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Tue, 04.25.1916

Ernest ‘Brownie’ Brown, Dancer born

Ernest 'Brownie' Brown

*'Brownie' Brown was born on this date in 1916. He was a Black tap dancer and was the last surviving member of the Original Copasetics.

Ernest "Brownie" Brown grew up in Chicago, and he and his longtime partner, Charles "Cookie" Cook, started dancing as pickaninnies in a vaudeville act called "Mammy and Her Picks." During the 1930s and 40s, "Cook and Brown" was a celebrated vaudeville duo that featured a combination of flash and knock-about comedy.

They headlined famous theaters and nightclubs such as the Roxy, the Radio City Music Hall, the Cotton Club in New York, Palladium in London, the Latin Casino in Paris with Count Basie and Duke Ellington, etc. In 1952 the duo was featured in the Broadway musical "Kiss Me, Kate." In the late 1960s, Cook and Brown toured Africa as part of the cultural exchange sponsored by the State Department, which included a command performance of the Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie. Brownie has appeared in films such as "Toot That Trumpet," "Chatter" and the PBS documentary "JUBA! Masters of Tap and Percussive Dance," and he has taught at Chicago's "Human Rhythm Project," New York's "Tap City," and so on.

He and Cook performed in film, such as the Dorothy Dandridge 1942 "soundie" Cow Cow Boogie, on Broadway in the 1952 musical Kiss Me, Kate, twice at the Newport Jazz Festival, as well in other acts, including "Garbage and His Two Cans" in which they played the garbage cans. In 1996, at eighty, Brown formed a new partnership with Reggio "The Hoofer" McLaughlin, who was almost half his age; one of their first performances as a team was at the Chicago Human Rhythm Project (1997).

In 2006, Brown was honored by Avi Miller and Ofer Ben's Tradition in Tap: The Cook and Brown Experience in New York City. McLaughlin would remain his partner for the next thirteen years. In 2004, Brown received the American Tap Dance Foundation's Hoofer Award. One of his last performances was at the 2008 Tap City Festival in New York City. Brown died on August 21, 2009, in Chicago at 93.

Tap performer and historian Jane Goldberg wrote in an e-mail message reported in The New York Times obituary:  He had an amazing sense of "entitlement" in a good way. He always felt he belonged on the stage, shaking his shoulders in that jazzy, goofy move he was known for, even while Honi Coles was cutting Gregory Hines in a tap battle or other of the greats were there. I don't think Brownie was tap as much as jazz, and he had a wonderful feeling for jazz.  

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