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 - Edward Kennedy "Duke" Ellington (April 29, 1899 – May 24, 1974), premier American composer, pianist, and bandleader, and a pivotal figure in the history of jazz, was the greatest supporter of tap dance artists, his music the most widely used in tap performance, from the premier of his Duke Ellington Orchestra at the Cotton Club in 1923 until his death in 1974. Born in 1899 in Washington, D.C., in the 1920s, when the Harlem Renaissance authors were publishing their first volumes of poetry, Ellington was honing his skills as a bandleader, and gaining a reputation as a gifted young pianist, composer, and orchestra leader. Whether playing “jungle music,” in which he used blue notes to expressive growls and animal sounds from muted horns, or creating for his orchestra soaring harmonies transcribed from the most poignant of Negro spirituals, Ellington stretched his musicianship to new limits.

The most important event in Ellington’s early career as a musician, orchestra leader, and composer was the opening of the newly enlarged Ellington orchestra at the Cotton Club, where he established a rich style of jazz musicianship, one distinguished by harmony and a beautiful, jumping, swinging sound. Ellington made his Cotton Club debut on December 4, 1927, in a revue produced by Dan Healy that comprised some fifteen acts with a number of encores. The big numbers included “Dancemania” and “Jazzmania, and featured Cotton Club singers and dancers. Earl “Snakehips” Tucker performed, twisting his haunches and thigh joints; Edith Wilson sang “adult songs”; and the dance team of Mildred and Henri regaled the audience with their intricate steps. Then came the sensational flash tap and acrobatics team of Ananias and Jimmy Berry, of the Berry Brothers, performing in top hats and tails.

Ellington worked steadily at the Cotton Club from 1927 to 1931, and sporadically from 1931 to 1938, during which time he composed music and performed with such tap dancers as Nicholas Brothers, Peg Leg Bates, Chocolateers, Four Step Brothers, Bill Robinson, Cora LaRedd, Henry “Rubberlegs” Williams, and Bessie Dudley. Ellington’s first film feature, Black and Tan (1929), performed by his Cotton Club Orchestra, featured the actress-dancer-singer Fredi Washington and the tap dancing of The Five Dancing Blazers (alternately billed as The Five Hot Shots), an all-male, precision tap team. When performing at the Apollo Theater, the Duke Ellington Orchestra performed with such tap dancers as Bill Baily, Edward Sisters, Patterson & Jackson, Roll & Tap, Charles “Honi” Coles, and Stump & Stumpy. On tour, the Duke Ellington employed such tap acts as Cook and Brown, Condos and Brandow, Tip, Tap. And Toe, Four Step Brothers, Chuck and Chuckles, , Two Zephyrs, and Bill Robinson.

Ellington’s masterwork, Concert of Sacred Music, which premiered on September 16, 1965, at the Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, featured Bunny Briggs dancing “David Danced Before the Lord,” and was subsequently performed by the likes of James “Buster” Brown, Baby Laurence Jackson, and Rich Rahn. Ellington wrote more than one thousand compositions; his extensive body of work is the largest recorded personal jazz legacy, with many of his works having become standards for tap dancers., such as “Take the A-Train,” “Satin Doll,” and “In A Sentimental Mood,” co-written with oft-collaborator Billy Strayhorn. Due to his inventive use of the orchestra, or big band, and thanks to his eloquence and charisma, Ellington is generally considered to have elevated the perception of jazz to an art form on a par with other more traditional musical genres.

Written by Constance Valis Hill