Yesterday was the birthday of the elder of The Nicholas Brothers, Fayard (1914-2006), who along with his younger brother Harold (1921-2000) enjoyed a long and successful career on stage and screen. As a little boy Fayard watched famous vaudeville performers (including Bill “Bojangles” Robinson) at the theater where his parents were employed as musicians, and taught himself to sing and dance by imitating the pros. Harold learned by imitating his big brother. Soon they were performing together on stage, first at the Standard Theater in Philadelphia, then at Harlem’s Cotton Club — where the boys, then aged 11 and 18, worked with bandleaders like Cab Calloway and Duke Ellington. They went on to enjoy success on Broadway, in Hollywood, on television, and on tours of Latin America, Europe, and Africa. They even taught master classes in tap dance at Harvard — not bad for a couple of guys who’d never had any formal training in dance.
This dance sequence from the 1943 film Stormy Weather has Fayard and Harold doing their unique amalgam of tap, gymnastics, and acrobatics to “Jumpin’ Jive” by Cab Calloway. No less an authority than Fred Astaire called this the greatest movie musical number he had ever seen.