International Tap Dance Hall of Fame

 

The International Tap Dance Hall of Fame is the only tap dance hall of fame exclusively focused on tap dancers. It features founding and innovative

20th and 21st century professional tap dancers. With a collection of photographs, biographies, and videos, the Hall of Fame

is becoming a colorful and diverse retrospective of America's seminal tap dance personalities.

 

2017 - The Cotton Club Girls and The Cotton Club Boys

The Cotton Club Girls

The Cotton Club Girls, a chorus of "tall, tan, and terrific" female, African-American dancers who performed exclusively at the Cotton Club, were famous for shimmying in long-feathered gowns and high-heeled shoes, strutting and snapping to the pervasive, insistent rhythms of hot jazz with cool sophistication.

Heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson opened the Club De Luxe at 142nd Street and Lenox Avenue in Harlem in 1920. Owney Madden, a prominent bootlegger and gangster, took over the club in 1923 and changed its name to the Cotton Club. While the club reproduced the racist imagery of the times, often depicting blacks as savages in exotic jungles or as "darkies" in the plantation South, it imposed a more subtle color bar on the chorus girls, who were expected to be "tall, tan, and terrific," which meant that they had to be at least five feet, six inches tall, light skinned, and under twenty-one years of age.

Duke Ellington made his Cotton Club debut on December 4, 1927, in a revue produced by Dan Healy and comprising some fifteen acts with a number of encores. The big numbers, which included “Dancemania” and “Jazzmania, featured Cotton Club singers and a chorus of women dancers who would be billed as the Cotton Club Girls.

Tap dance choreographer Henry LeTang cited one of the early choreographers of the Cotton Club as being Elida Webb. When Florence Mills went to England in 1926 with Blackbirds, two of her fellow performers were Hyacinth Curtis, as one of the high stepping 'Plantation Wildflowers' (or 'Cossacks' or 'Trotters', whatever the scene demanded) and Clarence Robinson, who was featured in many of the dance specialties that enthralled English audiences. Curtis and Robinson married, and she had a thirteen-year career as a Cotton Club dancer, while he became one of the most highly regarded choreographers of the increasingly popular black dance scene at the Cotton Club.

The Cotton Club Girls in the early years included Mae Robinson and Isabel Washington, as well as sisters Hilda and Vivian Brown, Margaret Cheraux, Millicent Cook, Mildred Dixon, Peggy Griffiths, Carolyn Rich Henderson, Ethel, Lucia and Julia Moses, Julia Noisette, Evelyn Shepard, and Tondelayo.

In 1992 the New York City Tap Extravaganza awarded its Flo-Bert Award to the Cotton Club Girls and named the following: Juanita Ram (Boisseau-Ramseur), Vivian Brown-Veal, Hyacinth Curtis, Ruby Dallas, Bessie Dudley, Marion Egbert, Vivian Harris, Tondelayo Levy, Corinne Chickie Morton, Estrellita Morse, Ruby Zizi-Richards, Edna Mae Robinson, and Elvera "Baby" Sanchez.

The Cotton Club Boys

The Cotton Club Boys, a chorus of male African-American dancers who appeared exclusively in Cotton Club performances, made their debut in the Spring of 1934 Edition of the Cotton Club Parade. The Cotton Club Girls had already become an institution in their own right and the Club's management, feeling they needed a new gimmick, decided to use a line of young male dancers. Dozens were auditioned, and ten were finally chosen: Maxie Armstrong, Louis Brown, Charles "Chink" Collins, Howard "Stretch" Johnson, Thomas "'Chink" Lee, Eddie Morton, Tommy Porter, Walter Shepherd, William Smith, and Jimmy Wright. They were made a feature act of the show and their new style of group dancing, in which all moved together in rhythmic unison, was immediately popular. At the end of an eight-month run they became an established feature at the Club. The Boys later performed in specialty acts at the Apollo Theater and also toured with Cab Callaway and his band. Subsequent members of the Cotton Club Boys include Julius Adger, Al Alstock, Roy Carter, Sherman Coates, Warren Coleman, Ernest Frazier, Freddie Heron, and Roy Porter. Author Jacque Malone notes that in 1940, the Cotton Club Boys’ performance in Chicago included Jules Adjers, Louie Brown, Freddy Heron, Chink Lee, Eddie Morton, Charles “Cholly” Atkins.

[Sources: "Henry LeTang: Creating Dances from the Inside Out," interviewed by Allana Radecki and Jeffrey Morris on November 13, 2005," On Tap , a publication of the International Tap Association (September/October 2006, vol. 17, number 2, pp. 16-28, 61; James Haskins, The Cotton Club (1997); Constance Valis Hill, Brotherhood in Rhythm: The Jazz Tap Dancing of the Nicholas Brothers (2010); Cholly Atkins and Jacqui Malone, Class Act: The Jazz Life of Choreographer Cholly Atkins (2001).]

Writteb by Constance Valis Hill