International Tap Dance Hall of Fame

 

The International Tap Dance Hall of Fame is the only tap dance hall of fame exclusively focused on tap dancers. It features founding and innovative 20th and 21st century professional tap dancers.With a collection of photographs, biographies, and videos, the Hall of Fame is becoming a colorful and diverse retrospective of America's seminal tap dance personalities.

 

2018 - Ralph Brown

Place of Birth: Indianapolis, Indiana
Place of Death: New York City

Ralph Brown, tap dancer on Broadway and in films, known for his paddle-and-roll style of hoofing, was born and raised in Indianapolis before moving to New York City in 1931. After watching New York dancers at the Hoofers Club, he toured with the Mills Brothers and in 1934 began working at the Cotton Club as a solo performer, beginning a long association with the singer and bandleader Cab Calloway. He also performed with Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Claude Hopkins, Les Hyte, Jimmie Lunceford, Charlie Parker, and Cootie Williams. In the 1930s he performed regularly at the Apollo Theater as well as such uptown black vaudeville theatrers as the Lafayette, appearing on the same bill as Chuck and Chuckles and Aaron Palmer and Peaches. In 1934 his rhythm tap dancing and pronounced paddle-and-roll style was featured in the Oscar Micheaux-directed musical film Harlem After Midnite, and in 1947 the musical film Jivin' in Bebop with Ray Brown, Dan Burley, Benny Carter, Freddie Carter, Dizzy Gillespie, Kenny Hagood, Helen Humes, Milt Jackson, James Moody, Sahij, Ray Sneed, and Johnny Taylor. He also achieved notoriety as a featured dancer on stage in Lew Leslie's Blackbirds of 1939.

In 1966, Brown became a founding member of the Original Hoofers, a rhythm tap ensemble which included Jimmy Slyde, Chuck Green, Raymond Kaalund, James Buster Brown, and Lon Chaney. And in 1969 Brown performed in The Hoofers: An Extravaganza of Tap at the Mercury Theatre On television, Brown was featured, with Chuck Green in the 1972 Tap Dance #1, telecast telecast by WCBS-TV on the series Camera Three. Narrated Richard Lamparski, this overview of the history of tap dance in America was depicted through still photographs, archival footage, and demonstrations by Brown and Chuck Green in the television studio. Film clips included Dancing Darky Boy (1897), filmed by Thomas A. Edison; an excerpt of Edwin S. Porter's film version of Uncle Tom's Cabin (1903); a clip of Louis Douglas performing a stair dance in the manner of Bill Robinson in the film No Man's Land (1931); and Tom Patricola and Buster West in a short dance subject film in the 1930s. Performances included a reconstruction (by Green) of John Durang's Pas de Matelot (A Sailor Hornpipe-- Old Style), published in 1855; a demonstration (by Brown) of Essence of Old Virginia/Softshoe; a Sand Dance (by Green); Eddie Rector's and Toots Davis' "Over-the-Top" and "In-the-Trenches," introduced in the teens; and basic tap steps. 

In 1975, Brown participated in the Cotton Club Gala, an homage to the uptown Cotton Club with several members of The Hoofers. In the 1980s, at the height of the tap dance renaissance, Brown was a featured performer in The Hoofers: 1000 Years of Jazz and Tap at Brooklyn College; New York City Tapworks (1983) at Manhattan Community College. He was also a featured dancer in the Paris production of Black and Blue (1985) and the Broadway production of Black and Blue (1989).

[Sources: Marshall and Jean Stearns, Jazz Dance; Rusty Frank, Tap; "Ralph Brown Dead; Tap Dancer Was 76," New York Times, November 21, 1990]