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Nicholas Brothers

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Nicholas Brothers, Photo courtesy of New York Public LibraryAbout

For sixty years The Nicholas Brothers–Fayard (1914-2006) and Harold (1921-2000)–led distinctive careers as masters of tap and "flash dancers." Hired in 1932 at the Cotton Club, the two were 18 and 11 years old, respectively, and already had professional credentials. Appearances with major bands led to the brothers' first film Pie, Pie Blackbird, a Vitaphone short with Eubie Blake. Kid Millions (1934) marked their Hollywood debut, and subsequent movies included Down Argentine Way (1940), Stormy Weather (1943), and St. Louis Woman (1946). Besides performing with major bands in the 1930s and 1940s, the two were on stage in Ziegfeld Follies of 1936Babes in Arms, and Lew Leslie's Blackbirds of 1936 in London. During the 1960s the pair were featured in three Hollywood Palace television specials. Two decades later, Harold performed in the national tour of Sophisticated Ladies (1982) and on Broadway in The Tap Dance Kid (1986), while Fayard contributed choreography to Black and Blue (1989). Kennedy Center Honors were received in 1991 and, a year later, The Nicholas Brothers: We Dance and Sing was produced as a documentary. Official Nicholas Brothers website

Pictured rightThe Nicholas Brothers performing "Chattanooga Choo Choo" from the film Sun Valley Serenade (1941). Harold (left) and Fayard Nicholas developed a unique style combining tap with virtuoso acrobatic moves and elegant panache. (Photograph from the Dance Division, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Astor, Lenox, and Tilden Foundations.)

The Nicholas Brothers, late 1930s.  Photo by James J. Kriegsmann.Pictured leftThe Nicholas Brothers, late 1930s. From their earliest days as child performers, the Nicholas Brothers always dressed elegantly and presented themselves with the poise and finesse of a "class act." (Photo by James J. Kriegsmann. Photofest.) 

Watch

The title number from Down Argentine Way, 1940. When the film was released, many theaters noted that audience members would arrive solely to watch the Nicholas Brothers' one dance number, excerpted here. Racial prejudice entrenched in Hollywood limited the brothers to performing "specialty" numbers that were not integrated into the plots of films.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


FURTHER RESEARCH: 

Read an essay by Imogen Sara Smith -- Selected resources

Related Treasures: African-Americans in Dance -- Tap