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Rob Bowman

(b Cayce, MS, March 27, 1917; d Memphis, TN, Dec 15, 2001). American singer, songwriter, dancer, comedian, and radio announcer. One of Thomas’s earliest gigs was as part of the dance team Rufus and Johnny with the legendary Rabbit Foot Minstrels. He later forged a distinguished career as a comic (in the duo “Rufus and Bones”) and master of ceremonies at all of the important black theaters in Memphis. In the early 1950s Thomas hosted the daily “Sepia Swing Club” and “Hoot ‘n’ Holler” shows on local black appeal radio station WDIA. Beginning in 1949, Thomas recorded for Star Talent, Meteor, Chess, and, most notably, Memphis’ Sun Records before signing with Satellite (soon-to-be Stax) Records in 1960. His most successful recording pre-Stax was an answer song conceived as a response to Big Mama Thornton’s R&B hit “Hound Dog.” Titled “Bear Cat” and released in 1953, the record was Sun’s first bona-fide hit, peaking at number three on ...

Article

Jacquelyn Sholes

(Fredericka Carolyn )

(b Savannah, GA, Dec 23, 1903; d Stamford, CT, June 28, 1994). American actress, dancer, singer, and writer. Washington was one of the first widely recognized African American stage and film actresses. She performed in the Broadway musical Shuffle Along (1921–6); as Paul Robeson’s costar in Black Boy (1926); on European tour with dance partner Al Moiret (1927–8); and in shows including Singin’ the Blues (1931), Run, Little Chillun’! (1933), Mamba’s Daughters (1939), a revival of Porgy and Bess (1943), Lysistrata (1946), and A Long Way from Home (1948). Her film credits include Black and Tan Fantasy (1929; with Duke Ellington), The Old Man of the Mountain and The Emperor Jones (1933), and One Mile from Heaven (1937). In 1934, Washington (whose mother was Caucasian) appeared in the film ...

Article

Sharon O’Connell Campbell

(Lenore )

(b Statesboro, GA, March 18, 1975). American performer. Embodying the “triple-threat” performance model of singer, actor, and dancer, Sutton Foster enjoyed a rapid rise to musical theater stardom. Foster debuted on Broadway in 1993 as a chorus member and understudy for Eponine in Les Misérables (opened 1987), then played Sandy Dumbrowski in Grease (1994). She appeared in Annie (1997) and The Scarlet Pimpernel (1997). Foster created the role of Thoroughly Modern Millie’s Millie Dillmount in California tryouts in 2000. Despite being little-known, she was cast for the show’s Broadway (2002) opening; her performance earned Tony, Drama Desk, and Outer Critics Circle Awards for Best Actress in a Musical, and an Astaire Award for Best Female Dancer. Subsequently, Foster created the roles of Jo in Little Women (2005), Janet Van De Graaff in The Drowsy Chaperone (...

Article

John Macinnis

[Kaminski, David Daniel ]

(b Brooklyn, NY, Jan 18, 1913; d Los Angeles, CA, March 3, 1987). American Singer, dancer, and actor. Kaminski began his career as an entertainer by traveling widely and working nonmusical day jobs. He was first billed as Danny Kaye in 1933 while working with the dancing act of David Harvey and Kathleen Young. Kaye specialized in singing with non-English accents punctuated with spurts of double-talk, tongue twisters, face contortions, and dancing. He met his wife, pianist and songwriter Sylvia Fine, while working variety shows in New York, and, with her assistance, developed some of his most famous numbers, including “Stanislavsky,” “Anatole of Paris,” and “Melody in Four F.” In 1939 Kaye appeared in Broadway in his Straw Hat Revue and again in 1941 in Cole Porter’s Let’s Face It.

Kaye’s film career began in 1944 with the RKO film Up in Arms. Other musical comedy films in which he starred included ...

Article

(b Omaha, NE, May 10, 1899; d Beverly Hills, CA, June 22, 1987). American dancer, singer, choreographer, and actor. He began performing at the age of seven with his sister Adele. As a duo they worked in vaudeville from 1906 to 1916 and moved to Broadway in 1917. Starring roles in The Bunch and Judy (1922) and For Goodness Sake (1923) led to Lady, be good! (1924), which marked their arrival as top Broadway stars. During the 1920s several of the Astaires’ successful shows appeared in the West End in London, where the pair enjoyed a cult-like following. After The Band Wagon (1931) Adele retired from the stage to marry an English aristocrat. Astaire appeared in Gay Divorce in New York (1932) and London (1933), before signing a contract with RKO, the smallest major film studio in Hollywood....

