Chita Rivera (born January 23, 1933) is an American actress, dancer, and singer best known for her roles in musical theater. She is the first Hispanic woman to receive a Kennedy Center Honors award (December 2002). She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009.
Rivera was born Dolores Conchita Figueroa del Rivero in Washington, D.C., the daughter of Katherine, a government clerk, and Pedro Julio Figueroa del Rivero, a clarinetist and saxophonist for the United States Navy Band. Her father was Puerto Rican and her mother was of Scottish and Italian descent. Rivera was seven years old when her mother was widowed and went to work for The Pentagon.
In 1944, Rivera's mother enrolled her in the Jones-Haywood School of Ballet (now the Jones Haywood School of Dance). Later, when she was 15, a teacher from George Balanchine's School of American Ballet visited their studio and Rivera was one of two students picked to audition in New York City; she was accompanied to the audition by Doris Jones, one of the people who ran the Jones-Haywood School. Rivera's audition was successful and she was accepted into the school and given a scholarship.