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The Nicholas Brothers Fayard (1914- ) and Harold (1921-2000) 2002 Inductees

Nicholas created an exuberant style of American theatrical dance melding jazz rhythm with tap, acrobatics, ballet and black vernacular dance. Their rhythmic brilliance, musicality, eloquent footwork and full-bodied expressiveness are unsurpassed, and their dancing represents the most sophisticated refinement of jazz as a percussive dance form.

From a young age, at the Standard Theatre in Philadelphia where his parents conducted a pit band orchestra, Fayard was introduced to the best tap acts in black vaudeville. He then proceeded to teach young Harold basic tap steps. The "Nicholas Kids" made their professional debut in Philadelphia in 1930-31, and in New York, at the Lafayette Theatre one year later as the "Nicholas Brothers.”

In 1932 they opened at the uptown Cotton Club, which became their home base for next few years. Dancing with the orchestras of Cab Calloway and Duke Ellington, the brothers evolved a classy and swinging musical performance in which comic quips and eccentric dance combined with precision-timed moves and virtuosic rhythm tapping.

Alternating between the stage and screen throughout their career, they made their first film, the Vitaphone short, Pie, Pie, Blackbird, with Eubie Blake in 1932 and their first Hollywood movie, Kid Millions, for Samuel Goldwyn in 1934. On Broadway, in Ziegfeld Follies of 1936 and Babes in Arms (1937), they worked with choreographer George Balanchine, and during the same period performed at the newly-opened downtown Cotton Club and starred in the London West End production of Lew Leslie's Blackbirds of 1936, in which they worked with Buddy Bradley.

At the Apollo, Harlem Opera House, Palace and Paramount theatres in the thirties and forties, the brothers danced with the big bands of Jimmy Lunceford, Chick Webb, Count Basie and Glen Miller. Collaboration with Hollywood dance director Nick Castle on seven musical films for 20th Century-Fox embellished the brothers' modern style of jazz dancing. They tapped on suitcases in The Great American Broadcast (1941), jumped off walls into back flips and splits in Orchestra Wives (1942) and jumped over each other down a flight of stairs, landing into a split on each step, in Stormy Weather (1943). These dazzling feats were always delivered with a smooth effortlessness. In Down Argentine Way (1940), they moved in perfect synchrony: arms and wrists circling, they slipped and slid along the floor, dipping into splits and whipping into one-legged wings.

By the late forties, their high-speed and rhythm-driven style was fast and fluent enough to endure the radical musical shift in jazz to Bebop. The Brothers headlined "The Hepsations of 1945" on a southern tour with Dizzy Gillespie's big band, and worked with bop composer/arranger Tad Dameron, but they were irresistibly drawn to the steady and danceable rhythms of Swing and continued to work in that musical tradition.

Working as solo artists in the late 1950s and early 60s, Harold in Europe and Fayard in America, the brothers were reunited for three Hollywood Palace television specials in 1964 and continued to perform as a team.

Constance Valis Hill

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