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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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Sharon Carson

Although she spent most of her adult life living in France and touring the world, Josephine Baker was born in St. Louis, Missouri. After a difficult childhood, she left home at thirteen, starting her dance career with a vaudeville troupe called the Dixie Steppers. In the early 1920s, she worked in African American theater productions in New York such as Shuffle Along and Chocolate Dandies. In 1925 Baker left for Paris to begin her long international career with companies like Revue Nègre, Folies Bergères, and, later, the Ziegfeld Follies.

As her career evolved, Baker increasingly focused on political concerns. During World War II Baker toured North Africa while providing information to French and British intelligence. Later she used her considerable fame to advance civil rights issues during her frequent visits to the United States. In 1951 the NAACP honored her political work by declaring an official Baker Day ...

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Samuel S. Brylawski

(b St Louis, June 3, 1906; d Paris, April 12, 1975). American singer and actress. She became a professional street musician at the age of 13, and toured with the Dixie Steppers vaudeville troupe. Following her success as end-girl in the chorus line on tour with the musical Shuffle Along (1921), she was featured in its sequel, Chocolate Dandies (1924), and in a New York nightclub revue. In 1925 she moved to Paris to star in La revue nègre at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, in which she indulged in frenzied dancing and exaggerated mimicry; the show concluded with a nude savage dance duet. Baker then appeared in the Folies-Bergère (1925 where she made her entrance clad in three bracelets and a girdle of rhinestone studded bananas Her combination of the erotic and comic made her one of the ...

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Marie-Françoise Christout

Baker was an African-American singer and dancer who became famous in Paris in the 1920s. She made her debut at the age of fourteen at the Booker T. Washington Theater in her home town, and subsequently went on tours. During this time she married first Willie Wells and then William Howard Baker, from whom, despite intervening liaisons and a pretended marriage to Count Pepito Abatino, she was not divorced until 1936. She was engaged in New York for the 1920s musical comedies Shuffle Along and The Chocolate Dandies.

Paris discovered Baker on 20 October 1925 when, with her partner Joe Alex, she appeared as the star of Noble Sissle's La Revue Nègre at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées. The subject of much attention, she posed for Paul Colin, Pablo Picasso, Fujita Tsuguharu, Kees van Dongen, Man Ray, Henri Laurens, Alexander Calder and ...

Article

US-born dancer and singer who became a star of the Paris music halls. She began her career as a chorus girl in an African-American revue in Philadelphia and also appeared at the Cotton Club in Harlem. In the 1920s she was hired to work on the New York musical comedies Shuffle Along and The Chocolate Dandies, but her career break came when she went to Paris in 1925 in La Revue nègre at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées. Paris was charmed; she posed for Picasso and Man Ray; André Levinson called her the black Venus For her debut at the Folies Bergère she wore a belt of bananas and sang Yes We Have No Bananas She subsequently made the French capital her home As one of the first black international stars she performed regularly at the Folies Bergère and the Casino de Paris as well as on numerous ...

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Lisa Clayton Robinson

For many people, Josephine Baker's name will always evoke a well-known, controversial image: the “Black Venus” naked onstage, except for a string of bananas around her waist, dancing to African drums before her white Parisian audiences. It was this image that first made Baker a star, one whose international fame lasted for five decades. But the picture of the exotic dancer does not fully capture the complexity of the woman who was one of the first black performers to transcend race and appeal to audiences of all colors around the world.

Baker was born in St. Louis, Missouri to Freda Josephine MacDonald the name Baker came from her second husband Her parents were not married her father was a drummer in a local band and her mother a washerwoman rarely had enough money to support Baker and her three younger half siblings At age eight Baker began working as ...

