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Sat, 05.17.1913

“Buster” Brown, one of Tap Dancings best

"Buster" Brown

"Buster" Brown’s birth in 1913 is celebrated on this date. He was an African American Tap dancer and entertainer.

From Baltimore, MD James "Buster" Brown’s career started in high school when tap, vaudeville and dances like the Charleston were all the rage. There were no teachers then; learning to dance was a matter of teaching yourself. Brown and friends would attend shows in local theaters and try to work out the steps later. He formed the troupe Three Aces, later named Three Speed Kings, which performed in variety shows at nightclubs and was known for very fast tapping or “flash dancing.”

Around the time of World War II, swing was king and Brown toured with Big Band legends Duke Ellington and Cab Calloway. The rise of rock ’n’ roll put a damper on jazz, and tap had to survive underground. Prompting tap’s return to the Broadway stage, Brown was also a member of the Copasetic’s (credited with what we now know as the Tap Renaissance) in the ’70s. Brown enjoyed a career that spanned seven decades; from touring the vaudeville circuits to guest appearances in the Broadway hit revue “Black and Blue.”

Other career highlights include the Apollo Theater, soloist with the Cab Calloway Orchestra, United States Information Agency tours, appearing in the film The Cotton Club (dance sequence with Gregory Hines), and TV spots on many shows including the PBS special The Gershwin Gala. Brown was also a featured artist in several tap dance documentaries, including Fancy Feet and Great Feats of Feet. He was an active teacher, choreographer and a recipient of fellowships from the New York Foundation for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts.

In 1990 he was a resident artist at the Colorado Dance Festival and Boston Great Tap Reunion. One of America's true national treasures, he was selected by his peers as the sole recipient of the 1998 American Tap Dance Legend Award. Buster Brown died on May 7, 2002.

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