The Nicholas Brothers

Nicholas Brothers

 

The Nicholas Brothers have an unmatched level of artistry and gravity-defying combinations of flips, splits, singing and tap dancing, Fayard (1914–2006) and Harold (1921–2000), known to the world as the Nicholas Brothers, are considered by many to be the most talented and spectacular tap dancing duo in history.

Fayard and Harold spent their careers shifting between engagements in vaudeville, movies, nightclubs, concerts, Broadway, records, radio, television, and extensive worldwide tours. Because of their versatility—they could sing, act, and dance and thus were considered a “triple treat”—they headlined all over the world. Fayard Nicholas later said, “We did everything in show business except opera.”

 

Early Years

 

They grew up in Philadelphia where their mother, Viola, was a classically trained pianist, and their father, Ulysses, was a drummer in the orchestra at the Standard Theatre, one of the city’s largest and most prestigious black vaudeville houses.  Just by sitting in the theater audience watching the other  great black entertainers such as the jazz musician Louis Armstrong, the dance team Buck and Bubbles, the singer Adelaide Hall, and the dance teams Leonard Reed and Willie Bryant and the Berry Brothers, Fayard taught himself how to dance, sing, and perform, then taught his younger sister Dorothy and brother, Harold, to form the act The Nicholas Kids. They were soon in vaudeville themselves, but when Dorothy opted out, they became the Nicholas Brothers.

 

The Cotton Club & Broadway

 

After performing around Philadelphia, their first big break came in 1932, when the Nicholas Brothers had graduated to the renowned Cotton Club in Harlem, where, for the next two years they delighted the all-white audiences and rubbed shoulders with great black entertainers such as Ethel Waters, Duke Ellington, Bill Robinson and Cab Calloway.  In 1936, the Nicholas Brothers made their Broadway debut with Josephine Baker, Bob Hope and Fanny Brice in "Ziegfeld Follies", and also appeared in London in Lew Leslie’s revue "Blackbirds Of 1936". A year later they were back on Broadway working with the choreographer George Balanchine in the Rodgers & Hart hit musical "Babes In Arms".

In 1946, they both starred in the Broadway musical "St. Louis Woman" in which Harold introduced Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer’s appealing ‘Ridin’ On The Moon’ and (with Ruby Hill) the all-time standard, ‘Come Rain Or Come Shine’.  



Hollywood Films

 

Their film career had begun in 1932 with two short films, "Black Network" and Pie Pie Blackbird" (featuring Eubie Blake And His Band), and it continued via "Calling All Stars" (1936), and the Don Ameche - Betty Grable musical "Down Argentine Way" (1940), in which the brothers did a breathtaking dance to the lively number 'Down Argentine Way'. These successes gained them a five-year contract with 20th Century-Fox.

During the rest of the 1940's the Nicholas Brothers contributed some electrifying and superbly acrobatic dances to films such as "Tin Pan Alley", "The Great American Broadcast", "Sun Valley Serenade" (featuring Dorothy Dandridge), "Orchestra Wives", "The Pirate" (featuring Gene Kelly),  and "Stormy Weather," where their performance jumping between Cab Calloway's orchestra, tap dancing on a piano and culminaing with splits down a grand white staircase, is often described as one of the greatest dances ever captured on film.


 

Television and Later Work 

 

In 1948, they headlined the indoor circus extravaganza Cirque Medrano in Paris. The following year they appeared in a Royal Command Performance at the London Palladium for the king and queen of England. In the 50s, they worked in Europe for several years to avoid much of the racial prejudice characteristic of the era.
 
