The Copasetic Boat Ride, at the Circle Line Marina, pier 83, at West 42nd Street at the Hudson River, is an annual event that launches Tap City, the New York City Tap Festival. It is a sunset ride around Manhattan Island where tap dancers, friends and family soak in the city's skyline, listen to live music, and tap dance. This event perpetuates and upholds the tradition of the boat ride around Manhattan that originated with the Copasetic Club. The Copasetics were a fraternity of mostly tap dancers that formed in 1949, following the passing of Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, and named for Robinson’s quip that “Everything’s Copasetic,” meaning okay, cool. The Copasetics were a vital force in Harlem since its inception and contributed to many charitable and community activities. During the 1970′s and 1980′s the Copasetics went on the road, and became a major force in the popular revival of tap dance.
The club’s original twenty-one members included Cholly Atkins (The Rhythm Pals, Coles and Atkins, Motown choreographer), Peg Leg Bates (Blackbirds of 1928, Ed Sullivan Show, owner of the Peg Leg Bates Country Club in the Catskills of New York), Paul Black (The Three Chocolateers), Roy Branker (pianist with The Three Peppers), Ernest “Brownie” Brown (Cook and Brown), Charles “Honi” Coles (The Miller Brothers, Coles and Atkins), Chink Collins (TOBA circuit, Joyce Beasley, the Dolly Sisters, The Cotton Club Boys), Charles “Cookie” Cook (Cook and Brown), Emory Evans (Gary and Evans), Francis Goldberg, Frank Goldberg, Milton Larkin (trumpeter and band leader), Pete Nugent (Pete, Peaches and Duke), Luther Preston (Slim and Sweets), Billy Strayhorn (composer & arranger, writing partner of Duke Ellington), John E. Thomas (The Three Rockets), James Walker (Chuck and Chuckles, Myers and Walker, The Three Chocolateers), Elmer Waters, and Eddie West (The Three Chocolateers). Founding officers were LeRoy Myers (Pops and LeRoy; Sinclair and LeRoy; Myers and Walker) as President and Henry “Phace” Roberts (Five Blazers ; Three Rockets) as Vice President. Billy Strayhorn served as the president of the club from the early 1950′s until his death in 1967, at which time the club abolished the position of president in his honor.
Subsequent membership included: Billy Eckstine (vocalist, trumpeter, valve trombonist, and band leader), Lewis Brown (The Cotton Club Boys), Curley Hamner (Red and Curley), Timmie Rogers (comedian, song writer of “If You Can’t Smile and Say Yes”), Charlie Shavers (trumpeter), Bubba Gaines (The Three Dukes), Dizzy Gillespie (trumpeter and composer of “Groovin’ High,” “Night in Tunisia,” and “Manteca”), James Buster Brown (Three Speed Kings), Louie Simms Carpenter (Four Flash Devils; Simms and Booie), Albert Gibson (Three Chocolateers), James Cross (Stump and Stumpy), and Jimmy Wright (Broadway performer).
The club also allowed for a number of honorary members, including Willie Bryant (honorary mayor of Harlem following Bill “Bojangles” Robinson), Lionel Hampton (vibraphonist and band leader), Sammy Davis, Jr., Nicholas Brothers, Chuck Green, Joe Williams, and Dick Gregory.
From the outset, the Copasetics were a vital force in Harlem and contributed to many charitable and community activities. The club's annual Copasetics Dance and Copasetics Boat Ride were two of the most popular events in town. There was nothing quite like the Copasetics’ shows. Sometimes presented in small, funky theater spaces, sometimes in grand ballrooms, they featured a diverse range of tap stylists who would saunter, skid and explode across the stage in fusillade of articulated footwork and rhythms. The group not only brought new acclaim to the old-time tap stars, but also featured young dancers whom they mentored, following one of tap's long traditions. That relationship and the tap boom years are reflected in Gregory Hines' 1989 film Tap, a loving homage to veteran and new tappers alike. They were celebrated as well in the 1989 Broadway show Black and Blue Revue.
Each year the Copasetic Boat Ride launches Tap City, the New York City Festival and will guests board at the Circle Line Marina, Pier 83 with a cruise around Manhattan Island that features a live band, performances, and a tap jam.
By Constance Valis Hill (2016)
American Tap Dance Foundation
American Tap Dance Center
154 Christopher Street #2B New York, NY 10014
© 2010 ATDF