Image of Bill Robinson

Bill Robinson

According to one jazz dance source, Bill 'Bojangles' Robinson was the chief instigator for getting tap dance "up on its toes." Early forms of tap, including the familiar "buck and wing", contained a flat-footed style, while Robinson performed on the balls of his feet with a shuffle-tap style that allowed him more improvisation. It obviously got him noticed and it certainly made him a legend. Born Luther Robinson in Richmond, Virginia, on May 25, 1878, he was orphaned in infancy and reared by a grandmother. He took his brother Bill's name for his own once he went professional. His brother, in turn, took the name Percy and later became a renowned drummer. Hoofing in beer gardens at age 6, Bojangles joined traveling companies and vaudeville tours in his teens and slowly built up a successful reputation in nightclubs and musical comedies. He headlined with Cab Calloway many times at the famous Cotton Club in Harlem. Bojangles' unique sound came from using wooden taps and his direct claim to fame would be the creation of his famous "stair dance," which involved tapping up and down a flight of stairs both backwards and forwards. Both black and white audiences were taken by his style and finesse and, following the demise of vaudeville, he easily transferred his talents to Broadway. Lew Leslie, a white producer, put together "Blackbirds of 1928," an all-black revue that would prominently feature Bill and other black musical talents. From there it was films for the now old-timer. In the 1930s various studios usurped his patented talent in their old-fashioned Depression-era musicals. Times being what they were, he was typically cast as a butler or servant. Nevertheless, he enjoyed immense popularity, especially when partnered with reigning #1 box office moppet Shirley Temple. Bojangles would be featured in four of Shirley's sentimental vehicles: The Little Colonel (1935) (in which he recreated his "stair dance" with her), The Littlest Rebel (1935), Just Around the Corner (1938) and Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (1938). In addition, he assisted in the choreography on one of her other films, Dimples (1936). For the most part Bill was a specialty player, but every once in a while he got into the thick of things, playing Lena Horne's love interest in One Mile from Heaven (1937) for instance. Still tapping his heart out as a 60-year-old, Bojangles returned to the stage in "The Hot Mikado" which was a tuneful jazz reworking of Gilbert and Sullivan's classic operetta. Suffering from a chronic heart condition, he slowed down in the mid-'40s and died in New York City in 1949 of heart disease.

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May 25, 1878 In Richmond - Virginia - USA
Movie/TV Credits:
First Appeared:
In the movie Dixiana 1930-08-01
Latest Project:
Movie Dancetime Tap Dance History 2011-09-05
Known For
Poster of Dancetime Tap Dance History
Poster of That's Dancing!
Poster of One Mile From Heaven
Poster of Hooray for Love
Movie Dancetime Tap Dance History Unknown 2011-09-05
Movie Hanging Up Doctor on soap 2000-02-16
Movie That's Dancing! Unknown 1985-01-01
Movie Stormy Weather Bill Williamson 1943-07-21
Movie Let's Scuffle HImself 1942-01-01
Movie Just Around the Corner Samuel G. Henshaw 1938-11-11
Movie Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm Aloysius 1938-03-18
Movie Up the River Memphis Jones 1938-12-09
Movie Road Demon Zephyr 1938-12-02
Movie One Mile From Heaven Officer Joe Dudley 1937-08-18
Movie Hooray for Love Himself 1935-06-14
Movie The Little Colonel Walker 1935-02-22
Movie The Big Broadcast of 1936 Specialty 1935-09-20
Movie The Littlest Rebel Uncle Billy 1935-12-27
Movie In Old Kentucky Greyboy 1935-11-28
Movie King for a Day Bill Green 1934-06-29
Movie Harlem Is Heaven Bill 1932-05-26
Movie Dixiana Specialty Dancer 1930-08-01