Dancing Through Tap History: Rusty Frank

Our friend of the blog, Dennis Mayne, wrote me and said that since I like tap dancers so much I just had to read Rusty Frank’s book, TAP!: The Greatest Tap Dance Stars & Their Stories, where she interviewed all the tap dancing legends! Well, I got the book, and for the last month every morning with my coffee I have been delightedly reading these wonderful primary source interviews with Bunny Briggs, Jimmy Slyde, Hermes Pan, Shirley Temple, Ann Miller and so many more. Fortunately I was able to contact Rusty and we had a delightful interview about her book and she even gave me a little on-air tap dancing lesson!

Click on the triangle or mp3 link above to hear my interview with Rusty Frank as broadcast today on the Arts Express radio program on WBAI FM NYC and Pacifica affiliates across the nation.

Fascinatin’ Rhythm: Eleanor Powell

And let’s end the year with this amazing clip of Eleanor Powell tap dancing. What she does, just from a percussion point of view, is incredible. I recently interviewed tap dancer Rusty Frank, a tap dance historian and preservationist, and a tap dancer herself, who maintains that it was the tap dancers who moved popular music forward with their taps. The innovative percussive rhythm steps of the tap dancers were picked up by the drummers, pianists and guitar players of the bands who in turn shaped the new ideas in music. Watch and listen to what Eleanor Powell does with this George Gershwin song from Lady Be Good. It’s a long way from “Tea for Two.”

Thanks to YouTuber Ms2doggies

What Makes Sammy Tap?

I’ve previously posted video of Sammy Davis Jr. as a child dancing. Here he is, later in his career. The opening clip as part of the Will Mastin Trio sure convinces me that breakdancing isn’t anything new. Later in the video, Sammy can be seen tapping with some of the other tap dancing greats.

This really made me smile.

Thanks to YouTuber pampa777

Hi-Jinx: Tommy Rall

Another of the great, but lesser known, film dance stars, Tommy Rall, who died this month. As a youngster, he was in a group of dancing teens called the “Jivin’ Jacks and Jills” at Universal Studios, which included Donald O’Connor. He was trained in ballet, and his amazing high jumps, pirouettes, and flips rival anything else seen on the screen. He appeared in movie musicals almost every year in the 50s, but somehow he never made it into super-stardom. O’Connor thought Rall was one of the greatest dancers living, a better dancer than either Gene Kelly or Fred Astaire.

Here he is with Ann Miller in “Why Can’t You Behave?” from Kiss Me Kate, where he mixes dance with some practical jokes in a fun character piece.

Click on the image to play.

Thanks to YouTuber JOHANNQUETEBEO

Begin The Beguine: Fred Astaire and Eleanor Powell

Three minutes of heaven as Eleanor Powell, in heels, gives Fred Astaire a run for his money.

The clip above is from the film Broadway Melody of 1940. Powell was probably Astaire’s most accomplished tap partner. Astaire reportedly claimed he would never work with Powell again because Astaire (himself a notorious perfectionist)  never wanted to work as hard again.

Thanks to YouTuber CatCORViN

 

Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly: One Time Only

The one time Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly danced together on the big screen (except for the That’s Entertainment series) was in the 1946 film The Ziegfield Follies. Just sublime. Take a look at this utterly delightful clip.

Thanks to YouTuber Claq & Co – Tap Dance Specialist

The Greatest Dance Sequence Ever?

Mikhail Baryshnikov called the Nicholas Brothers the greatest dancers he had ever seen in his life. Fred Astaire called the dance number in the clip above the greatest musical dance sequence ever captured on film. Who am I to argue?

Cab Calloway starts off the madness singing “Jumpin Jive” from the film Stormy Weather.

Thanks to YouTuber laughland

Sitting Down On The Job: Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor

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Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor dance up a storm without leaving their seats. Nice work if you can get it. Stick with it and see what they do when they finally get off their butts…

Thanks to YouTuber Vladmir Zworkin

Tappin’ Thru Life: Maurice Hines

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Yesterday, radio station WBAI 99.5 FM in NY aired my interview with tap-dancing legend, Maurice Hines. Together with his brother Gregory, he re-invented tap dance for modern audiences.

Maurice guested on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson over 35 times and had a featured role in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Cotton Club.  The star of several shows on Broadway, he just opened Off-Broadway in a new autobiographical song and dancer called Tappin’ Thru Life. 

In the show, 72 year old Maurice sings, dances and dishes about the greats he’s worked with, including Ella Fitzgerald, Judy Garland, Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole and on and on. I had the pleasure of talking with him in his dressing room a few hours before his Wednesday evening performance.

Click on the grey triangle to hear the warm giving voice of Maurice Hines talking about his life and times.

The First Black President

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When tap dancing legend Maurice Hines was asked in an interview  for the name of the greatest tap dancer he had ever seen, he replied Sammy Davis, Jr. That answer surprised me, because though my generation knew Sammy Davis as a singer and dancer and Rat Pack member, I didn’t know that he was also a child tap-dancing prodigy. Above is an extraordinary clip from a short called “Rufus Jones for President” (1933) starring the 7-year old Sammy Davis, Jr. Click on the video above for an amazing few minutes of sheer joy.

You can see the whole movie, starring Ethel Waters, on YouTube. In it, mother Ethel Waters dreams about her son becoming the first Black President while singing “Am I Blue?” and “Underneath A Harlem Moon.”