Dancer. He received world-wide notoriety, as an African-American tap dancer, actor, and singer in the 20th century, but most famous for his "stair dance." He performed in four roles, with dancing duets with child actor Shirley Temple in the 1930s black-and-white movies, which are still being sold in various forms in the 21st century. These icon films are "The Little Colonel" and "The Littlest Rebel" in 1935 and "Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm" and "Just Around the Corner" in 1938. He made a total of 16 films. He was one of the highest-paid performers in Vaudeville. In an era when white performers were doing the then accepted "blackface" makeup, he received criticism from the Black community for accepting racial stereotype roles, being called "Uncle Tom," yet in retrospect, he found a place in American history as a pioneer Black entertainer on stage and in film. Born Luther Robinson in the segregated South, both his parents died in 1885, leaving him in the care of his grandmother, who had been born a slave. Not liking the name "Luther," he exchanged names with his brother, Bill, and later earned the nickname of "Bojangles." He had little formal education. He started dancing on the street corner to earn pennies for the family, and by 1886, he had joined the Mayme Remington's touring troupe and by 1891, was performing as a Vaudeville act in nightclubs and musical-comedies with all Black audiences. During World War I, he served in the United States Army as a rifleman in New York's 15th Infantry Regiment of the National Guard. He had the honor of being the parade drum major, leading the regimental band up Fifth Avenue upon the regiment's return from Europe. After the war, he returned to performing for Black audiences. Performing as a cheerful and happy-go-lucky tap dancer for a white audience, he starred in the successful Broadway musical "Blackbirds of 1928," featuring his famous "stair dance." With becoming famous to the white audience, his popularity with Black audience declined. As a dancer, his style of tap dance was a pioneer with the shifting from flat-footed style to a light, swinging style that focused on elegant footwork. He held the world record for running backwards at 75 yards in 8.2 seconds. Robinson's final film appearance was a starring role in the 1943 Fox musical "Stormy Weather." In 1939 he performed in "The Hot Mikado," a jazz-inspired interpretation of Gilbert and Sullivan's operetta. In the same year, he celebrated his 61st birthday publicly by dancing down 61 blocks of Broadway. He married three times. His second wife Francis Clay became his agent and assisted him in starting in 1936 the Negro Actors Guild of America, which advocated for the rights of African American performers. With him becoming the honorary president, this was the first organization of this time to be incorporated. With the integration of races in the film industry, the organization had served its purpose and was resolved in 1982. In 1936 he was the co-founder of the New York Black Yankee baseball team, which was part of the Negro National League until 1948, when Major League Baseball first integrated racially. Working to support his Black community, he persuaded the Dallas Police Department in Texas to hire in 1947 Black policemen; lobbied for United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt for equitable treatment of Black soldiers during World War II; and promoted integrated public events, especially in the South. Even though he had earned thousands of dollars in his life-time, he died in poverty. He had supported many charities during his life-time. Television show host and friend, Ed Sullivan, arranged for his funeral at Harlem's 369th Regiment Armory with Rev. Adam Clayton Powell Sr. giving the eulogy. With thousands attending, the funeral was broadcast on the radio. A public park in Harlem, New York was named in his honor. As of 1989, May 25th in the United States has become "National Tap-Dancing Day."
Bio by: Linda Davis
He danced his way into the hearts of millions
'With malice toward none,
With charity for all.' A. Lincoln
Elaine Catherine Plaines Bushnell
1919–2007 (m. 1944)