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John W. Bubbles As Sportin' Life in Porgy and Bess. Photograph by Carl Van Vechten, 1935. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-114802).

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Bubbles, John (19 February 1902–18 May 1986), tap dancer and vaudevillian, was born John William Sublett in Louisville, Kentucky, where he attended grammar and high school. His parents’ names are unknown. He began entertaining in his neighborhood as a singer beginning when he was about seven. For a time, he worked in vaudeville in Louisville and on the road. While working as a pin setter at a local bowling alley, Sublett met Ford Lee Washington. They formed a vaudeville act called “Buck and Bubbles” in 1915, with Sublett taking the name of “Bubbles” while Washington became “Buck.” Until Washington’s death on 31 January 1955, they worked together to become one of vaudeville’s legendary acts....

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Coles, Honi (02 April 1911–12 November 1992), tap dancer, raconteur, and stage, vaudeville, and television performer, was born Charles Coles in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of George Coles and Isabel (maiden name unknown). He learned to tap dance on the streets of Philadelphia, where dancers challenged each other in time step “cutting” contests, and made his New York debut at the Lafayette Theater in 1931 as one of the Three Millers, a group that performed over-the-tops, barrel turns, and wings on six-foot-high pedestals. After discovering that his partners had hired another dancer to replace him, Coles retreated to Philadelphia, determined to perfect his technique. He returned to New York City in 1934, confident and skilled in his ability to cram several steps into a bar of music. Performing at the Harlem Opera House and Apollo Theatre, he was reputed to have the fastest feet in show business. And at the Hoofer’s Club, where only the most serious tap dancers gathered to compete, he was hailed as one of the most graceful dancers ever seen....

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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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James Ross Moore

Dolly Sisters, identical-twin celebrities, were born Janszieka Deutsch and Roszika Deutsch (25 Oct. 1892—1 June 1941) in Budapest, Hungary, to Julius Deutsch, a tailor, and his wife Margaret Weiss, a painter. Janszieka became known as Jenny Dolly; her sister as Rosa Dolly. Raised and educated in Queens, at age eight the Dollys were performing with an acrobatic troupe; by 1909 they were dancing at ...

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See Dolly Sisters

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See Dolly Sisters

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Gilda Gray. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (POS - TH - POR .G73, no. 1 [B size] P&P).

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Gray, Gilda (24 October 1899–22 December 1959), silent film and stage dancer, was born Marianna Michalska in Cracow, Poland, the daughter of Maximilian Michalski and Wanda (maiden name unknown). The family emigrated to Bayonne, New Jersey, in 1907 and then moved to Cudahy, Wisconsin, where Marianna was educated at a parochial school. In 1912 she married bartender John Gorecki with whom she had one son, Martin....

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Hart, Tony (25 July 1855–04 November 1891), actor and singer, was born Anthony Cannon in Worcester, Massachusetts, the son of Anthony Cannon and Mary Sweeney, both of whom had emigrated from Ireland. He put on amateur performances as a child, but a pattern of delinquency began with disruptions at school and culminated in the near murder of a rival during a performance; his parents placed him in the Lyman School (a state reformatory at Westborough, outside Worcester) in 1865. He escaped several months later and traveled to Boston, where he supported himself as a singer, a bootblack, and a newsboy, and then to Providence, where he sang and danced in saloons and was dubbed Master Antonio by a saloon keeper. He joined a touring circus, and then Billy Arlington’s Minstrels; in 1870, at age fifteen, he joined Madame Rentz’s Female Minstrels. Dressed as a little girl, he evoked tears with a sentimental song, “Put Me in My Little Bed.”...

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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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Mills, Florence (25 January 1895–01 November 1927), entertainer, was born Florence Winfree in Washington, D.C., the daughter of John Winfree, a carpenter, and Nellie Simons, who did laundry. Educated locally, by age five Mills was winning contests in cakewalking and buck dancing. Her first professional engagement came as Baby Florence Mills in the second company (1902) of the Williams-Walker ...

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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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See Williams, Bert

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Whitman, Alice (1900–1970), tap dancer, was the daughter of Albert A. Whitman, bishop of the Methodist church in Lawrence, Kansas, and Atlanta, Georgia, and dean of Morris Brown College in Atlanta. Her birthplace is unknown, and her mother's identity is uncertain. The Whitman sisters, Mabel (c. 1880–1942), Essie Barbara (1881–1963), and Alberta (c. 1888–1964), traveled with their father and sang in the churches where he preached. They received their music education through private study, at Morris Brown College, and at the New England Conservatory in Boston. Mabel and Essie performed professionally in the 1890s as the Daznette Sisters. The act later changed its name to The Whitman Sisters Company and included Alberta and, according to several sources, their mother and aunt (names unknown). The company toured the United States and Europe as jubilee singers. In 1904 they reorganized as The Whitman Sisters' New Orleans Troubadours, a vaudeville performing troupe. It appears that their father disowned them when they launched into show business careers. After the death of the sisters' mother (c. 1909), Alice joined the family act and was billed as “Baby Alice.” The troupe grew into a production revue called The Whitman Sisters. However, according to ...

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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....