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Sammy Davis, Jr. Photograph by Carl Van Vechten, 1956. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-114446).

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Davis, Sammy, Jr. (08 December 1925–16 May 1990), variety performer and entertainer, was born in Harlem, New York, the son of Sammy Davis, Sr., an African-American dancer, and Elvera “Baby” Sanchez, a Puerto Rican chorus girl, both in Will Mastin’s Holiday in Dixieland...

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Duport, Pierre Landrin (1762?–11 April 1841), dancing master and composer of dance music, was born in Paris, France, into a family named Landrin. His father, whose first name is unknown, was a dancing master and choreographer who Duport claimed had taught cotillions to the “late royal family.” ...

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Haley, Jack (10 August 1899–06 June 1979), comedian, singer, and dancer, was born John Haley in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of John Haley, a ship’s navigator, and Ellen Curley. Haley’s desire to be in show business began in childhood, when he appeared in a church entertainment at the age of six. After completing his schooling at Boston English High School, he became an apprentice electrician at his mother’s urging. As soon as he had saved up some of his apprentice earnings, however, he left to make his way on the stage....

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Herman, Michael (1911–03 May 1996), and Mary Ann Herman (1912–24 March 1992), folk music and folk dance teachers, were born into urban immigrant communities in Cleveland, Ohio, and New York City, respectively. Little is known about Michael's early life, except that he was of Ukrainian descent. Mary Ann Bodnar, the daughter of Matwey and Anna Bodnar, grew up in a New York City ghetto that reflected a melding of many different cultures. She attended a Ukrainian neighborhood school. After graduating from James Monroe High School, she attended several colleges in the New York area but never received a degree. She became a dancing performer in her neighborhood Ukrainian folk group and launched her folk dance teaching career at the YMCA....

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Horst, Louis (12 January 1884–23 January 1964), composer, arranger, dance critic and pedagogue, and publisher, was born in Kansas City, Missouri, the son of German immigrants Conrad Horst, a cornet player, and Corline “Lena” Nickell. Horst’s family traveled to San Francisco, California, in 1893, where Louis studied violin and piano. From about 1900 to 1914 he worked as a pianist in pit orchestras and for silent films. While working at a summer resort he met and subsequently married in 1910 eighteen-year-old Bessie (called Betty) Cunningham. They had no children. In 1911 they went to New York City, where he continued to work as a part-time musician and studied composition and piano, but they returned to San Francisco by 1914....

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Jefferson, Eddie (03 August 1918–09 May 1979), jazz singer, lyricist, and tap dancer, was born Edgar Jefferson in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Information about his parents is unknown. It is known that he started dancing around age eight. He also played tuba in a school band and taught himself guitar and drums, experiences that later gave his singing a firm musical foundation. In Pittsburgh he was accompanied by pianist ...

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Lewis, Ted (06 June 1890–25 August 1971), entertainer, musician, and bandleader, was born Theodore Leopold Friedman in rural Circleville, Ohio, the son of an owner of a dry goods store whose name cannot be ascertained. Young Theodore began his show business career performing in a nickelodeon in his hometown and learned to play the clarinet in his school band. As a beginning clarinetist, Lewis was something of a prodigy. Although he was never regarded seriously as a musician, he played easily and improvised naturally. Having no desire to go into the dry goods business and still in his teens, he went to Columbus, Ohio, where for a time he demonstrated instruments in a music store. His freewheeling improvisations amused customers but eventually caused him to lose the job....

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Nikolais, Alwin (25 November 1910–08 May 1993), choreographer, designer, and composer, was born in Southington, Connecticut, the son of John Nikolais and Martha Heinrich. From an early age he studied music. During his high school years he was an organ accompanist for silent films at the Westport Movie House. In 1929 he graduated from Lewis High School in Southington....

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Parker, H. T. (29 April 1867–30 March 1934), dance, music, and theater critic, was born Henry Taylor Parker in Boston, the son of William Fisk Parker and Susan Sophia Taylor Parker, whose occupations are unknown. He entered Harvard University in 1886 but apparently left in 1889 without graduating. He was immediately attracted to the writing of criticism and acquired the dual position of New York correspondent of the ...

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Rooney, Pat (04 July 1880–09 September 1962), vaudeville, musical theater, and nightclub performer, was born Patrick James Rooney, Jr., in New York City, the son of Patrick James Rooney, Sr., and Josie Granger, entertainers. His mother had danced in the chorus of The Black Crook...

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Stratton, Eugene (08 May 1861–15 September 1918), music hall artiste, was born Eugene Augustus Ruhlmann in Buffalo, New York, the son of George Ruhlmann, an Alsatian saloonkeeper, and his wife Mary (maiden name unknown). Stratton’s American career was typical of its era. In later life he recalled attending the Christian Brothers school and working as a telegraph messenger, practicing acrobatics and dancing “five or six hours daily” (quoted in Barker). At age ten he teamed up with “a great big fellow” named Lesley, who would toss him around during their burnt-cork act, “The Big and the Little of It,” at Dan Shelby’s Saloon. Stratton next soloed as Master Jean, dancer and tumbler, and by age thirteen reckoned he had become “something of a champion in a small way.” Before he was fifteen he had played in a ...

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See Williams, Bert

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Wayburn, Ned (30 March 1874–02 September 1942), theatrical director and dance teacher, was born Edward Claudius Wayburn in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the son of Elbert Wayburn, a machinery manufacturer, and Harriet Beech. Educated in Atlanta and Chicago schools, Wayburn worked his way into vaudeville by ushering at an opera house, taking small parts in amateur plays, directing at an acting school, and becoming a specialty dancer....

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Webb, Clifton (19 November 1891?–13 October 1966), dancer, singer, and stage and screen actor, was born Webb Parmalee Hollenbeck in Indianapolis, Indiana, the son of Jacob Grant Hollenbeck, a railroad traffic manager, and Maybelle Parmalee. Sources differ concerning his date of birth, listing it variously from 1891 to 1896. Webb’s parents separated after a move to New York City while he was still a child. His mother was a classic example of a “stage mother” and her son’s constant companion. She encouraged his early interest and talents in the arts. In 1900 Webb was chosen from a dancing school to play Cholly in ...

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Williams, Bert (12 November 1874–04 March 1922), and George Walker (1873–06 January 1911), stage entertainers, were born, respectively, Egbert Austin Williams in Nassau, the Bahamas, and George Williams Walker in Lawrence, Kansas. Williams was the son of Frederick Williams, Jr., a waiter, and Julia Monceur. Walker was the son of “Nash” Walker, a policeman; his mother’s name is unknown. Williams moved with his family to Riverside, California, in 1885 and attended Riverside High School. Walker began performing “darkey” material for traveling medicine shows during his boyhood and left Kansas with Dr. Waite’s medicine show. In 1893 the two met in San Francisco, where they first worked together in Martin and Selig’s Minstrels....