THE NICHOLAS BROTHERS Biography - Famous Poets and dancers


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The two greatest tap dancers that ever lived-certainly the most beloved dance               
team in the history of entertainment are Fayard (born 1914) and Harold (born               
1921-2000), the famous Nicholas Brothers.                                                   
The Nicholas Brothers grew up in Philadelphia, the sons of musicians who played             
in their own band at the old Standard Theater, their mother at the piano and               
father on drums. At the age of three, Fayard was always seated in the front row             
while his parents worked, and by the time he was ten, he had seen most of the               
great black Vaudeville acts, particularly the dancers, including such notables             
of the time as Alice Whitman, Willie Bryant and Bill Robinson. He was completely           
fascinated by them and imitated their acrobatics and clowning for the kids in               
his neighborhood. Harold watched and imitated Fayard until he was able to dance             
too, then apparently, he worked his own ideas into mimicry.                                 
It seems that the Nicholas Brothers were immediately successful. Word soon                 
spread through the city about their ingenuity and unique dancing abilities, and             
they were first hired for a radio program, "The Horn and Hardart Kiddie Hour",             
and then by local theaters, like the Standard and the Pearl. While at the Pearl             
Theater, the manager of the famous New York Vaudeville Showcase, The Lafayette,             
saw them. Overwhelmed by what he saw, he immediately signed them up for his                 
From the Lafayette, the Nicolas Brothers opened at the Cotton Club in 1932 and             
astonished their white audiences just as much as the residents of Harlem,                   
slipping into their series of spins, twists, flips, and tap dancing to the jazz             
tempos of "Bugle Call Rag". It was as if Fayard and his still younger brother               
had gone dance-crazy and acrobatic. Sometimes, for encores Harold would sing               
another song, while Fayard, still dancing would mockingly conduct the orchestra             
in a comic pantomime that was beautifully exaggerated. They performed at the               
Cotton Club for two years, working with the orchestras of Lucky Millinder, Cab             
Calloway, Duke Ellington and Jimmy Lunceford. During this time they filmed their           
first movie short, "Pie Pie Blackbird" in 1932, with Eubie Blake and his                   
After this, their career began to gain momentum from the Cotton Club. The                   
Nicholas Brothers then journeyed to Hollywood in 1934 to appear in the films "Kid           
Millions", "The Big Broadcast" (1936), and "Black Network".                                 
The Broadway debut of the Nicholas Brothers was in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1936,           
in which such stars as Fannie Brice, Bob Hope, Eve Arden and Josephine Baker               
appeared. The Nicholas Brothers act at the Follies, stopped the show so                     
consistently that Fannie Brice, who followed in a skit with Judy Canova, was               
always forced to fall back regularly on a line at her first opportunity: "Do you           
think we can talk now?", which made the audience laugh, and then become quiet.             
It was their tour of England with a production of "Blackbirds" that gave the               
Nicholas Brothers an opportunity to see and appreciate several of the great                 
European Ballet companies. Thoroughly impressed, they absorbed much of the                 
techniques, and tried to incorporate certain ballet movements into their jazz               
dance patterns. In a short film that they made in London during this period, "Calling       
All Stars", (1937), this interpretative style is quite noticeable and intriguing           
to observe.                                                                                 
The impression that the Nicholas Brothers made upon Balanchine, the                         
choreographer, was so unforgettable that he invited them to appear in the Rogers           
and Hart Musical, "Babes in Arms", for the 1937 Broadway season. The considered             
this a high point in their career because Balanchine was a ballet master and               
they learned many new stunts. Because of their skill, many people assumed that             
the Nicholas Brothers were trained ballet dancers.                                         
In1938, the Cotton Club beckoned again, and it was during this engagement that             
they competed with the Berry Brothers, a black acrobatic dance trio, in a                   
legendary conformation, a sort of dance-fight for supremacy. The event is a part           
of show business history.                                                                   
During the 1940's, a long and brilliant association with Hollywood began,                   
notably in a succession of marvelous dance sequences in six 20th Century Fox               
musical films.                                                                             
The nightclub and concert circuit took over their career, and there were long               
tours of South America, Africa and Europe. In 1948 they gave a royal command               
performance for the King of England at the London Palladium. Later, they danced             
for nine different presidents of the United States.                                         
The Nicholas Brothers have headlined shows all over the world. They have                   
appeared in every major television show, nightclub and theater in America and               
performed for the troops in Viet Nam in 1965.                                               
The Nicholas Brothers have received many tributes and awards, which include: A             
star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, The Kennedy Center Honors (presented by                 
President George Bush), and an honorary doctorate degree from Harvard University.           
They are also proud of the some of students they have taught tap. They include             
Debbie Allen, Janet Jackson, and Michael Jackson.                                           
The Nicholas Brothers talents are enduring, and they involve themselves in shows           
at will. The magic is there in every movement, as it shall always be. They are             
the greatest tap dancers that ever stepped on a stage.                                     
(From the program of the 1998 Carnegie Hall Event: "From Harlem to Hollywood" A             
Tribute to Nicholas Brothers, "Tap Legends")                                               
Fayard and Harold Nicholas, whose careers span more than six decades, make up               
one of the most beloved dance teams in the history of dance - the Nicholas                 
Brothers. Legends in their own time and most recently portrayed in the award-winning       
made-for-television documentary, "We Sing and We Dance," they are best known for           
their unforgettable appearances in Hollywood musicals of the 1930s and 40s.                 
Their artistry and choreographic brilliance, as manifested in their unique style           
- a smooth mix of tap, ballet, and acrobatic moves - have astonished and excited           
Vaudeville, theater, film, and television audiences all over the world.                     
