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nicholar_brothers.jpgThe Nicholas Brothers, the remarkablly atheletic, endlessly inventive tap dancers Fayard and Harold Nicholas, were arguably the best American dancers of any genre in any era. As Maurice Hines pointed out yesterday, Fred Astaire never danced with them on film because “he wasn’t crazy” and he knew there was no way he could keep up with them.
Hines was among the tap royalty who turned out at a Manhattan benefit for Fayard Nicholas, who recently suffered a stroke. Hines brought joy to the packed house when he told us that Nicholas is back at home, recuperating, even though it seemed like only a matter of time a week ago.
Highlights of the star-studded program: There wasn’t a dry eye in the house when Harold “Stumpy” Cromer talked about the staggering restrictions placed on Black performers in Hollywood’s early days, including how Bill “Bojangles” Robinson got about $4500 for teaching Shirley Temple to tap dance, which earned her about $22 million. “We won in the end,” he joked, “cause her last name is Black now.”
Dance, Mr. Bojangles, Please
Then he sang the most beautiful rendition of “Mr. Bojangles” I have ever heard, while tap dancing and playing harmonica. It’s one thing to hear Jerry Jeff Walker or Janis Joplin perform it; and another to hear someone who danced with Bojangles sing the song. I’ll never forget it!
Without even getting slightly winded, 92 year-old Frankie Manning (with whom I am priviliged to take swing dance lessons) tapped and sang a duet with his son, Chaz Young; tappers Mabel Lee, Jenny Lanes and The Young Hoofers danced. More than a dozen tappers in the audience laced up their shoes and joined an improvised jam circle and then danced the dance that all tappers and swing dancers know, “The Shim Sham.”
Contributions Still Needed
Contributions to Fayard Nicholas’ medical bills are dearly needed and are being accepted by: Flo-Bert c/o NYFA, 155 Ave of Americas, 14th fl, NY, NY 10013. Make checks payable to Fayard Nicholas.