Famous tap dancers of the past have pushed this dancing art form to where it is today.
Famous Tap Dancers
Bill "Bojangles" Robinson (1878-1949)
One of the best tap dancers in history, Bill Robinson was born in Richmond, Virginia and started dancing when he was a young child. Today, many remember Robinson for his roles in Shirley Temple movies such as The Little Colonel (1935). Robinson was one of the first entertainers to cross racial lines, although it was not always easy. The roles for which he was hired for white audiences were servile and humiliating, but he never made a lot of money playing to black audiences. Robinson died of heart disease in New York City, broke after a lifetime of high living and extreme generosity.
John W. Bubbles (1902-1986)
Born John William Sublett, John. W. Bubbles is considered to be the Father of Rhythm Tap. When Bubbles was still a teenager, Sublett and Ford Lee Washington formed an act called "Buck and Bubbles," where Buck played the piano and Bubbles sang. As Bubble's voice changed, he switched his focus to tap dancing. Bubble's innovations in tap dancing took the act to the height of vaudeville. In 1922, the duo performed at New York's Palace Theatre, one of the pinnacles of vaudeville theater. Bubbles was inducted into the American Tap Dance Foundation Hall of Fame in 2002.
Sammy Davis Jr. (1925-1990)
Sammy Davis Jr. grew up in show business and spent most of his life entertaining as a dancer, a singer and an actor. Davis appeared on the vaudeville stage the first time at the age of four with his father and uncle. Sammy Davis Sr., Will Mastin and Sammy Davis Jr. performed as a trio until Davis Jr. left to serve during World War II. After the War was over, Davis returned to show business and worked on building his career. He became influential enough to force integration in clubs in Miami and Las Vegas when he refused to perform at any venue that was segregated. While Davis was married three times, he married his second wife, actress May Britt, at a time when laws prevented interracial marriages in 31 states. Davis refused treatment for throat cancer to avoid losing his voice and succumbed to complications from the disease at the age of 64.
Gregory Hines (1946-2003)
Gregory Hines was the epitome of tap dancing during the 1980s and 1990s. Like other famous tap dancers, Hines started tapping at a young age. He debuted professionally at the age of five. Hines, who worked in movies, on the stage and on television, was one of the driving forces behind the creation of National Tap Day, celebrated on May 25th, Bill Robinson's birthday.
Conflicting stories of the history of tap dancing make the art form all the more alluring.