Robinson, Bill

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Robinson, Bill

Robinson, Bill, 1878–1949, African-American tap dancer popularly known as “Bojangles,” b. Richmond, Va., as Luther Robinson. An influential virtuoso tap dancer, he was a tap innovator and reputedly the first to dance on the balls of his feet instead of in the earlier flat-footed style. For many years he performed on the black entertainment circuit, joining (1886) a touring musical troupe, beginning (1906) a successful stage and nightclub career, and dancing for years in vaudeville. Robinson achieved wide acclaim for his appearance on Broadway in Blackbirds of 1928 and later starred in the musical The Hot Mikado (1939). He was in 14 Hollywood features in the 1930s and 40s, including In Old Kentucky (1935) and Stormy Weather (1943), and made four movies with Shirley Temple, including The Little Colonel (1935), in which he performed his famous “stair” dance with the child star, and Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (1938).


See biography by J. Haskins and N. R. Mitgang (1988, repr. 1999).

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Robinson, Bill “Bojangles” (b. Luther Robinson)

(1878–1949) tap dancer; born in Richmond, Va. He began dancing professionally at age eight in Louisville, Ky., then moved to New York City in 1891 to dance in the popular musical, The South Before the War. He performed in vaudeville and later was one of the few black dancers to star on the Keith circuit. He first performed on Broadway in 1928, becoming the first African-American to star in a Ziegfield Follies. He danced in the first movie to have its own original musical score, Dixiana (1930), and during the 1930s and 1940s he danced in black revues and musicals. He appeared in four films with Shirley Temple, including The Little Colonel (1935); although extremely popular in their day, these films would later be criticized for forcing this superb dancer into the role of a shuffling servant. He starred in the movie Stormy Weather (1943). Known as "the King of Tapology," he was one of the first performers to tap dance on his toes (as opposed to flat-footed), he led in using tap dance to create rhythmic sound, and is credited with originating the routine of tapping up and down stairs.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.
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