With the advent of television, the brothers were much in demand and Fayard returned to the USA; they appeared on programs such as "All-Star Revue" in 1951, "The Colgate Comedy Hour" in 1952, "The Hollywood Palace "in 1964, and "The Bell Telephone Hour" in 1966. Beginning in 1965, the Nicholas Brothers worked frequently in Las Vegas, and they toured—often with Sammy Davis, Jr.—throughout the United States and Europe.
Harold also continued as a solo performer and was top-billed in the musical "Back In The Big Time" (1986) and appeared in several more films, including "Uptown Saturday Night" (1974) and "Tap" (1989). Fayard appeared twice more on film, in "The Liberation of L.B. Jones" (1970), "Night at the Golden Eagle" (2002), and was still active in non-performing areas of the business and won a Tony Award when he co-choreographed the 1989 Broadway musical "Black And Blue", with Cholly Atkins, Henry LeTang and Frank Manning.


Awards & Recognitions

Among numerous awards celebrating their careers that spanned over 70 years, the Nicholas Brothers received the Kennedy Center Honors for lifetime achievement, a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, an honorary doctorate degree from Harvard University, and their family home movies were inducted into The Library of Congress, for generations to enjoy.

Their legacy continues to live on through all of their students, lovers of 'classical tap' around the world, and the many fans who tirelessly rewatch their films that display their singular elegance and sensational showmanship.

The Nicholas Brothers were an entertainment act composed of biological brothers, Fayard (1914–2006) and Harold (1921–2000), who excelled in a variety of dance techniques, primarily between the 1930s and 1950s. Best known for their unique interpretation of a highly acrobatic technique known as "flash dancing", they were also considered by many to be the greatest tap dancers of their day, if not all time. Their virtuoso performance in the musical number "Jumpin' Jive" (with Cab Calloway and his orchestra) featured in the 1943 movie Stormy Weather has been praised as one of the greatest dance routines ever captured on film.

Growing up surrounded by vaudeville acts as children, they became stars of the jazz circuit during the Harlem Renaissance and performed on stage, film, and television well into the 1990s. Diminutive in size, they were appreciated for their artistry, innovation, and soaring leaps.

 

Fayard Antonio Nicholas was born October 20, 1914, in Mobile, Alabama, and Harold Lloyd Nicholas was born March 17, 1921, in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, to Viola Harden (maiden; 1893–1971), a pianist, and Ulysses Dominick Nicholas (1892–1935), a drummer.

The Nicholas Brothers grew up in Philadelphia, the sons of college-educated musicians who played in their own band at the Standard Theater. At the age of three, Fayard would always sit in the front row while his parents worked, and by the time he was ten, he had seen most of the great African-American vaudeville acts—particularly the dancers, including such notables of the time as Alice Whitman, Willie Bryant, and Bill Robinson. The brothers were fascinated by the combination of tap dancing and acrobatics. Fayard often imitated their acrobatics and clowning for the kids in his neighborhood.

Neither Fayard nor Harold had any formal dance training. Fayard taught himself how to dance, sing, and perform by watching and imitating the professional entertainers on stage. He then taught his younger siblings, first performing with his sister Dorothy as the Nicholas Kids, later joined by Harold. Harold idolized his older brother and learned by copying his moves and distinct style. Dorothy later opted out of the act, and the Nicholas Kids became known as the Nicholas Brothers.

 

As word spread of their talents, the Nicholas Brothers became known around Philadelphia. They were first hired for a radio program, The Horn and Hardart Kiddie Hour, and then by other local theatres such as the Standard and the Pearl. When they were performing at the Pearl, the manager of The Lafayette, a New York vaudeville showcase, saw them and immediately wanted them to perform for his theater.

The brothers moved to Philadelphia in 1926 and gave their first performance at the Standard a few years later.[5] In 1932, they became the featured act at Harlem's Cotton Club when Harold was 11 and Fayard was 18. They astonished their mainly white audiences dancing to the jazz tempos of "Bugle Call Rag"; they were the only entertainers in the African-American cast allowed to mingle with white patrons. 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 made their uncredited movie debut, in the 1932 short Pie, Pie Blackbird, featuring Eubie Blake and his orchestra. The brothers attributed their success to their unique style of dancing - a hybrid of tap dance, ballet, and acrobatics sometimes called "acrobatic dancing" or "flash dancing"- which was greatly in demand during this time.

