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Miles M. Jackson

explorer and businessman, was born a slave in German Flats, New York. He was owned by the Dougal family and spent his youth in Schenectady. It is very likely his mother was a slave (New York did not abolish slavery until 1827); his father was a freeman and a mariner. Following the death of his master, he was purchased by another owner. After gaining his freedom in 1796, Allen arrived in Boston in 1800 and went to sea just as his father had done. Indeed, many African Americans living in Boston had ties to the maritime industry in some way. Like other black mariners, Allen faced the risk of reenslavement when he traveled to Southern ports. Once he was saved from imprisonment by one of the ship's owners, who paid $300 for his release.

Allen's years at sea between 1800 and 1810 provided him with unique experiences ...

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Christopher Wells

tap dancer and choreographer, was born Charles Atkinson in Pratt City, Alabama, the son of Sylvan Atkinson, a construction and steel worker, and Christine Woods. At age seven Atkins moved with his mother to Buffalo, New York. Woods, herself an avid social dancer, encouraged her children to dance, and Atkins won his first local contest at age ten doing the Charleston. As a teenager Atkins made his first money as a dancer by busking at rest stops while working as a bus line porter between Buffalo and Albany. His dancing caught the attention of a talent scout for the Alhambra on the Lake, a Lake Erie nightclub, who booked Atkins as a regular act. There he learned to tap from William “Red” Porter, a dancing waiter who became Atkins's first dance partner.

In 1929 Atkins joined a traveling revue produced by Sammy Lewis and toured through ...

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André Willis

As performer, choreographer, and dance coach, Cholly Atkins mastered the art of the Tap Dance. He was best known for his team tap dancing with the great Charles “Honi” Coles.

Born in Birmingham, Alabama, and raised in Buffalo, New York, Atkins displayed a talent for the stage at an early age. He began performing at the age of ten, when he won a Charleston contest, and while attending high school he learned basic Jazz and soft-shoe dance steps. He began his formal career as a singing waiter in 1929. Soon he and dancing waiter William Porter formed the Rhythm Pals, a vaudeville song-and-dance team. After ten years, Atkins left the Rhythm Pals to begin dancing and choreographing for the Cotton Club Boys, a tap troupe that toured with Cab Calloway and performed with Bill “Bojangles” Robinson in a swing musical called The Hot Mikado at ...

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Constance Valis Hill

jazz tap dancer, was born Laurence Donald Jackson in Baltimore, Maryland. His parents' names and occupations are unknown. He was a boy soprano at age twelve, singing with McKinney's Cotton Pickers. When the bandleader Don Redman came to town, he heard Laurence and asked his mother if he could take the boy on the road. She agreed, provided that her son was supplied with a tutor. Touring on the Loew's circuit, Laurence's first time in New York was marked by a visit to the Hoofers Club in Harlem, where he saw the tap dancing of Honi Coles, Raymond Winfield, Roland Holder, and Harold Mablin. Laurence returned home sometime later to a sudden tragedy; both of his parents had died in a fire. “I don't think I ever got used to the idea,” he told Marshall Stearns in Jazz Dance in 1968 They always took such ...

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Wendi Berman

playwright, actor, director, singer, and dancer, was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, the third child of Gloria Diaz Bagneris and Lawrence Bagneris Sr. Bagneris's mother was a housewife and deeply religious woman who “quietly outclassed most people,” and his father was a playful, creative man, a World War II veteran, and lifelong postal clerk. Bagneris grew up in the tightly knit, predominantly Creole Seventh Ward to a family of free people of color that had been in New Orleans since 1750 From the age of six he had a knack for winning popular dance contests and during christenings and jazz funerals he learned more traditional music and dance By the mid 1960s the once beautiful tree lined neighborhood in which he was raised fell victim to the U S government s program of urban renewal known colloquially as Negro removal A freeway overpass was ...

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Alonford James Robinson

Clayton Bates was born in Fountain Inn, South Carolina. He lost his leg in a cottonseed mill accident at age twelve but decided at age fifteen to tour the country with a homemade wooden leg. Bates worked as a minstrel in racially integrated vaudeville circuits. He danced in Harlem ...

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Constance Valis Hill

Bates, Peg Leg (11 October 1907–08 December 1998), tap dancer was born Clayton Bates in Fountain Inn South Carolina the son of Rufus Bates a laborer and Emma Stewart Bates a sharecropper and housecleaner He began dancing when he was five At twelve while working in a cotton seed gin mill he caught and mangled his left leg in a conveyor belt The leg was amputated on the kitchen table at his home Although he was left with only one leg and a wooden peg leg his uncle carved for him Bates resolved to continue dancing It somehow grew in my mind that I wanted to be as good a dancer as any two legged dancer he recalled It hurt me that the boys pitied me I was pretty popular before and I still wanted to be popular I told them not to feel sorry for me ...

