Ralston Milton "Rex" Nettleford, OM (Jamaica), FIJ, OCC (3 February 1933 - 2 February 2010), was a Jamaican scholar, social critic, choreographer, and Vice-Chancellor Emeritus of the University of the West Indies (UWI), the leading research university in the Commonwealth Caribbean.
Born on 3 February 1933 in Falmouth, Jamaica, Nettleford attended Unity Primary School in Bunkers Hill, Trelawny, and graduated from Cornwall College in Montego Bay, Jamaica, before going to the University of the West Indies (UWI) to obtain an honours degree in history. As a child he sang and recited in school concerts, sang in the church choir, danced, and began working as a choreographer at the age of 11 with the Worm Chambers Variety Troupe, which helped to fund his studies. At Cornwall College he acted in productions of the college's drama club, and was published as a poet. He was a recipient of the 1957 Rhodes Scholarship to Oriel College, Oxford where he received a postgraduate degree in Politics, and returned to Jamaica in the early 1960s to take up a position at UWI.
At UWI he first came to attention as a co-author (with M. G. Smith and Roy Augier) of a groundbreaking study of the Rastafari movement in 1961. In 1962, Nettleford and Eddy Thomas co-founded the National Dance Theatre Company of Jamaica, an ensemble which under his direction did much to incorporate traditional Jamaican music and dance into a formal balletic repertoire.
For over twenty years, Nettleford has also been the artistic director for the University Singers of the University of the West Indies, Mona campus in Jamaica. The combination of Nettleford as artistic director and Noel Dexter as musical director with the University Singers has seen the creation of what is referred to as "choral theatre".
Beginning with the collection of essays, Mirror, Mirror, published in 1969 and his editing and compiling of the speeches and writings of Norman Manley, Manley and the New Jamaica, in 1971, Nettleford established himself as a serious public historian and social critic. In 1968, he took over direction of the School for Continuing Studies at the UWI and then of the Extra-Mural Department. In 1975, the Jamaican state recognized his cultural and scholarly achievements by awarding him the Order of Merit. He also received the Gold Musgrave Medal (1981) and 13 honorary doctorates, including one in Civil Law from Oxford University. In 1996, he became Vice-Chancellor of the UWI, and held that office until 2004, when he was succeeded by E. Nigel Harris.
On 27 January 2010, Nettleford was admitted to the intensive-care unit of the George Washington University Hospital, Washington, D.C., after suffering a heart attack at his hotel in the city. He was unconscious and in a coma for several days. On Tuesday, 2 February 2010, Nettleford was pronounced dead at around 8:00pm EST.
The Rex Nettleford Foundation was established after his death. Nettleford's life was the subject of a trilogy of films by Lennie Little-White, commissioned by the foundation.