Producer Samuel Goldwyn saw them at the Cotton Club and invited them to California to be a part of Kid Millions (1934), their first performances in a Hollywood movie. The brothers made their Broadway debut in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1936 and also appeared in Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart's musical Babes in Arms in 1937. They impressed their choreographer, George Balanchine, who invited them to appear in Babes in Arms. With Balanchine's training, they learned many new stunts. Their talent led many to presume they were trained ballet dancers.

By 1940, they had moved to Hollywood and for several decades divided their time between movies, nightclubs, concerts, Broadway, television, and extensive tours of Latin America, Africa, and Europe.[1] They toured England with a production of Blackbirds.[2] They gave a Royal Command Performance at the London Paladium for King George VI in 1948.[6]

In 1991, the Nicholas Brothers received Kennedy Center Honors in recognition of their six decades of achievements. A year later, a documentary film, We Sing & We Dance, celebrated their careers and included tributes from Mikhail Baryshnikov, Gregory Hines, M.C. Hammer, and Clarke Peters. In 1994, members of the cast of Hot Shoe Shuffle also paid them tribute.[9]

 

The Nicholas Brothers taught master classes in tap dance as teachers-in-residence at Harvard University and Radcliffe at Ruth Page Visiting Artists. Among their known students are Debbie Allen, Janet Jackson, and Michael Jackson. Several of today's master tap dancers have performed with or been taught by the brothers: Dianne Walker, Sam Weber, Lane Alexander, Mark Mendonca, Terry Brock, Colburn Kids Tap/L.A, Channing Cook Holmes, Chris Baker, Artis Brienzo, Chester Whitmore, Darlene Gist, Chris Scott, Tobius Tak, Carol Zee, and Steve Zee.

 

The brothers were particularly known for their expressive use of their hands and arms while dancing, particularly tap. One of their signature moves was to leapfrog down a long, broad flight of stairs, while completing each step with a split. Its best remembered performance is in the finale of the movie Stormy Weather (1943). In that routine, the Nicholas Brothers leapt exuberantly across the orchestra's music stands and danced on the top of a grand piano in a call and response act with the pianist, to the tune of "Jumpin' Jive". Fred Astaire once told the brothers that this dance number was the greatest movie musical sequence he had ever seen. Numerous articles have been written about this whole dance being filmed in one take and unrehearsed. As unbelievable as that sounds, the Nicholas Brothers confirmed it in an interview shortly before their recognition at the 14th Annual Kennedy Center Honors. The choreographer, Nick Castle, said, "Just do it. Don`t rehearse it, just do it." And so it was done, unrehearsed and in one take, which relieved Harold Nicholas because he did not want to do the rigorous routine over and over all night.

In another signature move, they would rise from a split without using their hands. Gregory Hines declared that if their biography were ever filmed, their dance numbers would have to be computer-generated because no one now could emulate them. Ballet legend Mikhail Baryshnikov once called them the most amazing dancers he had ever seen in his life.

 

Fayard

Fayard married four times. His marriage to Geraldine Pate lasted from 1942 until their divorce in 1955. That year, he married Mexican dancer Victoria Barron. As of May 1960, that marriage remained intact, with "Vicky" also working alongside Fayard professionally. He married Barbara January in 1967, the same year he converted to the Baháʼí Faith, and they remained together until her death in 1998. He married Katherine Hopkins in 2000.

He died on January 24, 2006, of pneumonia contracted after a stroke. His memorial service, presided over by Mary Jean Valente of A Ceremony of the Heart, was standing-room only and featured personal tributes, music, dance, and one last standing ovation.

Two of Fayard's granddaughters dance as the "Nicholas Sisters" and have won awards for their performances.

