze International Society of Poets prize winner, he has penned editorials for the Waterloo/Cedar Falls Courier. His best-selling novel is Three Words, Four Letters, published by Ishai Books. Additionally, Hartsel has charted at #1 several times on the ReverbNation pop music charts.  

Inspired by Langston Hughes, Bishop Shirley states, “I write what moves me. There is nothing I can’t write. I just have to care about it so I can write truthfully.”

Hartsel’s current book, The Night Eddie Sallis Died, is based on factual information he uncovered in 2002 about a 1966 jail cell “suicide” in Waterloo, Iowa (his place of birth). This revealing and riveting book pulls back the curtain on racism and police brutality. The author emphasizes, “These truths make Iowa a state not to be taken lightly–nor forget.”

Hartsel’s upcoming works include Three Words and Four Letters, the second and third installments of his first novel, and his third music project, Rebel With A Cause.

Email Bishop Shirley at hartselshirley@gmail.com