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Will Gaines was born on this date in 1928. He was a Black dancer.
He was born Royce Edward Gaines in Baltimore and grew up in Detroit, where he learned his craft. At age 20, he saw Duke Ellington and Count Basie Orchestras, Dizzy Gillespie, and Billie Holiday. From there, Gaines worked with such greats as Lucky Thompson, Kenny Burrell, Tommy Flanagan, and Sonny Stitt at the Apollo Theatre, NY, in 1954. In NY in 1957, he joined Cab Calloway’s Cotton Club Show and Martha Ray’s Night Club in Miami; he danced in Las Vegas and Washington, DC, where he performed in front of President Eisenhower, and finally, Central Park, Manhattan, NY.
He became a well-respected expensive opening act commanding $500 a night: quite a step up from the $65 a week he earned when he started. He went on the road again in 1958, opening at the 500 Club in Atlantic City and on to Toronto and Buffalo, NY. Gaines arrived in London in July 1963, appearing at the Pigile, Ronnie Scott’s, and in 1964 the Palladium with Norman Vaughan, Tommy Cooper, and The Jack Parnell Orchestra. He appeared at the Royal Festival Hall and Festivals in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Bracknell, and Birmingham. Gaines got to the small screen as well.
TV appearances range from Play School to Top of the Pops, and he is the first American Jazz Hoofer to perform at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden. In 1997 Gaines celebrated 50 years in Be Bop and his 70th birthday the year after. Admired worldwide, Will Gaines is always spreading the word about jazz tap.
Will Gaines, the last in a long line of Jazz Hoofers, died on May 7th, 2014.