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.

 

2008 - Two-Man Comedy Tap Team - Cook & Brown The greatest of all vaudeville theatres stood behind a gaudy neon sign at 253 West 125th Street, between Seventh and Eighth Avenues in Harlem. You bought your ticket at a sidewalk booth-- from fifteen cents, morning, to a fifty-cent top on Wednesday and Saturday nights- and entered through a narrow lobby, lined with bathroom tiles, glistening mirrors, and photographs of Harlem idols Ethel Waters and Louis Armstrong. The house seated 1,750 people in the parterre and two balconies. The stage was edged with applied pilasters of imitation marble; the curtain was a startling crimson. Doors opened at ten in the morning and closed past midnight. The bill, based on a tried-and-true vaudeville variety format, began with a short film or cartoon, then a newsreel, followed by a feature film. And then the master of ceremonies would announce, to the rising applause and screams from the audience: “Ladies and Gentlemen, it’s show time at the Apollo!”

Ba-ba-boom! The band broke into the Apollo theme song and the show was off and rolling. First up, the band did a number with the Apollo “Number One” chorus; followed by a sight act-- a tap dancer, acrobat, or animal act; followed by a singer; followed by another fabulous number by the “Number One” girls. And then to further brighten the procedures and prepare for the featured attraction came the two man-comedy teams-- the funny men of tap who turned classical ballet’s pas de deux into the hilarious odd-coupling: the high-strutting dandy and the low-shuffling fool, the straight-man and the clown; the pompous loudmouth and the stuttering buffoon. Tall and short, stout and thin; flashily clothed and tatterly-dressed, their pratfalls, somersaults, and rubber-legging moves accompanied the witty rhythms in their feet. The “husband-and-wife” teams of Slap and Happy and Red and Struggy burlesqued courtship with acrobatic moves and eccentric hoofing.  The Two Zephyrs played a couple of rap shooters performing ultra-slow hoofing. The team of Chuck and Chuckles (Charles “Chuck” Green and James Walker) played rubber-legging Stepin’ Fetchit-like characters, gaining laughs with their molasses-like locomotion.

But the greatest of all knockabout comedy teams ever to grace the Apollo stage was Cook and Brown (Charles “Cookie” Cook and Ernest “Brownie” Brown), who first played the Apollo in 1935. Charles Cook was born in Chicago (February 11, 1917) and raised in Detroit. His mother ran a theatrical boarding house next to the Copeaum Theatre for African-American entertainers who at the time were denied accommodations in the white-owned establishments. Cook carried hot peach cobbler to Ethel Waters in her dressing room, and watched from backstage such acts as Butterbeans and Susie and the all-black touring shows, like Runnin’ Wild, Brown Skin Models, Lucky Sambo, and Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake’s Shuffle Along. Around 1929, at the age of twelve, Cook performed with “Garbage and His Two Cans” and toured with Sarah Venable’s “Mammy and Her Picks” with his childhood friend and future dance partner, Ernest “Brownie” Brown, who was born in Chicago (April 25, 1916).  In 1930, the two formed Cook & Brown. Their act combined acrobatic stunts and grass-roots humor with eccentric dancing. The short-tempered, six-foot tall Cook, known for his Russian floor dancing, played foil to the diminutive five-foot tall Brownie who, when knocked down, slid the full length of the stage and bounced up in a reverse split, thumbing his nose and ready for more abuse. In 1931, they played the Lafayette Theatre in New York, and stayed, quickly becoming highly popular comedic performers, despite the Great Depression. In 1934 they played the Cotton Club and skyrocketed to popularity, playing the Palace, Palladium and Apollo with Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Lena Horne and Bill Robinson. On Broadway in Kiss Me Kate (1948), choreographed by modern dancer Hanya Holm, they stopped the show with their routines in “Too Darn Hot” and “Brush Up Your Shakespeare.” But they always returned to the Apollo-- the first and last jump-off for the large caravan of Harlem entertainers. 


Constance Valis Hill