Born in Alabama in 1914, Fayard Nicholas was a popular African-American tap dancer during the Harlem Renaissance. Alongside brother Harold, Fayard began performing intricate, high-flying song-and-dance routines in the early 1930s, in New York City. Breaking through the color barrier, the duo went on to become one of the most popular show business acts of the 1930s and '40s.
The Nicholas Brothers Begin
Fayard Antonio Nicholas was born to college-educated, musician parents, on October 20, 1914, in Mobile, Alabama. Along with his brother, Harold, Fayard began performing in his youth, perfecting his tap and "flash dancing" skills. The Nicholas Brothers first appeared at New York City's famous Cotton Club in the early 1930s, attracting notice for their intricate, high-flying song-and-dance routine, and went on to become stars of the jazz scene during the Harlem Renaissance. The duo also popularized tap dancing—which derived from Irish jigs and earlier forms of West African dance—around the world.
Star of Tap Dancing, Film and Theater
Heading west in 1934, to Hollywood, California, Fayard and Harold appeared in the films Kid Millions (1934), The Big Broadcast (1936) and Black Network. They made their Broadway debut in a version of the Ziegfeld Follies, alongside the likes of Bob Hope and Ethel Merman, in 1936. That same year, while performing in Manchester, England, as part of the cast of the touring show Blackbirds, the brothers were introduced to and developed an appreciation for a number of highly regarded European ballet companies.
By the start of the 1940s, the Nicholas Brothers were international celebrities. The two men starred in several hit films, including Stormy Weather (1943) with Cab Calloway and Lena Horne, and acquired a reputation as the finest dance team in America.
The brothers continued to perform together for five more decades. Fayard received a Tony Award for his choreography in the musical Black and Blue in 1989, and the Nicholas Brothers were presented with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1994. The act came to an end in 2000, when Harold died of heart failure.
Fayard Nicholas died on January 24, 2006, in Toluca Lake, California.
Today, the Nicholas Brothers continue to inspire tap dancers around the world. Several famous performers, including Savion Glover and Gregory Hines, have credited the duo with their success.
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