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Bill "Bojangles" Robinson was an iconic African-American tap dancer and actor best known for his Broadway performances and film roles.
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In 1939, at the age of 61, he performed in The Hot Mikado, a jazz-inspired interpretation of Gilbert and Sullivan's operetta. Robinson celebrated his 61st birthday publicly by dancing down 61 blocks of Broadway.
Robinson was married three times. His 1907 marriage to Lena Chase ended in 1922. He married his second wife, Fannie S. Clay, in 1922. Clay served as her husband's manager and assisted him in founding the Negro Actors Guild of America, which agitated for the rights of African-American performers. Clay and Robinson divorced in 1943. In 1944, he married Elaine Plaines. Robinson and Plaines were together until Robinson's death in 1949.
Bill Robinson was involved in baseball as well as theater. In 1936, He cofounded the New York Black Yankees team, based in Harlem, with financier James Semler. The team was a part of the Negro National League until 1948, when Major League Baseball first integrated racially.
Despite earning millions during his lifetime, Robinson died poor in 1949, at the age of 71. Much of his wealth went to charities in Harlem and beyond before his death. Robinson's funeral, arranged by longtime friend and television host Ed Sullivan, was held at the 369th Infantry Regiment Armory and attended by thousands, including many stars from the entertainment industry. A eulogy by Adam Clayton Powell Sr. (father of Congressman Adam Clayton Powell Jr.) was broadcast over the radio. Robinson was buried in the Cemetery of the Evergreens in Brooklyn, New York.
Robinson remained a well-known figure after his death, particularly in dance circles. In 1989, a joint congressional resolution established National Tap Dance Day on May 25, Robinson's birthday. Additionally, a public park in Harlem bears Robinson's name—a way of honoring his charity contributions and participation in the neighborhood's civic life.
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