 

Harold

Harold was married three times. From 1942 to 1951, he was married to singer and actress Dorothy Dandridge, with whom he had one child, Harolyn Nicholas, who was born with a severe intellectual disability In Paris, he had a son, Melih Nicholas, with his second wife Elayne Patronne. He lived on New York's Upper West Side for twenty years with his third wife, producer and former Miss Sweden, Rigmor Alfredsson Newman. Harold died July 3, 2000, of a heart attack following minor surgery.

 

According to a Los Angeles Times article on the brothers, "Because of racial prejudice, they appeared as guest artists, isolated from the plot, in many of their films. This was a strategy that allowed their scenes to be easily deleted for screening in the Jim Crow-era South".

  • Harold received the DEA Award from the Dance Educators of America

  • Harold received the Bay Area Critics Circle Award (Best Principal Performance, Stompin' at the Savoy)

  • Harold received the Harbor Performing Arts Center Lifetime Achievement Award

  • An honorary doctorate from Harvard University was awarded to both brothers

  • Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame (1978)

  • Ellie Award (1984), National Film Society for both brothers

  • Apollo Theater's Hall of Fame (1986), First Class Inductees for both brothers

  • Ebony Lifetime Achievement Award (1987) for both brothers

  • Fayard Nicholas received Broadway's 1989 Tony Award for Best Choreographer for Black and Blue along with his collaborators Cholly Atkins, Henry LeTang, and Frankie Manning.

  • Scripps American Dance Festival Award

  • Kennedy Center Honors in 1991 for both brothers who were in attendance

  • The National Black Media Coalition Lifetime Achievement Award (1992)

  • Flo-Bert Award (1992)

  • New York's Tap Dance Committee, Gypsy Award (1994)

  • A star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 7083 Hollywood Blvd (1994)

  • Professional Dancer's Society, Dance Magazine Award of (1995)

  • The 1998 Samuel H. Scripps American Dance Festival Award for Lifetime Achievement in Modern Dance

  • National Museum of Dance Mr. & Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney Hall of Fame Inductees (2001)

  1. Kennedy Center biography of Fayard Nicholas Archived November 1, 2006, at the Wayback Machine

  2. ^ Jump up to:a b c d e f g h "Biography" Archived October 30, 2014, at the Wayback Machine. The Nicholas Brothers' official website.

  3. ^ Jump up to:a b c d e f g h "Dancer Fayard Nicholas dies at 91", USA Today (Associated Press) (January 25, 2006).

  4. ^ "Nicholas Brothers". Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2013. Web. November 6, 2013.

  5. ^ Imogen Sara Smith, "The Nicholas Brothers" Archived November 14, 2013, at the Wayback Machine, Dance Heritage Coalition, 2012.

  6. ^ Jump up to:a b McLellan, Dennis; Segal, Lewis (January 26, 2006). "Fayard Nicholas, 91; He Was Elder Half of Tap-Dancing Nicholas Brothers". Los Angeles Times. p. 136 – via Newspapers.com. open access

  7. ^ Persky-Hooper, Marci (August 22, 1987). "The Nicholas Brothers: 50 Years Of Footwork". New Pittsburgh Courier. p. 6. ProQuest 201781716.

  8. ^ Biography (p. 5) Archived October 30, 2014, at the Wayback Machine, Nicholas Brothers website.

  9. ^ "The Nicholas Brothers - Home". Archived from the original on October 17, 2010.

  10. ^ Classes and Performances with Tap Masters

  11. ^ Los Angeles Choreographers and Dancers - Colburn Kids Tap/L.A Archived February 4, 2007, at the Wayback Machine

  12. ^ National Tap Ensemble cast Archived February 23, 2007, at the Wayback Machine

  13. ^ Everybody Dance! meet our teachers Archived September 30, 2007, at the Wayback Machine

  14. ^ "Those Dapper Tappers", Chicago Tribune, 22 Dec 1991.

  15. ^ Nicholas Brothers dancing in "Jumpin' Jive" in Stormy Weather (1943)

  16. ^ Mackrell, Judith (October 6, 2016). "Mean feet: the tap-dancing duo who were Fred Astaire's heroes". The Guardian.

