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Mon, 03.21.1921

Harold Nicholas was a Tap dancing legend

Harold Nicholas

*On this date we recall the birth of Harold Nicholas in 1921. He was a Black dancer specializing in Tap.

From Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Harold Nicholas was the younger member of the flashy tap-dancing duo The Nicholas Brothers. His brother, Fayard Nicholas, was born in 1914 in Mobile, Alabama. Harold and Fayard Nicholas began their careers as children. Born of showbiz parents who played in a pit orchestra in Philadelphia, the boys spent their early years seeing all the famous Black entertainers of the 1920s. But, they were as impressed with the acrobats at the circus as they were by the great dancers of the era. They watched; they imitated, and soon they were an act in their own right.

They were an immediate success in Philadelphia and their reputation traveled quickly. By 1932, they were performing at the legendary Cotton Club with the likes of Cab Calloway and Duke Ellington, singing a little and dancing a lot, elegantly dressed in top hats and tails. Harold was 11; his brother was 18. They performed in vaudeville, on Broadway, in nightclubs, on television, and in movie musicals. Harold appeared in more than 50 movies, including The Big Broadcast (1936) (1935), Down Argentine Way (1940), Tin Pan Alley (1940), and Sun Valley Serenade (1941).

Fred Astaire told the brothers that their dazzling footwork, leaps and splits in the "Jumpin’ Jive’’ dance in Stormy Weather (1943) produced the greatest movie musical number he had ever seen. In the number, the brothers dance on drums and leap over orchestra musicians. The Nicholas Brothers’ Hollywood career began after movie mogul Samuel Goldwin spotted them in a nightclub and cast them in Kid Millions (1934). The two became big film stars despite racial restrictions at the time prohibiting speaking parts and scenes with white co-stars. Their last film together was 1948’s The Pirate, in which Gene Kelly danced with them, breaking the color barrier. Harold went on to work as a solo artist, moving to France and touring as a singer and dancer. He appeared in the French film L’Emprie De La Nuit (1964).

He returned to America occasionally to do shows with his brother. He also appeared in thee movie Uptown Saturday Night (1974) and Tap (1989). Harold last appeared in The Five Heartbeats (1991). Harold Nicholas died on July 3, 2000. He was 79.

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