Article

Howard Rye

(Oliver )

(b New York, NY, Feb 14, 1946; d Los Angeles, CA, Aug 9, 2003). American tap dancer and actor. He began dance lessons with Henry Le Tang in 1949, before he was three. When he was five he began performing with his older brother Maurice in a dance act first called The Hines Kids and later The Hines Brothers. Their father, drummer Maurice Hines Sr., joined the act, thereafter known as Hines, Hines and Dad, in 1964. In 1973 Gregory left the act and moved to Venice, California, where he formed a rock band called Severance. He returned to New York in 1978, resuming his stage career as a dancer in The Last Minstrel Show and later appearing in Eubie (1978–9), which reunited him with Maurice, Comin’ Uptown (1979-80), and Sophisticated Ladies (1981–2), while simultaneously developing an acting career on stage and screen. He appeared again with Maurice in the ...

Article

John Behling

(b New York, NY, Dec 8, 1925; d Beverly Hills, CA, May 16, 1990). American singer, dancer, and actor. Widely regarded as one of the greatest entertainers of his time, he sang, danced, acted, played several instruments, performed comic impersonations, and excelled at the variety entertainment format popular in American vaudeville, nightclubs, and television. His parents were vaudeville dancers frequently on tour, so Davis spent his earliest years with his grandmother. In 1928 his father took Davis on the road, where he made his debut with Will Mastin’s vaudeville review as Silent Sam, the Dancing Midget. Although he began as a dancer, as his talent and reputation grew he incorporated songs and comic impersonations into his act. His final public performance was in 1989 on a television special, The 60th Anniversary Salute to Sammy Davis, Jr. Throughout his long career Davis performed many styles of music, but he is best known for his jazz-influenced performances of Broadway show tunes. He was a member of the Rat Pack, which included Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin, and together they set the standard for nightclub-style performance before the dominance of rock and roll....

Article

Todd Decker

[Curran, Eugene]

(b Pittsburgh, PA, Aug 23, 1912; d Beverly Hills, CA, Feb 2, 1996). American dancer, actor, choreographer, and film director. Kelly started out in Pittsburgh, running a family-owned dance studio and performing regionally. Turning down an opportunity to join the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo touring company, he graduated from the University of Pittsburgh in 1933 and briefly attended law school before going to New York in 1937. On Broadway, Kelly quickly went from chorus boy (Leave It to Me, 1938) to leading man (Pal Joey, 1940) and soon departed for Hollywood, making his film debut opposite Judy Garland in For Me and My Gal (1942). Under contract with MGM, Kelly first made his mark in a loan out to Columbia (Cover Girl, 1944); the innovative “Alter Ego” solo in the film initiated Kelly’s interest in both directing and integrating musical numbers into the plot. He is among very few studio-era stars to cross over into directing. Most of his director credits were shared with Stanley Donen, including ...

Article

Kay Edwards

[Robert Timothy; Oou Kas Mah Qwet (Thunder Bear); Red Cedar Whistle]

(b Los Angeles, CA, 1953). Native American flutist, actor, singer, dancer, and educator of Salt River Pima-Maricopa (enrolled) and Dakota descent. Nicknamed Tree for his six foot ten inch height, he is the adopted son of the actor Iron Eyes Cody. Also well known for his work as a master of ceremonies, arena director, and northern traditional dancer on the powwow circuit, he has performed extensively as a flute soloist, singer, and speaker, and collaborated with other musicians as well as his dance troupe, Native Wisdom. Both a tradition bearer as well as a musical innovator, Cody served as an ambassador for the State Department and the US Information Agency and performed extensively for museums, schools, colleges, and reservations nationally and internationally. In the late 1980s and 90s he regularly performed Native American music at Knott’s Berry Farm. He gained wider attention for his participation in the funeral service of Senator Barry Goldwater in ...

Article

Claude Conyers

(b Chicago, Aug 28, 1925; d Calabasas, CA, Sept 27, 2003). American dancer, singer, and actor. Born into a theatrical family, he had a lengthy career in musical theater, spanning all forms from vaudeville to television, but is noted particularly for his performances in movie musicals. A talented tap dancer, singer, and comedian, he made his film début at age twelve with his brothers in Melody for Two (1937), which led to a co-starring role in Sing, You Sinners (1938), and several youth-oriented pictures at Paramount. During the 1940s he made a number of low-budget musicals at Universal and, after wartime military service, the first of six memorable movies opposite Francis the talking mule. His best movie role was as Cosmo Brown in MGM’s Singin’ in the Rain (1952), dancing and singing in thrilling tap duets with Gene Kelly in “Fit as a Fiddle” and “Moses Supposes” and in the hilarious solo turn in “Make ‘Em Laugh.” His later movies include ...