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.

 

2003 - Chuck Green (6 November 1919-7 March 1997), jazz tap dancer, was born Charles Green in Fitzgerald, Georgia. As a young boy, he stuck bottle caps to the bottom of his bare feet and danced on the sidewalk for coins. At the age of six, he won third place in an amateur dance contest in which Noble Sissle was the bandleader, and soon thereafter toured the South as a child tap dancer. At the age of nine, he was spotted by a talent agent and taken to New York to study tap dance.

Nat Nazzaro, known as the “monster agent” by those who knew of his practice of signing vulnerable young performers to ironclad contracts, signed Green to his own contract when he was twelve years old. A few years later, Green formed the team of Shorty and Slim with childhood friend James Walker, a talented comic dancer. They studied the great comedians of the day, picking up lines of patter from such shows on the black vaudeville circuit as Pigmeat Crack Shot and Hunter Pete and Repeate. “Their act was hilarious. Chuck was a natural-- so cute,” tap dancer Leonard Reed remembered, adding that Walker at the time was tall and skinny and Green was small as a chair. They did what was called “dumb talk comedy,” a rapid rhythmic banter that was interspersed between the songs and dances. As Walker played a broken-down vibraphone that looked as if it were falling apart, Green sang, “Some people was born to be doctors . . . some people were born to be kings . . . I fortunately was born to swing.” Then they tap danced, with Green making graceful turns and Walker excelling in leg-o-mania.

Nazarro at the time also managed Buck and Bubbles (Ford Lee “Buck” Washington and John Sublett Bubbles). He suggested that Green and Walker study the singing-dancing-comedy team that had bypassed the black vaudeville Theatre Owners Booking Association (TOB.A) circuit to become headliners on the white vaudeville circuit; by 1922 they had played New York’s prestigious Palace Theatre. Changing the name of their act to Chuck and Chuckles, Green and Walker were groomed as a “juvenile act” to Buck and Bubbles. Bubbles soon took Green under his wing, calling him “the son I never had,” and offered to teach him what he knew, though it came in the form of a challenge. “Bubbles would do a step just once,” Green explained, “and then say, ‘you got one chance.’ He was a creator. They called him the ‘father of rhythm.’” Bubbles’ style of rhythm tapping--in which he loaded the bar (put many extra beats into a bar of music) and dropped his heels, hitting unusual accents and syncopations-- was revolutionary. He prepared for the new sound of bebop in the 1940s, and anticipated the prolonged melodic lines of Cool jazz in the 1950s. “If you dropped your heels, you could get a more floating quality, like a leaf coming off top of a tree,” said Green, who became a protege of Bubbles. “It changed the quality of the sound, gave it tonation.”

Through the 1930s and early 1940s, Chuck and Chuckles toured Europe, Australia, and the United States, performing in such venues as Radio City Music Hall, the Paramount, Apollo, and Capital theatres. Jobs were plentiful and their manager had the team doubling up on performances. They averaged five stage shows a day, played nightclubs until early morning, and toured nonstop with big bands across the country and abroad. By 1944, the strain and wear of performing had taken its toll. The team of Chuck and Chuckles broke up, and Green was committed to a mental institution. When he was released some fifteen years later, he was changed-- extremely introverted and seemingly in a world of his own. His friends thought it a miracle he could still dance. By experimenting with the new harmonies, rhythmic patterns, and melodic approaches of the bop musicians, Green created his own bop-influenced style of rhythm tapping that was ad-libbed, up-tempo, and ultra cool.

In the sixties, Green began again to perform on stage and television. He appeared with the Copasetics (a tap fraternity dedicated to the memory of Bill “Bojangles” Robinson) on the popular educational channel W.N.E. T. in a show hosted by Dick Cavett. On 6 July 1963 he performed at the Newport Jazz Festival as a member of the “Old Time Hoofers” with Honi Coles, Charles “Cookie” Cook, Ernest Brown, Pete Nugent, Cholly Atkins, and Baby Laurence. The show was introduced by jazz historian Marshall Stearns and marked the resurgence of tap dance in popular culture.

At the New York’s Village Vanguard in 1964, the legendary tap dancer Groundhog faced Green in a tap challenge. “I’ve been waiting to battle Chuck Green for twenty years,” Groundhog told Stearns. “Dancing is like gang war and tonight I’m up against one of the best.” Groundhog’s rapid and syncopated staccato tapping was foiled by Green’s relaxed and fluid style of jazz tapping and almost dreamlike grace. In 1969 Green appeared with members of Harlem’s Hoofer’s Club for a series of “Tap Happenings” that were produced in New York City by Letitia Jay.

Through seventies and eighties, Green continued to perform with the Copasetics. Host Honi Coles introduced him as, “Chuck Green, the greatest tap dancer in the world.” When asked why Green was bestowed that special title, Coles answered, “His slow dance is genius. Most dancers would fall on their face. His timing is like a musician’s.”

In the late eighties, Green toured Europe with The Original Hoofers, appeared as a guest soloist at the Kennedy Center Honors, and was awarded an honorary professorship at Washington University. In New York in 1987, he began teaching a weekly two-hour tap class to a dedicated cross-section of New York’s top professional jazz dancers. With great clarity and precision, he led his students into the complexity of his material with warmth and ease, allowing the dancer to hear and feel the weight of the rhythm and movement.

In the late eighties and early nineties, Green was twice honored with a New York Dance and Performance Award (the Bessies) for his innovative achievements and technical skill in dance, and for his work in Black and Blue (1989) on Broadway.

Tall and big-footed, Green was a surprisingly light, graceful, and melodious rhythm dancer who was known for his specialty “strut” when he came on stage and for his tick-tock tap sounds. Whether dancing to such favorite tunes as “A Train” or “Caravan,” Green’s smooth and graceful rhythm tapping was uncluttered, even, and beautifully phrased. He has been called the “Poet of Tap.”

In the “Green, Chaney, Buster, Slyde” number from the 1996 Broadway musical, Bring in ‘Da Noise, Bring in ‘Da Funk, Savion Glover celebrates Green as a master teacher who “was educatin’ people, not entertainin.’” “Chuck’s dancin’,” rapped Glover as he danced before a multi-paneled mirror, “was like, kind of slow. Every tap was clean, you know what I’m sayin’. You hear every tap. He was, just like, on the slow type, smooth type.”

Chuck Green died in Oakland, California. The fluency of Green’s tap dancing is captured in George Niremberg’s documentary film, No Maps On My Taps (1980) with “Sandman” Sims and Bunny Briggs. His free-association poetry of speech is beautifully rendered in the film, About Tap (1987). His gentleness of spirit is immortalized in Masters of Tap (1983), a documentary film that also includes Honi Coles and Will Gaines. The sheer musicality of Green’s solo dancing is seen in the film Dance Black America (1984).

Constance Valis Hill

 

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