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Patrick O'Connor

Baker, Josephine (03 June 1906–12 April 1975), dancer, singer, and civil rights activist, was born in St. Louis, Missouri, the daughter of Eddie Carson, a musician, and Carrie Macdonald. Her parents parted when Josephine was still an infant, and her mother married Arthur Martin, which has led to some confusion about her maiden name. Very little is known about her childhood, except that she was a witness to the East St. Louis riot in 1917. This event was often a feature of her talks in the 1950s and 1960s about racism and the fight for equality, which fostered the oft-repeated assertion that the family was resident in East St. Louis. Before the age of eighteen Josephine had been married twice, first to Willie Wells and then to William Baker, to whom she was married in Camden, New Jersey, in September 1921.

Josephine Baker like many other African ...

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Karen C. Dalton

dancer, singer, and entertainer, was born in the slums of East St. Louis, Missouri, the daughter of Eddie Carson, a drummer, who abandoned Baker and her mother after the birth of a second child, and of Carrie McDonald, a onetime entertainer who supported what became a family of four by doing laundry. Poverty, dislocation, and mistreatment permeated Baker's childhood. By the age of eight she was earning her keep and contributing to the family's support by doing domestic labor. By the time Baker was fourteen, she had left home and its discord and drudgery; mastered such popular dances as the Mess Around and the Itch, which sprang up in the black urban centers of the day; briefly married Willie Wells and then divorced him and begun her career in the theater She left East St Louis behind and traveled with the Dixie Steppers on ...

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Kariamu Welsh

Josephine Baker was the first and greatest black dancer to emerge in the genre now called “performance art.” She epitomized through dance what freedom of expression and artistic expression really meant for generations of artists worldwide. Baker was one of the few artists in the world who were acclaimed and awarded for being themselves. Her genius resided in her conception of music, dance, and comedy; she had a musician’s sense of timing, a dancer’s instinct for cutting a phrase, and a comedian’s ability to deliver a punch line even when it was in a song or gesture. Not merely an entertainer, Baker was in every sense of the word an artist, and it was as an artist that she made her mark on the world.

Baker was also a humanitarian who in her own unique and eccentric way tried to live by example She symbolized beauty elegance grace and most ...

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Asli Tekinay

singer and dancer. Josephine Baker was born Freda Josephine McDonald in a poor black neighborhood in Saint Louis, Missouri. Her mother, Carrie MacDonald, was twenty-one years old at the time and worked as a laundry woman. Her father, Eddie Carson a vaudeville drummer left his wife a year after Josephine was born Josephine thus grew up fatherless and in poverty When she was eight years old her mother hired her out to a white woman as a maid From then on Josephine was on her own in life An ambitious and optimistic child she learned to dance in the back streets of Saint Louis She went to the zoo watched kangaroos camels and giraffes and imitated their movements She wanted to be a great dancer and live a glamorous life At the age of twelve she dropped out of school and at thirteen her professional life began ...

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A young African American dancer named Josephine Baker and her act, La Revue Nègre (The Negro Revue), took Paris by storm in 1925. Baker described their effect in these words: “When the rage was in New York of colored people, Mr. Siegfied of Ziegfied Follies said: ‘It's getting darker and darker on old Broadway.’ Since La Revue Nègre came to Gai Paree, I'll say, ‘It's getting darker and darker in Paris.’”

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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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Sabine Sörgel

was born on 3 March 1923 in Spanish Town, Jamaica, the sixth daughter of Aubrey William Allen Baxter, a civil servant for the railway and later the Public Works Department, and Fanny Beatrice Wright. As a girl, Baxter was raised in the Anglican Church and attended Wolmer’s Girls School in the 1940s. There, she trained in English country dance. Around the same time, she also converted to Catholicism. Her first professional dance training was in classical ballet, tap, and character dancing, which she was taught by the local ballet teachers Herma Dias and Hazel Johnston at Hazel Johnston Dance Studio in Kingston during the 1930s and 1940s. Later, she was awarded the Jamaica Scholarship to pursue further studies in physical education abroad, taking her to the University of Toronto, Canada.

Upon her return to Jamaica, Baxter started working as a physical education teacher at Excelsior High School, and in 1956 ...

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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 ...