June 14, 2024


Chita Rivera, the iconic dancer, singer, and actress who ignited stages for over seven decades, wasn’t born a star.

Her journey to Broadway stardom began much earlier, cradled in the love and support of her parents, Pedro Julio Figueroa del Rivero and Katherine Anderson.

Chita Rivera
Chita Rivera

Meet Pedro Julio Figueroa del Rivero and Katherine Figueroa del Rivero

Rivera’s parents wove a rich tapestry of heritages. Her father, Pedro, hailed from Puerto Rico, bringing the vibrant rhythms of Latin music and a zest for life. Katherine, her mother, possessed a blend of Scottish, Irish, and African-American ancestry, instilling in Chita a fierce determination and a deep appreciation for diversity.

Pedro, a talented clarinetist and saxophonist, served in the U.S. Navy Band, filling their home with music. Katherine, a strong and resourceful woman, juggled raising five children while working as a government clerk. Despite facing economic hardships, they prioritized their children’s education and well-being.

At the tender age of seven, Chita’s world tilted towards dance. When her mother enrolled her in the Jones-Haywood School of Ballet, a spark ignited within her. The studio, founded by African-American dance pioneers Doris Jones and Claude Haywood, became Chita’s sanctuary. Here, she found not just technical training but also a community that embraced her talent and nurtured her dreams.

Pedro and Katherine, despite their limited means, made sure Chita received the best possible dance education. They scraped by to pay for lessons, sacrificing their own comforts to fuel their daughter’s passion. Their unwavering support instilled in Chita a tireless work ethic and a profound sense of gratitude.

When Chita turned 11, tragedy struck. Pedro passed away, leaving a void in their lives. Katherine, shouldering the burden of single parenthood, never faltered. She dug deep, finding strength in her love for her children. To keep Chita dancing, she took a job at the Pentagon, working tirelessly to provide for her family.

Katherine’s sacrifice wasn’t just financial. She became Chita’s rock, her confidante, and her biggest cheerleader. She attended every recital, offering encouragement and constructive criticism. She instilled in Chita the importance of discipline, resilience, and grace – qualities that would later become hallmarks of her legendary career.

With her mother’s unwavering support, Chita’s talent blossomed. At 15, she won a scholarship to the prestigious School of American Ballet in New York City. Leaving her family behind was a heart-wrenching decision, but Katherine never doubted her daughter. She packed Chita’s bags with love, hope, and a single, powerful message: “Fly, mija. Fly!”

And fly she did. Chita soared through the competitive world of dance, eventually landing on Broadway, where she etched her name in history. From Anita in “West Side Story” to Velma Kelly in “Chicago,” Chita’s electrifying performances captivated audiences worldwide.

Throughout her illustrious career, Chita never forgot the roots that nurtured her. She credited her parents, especially her mother, for her success. In her acceptance speech for the Kennedy Center Honors, she poignantly said, “I stand here tonight not just for myself, but for all the Kathleens of the world who taught their children to reach for the stars.”

Chita Rivera’s story is a testament to the power of parental love and sacrifice. Her parents, Pedro and Katherine, may not have lived to see their daughter become a Broadway legend, but their impact on her life is undeniable.

They provided the fertile ground where a raw talent could blossom, the unwavering support that propelled her through challenges, and the unwavering belief that fueled her rise to stardom.



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