Famed African-American tap dancer Harold Nicholas was born in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, in 1921. Harold and his brother, Fayard, began performing together in New York City in the early 1930s, and became known for their intricate, high-flying song-and-dance routine. Today, the Nicholas Brothers are regarded as one of the most popular show business acts of the 1930s and '40s.
Background: The Nicholas Brothers
Harold Lloyd Nicholas—named after acrobatic silent film star Harold Lloyd—was born on March 21 or 27, 1921, in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, to college-educated, musician parents. Harold and his brother, Fayard, began performing together as children, developing a routine that included tap and "flash dance." Performing as the Nicholas Brothers, they first appeared at Harlem's famous Cotton Club in the early 1930s, attracting notice for their intricate, high-flying song-and-dance routine.
In 1934, Harold and Fayard headed to Hollywood, California, to appear in the films Kid Millions (1934), The Big Broadcast (1936) and Black Network. They made their Broadway debut in 1936 in a version of the Ziegfeld Follies, alongside the likes of Bob Hope and Ethel Merman. While performing in Manchester, England, as part of the cast of the touring show Blackbirds, in 1936, the Nicholas 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, widely known as stars of the jazz scene during the Harlem Renaissance. 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. They also popularized tap dancing—which derived from Irish jigs and earlier forms of West African dance—around the world.
The brothers continued to perform together for five more decades. In 1994, they were presented with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The act came to an end when Harold died of heart failure, on July 3, 2000, in New York City. His brother and lifelong dancing partner, Fayard Nicholas, passed away six years later, on January 24, 2006.
Since their heyday, the Nicholas Brothers have inspired countless tap dancers who followed them, including Savion Glover and Gregory Hines.
Harold Nicholas was married to screen legend Dorothy Dandridge from 1942 to 1951.
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