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Constance Valis Hill

tap dancer and entrepreneur, was born Clayton Bates in Fountain Inn, South Carolina, the son of Rufus Bates, a laborer, and Emma Stewart a sharecropper and housecleaner He began dancing when he was five At age twelve while working in a cotton seed gin mill he caught and mangled his left leg in a conveyor belt The leg was amputated on the kitchen table at his home Although he was left with only one leg and a wooden peg leg that his uncle carved for him Bates resolved to continue dancing It somehow grew in my mind that I wanted to be as good a dancer as any two legged dancer he recalled It hurt me that the boys pitied me I was pretty popular before and I still wanted to be popular I told them not to feel sorry for me He meant it He began ...

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Melanye P. White-Dixon

Over a career that spanned nearly six decades, Beatty came to be acknowledged by dance critics as one of America's most brilliant dancers and choreographers. He began his dance studies at age eleven in the late 1930s under the tutelage of Katherine Dunham and was a principal dancer with her company for several years as well as a teacher of the Dunham technique. After becoming an independent dancer in 1945, he performed in filmmaker Maya Deren's A Study in Choreography for Camera (1945), in a revival of Show Boat (1946), in Syvilla Fort's Procession and Rite (1947), and in Helen Tamiris's Inside U.S.A. (1948).

In 1947 Beatty formed his own company, called Tropicana. For the company premiere he created Southern Landscape a dance about the plight of African Americans in the South after the Civil War The ...

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USdancer, choreographer, and company director. He trained with Katherine Dunham and made his professional debut in her company in 1940, undertaking additional later studies with Martha Graham. In 1946 he left Dunham to perform in musicals, including a revival of Show Boat (1946), as well as in Maya Deren's film, A Study in Choreography for Camera (1945). In 1949 he formed his own company, Tropicana, for which he created Southern Landscape, a work portraying the plight of African Americans in the South after the Civil War. In 1955 he disbanded his company, and focused on giving solo concerts and choreographing for others. His dances frequently highlighted social injustice, particularly for black Americans. A list of his works includes The Road of the Phoebe Snow (1959), the full-length Come and Get the Beauty of It Hot ...

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C. S'thembile West

choreographer, dancer, and teacher, was born in Cedar Grove, Louisiana, the son of a housepainter. His parents' names are unknown. In the small town of Cedar Grove, right outside Shreveport, Beatty's earliest dance influence was the legendary Katherine Dunham. According to the historian Joe Nash, a close friend and colleague of Beatty, Dunham invited him to “watch dances in progress” when he was eleven years old. Dunham was in rehearsal for Ruth Page'sLa Guillablesse, scheduled to open at the Chicago Civic Opera in 1933, and was trying to keep the young boy's playing from disrupting her work. Beatty danced onstage for the first time in the opera's 1934 season and emerged as a dancer of note after studying from 1937 to 1940 at Dunham's Studio de la Danse in Shreveport. He danced the role of a priest in Dunham'sYanvalou a ...

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Mark Clague

musician and songwriter, was born Claude Augustus Benjamin in Christiansted, St. Croix, Virgin Islands (then Danish West Indies), the son of Joseph Benjamin and Euphrasia Seteon (spelled Shöin on his Anglican baptismal certificate). Benjamin's early life was difficult. His father was a fisherman who died when Benjamin was an infant, and changes in the shipping industry, hurricanes, and World War I pushed the economy of the Virgin Islands into decline. After graduating from Virgin Islands High School in 1925, he abandoned his early hopes of becoming a physician for lack of tuition to enter medical school, and worked as a tailor and cabinetmaker instead. In 1927 he moved to New York City in search of better opportunity.

Inspired by a local island musician, Louis Stakemann Benjamin had taught himself ukulele and banjo by ear as a youth Upon arriving in New York he added guitar to his skills ...

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Thomas F. DeFrantz

Afro‐Caribbean dancer and choreographer, was born Percival Sebastian Borde in Port of Spain, Trinidad, the son of George Paul Borde, a veterinarian, and Augustine Francis Lambie. Borde grew up in Trinidad, where he finished secondary schooling at Queens Royal College and took an appointment with the Trinidad Railway Company. Around 1942 he began formal research on Afro‐Caribbean dance and performed with the Little Carib Dance Theatre. In 1949 he married Joyce Guppy, with whom he had one child. The year of their divorce is unknown.

Borde took easily to dancing and the study of dance as a function of Caribbean culture. In the early 1950s he acted as director of the Little Carib Theatre in Trinidad. In 1953 he met the noted American anthropologist and dancer Pearl Primus who was conducting field research in Caribbean folklore Primus convinced Borde to immigrate to the United States as ...

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Brenda Dixon Gottschild

Most of Bradley's professional career was spent in England and Europe, and little is recorded of his American work. This problem is shared by other African-American choreographers of his generation, such as Leonard Harper, Clarence Robinson, and Addison Carey. In addition, the date and place of his birth are uncertain, as is the date of his stage debut.

