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Bill "Bojangles" Robinson

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Bill (Bojangles) Robinson, Photo courtesy of New York Public LibraryAbout

Hailed as the Father of tapology, Bill "Bojangles" Robinson (1878-1949) began performing on street corners as a youngster and, at age eleven, joined The South Before the War, a touring production. Robinson gained his nickname because of his reputation as a "jangler" and is immortalized in the song "Mr. Bojangles." He arrived in New York in 1898 and, within ten years, was a vaudeville soloist and star, billed as Dark Cloud of Joy. His Stair Dance was perfected in the early 1920s, but Robinson's number became classic as performed with Shirley Temple in The Little Colonel (1935), one of fourteen movies in which he appeared. The first of his six Broadway shows was Blackbirds of 1928. Robinson reached an entirely new audience with Michael Todd's Swing Mikado, when the production moved from the Great White Way to New York's 1939 World's Fair. The first black soloist to star on white vaudeville circuits, he was a headliner for forty years, known for strict tempos and smooth shifts executed on his toes. Robinson coined the word "copasetic," to signify "all is fine." Formed in 1949, the black dance fraternity became the Copasetics in his honor.

Pictured left: "Onstage, his open face, twinkling eyes and infectious smile were irresistible, as was his tapping, which was delicate and clear," Constance Valis Hill writes of Robinson's success as a vaudeville performer.(Photograph from the Dance Division, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Astor, Lenox, and Tilden Foundations.)

 

 

 

 

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Bill "Bojangles" Robinson was known for his signature stair dance, here performed with child star Shirley Temple in The Little Colonel, 1935. Temple's popular movies gave Robinson's dancing nation-wide exposure.


FURTHER RESEARCH: Essay by Constance Valis Hill -- Selected resources

Related Treasures: African Americans in Dance -- Jazz, Broadway & Film