According to "Who's Who in Hollywood", the Nicholas Brothers are "...certainly             
the greatest dance team ever to work in the movies."                                       
At a very young age, soon after their professional debut in their home town of             
Philadelphia, the brothers became international stars of stage and screen, and             
60 years later, they were the recipients of prestigious Kennedy Center Honors               
for their extraordinary contribution to American culture. Their activities                 
continue. In April 1995, the Nicholas Brothers received the "Dance Magazine"               
Award around the same time as the opening of Harold's latest film, "Funny Bones",           
and in April 1996 they completed a very successful residency at Harvard and                 
Radcliff as Ruth Page Visiting Artists in Dance.                                           
Born into a show business family, the Nicholas Brothers honed their natural                 
talents early on. Their parents were musicians and led the orchestra at the                 
Standard Theater in Philadelphia. In 1932, the same year they made their first             
film, "Pie, Pie, Blackbird", with Eubie Blake, they opened at the Cotton Club,             
and remained there for two years straight, working side by side with the likes             
of Duke Ellington, Cab Callaway, and Ethel Waters. Samuel Goldwyn saw them at               
the fashionable club and invited them to California for their first Hollywood               
movie, "Kid Millions" (1934). Harold, in addition to his dancing abilities, was             
a natural comedian, impersonator, and singer, and was often featured by himself.           
His personal screen debut was in "The Emperor Jones", (1933), with Paul Robeson.           
Just after their first Broadway show "Ziegfeld Follies", the brothers went                 
abroad for the first time to star in Lew Leslie's "Blackbirds", in 1936 in the             
West End of London.                                                                         
When the brothers were honored with a retrospective of their work in films on               
the Academy Awards television special in 1981, on could recall with pleasure               
some of their early appearances on the screen of "The Big Broadcast" of 1936;               
with Gracie Allen and George Burns; in "Sun Valley Serenade", (1941); with the             
Glenn Miller Orchestra, featuring Dorothy Dandridge dancing with the brothers in           
the "Chattanooga Choo-Choo" number; in "Orchestra Wives" (1942), where they                 
performed one of their most beautiful routines to Glenn Miller's music of "I've             
Got a Gal in Kalamazoo"; and in "The Pirate" (1948), in a dance with Gene Kelly.           
The Nicholas Brothers were contracted to the Twentieth Century Fox studio in               
1940 and made six films there. In all, they have made over thirty films, of                 
which they themselves consider "Stormy Weather" (1943), their personal favorite.           
It features their now-classic, breathtaking staircase routine, their last                   
appearance on film as a routine. Their lst appearance on film as a team was on             
of the highlights of MGM's 1985 compilation, "That's Dancing!"                             
Fayard had a dramatic role in "The Liberation of L.B. Jones (1970), and Harold's           
solo appearances include "Carolina Blues" (1944), in the spectacular Mr. Beebe             
number; "The Reckless Age" (1944); "Uptown Saturday Night" (1944), as Little               
Seymour, with Sidney Poitier, Bill Cosby, and Harry Belafonte; "Tap" with                   
Gregory Hines and Sammy Davis, Jr.; Robert Townsend's "The Five Heartbeats, (1991);         
and "Funny Bones:, (1995).                                                                 
The Nicholas Brothers' Broadway debut was in the Vincent Minelli-directed and               
George Balanchine-choreographed "Ziegfeld Follies" of 1936, with Bob Hope, Eve             
Arden, Fanny Brice, and Josephine Baker. Balanchine was so taken by the                     
youngsters that he put them into the original Rodgers and Hart's "Babes in Arms:,           
(1937). Later, they starred in "St. Louis Woman", (1946). Here, Harold played               
Little Augie, the jockey hand, and introduced the now classic "Come Rain or Come           
Shine" from the Johnny Mercer / Harold Arlen score. Recent theatrical awards               
have included a Bay Area Theater Critics Circle Award for Best Principal                   
Performance to Harold for "Stompin' at the Savoy", and a Tony Award for Fayard             
for co-choreographing the Broadway hit "Black and Blue" (1989). Harold has                 
enjoyed taking over the lead in Ellington's "Sophisticated Ladies", the role of             
Mr. Magix in "My One and Only", and the role of Daddy Bates in "The Tap Dance               
Kid". The year before last, he originated the role of Dr. Rhythm, in "If These             
Shoes Could Talk" at the Milwaukee Repertory Theater.                                       
In addition to the Kennedy Center Honors, the Nicholas Brothers have received               
numerous awards, including the Ellie, the Gypsy, and the American Black Lifetime           
Achievement Award. They were inducted into the first class of the Apollo Theater's         
Hall of Fame and the Black Filmmaker's Hall of Fame and received their star on             
Hollywood Boulevard. There have been film tributes at the National Film Theater             
in London, sponsored by the British Institute; at the D.C. Filmfest in                     
Washington, C.C.; and at the JVC Jazz Festival in New York, to name a few. Most             
recently, the Players presented an evening of Nicholas Brothers films. The                 
Cinematheque de la Danse in France is planning a film retrospective to honor the           
brothers later this year.                                                                   
The Nicholas Brothers are the recipients of the 1998 Samuel H. Scripps American             
Dance Festival Award for Lifetime Achievement in Modern Dance, to be presented             
in June, and they are the subject of "Brotherhood in Rhythm"; The Jazz Tap                 
Dancing of the Nicholas Brothers", a 1998 Ph.D dissertation at New York                     
University by Constance Valis Hill.