Bradley grew up in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and later, after his mother's death, moved to Harlem in New York City, where he lived in a boardinghouse for performers. His early influences included Dancing Dotson and Jack Wiggins, dancers on the black vaudeville circuit; precision dancers Rufus Greenlee and Thaddeus Drayton, who were fellow rooming-house boarders; and the inventive Eddie Rector In the mid 1920s after working as an elevator operator Bradley took a chorus job in a musical revue at Connie s Inn in upper Manhattan Subsequently ...

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Constance Valis Hill

choreographer and jazz tap dancer, was born Clarence Bradley in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. His parents' names and occupations are unknown. His father died when he was quite young, and his religious mother brought him up strictly. After seeing the tap dancers Jack Wiggins and Clarence “Dancing” Dotson at a local theater, Bradley learned to do the time step on one foot by age eight. He taught himself the Charleston, the strut, the drag, the shuffle, and a vast assortment of African American vernacular dances.

After his mother died when he was fourteen, Bradley went to live with a brother-in-law in Utica, New York, and worked as a hotel busboy. A few months later he ran away to New York City and lived at a Harlem boardinghouse inhabited by many show people, especially dancers. With a group of other youngsters that included Derby Wilson who became a well known tap dancer ...

Article

Allana Radecki

dancer, was born in Harlem, New York, to Alma Briggs and Bubba Jones. Born out of wedlock, “Baby” Briggs received no first name; however, his grandmother Abrella delighted in the toddler's quickness and nicknamed him “Bunny.” The Briggs family gravitated toward entertainment. His mother, Alma, and her brothers held various jobs at Harlem hot spots, and her sister, Gladys, became a dancer (she was sometimes known as Gerry Wiley). The home was frequented by musicians and dancers, who used the space for socializing and rehearsing. The musicians James P. Johnson and Kid Lippy practiced on the family s piano and played their rent parties an important part of African American urban economy and social life providing an evening of entertainment for a small admission The Cotton Club performers Mordecai Wells and Taylor rehearsed there exposing Briggs to the rhythms and footwork of tap Steeped in this atmosphere ...

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Barbara Bonous-Smit

Americantap dancer and choreographer, was born James Richard Brown in Baltimore, Maryland, to William Brown and Marie Ella Otho-Brown. The only boy, he had seven sisters.

Dance played an important part in Brown's life beginning in elementary school. Inspired by Bill “Bojangles” Robinson while at the Douglas High School, Brown developed a serious interest in tap dancing and tapped in his high school annual production, Autumn Follies. He was not given dance instruction but picked up a bebop jazz style of dance from the streets and from performances he attended at the Royal Theatre in Maryland. Brown and his friends imitated and further developed steps they saw at theaters and they also taught each other any new steps they picked up. At the Royal Theatre in 1929 Brown saw an inspiring performance of the celebrated Whitman Sisters and their nephew, Pops Whitman They would have ...

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Freda Scott Giles

dancer, singer, entertainer, and actor, was born John William Sublett in Louisville, Kentucky. His parents’ names are not known. His early childhood was spent in Indianapolis, Indiana, where his family was part of a touring carnival; by the age of seven, John was performing on the stage, participating in amateur contests as a singer. Accounts differ as to when he returned to Louisville and when he met his vaudeville team partner, Ford Lee “Buck” Washington. Some sources list their ages as ten and six, respectively, while others list them as thirteen and nine. The team began working professionally by 1915 as “Buck and Bubbles,” an act combining music and comedy.

They would remain together for nearly forty years originally combining Washington s talents as a pianist with Sublett s as a singer when his voice changed Sublett turned to tap dancing as his primary talent As they developed their act ...

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Jane Goldberg

Nicknamed “Bubber,” Bubbles is best known for his original portrayal of Sportin' Life in George Gershwin's Porgy and Bess (1935) and as one half of the famous singing-and-dancing comedy act of Buck and Bubbles. The act, which began when the ten-year-old Bubbles teamed with six-year-old Ford Lee (“Buck”) Washington, lasted almost fifty years. The two were featured in the Ziegfeld Follies of1931 and were the first black artists to appear at New York's Radio City Music Hall.

Known as the father of rhythm Bubbles influenced an entire generation of dancers during tap dancing s innovative period of the 1920s and 1930s He made tap a jazz form when he created new accents by the drop of his heels introducing gradations of tone and complex syncopations Tap dancers previously had tended to stay on their toes when Bubbles experimented with turns and heel drops he changed the ...

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Ingrid Schorr

curator, fashion designer, dancer, and artist, was born James Watson in rural Woodruff, South Carolina, to sharecropper parents whose names are unknown. Little information about his early years is available except that he attended the Fashion Institute of New York and studied at the Sorbonne in Paris before moving to New York in the 1960s.

As Chanticleer established himself as a fashion designer in New York City he also began to propagate the biographical embellishments and falsehoods that would be repeated until his death: that he was born in Harlem to a Barbadian concert pianist and a Haitian high school principal; that he completed a master's degree at the Sorbonne; that as a five-year-old he designed a prize-winning folding chair for a competition at the 1940 World's Fair.

Whether or not he grew up in Harlem Chanticleer identified so strongly with its place at the center of black history and ...