  17. ^ "Nevada County Marriages, 1862-1993," database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QL4L-K7RK : 22 July 2021), Fayard Nicholas and Geraldine Pate, 10 Feb 1942; citing Marriage, Clark, Nevada, United States, Nevada State Museum and Historical Society, Las Vegas; FHL microfilm 005241845.

  18. ^ Jump up to:a b Gates, Henry Louis; Higginbotham, Evelyn Brooks (2008). The African American National Biography. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 148. ISBN 978-0-19-516019-2.

  19. ^ Hill, Constance Valis (2000). Brotherhood in Rhythm : The Jazz Tap Dancing of the Nicholas Brothers. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 243. ISBN 0-19-513166-5.

  20. ^ "Secret Told". The Pittsburgh Courier. November 5, 1955. p. 1. Retrieved March 27, 2022.

  21. ^ "Rusty Draper Swings Into La Fiesta Light". El Paso Times. May 29, 1960. p. 14-B. Retrieved March 27, 2022.

  22. ^ Selected profiles of African-American Baháʼís Archived October 9, 2007, at the Wayback Machine

  23. ^ Loudon, Janet (August 6, 2001). "Tap-dancing brothers honored as artistic pioneers". The Post-Star. Glens Falls, New York. pp. 7, 12. Retrieved March 27, 2022 – via newspapers.com. Actress Katherine Hopkins Nicholas, Fayard's lovely blonde bride of one year, said he is a beautiful human being as well as a beautiful star and told of their romance after his beloved first wife died.

  24. ^ Program of Fayard Nicholas' memorial service Archived October 1, 2007, at the Wayback Machine

  25. ^ Misha Berson, "Can't stop the hop: Swing-dance artists visit Seattle", The Seattle Times, August 16, 2006.

  26. ^ Century Ballroom Presents, 2nd Annual The Masters of Lindy Hop and Tap[permanent dead link]

  27. ^ "Fayard Nicholas of renowned Nicholas Brothers dancing duo dies", Jet, February 13, 2006.

  28. ^ Sanders, Charles L. (August 22, 1963). "Tragic Story Of Dorothy Dandridge's Retarded Daughter". Jet. pp. 22–23. Retrieved February 5, 2021.

  29. ^ Dunning, Jennifer (July 4, 2000). "Harold Nicholas, Dazzling Hoofer, Is Dead at 79". New York Times. Retrieved June 9, 2010. The cause was heart failure following surgery at New York Hospital, said Bruce Goldstein, a friend and a writer of the 1992 documentary, Nicholas Brothers: We Sing and We Dance.

  30. ^ "Harold Nicholas Obit". National Public Radio. July 3, 2000. Retrieved June 9, 2010. Harold Nicholas suffered a heart attack early today, following minor surgery at a New York hospital.

  31. ^ Dennis McLellan and Lewis Segal, "Nicholas Brothers - Dance Team", Los Angeles Times, July 2, 2000, and January 26, 2006.

  32. ^ Jump up to:a b c d e f g h i j k l m "Awards & Honors" Archived October 30, 2014, at the Wayback Machine, Nicholas Brothers website.

  33. ^ Jump up to:a b "Nicholas Brothers: Harold and Fayard". Archived from the original on November 29, 2006. Retrieved January 7, 2007. - Fayard and Harold Nicholas biography

  34. ^ "Winners: 1989 / Choreographer". Tony Awards.

  35. ^ PBS Documentary "Free to Dance" timeline(2001), Great Performances

  36. ^ National Museum of Dance Hall of Fame Inductees Archived August 15, 2009, at the Wayback Machine

  37. ^ "2011 National Film Registry More Than a Box of Chocolates". Library of. December 28, 2011. Retrieved December 28, 2011.

  38. ^ "Preserved Projects". Academy Film Archive.